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Climbing on Mount Shasta

Early Ascents

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Mark Twain once said that "The man who sets out to carry a cat by its tail learns something that will always be useful and which will never grow dim or doubtful." Well, there is no doubt that a number of climbers who made the early ascents of our mountain also learned quite a bit from their experience. When the "First Ascent of Shasta Butte" appeared in the San Francisco Daily Herald of August 28th, 1854, Mr. E.D. Pierce, commented that they were "obliged to exert ourselves to the utmost in the way of jumping, thumping, etc. to keep from freezing, for the wind was piercing cold." Some twenty years later, John Muir wrote his "A Perilous Night on Shasta's Summit." His essay vividly captures the freezing night he and Jerome Fay spent atop the mountain. A hundred years after the Pierce's first ascent, A.F. Eichorn wrote his short and insightful commentary about the momentous climb: "The First Ascent of Mt. Shasta."

The "Second Ascent of Shasta Butte" made it into the San Francisco Daily Herald of October 9th of 1854. Newspapers, of course, were certainly not the only media interested in summit climbs, and John W. Boddam-Whetham's summit climb (somtime before 1874) was included in Esther Singleton's travel book Greatest Wonders of the World. Another travel book, Californian Pictures in Prose and Verse, included a most interesting and descriptive summit climb by Benjamin Parke Avery.

Other summit climbs of note, while perhaps not as famous, include the "first party of ladies who ever made the ascent of Mt. Shasta on September 9, 1856," the "Excursion of Yreka's Brass Band to the Summit of Mt. Shasta" in 1858--where they played a number of tunes including "The Star Spangled Banner" and "Hail Columbia," and the record ascents written about in Eichorn's "Record Ascents and the 1925 Marathon."

Some climbers, like Clarence King and Benjamin Colonna, came to climb as well as study the moutain. King, perhaps one of America's greatest geologists, was also a talented writer, and in his Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, he included two chapters about the mountain: "Shasta" and "Shasta's Flanks." Both chapters are rich in artistic detail and insight. Colonna, an assistant to the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, describes his famous mission up the mountain in his "Nine Days on the Summit of Mt. Shasta."


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