Castle Lake is one of those iconic views of Mount Shasta that never really gets old. For as many shots that you see from here, I find it interesting how seldom you find mention of the hike to reach the ridge above the lake.
For those of you only interested in access information, I'll make this short and sweet. Go clockwise around the lake and up the ridge, there IS a trail! Resist the urge to take the seemingly direct route to the right from the parking lot.
For the few of you interested in the actual story, here goes:
After a 6 hour drive, I arrived to the lake that evening in the pouring rain. Maybe I was a bit overoptimistic, but some part of me was sure that the clouds would break just before sunset to unveil a spectacular and dramatic scene—you know, rainbows, beams of golden light, and a giant volcano capped by purple lenticular clouds. It was a nice thought, but boy was I wrong…
For better or worse, this wishful sunset fantasy was enough to lure me out of my car and begin trudging blindly up the hill in the freezing rain. This is a fairly popular spot, so I figured I'd have no trouble getting on the ridge to take some photos. After more than 45 minutes of scrambling and bushwhacking up a steep pitch of wet scree and dense brush, the rain was only falling harder. I began to have my doubts. I waited under a tree for another half hour as visibility continued to diminish, and finally I decided to throw in the towel. Alas, I got totally skunked.
That night I made the hour-long drive to Burney Falls to find a lower, dryer spot to camp while still knocking off a spot on my list for the following sunrise. After a great morning shooting Burney and McCloud Falls, my spirits were raised and I decided to make a second attempt at Castle Lake. Clouds were at a minimum and I wouldn't see the spectacular scene that I had hoped for the night before, but Shasta was at least visible and I wasn't about to let this shot slip through the cracks.
I got to the lake shortly after lunch, allowing plenty of time for me to reach the ridge under better conditions. This time, I decided to walk the other way around the lake, hoping for more of a trail leading to the top. A short but steep hike up an actual trail had me on the ridge in no time flat, now the only problem was that I had more than 4 hours to wait until golden hour even started. Despite the long drive awaited immediately thereafter, I decided to get comfortable and wait out the harsh afternoon light.
The only clouds anywhere were in a ring around the tree line of Shasta, so I spent the afternoon shooting a couple timelapses, soaking in the views, and scouting compositions for the evening. As the sun finally began to set the clouds around Shasta began to dissipate, so I didn't get nearly the sunset that I had hoped for the night before, but at least I got something.
And so began the long drive back to San Francisco. I'm not so sure it was worth waiting all afternoon, but at least now I'm not left wondering.