Who isn’t fascinated with standing on top of NorCal’s premier active volcano, the formidable Mt. Shasta? Beyond the hordes of athletically-minded climbers who attempt the summit each season, you’re also apt to hear about all manner of other creatures up there from space aliens to Lemurians to St. Germain the “Ascended Master.” But space aliens aside, it turns out that not all of the climbers on Mt. Shasta have been bipeds. Mt. Shasta has seen a few quadrupeds over the years, too.
I recently ran across the article Legendary Ascents of Mt. Shasta: Horsing Around by Eve Thompson. Perry Sims, Mt. Shasta’s co-city historian, recounts several hilarious accounts of people taking first a mule, then a horse up Mt. Shasta. What possible reason could there be to do something so outlandish? Well, bragging rights and the pursuit of drinking money suddenly made taking animals up Mt. Shasta a real “thing” around the start of the 20th century.
It all started in 1883 when muleskinner Tom Watson took his mule “Croppie” to the top of Shasta as part of a federal government geological survey. For the next 20 years Watson dreamed of returning to the summit of Mt. Shasta with a horse. The notion of taking a horse up Shasta became such a popular topic that Richard Beers Loos, editor of the Sisson Mascot decided to fake it. He supposedly stopped by a horse corral, scooped up some “soft evidence,” then spread it around at the summit. Climbers quickly reported what they had found up there, and Loos reported it as fact. Tom Watson claimed he got a horse to the summit in 1895-6, but lacked the photographic evidence to prove it.
Back in those days someone had placed a “geodetic monument,” kind of a metal column on the summit of Shasta. Climbers often took photographs of themselves next to the “Signal” as proof they made it to the summit. Despite claims that horses had made it, no one had yet produced the “gold standard” of proof a horse had really been up there; that is, a photograph of the horse next to the Signal. In 1903 climbers reported the Signal was leaning badly and not likely to stand much longer, so time to get the coveted “proof” was closing in.
In September, 1903, Watson was finally able to coax his horse “Jump-up” to the summit and get the now-famous photograph next to the Signal. After the climb poor Jump-up could barely walk, and was put down a short time after. By 1904 the Signal had toppled over, so the timing couldn’t have been better.
In 1936 someone submitted the photo to Ripley’s Believe it or Not, but Ripley demanded more proof that getting a horse to the top of Shasta was even possible. So Sisson pioneer John M. Schuler and friends took his horse “Bronco Ben” up Shasta, and they made it to the summit.
It’s hard to say how many quadrupeds have made it to the top of Shasta since then, and since the Signal is no longer there to serve as proof of making it, who really knows for sure? It might be noted that no one has claimed taking any cattle to Shasta’s summit, probably because most of us would consider that a lot of bull.
Chip O’Brien is a regular contributor to California Fly Fisher and Northwest Fly Fishing magazines, and author of River Journal, Sacramento River and California’s Best Fly Fishing: Premier Streams and Rivers from Northern California to the Eastern Sierra. He lived in Redding, California, for eighteen years, where he was a guide, teacher, and regional manager for CalTrout.