Mountains have always enthralled and inspired awe in mankind since time unremembered. We have lived in their shadows, worshipped at their feet, spun epic legends around them, feared them, revered them, and sacrificed to them. They have been the muse for countless artists, writers, and philosophers for thousands of years and inspired adventurers to push past their limits to ascend them. Mountains have also long drawn to them countless inexplicable mysteries and myths that gravitate around their craggy, cloud covered peaks and taunt those of us who would try and understand them. Although there are many deeply mysterious mountains in the world, one that surely stands out as exceptional is Northern California’s Mt. Shasta, a mountain which seems to know no end to the depths of bizarreness. Ancient lost civilizations, UFOs, Bigfoot, strange creatures, anomalous people, and numerous other unexplained phenomena, Mt. Shasta is just dripping with high strangeness. Let us explore the weird, wonderful, and indeed often surreal world of this mystical mountain realm.
There can be no doubt that Mt. Shasta casts a rather startling, imposing presence for those who first lay eyes upon it. Lying within the southern end of the Cascade Range in Siskiyou County, California, Mt. Shasta is a now dormant volcano which soars 14,179 feet (4,322 m) over the surrounding forested valley, making it the second highest peak of the Cascade Range and the fifth highest mountain in all of California. Since Mt. Shasta is not connected to any other surrounding nearby mountains, it stands alone, bursting abruptly and steeply from the ground like some mystical solitary giant to loom over the majestic valleys of green around it and completely dominate the landscape of Northern California. It is said that the massive, rather intimidating lone mountain can be seen from up to 140 miles (230km) away on a clear day, making it a striking natural monolith which has captured the admiration and imagination of mankind for centuries. The naturalist John Muir famously said of the spectacular mountain upon first seeing it in 1874:
I was fifty miles away, afoot, alone and weary, yet all of my blood turned to wine and I have not been weary since.
Considering its solitary, dominating presence, appearance out of seemingly nowhere, and steep, almost pyramid-like shape which often attracts an ethereal whirling crown of frequently oddly shaped clouds, it is perhaps no surprise that Mt. Shasta has long been the origin of numerous fantastic tales, myths, and legends since the very first Native American tribes who inhabited the region. The Modoc, Wintu, Achumawi, and Atsuwegi tribes all have once inhabited the area within the shadow of Mt. Shasta and all considered the looming mountain to be a deeply scared place which was considered too powerful for humans to actually live on and which spawned various legends from each tribe. The Native Modocs for instance believed the mountain was inhabited by the Great Spirit Skell, who was the Spirit of the Above-World and had created the mountain as a stepping stone from heaven, where he dwelled at the summit overlooking his domain far below. Skell was said to have frequent epic battles with his enemy, Llao, the Spirit of the Below-World and Darkness, who inhabited Mt. Mazama in Oregon. It was said that Skell would hurl intensely hot boulders and fiery lava at his nemesis in a fury, and that this ultimately led to the eruption of Mt. Mazama which subsequently formed the volcanic basin of Crater Lake, a place that became known to the tribes as the domain of all evil while Mt. Shasta was revered as a land of blessings. The mountain is also the source of countless other Native tales and legends, many of which were chronicled by the writer Joaquin Miller, who spent some time living amongst these people, in his 1873 opus Life Amongst the Modocs: Unwritten History.
Other Natives legends swirled around the mountain for generations. It was once believed that to go up the mountain past the tree-line was to invite doom, as therein was the realm of the dead, the shaman, the damned, and a mystical race of evil dwarves feared by the Wintu tribe. Mt. Shasta was also said to be prowled by numerous spirits and magical beings, not all of them particularly benevolent, and was also the purported location of portals to other realms of existence. Curiously, many of the tribes here have stories which speak of encountering a tribe of people they called the Shasta people, who were described as being shorter and darker than the Native Americans and who had inhabited the region since long before their arrival. The legends say that these Shasta people were ruled by a great king who had brought a small group of his people from a mysterious land that existed far out over the western ocean, and that they had chosen this locale because the mountain’s snowy peak reminded them of their home. When the Native American tribes came, it is said that the Shasta people were eventually driven out and went off to try and seek out their original homeland, which they lamented had been submerged by the sea. This is one theory as to where the name Mt. Shasta came from, although there are others, and the mountain has been known by many names over its history of human habitation including “Yet” by the Achumawi and Atsugewi, “Behem Puyok” by the Wintu, and “Melaikshi” by the Modoc. By the time the Gold Rush came around it was known by various names such as Shasty, Shaste, Sasty, Saste, Sasty, Shaste, Shasty, Shatasla, Sastise, Castice, and Sistise, with the modern day spelling of “Shasta” coming about in 1850 when it was chosen as the name of the county by the California State Legislature……