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As It Was: Mount Shasta Climber Dodges Falling Boulder

The thousands of people who each year try ascending Mount Shasta might want to consider an early climber’s hair-raising encounter with one of the mountain’s frequent rockfalls.

The climber, U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey assistant B.A. Colonna, spent nine days on the summit in 1878 at an elevation of 14,180 feet.  He installed two scientific instruments, a theodolite for measuring horizontal and vertical angles, and a heliotrope for marking positions in a land survey.

Ascending a steep snowfield, Colonna saw immense boulders piled on a hillside above him that were “so evenly balanced that a man’s weight would start them tumbling from their resting places.” 

Suddenly, his climbing companions shouted, “Watch Out!,” and a boulder six feet in diameter nearly hit him.

“I felt the wind from it as it went tearing by me,” Colonna wrote.  Hit by small fragments, but not injured, he watched as the boulder, joined by stones of all sizes, rolled down the snow and then went “crashing and grinding among the rocks in the canyon below.”

Colonna added, “It is this alone that constitutes the danger of an ascent of Shasta.”


Source: Colonna, Benjamin A. "Nine Days on the Summit of Mt. Shasta." NOAA History: A Science Odyssey, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Central Library, 8 June 2006, www.history.noaa.gov/stories_tales/shasta.html. Accessed 21 August 2017.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.