As many of you know, Mt Shasta has been a nemesis of mine for the last few years. I've wanted to help Joanna Picchi achieve the 18 peak award and Mt Shasta has been nothing but trouble. Our original date a few years ago was postponed due to weather, when we finally got a great forecast, a freak storm almost blew us off the mountain at 12,500. The only consolation was Rick Barry's team was weathered off as well. Last year, the trip was weathered out and we didn't leave the ground. This year, we started off w/ two postponed dates. The monday before Memorial day, I had to cancel the trip because of a snow. On Wednesday, while I was trying to digest the fact that Shasta wasn't gonna go in 2010, I checked the forecast just to punish myself.
The forecast went from 10-16" of snow to blue skies. I checked w/ the team and the VIP's were able to make it. Unfortunately, five of the twelve were unable to make the trip. We did however, pick up a scraggler. When I say scraggler, I mean none other than the Curmudgeonly Bill Saur, or shall I say Bill Sour. So that made eight of us; Me, Amy (who also needs Shasta for her 18, not that she cares), Wild Bill, Joanna "the VIP" Picchi, Little John Coyier, Stephen Rockford and Cathy Lazarus, last but not least, Chuck "no I'm not the guy running for Mayor" Bennett. The plan was to meet at the TH. I was struggling w/ a wicked head cold so breathing was tough when I was sitting on my couch and and I had very little energy. Not looking good.
Joanna had no idea that Wild Bill was gonna show for the trip. I "accidently" failed to mention that he was coming and he surprised her at the Park n Ride. So he drove from Seattle, on Memorial day weekend to Salem to hitch a ride to go and sleep who knows where, to climb a mountain he hates, just so he could be there when Joanna hopefully was gonna achieve her 18th. Pressure's on Jess!
We left the park n ride at 600 pm on Friday after I got off work. We talked to Chuck who was already at the TH w/ Stephen and Cathy and they said it was packed at Bunny Flats. As we were passing Mt Ashland, we decided that we could just Bandit camp at Mt Ashland. We found the ski area parking lot (6600') vacant and decided to acclimatize/camp there. I woke up and Bill was "bivying" next to our running boards. The last ole guy I saw sleeping on the asphalt was homeless. So we have a new name for the Wild One, Burnside Bill.
Sorry its taking me so long to get to the climb but often, the story behind the story is more important. Especially when the odds were against us. Three ole folks, three newish climbers, a sicky, a sketchy forecast, and a giant mountain.
After our mini epic we managed to make it to the TH and the weather was perfect! The plan was to snowshoe up to Horse Camp, separate from the hordes and head West to Hidden Valley; which hid from us. There's generally a trail over to Hidden Valley but they had tons of snow and the entire way was covered in snow. We had to decend 100' into Hidden Valley and it was sorta steep. A few people slipped and fell which turned into a glissade down to the Valley floor at 9200'. I've been on Shasta when the forecast is perfect and almost been blown away so I decided to dig in camp in the moat of a massive rock. To make up for my minor route finding error, I decided to dig all of the tent platforms while the rest of the team was Barnum and Bailey-ing their way down the slope. Of course, Wild Bill showed up bleeding. It was quite comedic watching the people thrash their way down the slope, my bad guys:-)
We got our tents set up and enjoyed dinner in the warmth of the sun. I generally don't care about reaching summits but its something to do while I'm enjoying the outdoors. That said, I've never wanted to get my team to a summit as badly as I did on Mt Shasta. My head had been pounding for a few days and it was just getting worse. I was glad that Bill was along just in case I was unable to continue. Yeah right.
We decided to leave camp at 330 am. The snow wasn't as consolidated as I'd of liked and there were two distinct layers. I was somewhat concerned but the angle of the route is low and an avalanche was highly unlikely. Shasta had been getting hammered by storms and this was the first weather window in months, the mountain was swarmed w/ climbers. On our route, there were less than 20 climbers, Avy Gulch, a few hundred.
We made slow progress over the first two thousand feet. I checked w/ the team and I could see that one of us was on the verge of bailure. I tried to encourage them but it was clear they had neglected their nutrition. Amy offered up one of her containers of Hammer Gel, I taught the rest step and on we went. We reached the steeper part of the route and it was time to break out the ice axes. But wait, we were an ice axe short. This person insists that they didn't forget their ice axe but that the axe "misplaced itself!" I was comfortable w/ my poles so I offered mine up and on we went. This person was afraid they'd be black listed for forgetting their axe so I wont say who they were but I'll say that I've done much worse and people still let me on their climbs. Were always learning aren't we?
We topped out on the West Face and the summit was soooo far away. People were struggling w/ the altitude but the team was generally doing very well, except for me. On the outside, I was doing just fine, on the inside, my head was pounding and I felt tired. I had probably coughed up a quart of brown phlegm and I couldn't breath through my nose. I've learned that I can will my way through alot and so we continued on.
We topped out on Misery Hill and it looked like it was gonna go. I did my best to get Wild Bill to cool his jets and slow down, Joanna was storming behind him and the newbies were finding their second wind. My spirits were up and for a second or two I felt good.
The way I'm wired, I don't set goals and I don't feel very much satisfaction when I reach a summit. Getting myself to a summit just isn't very fulfilling. I get my pleasure from pushing against things that are hard to move. My joy comes in the form of sweat and when I'm tired enough, I feel something that vaguely resembles inner peace. My saving grace is that I take tremendous pleasure in other peoples achievements. Because of this, I wanted Joanna to get to the summit as badly as she wanted to get there. We've climbed together lots of times and WE needed this!
Just a few more steps and we'd be there. I felt a tear beginning to form in my eye and I was glad I was wearing sunglasses. Right before the tear dropped I remembered how manly I am and the tear went away, sort of. I would also like to note that at 59 years of age, Joanna is the oldest chemeketan to achieve the 18 peak award. Three cheers for Joanna!
What's been lost in all of this is how well Stephen, Cathy and Chuck did on their first 14,000' mountain, how Bill, John and Joanna have managed to keep pushing the clock back. It's also been lost that Amy's just N and M Sister away from her own 18th peak award.
I smiled for this photo and I was so happy for the six first time summiters on this trip. It lasted for a few moments and then my headache came thundering back. It's been a long time since I felt that bad and I've never felt that badly on the mountain. I wasn't craving getting back to camp, I wanted to be on the couch. I whined to myself for a few more minutes and then I got over it.
All of the routes up Shasta take lots of work to get up. At 12,500', there are monkeys that jump on your back. The terrain doesn't variate and it's hard to monitor your progress up the mountain, it gets a little demoralizing. As we decended, we were grateful for the easy terrain. There wasn't anything to worry about.
I distinctly remember this picture and I was grateful that I had the privelage to be the leader of this climb. I had the opportunity to teach, encourage, share joy and because it was so difficult for me in my condition, I even had the pleasure of a stiff challenge.
This is a picture of a view that I hope to see for another decade. Burnside Bill in his wool knickers with the leather butt patches. Classic. Bill was very likely the strongest climber on summit day, I don't know where he came up with it, he was sucking wind on the approach. But would the wool knickers have too much friction for glissading?
We walked down the W Face until our crampons balled up too much and the glissade was on. Some people didn't want to scuff their $300 climbing pants so they walked. It was one of the better glissades I've done and I suspect I slid 2000' ft. I sprinted into my tent and I think I was asleep by the time the third person was back to camp; and life was good.
We had dinner at camp and by the time we crawled into our tents it was hailing. Ten minutes later it was snowing and the visibility was down. We woke up to snow as as well. When it was time to pack up in the morning, the snow magically stopped and it was smooth sailing back to the car.
You'll often hear me say stuff like it's not about climbing its about friends or its not about the mountain its about the journey. Well I'll say this: every now and again, it is about the mountain and sometimes it is about the summit and yes, its always about the journey.