Mt. Shasta Climb (14,162 ft) via John Muir / Avalanche Gulch - June 22-23, 2005
Trip theme: "Pole Pole Revisited" or "Right On!"
Originally Neal was going to climb Mt. Shasta with us while John and Peter were going to follow us to camp on Shasta. Those plans changed the previous day and we said goodbye to Neal, John and Peter after a hearty breakfast in Mt. Shasta. We then headed over to The Fifth Season where we met our guides Mo and Nick from Shasta Mountain Guides. We also met our climbing partners B.K. and Peggy. After a gear check and the splitting up of group gear (tents and food) we drove up to Bunny Flat. We all weighed in with our packs and I was disgusted with the 36 pound load that I was going to have to shoulder. I'm an ultralighter, this mountaineering stuff is too heavy. While we were doing this I noticed that my crampon, which was lashed on the outside of my pack, had splendidly punctured my full length expedition Thermarest. Crud, we're sleeping on snow and I'm going to freeze my butt off. So I packed up my 3/4 Prolite 3 Thermarest (which I had for the backpacking trip) and figured I could duct tape the hole and stick the two pads together. It turns out the duct tape only kind of worked but I did stay nice and toasty warm with the two pads. Another happy note was that we were not going to have to climb all the way to Helen Lake, but rather we were going to only go about 1.5 miles and a few hundred feet to Horse Camp. Hooray! We then circled up, loaded up, and headed out. The 36 pounds really wasn't all that bad, but I think I'm going to stick with my sub 20 pound loads for backpacking just the same.
A short while later we arrived at Horse Camp. There is a nice spring here adjacent to the Shasta Alpine Lodge which is run by the Sierra Club. We then ambled over to our camp site and began to set up our tents. It sure was a lot different going with a no frills guide service as opposed to our Kilimanjaro trip. Where was my porter? Where was the guy to take my pack off and blow up my Thermarest? Where was my tea and cookies? And more importantly, you mean I have to set up my own tent in the snow? OK, well its not like I haven't set up a tent before. Frankly I liked it a lot better going the no frills route. Any way, we had 3 three man tents for the 6 of us. George/Tom and B.K./Peggy had these nice beautiful Mountain Hardwear tents while Ed and I had this piece of junk REI tent that looked like if we pulled on it too hard it would shred. (Note to the guides: Did you guys throw this thing out like I suggested?) Not only was it in bad shape, but it was almost impossible to set it up. I wondered why all the poles were bent until both Ed and I are literally yanking on the tent/pole trying to get it into a grommet. We finally got the thing done and then proceeding to absolutely bake in the afternoon sun. I was totally sunburned before I knew what happened. Later that afternoon we had our snow school where Mo taught us the proper technique for using our ice axe, our crampons, and how to self arrest. It seemed a little hurried at the time but in retrospect she taught us everything we needed to know for climbing Mt. Shasta. However I'll definitely make sure I do another snow school prior to doing something more technical. The rest of the day we just goofed around and ate dinner. 8PM came and it was time to try and get some sleep for our 1AM wake up call. I'm in the tent trying to duct tape my sleeping pad and generally just carrying on when someone yells "Why don't you shut up, we're trying to sleep!" (or something to that effect) Oops, sorry..... I lied down and pulled out my MP3 player and listened to some acoustic guitar until finally it was dark enough around 10PM to sleep. I was certain it was going to be a cold night so I was loaded for bear with layers inside my sleeping bag. As it turns out it never really got cold, the dual Thermarest worked fine, and I sweat like a pig in my sleeping bag.
1AM came quickly and we were up and ready to go by 1:30. Unfortunately the group was not ready to go until 2:30, well at least it wasn't cold. We set off under the nice bright full moon and really could have even turned off our head lamps. The mountain was illuminated by the full moon which makes it so nice to climb in the dark. The temperature was mild and there was no wind to speak of. We started off using our hiking poles instead of ice axes and no crampons. The pace was, you guessed it, ridiculously slow. Nevertheless by the time we took our first break I was burning hot and had to pee. I'm not sure what is going on with my crazy body, but ever since our high altitude excursion to Kilimanjaro my body has reacted to even moderate altitude by dramatically increasing urination. It's almost like my body thinks I'm getting ready to abuse it with high altitude again and it wants to get a jump on things. Well back to the climb. Out of the trees the climb is fairly easy over mostly frozen snow. By the time our next break came around I was freezing and had to pee again. It seemed like we were taking inordinately long and frequent breaks at a time when we (at least I) wasn't tired and where sitting caused one to get cold. It was during these breaks that the puffy jacket (synthetic sweater) was very useful and I was glad I had brought it along. Somewhere around dawn we got to the last hill before Helen Lake and put on our crampons. I had gotten a little confused/discouraged at this point as I thought that the top of the Red Banks was where Helen Lake was, but was relieved when we crested out at Helen Lake and I realized my mistake. At this point Nick collected up all of our hiking poles and stashed them for later retrieval. While Nick was stashing the poles, Mo told us to go on ahead. No one was in front of us anymore! Ed and I didn't need to be told twice and took off like escaped convicts running from the law. When I looked back, our group was fairly far behind and Nick was nothing more than an ant at Helen Lake. Mo was yelling at us to stop and wait for everyone to catch up. Oh well. It was also at this point that they insisted that we rope up and we went back to our snails pace ambling our way up the slightly steeper slopes. Despite the annoying rope, I was having a considerable amount of fun practicing ice axe and crampon technique. We started to have problems at this point with the snow being too soft and instead of climbing up hard snow we followed up a snow staircase made by previous climbers. Tom in front of me was especially having trouble with punching through the snow. Eventually we got to the steep part of the climb and it really became quite enjoyable to feel the crampons digging into the snow and knowing this was more like real climbing. Around 11AM we topped out above the Red Banks at Thumb Rock for another lengthy break. The guides had previously told us that our turnaround time would be about noon and here we were 1,250 feet below the summit with less than an hour to go. Perhaps it was due to the excellent weather conditions, but neither of our guides seemed to have much of a sense of urgency about getting on to the summit. Not knowing how serious they were about the turnaround time I was dropping some not so subtle hints that we needed to get up and get on with things. I was elated, and more than a little surprised, when Mo suggested that we could proceed separately now at our own pace. Alright, the jail break continues! Nick, Ed and I take off like we're shot out of a cannon up Misery Hill. I had previously bet Ed a dinner that I was going to "smoke him to the top" and the race was on. The rest of our group quickly turned from ants to not visible at all as I struggled to keep up with Nick and Ed. I could catch him but then I couldn't maintain the pace and would fall back. Damnit, he's going to beat me again. After discussing this portion of the climb later, I found out from Ed that he was constantly prodding Nick to go faster so he could win. But that was OK because Ed had no idea that Nick was stopping periodically to let me catch up. We got up to the plateau below the summit where I decided to make a break for it. I started into a jog and ran past Ed giving him a stiff arm in the process. Ed falls to the ground as I race past Nick. I got about 20 yards before running at 14,000 feet in heavy boots and crampons, while laughing hysterically, took its toll and the get away was over. Resigning myself to defeat we found our way up to the summit about 12:30PM. We had done it! Pictures all around. In all the hopping around the summit I caught the bottom of my goretex pants with a crampon and ripped a giant hole. Damnit, those crampons are destructive.
I'm a little unclear as to the exact sequence of events, but at some point George was on the summit with us and Nick went back down the mountain to find Tom and help him up. Nick told us to wait at the summit but eventually our desire to descend won out and we headed down. Ed, George and I waited on the plateau for at least 30 minutes while the others were likely on the summit. The problem was that this was the only place that the wind was really blowing hard and I was getting impatient. I could still see people standing around the summit when I remembered that the wind wasn't blowing as hard near the top of Misery Hill. So we set out for that point to wait. Apparently our guides thought we were taking off for the parking lot as I heard someone yelling loudly and waving from the summit. When we got to a slightly less windy spot we sat down again to wait. Shortly thereafter Nick caught up to us and admonished us for taking off. I replied that we were just trying to get out of the wind and had no intentions of going off alone. Sorry we were such a pain Nick, but we like to move not sit. The snow on our descent had softened considerably and the crampons were quickly balling up so off they came. After getting to Thumb Rock we prepared for glissading. Tom caught up to us here. I was somewhat apprehensive about this part of the climb. A semi-controlled fall is not generally my idea of fun. As it turns out though the snow was so soft it was difficult to pick up any speed. We managed to glissade probably 75% of the way to Helen Lake and had to post hole through wet snow the other part. By the time we got to Helen Lake I was out of water and burning hot. I wanted to take off my jacket but the glissading made that an unattractive option. I was looking for my hiking hat in my backpack, and of course not finding it, when I lost the last of my patience. Everything in my backpack then came flying out onto the snow until I found my hat (at the bottom). Feeling better after my temper tantrum we retrieved our hiking poles and continued on down. By this point I was pretty tired and had certainly lost interest in the climb. The glissading was fair at best and we did a considerable amount of walking / post holing through the wet loose snow. I felt sorry for the poor souls who were climbing up the slop to Helen Lake. That looked very unpleasant to say the least. Not far from Horse Camp we came across this guy with a pair of skis and an enormous pack. He indicated that the pack weighed 60 pounds and asked any of us if we knew how to ski. Are you kidding me? What a nut. I told him to remember "pizza" while on his skis and continued on. Somewhere around 4PM (I think) we got back to the tropical island of Horse Camp and had to pack up all our stuff and the tents. I gratefully chugged down water at the spring afterwards and we waited again for everyone to be ready to go. The hike back to the parking lot was not too bad and we got there around 5:30PM (I think).
Well today was a good day. 1) The weather was nice although probably too warm. 2) Our whole entire group made it to the summit and descended safely. 3) I got a good introductory lesson into mountaineering and am ready for more. Not a bad day at all. I don't know if I will ever be able to come to terms with the reduced pace that accompanies guided trips, but I certainly appreciate the latitude that our guides extended to us to pace ourselves during the later stages of the climb. Things that I learned to do different next time were: 1) To apply a great deal more sunscreen to my face and neck; 2) To buy a carrying case for the crampons; 3) To wear the gaiters on the outside so I can't whack my pants with the crampons; 4) To buy a light long sleeve wind shirt for the surprisingly hot weather one encounters on snow.
After dropping off our gear (literally dropping) we left George back at the state park and we found a hotel and pizza for the night.
|The trailhead at Bunny Flat||Group shot before we head out. B.K., Peggy, Tom, George, Ed, Mark, and Nick|
|Hanging out at the Shasta Alpine Lodge at horse camp||Ed shows his unique ice axe technique|
|I'm swinging down this ice axe and you better not get in the way||Enjoying our dinner with Mo|
|Our route up the mountain as seen from horse camp||The full moon sets along Avalanche Gulch|
|Mo turned us loose and Ed and I took off. Looking back towards Helen Lake||Looking up Avalanche Gulch towards the Red Banks.|
|Ed shows off his form on a rest break||I look much cooler|
|Climbing up the only steep part of the climb, right before the Red Banks||Taking another break looking back down the gulch.|
|Ed's rope technique is about as good as his ice axe technique||Above the Red Banks looking up at Misery Hill|
|Thumb rock||At the top of Misery Hill looking up towards the summit|
|Mark on the actual summit of Mt. Shasta (14,162 feet) on 6/23/05||Ed on the summit of Mt. Shasta|
|A better picture of Mark on the summit of Mt. Shasta||Looking down from the summit|
|Looking back towards Misery hill from the summit||Looking back at the final climb to the summit|
|Hanging out in the wind, wearing a puffy jacket, waiting for the slow pokes on the summit to come down||A good chunk of the way back down on our descent|
|All tired and sunburned back in the parking lot||The route up Avalanche Gulch from a distance that shows Misery Hill and the summit pyramid|
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