Elevation – 14,180’ Summit Climb
Date – 11/12/15 (1pm) to 11/13/15 (5pm)
Total Time – 28 Hours on the Mountain
Distance – 13 miles
Elevation Gain – 7600 Feet
Trailhead – Clear Creek
3am came far too quickly. Seeing Donovan awake and moving gave me the motivation to roll off of my homemade couch bed and face reality. I sighed. It was an alpine start for an 8 hour drive to Mt. Shasta…This was not normal but abnormality is what I crave!
We walked into the cool, dark night, backpacks bursting with our mountaineering gear (food, water, warm clothes, ice axe, crampons, etc).
A shiny new lifted Toyota Forerunner waited for us outside Donovan’s “penthouse” style apartment. Chris, the 3rd member of our mountaineering crew, greeted us. Tibetan prayer flags were strung up across the back of the SUV, always a good omen for peace and adventure.
The 8 hour drive from downtown Portland to the Clear Creek TH near Shasta, CA flew by in a blur. I dozed, half conscious, half unconscious, the dream world and real world blending together as one. Reality woke me as we pulled into the town of Shasta late morning to pick up our climbing permits from the ranger station. The sky was blue, the sun already shining bright on the white giant that was Mt. Shasta. Looking at the 14,180’ Cascade volcano, I didn’t fully comprehend that I would be climbing it later that day and into tomorrow. It looked like a painting, not something that was physically in existence. My mind knew the facts but didn’t understand the situation.
The rough, dirt road finally ended as we pulled into the Still Creek trailhead. The sun glistened off the wet, pure white snow. I took in the moment as much as I could and awakened to the adventure at hand. Yet, I still couldn’t believe that we had essentially teleported from Portland to the middle Cascades in what felt like the blink of an eye.
We started on the snowy trail, fully loaded with 30+ pound of gear for the first of many steps ahead.
Maybe it was my excessive alcohol consumption and less than regular workout routine or maybe my mind just wasn’t in it but I quickly became tired. The 2-3 mile approach to the climb was already wearing on me. As the elevation increased, so did my frustration. Instead of adventure, my mind focused on the fact that I was the slow one of the group. That fact consumed me and narrowed my thoughts. I was not seeing the beauty and living in the moment. I regressed and regret it now…my immaturity, competitiveness and insecurities came to the surface once again, feelings I’ve been running from for the past few years.
The end of day one found us standing near 10,000’, on a flat rocky outcrop overlooking the valley below. This would be basecamp for the night. We dug out the snow and set up Donovan’s The North Face VE 25, the famous mountaineering tent that climbers have trusted for decades.
With the tent set up and gear tucked inside, we started the long process of melting snow for water and cooking. Instant oatmeal and Clif Bars never tasted so good. Stepping outside the tent, I stared up at the glittering blackness of the perfectly clear night sky. I sipped on some cinnamon whiskey and listened to my adventure playlist. I was completely at peace, overcome with joy…perfectly in the moment. I’ll always remember those feelings and that blip in time for the rest of my days.
After a ridiculous 8 hours of continuous sleep on the side of an icy mountain, we awoke for the 4am push to the summit. I felt a bit more lively, though still far slower than my companions. We continued steadily upwards, left boot, right boot, ice ax, repeat. Our crampons gripped the icy slope nicely; each step felt snug and secure.
At around 12,000’, nature called, not the kind that only requires a zip of the pants but the kind that necessitates great attention to detail and a wilderness take out bag. It was a comedic, surreal experience, once in a lifetime…another blip in time secured firmly in the memory bank.
Another 1000’ up, we encountered the steepest section of the climb, a sketchy, slightly unstable boulder field. My adrenaline spiked as we literally climbed upwards towards the volcano crater rim. Each step of the boots on snow and each grasp of the hands on rock became more difficult as the altitude progressively made every movement slower.
We overcame the boulder field and neared what I had thought was the summit. I gazed upwards and realized that the half-way point of our journey was still far ahead. If I were by myself, I would have quit right then and there but the power of a group is strong.
Another 500’ and we were standing on the summit crater 13,900’. We walked around the flat surface and looked down upon the world. Everything was so small; we were so large. I felt like an old age explorer, an adventure…a liver of life.
I existed in the moment and used my limited time wisely.
I was worthy of the day.
The last 200’ was out of reach; the sun’s arch in the sky was telling us to be satisfied with our accomplishment and retreat. Looking back the way we came, the ground looked much more steep. The trees were just tiny specks of green far below us. Anxiety washed over me and slightly overpowered my feelings of satisfaction.
Once off the steepest boulder section, I decided it was time to start glissading – a controlled slide down the mountain with ice axe for a brake. We flew down one after the other, like bobsledders without the sled.
At basecamp, I popped another Super B-Complex multivitamin and drank the last of my water. We hurriedly disassembled the VE 25 while melting snow for our parched mouths. The crushing feelings of altitude were suddenly gone and I felt alive. We bounded down the last stretch of mountain and continued on over the last couple miles of approach. At around 5pm, we reached the trailhead. We stripped off our wet, sweaty clothes and put on semi fresh ones from the vehicle. I got in the backseat, slumped over, and breathed.
Finally…relief at last.