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Santiam Alpine Club

 Activities  Mountain Climbing Instruction 

Mount Shasta

May 26 to May 28, 2018

Coordinator: Peter Urban

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This Shasta adventure started before we even reached the mountain, as we had to navigate an hour-long "road" from the highway to the northgate trailhead, which was really more of a rutted ally and washed out cow path. I have never been so glad for 4-wheel drive, or had such anticipation for a climb. With 20 people and plans to both summit and learn some new skills, it was sure to be worth the effort.

After a few hours sleep Friday night at the northgate trailhead in cars and tents, we collected our gear for the hike up to camp at approx. 9,000 feet. The cold and wet start soon changed to hot and dry, so we shed layers along the way as we broke through the clouds and into the sun. The snow was hard packed and we made good time, reaching the camp site in a cluster of rocks just after noon. Time to eat lunch, relax and enjoy the views before the evening’s activities.

The climb was organized by Peter and Andy in part to gain the skills and experience needed for other high peaks such as Mt. Rainier. So we spent the late afternoon learning and reviewing team rope travel, clipping through fixed lines, setting up quick anchors and jumping over (imaginary) crevasses. After some organization and housekeeping, we returned to camp to prepare for an alpine start and watch the sunset.

While the first day established a good vibe and sense of camaraderie, the summit day tested us and taught us a lot about ourselves and each other. With teams chosen the night before, we left in staggered groups of 4: some fast, some slower, some eager to climb with friends, and others happy to connect with new ones. We hiked uphill for hours before sunrise, kicking steps into the frozen slope and navigating by headlamp. As the sun came up and the valley appeared below, the full beauty and grandeur of the landscape lit the world around us.

This was a long climb. Although only a few miles in distance, it was a relentless, 5,000 ft trek up the steep spine of the mountain to over 14,000 feet. It was also a lesson in teamwork and friendship. When the effort became too much for one climber, her rope mates all selflessly decided to descend as well to support her and stick together as a team. Dan, in the fast group, offered me hand warmers that saved my day, and a few digits. Words of encouragement, shared snacks, jokes and advice helped propel us up.

This was truly a special group, and the humor, kindness, friendship and helpfulness made this a special climb, regardless of whether you made the summit or not. Call it serendipity, good luck, or the spirit provided by Peter, Andy, and the other leaders, but somehow this diverse collection of 20 individuals gelled on that mountain to provide memories and connections that transcended the summit goal and make all the physical and mental effort worthwhile.

As the slope got steeper and we rose in elevation, the wind whipped faster and faster. What started as a calm and mellow morning slowly and relentlessly became a howling windstorm. Someone mentioned gusts of 70 mph, and I learned that if you positioned yourself wrong, you’ll get spun around and have your eyes pelted with tiny ice crystals.

As we came to the final ascent to the summit, the wind nearly knocked me over. The exhaustion and stress became overwhelming, and for a moment it seemed we could go no further. I watched the fast group led by Adrian descending from the summit through frenzied clouds of blown snow and marvelled at their stamina.

As we turned to go down, Peter and his group came up, and we all huddled around to debate our options. The line down was clogged with other climbers and Peter queried us individually to see where stood. Should we split up? Dig a shelter? Traverse to the side to escape the wind? Then he grinned and said something like “I just want to give it a try!” and Mark said “Let’s just go for it!” That broke the ice and while some decided it was still too much, others gained a second wind and quickly agreed to join. We shed some weight to move faster and began to climb at what felt like a breakneck pace, but to an observer must have looked like slow motion. One step at a time, we scrambled up through the rocks to the summit. What a great feeling of accomplishment, relief and jubilation!

- Eric


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