IntroductionThis trip report is the summary of a Mount Shasta Trip which took place between August 11 and 16 2010. My wife Kimberly and I ended up on this trip from what I would consider to be unusual circumstances. Little did we know that the beginnings of this trip would shake us to the core and would change our lives forever.
In contrast to other trip reports, this story is as much about what happened before and after the mountain as what happened on the mountain itself. I have intentionally waited until Valentine’s Day to post this story.
This is the story of Love, Bombshells, Heartbreak and Mount Shasta.
BeginningsThe roots of this trip stem from our big REI Dividend we received in March. Since I have most of the outdoor gear that I need, I also had a bunch of unused REI gift certificates that have been given to me over the past couple years (birthdays, Christmas, etc.).
I had my heart set on a new pair of skis, but while visiting the REI I couldn’t find any I liked and I was disappointed. The clerk asked if I wanted to look at anything else, but I told him (and only half jokingly) that I already had as much gear as the REI store had. He then suggested that we spend our dividend on an REI trip. In my head I dismissed the idea as preposterous. I already knew that those types of trips were expensive and that I wasn’t a very big fan of guided trips anyway.
Not long after the above event, Kim and I discussed doing something for our anniversary in August. Because we weren’t quite as shorthanded on our summer project, it appeared that this might be the first year in several years that I could actually get our anniversary off work, if but only for a few days.
Since I didn’t know how to spend our dividend, just for the heck of it, we looked at the REI trip offered for the year. We noticed that there was a Mount Shasta Trip right around our anniversary. As mentioned, I’m not that big of a fan of guided trips, but the Hotlum-Bolam had been on my list for a long time. Kim hasn’t done much snow climbing over the years (she is nervous on glaciers and steep snow), but she feels comfortable doing it on a guided trip.
Maybe going on one of the trips for our anniversary wouldn’t be such a bad idea since we could kick back and let someone else do the hassle and planning for our anniversary and could make it a more laid back trip. Furthermore, using your dividend nets a big discount on the trips and our dividend and it just happened that our gift certificates were enough to pay for the entire trip for one person and part of the trip for the other. We also had two discounted plane tickets we had to use. The trip also left a couple of days after our anniversary so we could kick back in a romantic hotel somewhere for a couple nights before we joined the group to climb the mountain.
What at first I had dismissed now sounded very appealing. The stage was set. We were going to Mount Shasta!
The BombshellNow that our Mt. Shasta was booked, the only thing left to do was to get a release signed by our family doctor (required by REI). It was actually kind of annoying to have to get one since we were pretty active and we put off visiting the doctor for over a month. I had to visit the doctor for another reason (allergy meds), so we scheduled an appointment to get the release taken care of at the same time.
The doctor checked me and quickly signed off on the release. It was now Kim’s turn. The doctor said that her heart did not sound good at all, but she told him that it’s just a heart murmur and that she had had it for a long time. He told us that her heart was really loud and that she must get it checked before he signed off on anything. He then referred her to a heart specialist to get an echocardiogram.
In order to go on the trip, Kim got her echocardiogram from a hospital technician and we waited for the results. We got a phone call from the heart doctor and he wanted us to come in for a talk. He wanted to explain the results to us.
The doctor started out by asking Kim certain questions; “Do you have problems climbing the stairs?” “Do you often feel faint?” and various other questions.
Kim explained that she actually climbs mountains and that we were here so she could get signed off on going on a climbing trip. The doctor was pretty shocked that she was even able to climb mountains and hadn’t been feeling any symptoms due to Kim’s “condition”.
He brought out the test results from the echocardiogram and explained them; “ Kim’s aortic heart valve is 0.77 centimeters. It should be 3-5 centimeters. She has severe arotic stenosis”. Kim asked, “so, what does this mean; and does it mean that we can’t get signed off on the Mt. Shasta trip?”; at which the reply was “it means that she is going to have to get an open heart surgery very soon and that climbing really strenuous mountains could be fatal”. “Her heart valve is really leaky”. “We will run some more tests, but you will probably have to get an open heart surgery within a year”.
We were both shocked and it was all very frightening. The doctor scheduled more tests (echocardiograms, CT scans, being poked, prodded, etc.). I have to admit that at least a few times when I was out of town for work, I had to cry myself to sleep because I was so worried about my beautiful wife. I was heartbroken and scared and I wished that she could just take my heart and not have to go through this.
After several more tests over the next few months, we were told that because Kim was in such great shape (besides the heart) that she could go to the “basecamp” on Mount Shasta, but no higher. Kim did ask about climbing various other mountains sometime in the future (naming ones that the doctor, who has climbed several mountains would be familiar with, such as the high Andes or even and Kilimanjaro with someone else carrying the packs), but she was told that those days are probably over. The mountains weren’t what we were worried about though; we just wanted a list of all of the things she wasn’t supposed to do. The doctor also told her that as long as she was feeling well that she should continue to excersize and to even go hiking at an easy pace in order to stay in shape. She just couldn’t do anything where she would be breathing really hard and she shouldn’t ever carry much weight. Of course this meant that our lives would change forever, but it was a relief that she should be OK.
Although Kim’s heart condition was severe, because she isn’t feeling any symptoms the doctors decided to wait to do the surgery for up to a few years. Because of the risk of the surgery itself and because of her age and the fact that titanium heart valves only 30 years, she was told that the surgery shouldn’t be performed until it was absolutely necessary. It was also a relief to hear that the symptoms aren’t something that will happen all of the sudden , but that they will happen over time. It is inevitable that she will get really sick and when she does, the heart surgery will be performed then. In a way, she wished she could get it all over with now, but it was not to be.
August 11-12: Getting There is Half the Fun?August 11 (the date of our 17th wedding anniversary) finally came. We were to fly from Hayden (CO) to Denver to San Francisco to Redding (CA). When we got to San Francisco we learned that our flight to Redding was cancelled! After a few hours, we waited on standby for the next flight, but it took off without us. There were no flights until the next day and this was not good news. We already had the romance package booked in the Red Lion Inn, the nicest place to stay in Redding. We were really looking forward to it.
Kim stayed near the ticket counter and I ran to the Rental Car area to see if we could rent a car in order to still make it. There was one car rental place that still had cars available so I waited in line. When I got to near the front of the line, the person in front of me rented the last car. I was disappointed, but when he made a phone call to say that he got a car, I overheard that he was headed to Redding.
I asked him if he had room and if we could pay for a ride. His name was Brandon and he was very sympathetic to our situation since he was rushing home to get to his wife for his wedding anniversary! Furthermore, he was travelling on business and his company was covering the rental car and that we were more than welcome to join him. I offered to pay for all the gas and was thankful for the kindness. There was also another girl (Elena) in line that was trying to get to Redding as well. She had been away from home for a long time and she was trying to get back to Redding to visit her family whom she hadn’t seen in a long time. She would join us as well.
I called Kim on the cell phone and we all met in front of the airport to head off to Redding. All five of us, plus lots of luggage (including our climbing gear) piled into a Toyota Matrix. It was crowded, but it didn’t matter since I was next to Kim. We had planned to eat a nice anniversary dinner, but since Brandon was trying to get home to his wife for his anniversary, we would miss it. We were just thankful to have a ride. We stopped at a gas station and got some fries and a hamburger at Wendy’s which was to be our anniversary dinner. We arrived in Redding very late and bid farewell to our new friends.
The next day we took the Greyhound Bus to Mount Shasta (town) We were originally planning to stop in Weed and take another bus to Mount Shasta from there, but the bus driver was nice enough to drop us off right in Mount Shasta.
The next day (August 12) was spent having fun, relaxing in town and of course admiring Mount Shasta (the volcano). That evening at the Cold Creek Inn we met the other people whom were going on the climb. We spent the late evening packing everything up.
August 13: Northgate BasecampAfter a gear check that seemed to take way too long, it was time to head for the mountain! We rode with (another) Scott and Julie to the trailhead and it was 12:30 PM before we finally set off up the mountain. It was sunny and rather hot and dusty. We stopped for a break every hour (we wished they stopped a little more and that we had an early start), but we made it up to camp (9400 feet) at 4:30 PM. The weather was good (but warm!) under perfectly clear skies and the camp was in a beautiful setting. Even though we duck taped her feet, Kim got a few blisters as well (I was the only one in the group who didn’t).
After setting up camp in the late afternoon and early evening, there was a snow school before dinner. Since we had to get up early the next morning, we went to bed pretty early, but I couldn’t sleep, partially because the wind picked up and was flapping the tent all night and partially because I had a lot on my mind.
August 14: Summit DayToday was the big day, but I was sad that Kim couldn’t join me. I gave her a kiss and we rolled out of bed for a 2:30 AM breakfast. The stars were wonderful this early and we just happened to be here during the Perseid Meteor Shower. What perfect timing for a climb and what wonderful timing for perfectly clear skies!
After breakfast (and being treated to several shooting stars) we quickly packed up to climb the mountain. Scott (the other Scott) had apparently pulled a muscle the day before and decided to stay behind. I had packed up the night before and had time to kiss Kim goodbye and to tuck her back into the warm sleeping bag.
It was a beautiful night (morning) for climbing and the shooting stars were impressive, but my mind just wasn’t on the mountain. I kept thinking of how much I loved Kim. I could put one foot in front of the other and could bury my axe in the ice, but my mind was on her. I was distantly aware that the sunrise was beautiful, but for some reason, it also seemed a bit lonely and I was a bit detached from all the beauty that was around me.
Gradually the weather became warm and bright as we (I was on the rope with Julie and Nick guide) and Mike, Kammi and Natalie guide were on a separate rope) trudged up the steep ridge. The steepness was sustained, but never that icy nor was it overly steep. We were above all the crevasse obstacles and didn’t have to cross any crevasses on this route. I hoped I didn’t bother the rest of the group too much, but I did talk about how much I missed my wife when we stopped for a break. Even though I have climbed many mountains alone and was attached to others on a rope, I have never felt so lonely on a climb.
After a traverse and a steep gully we could unrope. Mike and Kammi were younger and in better shape than us, but I was feeling really good at this point and asked if anyone would mind if I could run ahead and catch them. I was told that I could and did just that.
I summitted with Mike, Cami and Natalie and while eating a snack and enjoying the view we waited for Julie and Nick. I sat alone part of the time and spent a little time taking photos of the others and of the view. For some reason I can’t comprehend, I turned down the offers from the others to take a photo with my camera of me on the summit. The others didn’t have a working camera, so I took photos of them.
Although I was perhaps in not quite as good of shape as at least a couple of the others on the mountain, I was (perhaps selfishly) in the mood to get down the mountain. I prodded a bit to be able to glissade down the mountain (I am very accustomed to glissading down steep slopes), but I wasn’t allowed (I was disappointed, but I understand why they don’t like people to do it). Finally half way down, the prodding paid off and I glissaded down the mountain. I was ahead of the rest of the group so I climbed back up the mountain in a few places to get some more rides back down.
I was very happy to see Kim when I was finally down the mountain and we gave each other big hugs and kisses. While the rest of the group rested, took naps, or chatted, Kim and I built little rock hearts around camp with the letters “S+K” in them. I was very happy to be married to such an amazing and wonderful woman. After building several rock hearts, we chatted with the rest of the group before dinner and bed. It was another very windy night with a little rain.
August 15: A Return to CivilizationWe awoke at 6:45 AM and packed up the bulky tent, which was a bit challenging in the strong winds. It sprinkled a little bit and after breakfast we hurried down the mountain. We left camp at 8:30 AM and were back to the vehicles at 10:30 AM where we said goodbye to our new friends.
Scott and Julie offered to give us a ride back to Redding so we wouldn’t have to wait for the Greyhound bus. We bought them dinner along the way.
The next morning we flew back home.
Aftermath and the FutureAfter the initial shock of Kim’s heart condition has worn off, it has become easier to accept for the both of us. Much of the initial worry has gone away, but I don’t look forward to the time when she will get sick (which is inevitable) and I know that she doesn’t either. Still, we have faith that when the time comes, that she will get through it and we both know that I will always be there for her.
Finding out about her condition was a result of almost freak circumstances (more specifically booking this trip). In some ways, finding out about the condition in this manner could have saved her life. At the very least, it could have saved her heart from damage and now we know that we have to be very cautious in planning our trips.
It is obvious that any big mountaineering trips are out of the question for us. In the past we talked about doing things such as the big remote peaks in the Andes (or even Aconcagua since it is [or was] the highest mountain which she has [or had] any interest in climbing). We almost did end up going on an Aconcagua trip a couple of years ago. Another freak coincidence (namely the airfare taking a huge jump the day I was going to buy the tickets) prevented us from going on that trip. It is scary to think about what could have happened had we ended up going on the trip.
Kim can’t do things like carry a huge pack, so even many moderate adventures are out. Although it may sound disappointing that we can’t do any of the trips such as the above, there are no regrets. Before we met, Kim hadn’t even been to the top of a mountain before. I consider myself very lucky that she even has had the patience to go with me to so many of the places we have been. We have had such good times together and she has enjoyed the ride as well. Being married (and having kids) is the best adventure I have ever had.
The questions that some have asked are along the lines that if I will still go to some of these places I have dreamed of without Kim. The answer is that with just a few exceptions that I probably will not. Last year’s medical bills were over ¼ of our income (our last family trip to Asia was booked before we found out about her heart problems).
Even on weekend trips I find myself missing Kim. On a fairly recent trip I was teased by my climbing partners because I lugged a big pillow up the mountain on a winter climb. I was told that I must have gone soft because I now take a big pillow to sleep on. The truth is that I carry a big pillow on climbs because I am so accustomed to having my arm around my wife every night that I can’t sleep without my arm around a pillow. I just don’t know if I’m strong enough to leave her more than a couple weeks and even then I know I will miss her like crazy.
Of course, all this means that we will still have adventures together, but big plans and the types of planned adventures will change. We recently returned from a wonderful trip in SE Asia with the children and we still did things that most people only dream about. We’ve been married for 17.5 years, but our lives and relationship have really just begun. The future is bright and our love for each other will shine on.