I'm pleased to report that my first mountain trip in 2003 was a fantastic experience. I met four other SummitPost members for the first time on Thursday February 20th, to embark on a trip that had been planned entirely via e-mails and phone calls.
To the mountain:
The adventure began with me lugging a whole lot of gear from the San Francisco airport to North Berkeley on the Bart (public transit). I guess it's not every day people carry ice axes, ropes & crampons on the Bart. I met lots of people that way, and found Californians to be very friendly folks. Daniel picked me up at the Bart station, and we met up with Dirk and John at Dirk's place in Oakland. Daniel somehow managed to fit all of our gear into his Jeep (not sure how), and we were off to Mount Shasta, four and a half hours north of Berkeley.
By the time we reached the trail head at Bunny Flat, I no longer remember what the heck time it was. It was somewhere before or after 2:00 a.m., and no one had any objections to camping right at Bunny Flat. We took our time getting up in the morning and we took our time getting ready. In fact, we were still at Bunny Flat when Abe arrived to meet us. Sure made meeting easy! Now we had our full team of five.
Although it looked like a beautiful day, there were clouds over the summit, which were visibly being blown by strong winds. Word on the mountain was that conditions on the ridge were challenging, few were venturing up, and no one was summiting. Hmmmmmm...how encouraging.
We eventually began to saunter up the mountain to see how far we could get. Avalanche Gulch was off limits due to the recent snowfall & avalanche hazard. We were headed toward the Casaval Ridge route and were planning to camp around First Window at 9,800 feet. In theory, after setting up camp, boiling water etc, we'd get a bit of a rest, then head up in the middle of the night for an early morning summit.
As we got closer to First Window, the winds were getting stronger & stronger. With each gust, I found myself planting my ice axe and kneeling down to avoid being blown away. The slope was a little steep towards the end, and the newer snow was not adhering to the base, which also made for some slippery footing. Dirk & Daniel were the first to make it to camp & they did a great job of digging an area for our tents. John, Abe, and I joined them in building snow walls around the area and getting the tents set up. The winds were so strong now. Once the tents were up, we threw gear in them and one person had to stay in each tent at all times or else they would blow away! We used pickets, ice axes and flukes to anchor the tents very deeply. Once we were all in the two tents, it was like being in a boat on a windy sea. Both tents were constantly moving. Imagine John wearing my helmet to use his head to hold one side of Daniel's tent up, me feeling my thermarest being blown up from under me on another side of the tent, passing around beef jerky, various chocolate bars & nuts (cause we couldn't get the stove going), while we listened to Dirk & Abe laughing in the other tent "Bah....haaa....haaa....haaa.... Bring it on!!!!" as they taunted the winds that were raging outside us. It was hilarious & we were having a riot! On the way back down, we heard from others that the weather station on the mountain reported winds of 90 miles per hour at elevations below where we were at. Woooooooo Hooooooooo!!!! Leaving the tents for an early morning summit was not an option.
In the middle of the night, attachment by attachment, the fly on Daniel's tent was being blown off the frame. "Hey, Daniel! Your fly is going to blow away" I say. I think Daniel was far too comfortable in his sleeping bag... When there was only one remaining attachment point, I managed to complete a retrieval mission from half in/half out of the tent. We pulled the fly in to use as a blanket to cover us from the snow that was blowing in through the mesh window at the top of the tent. The tent poles on Daniel & Dirk's tents were permanently bent from the experience, but we were all warm dry and cozy inside.
By 7:00 a.m., it was much calmer outside. Three of us had dinner plans that evening that I certainly didn't want to miss. The mountain looked very inviting, but somehow, the group made peace with the idea of striking camp and heading down. Down was so much easier than up (go figure). We were out in no time, and drinking margaritas before you knew it! Although we didn't summit, we made some great friendships on that mountain, and I look forward to the next SummitPost adventure.
Once we left the Shasta area, it was then off to Craig Peer's birthday dinner party, but that's a whole other story in itself!
Oh, yeah... My Tuesday night presentation at the Northern California Chapter ISES meeting (which is why I was in San Francisco in the first place) went extremely well.