The Struggles of Shasta
An Apology and Lesson Learned
Often I spend a lot of time in the back country where cell phone service is not available. But in this case it was and I didn't take advantage of it. Before I go on and write this trip report I want to formally apologize to Summit Soldier for first setting up an early pick up time at the trailhead. Though I apologized to him formally I wanted to do it here as well because it cause him a worry and anger. I honestly thought I told him 6 pm as a pickup time and but it was obvious that I agreed to 4 pm. In any case we did not get back until 7:30 pm leaving him to worry and fear for the worse!
The obvious way to correct this is by putting an arrival time two hours after you think you will be down. But the bigger thing to remember with this side of Mount Shasta is that there is cell phone reception down on the Helen Lake section. Therefore it is important to not only have the emergency numbers when you are climbing but yours partners' cell phone number in case there are issues on the mountain or if one of the member had to be escorted down due to altitude sickness. It may not strike as important but I was in one such case where it seriously affected the outcome of the trip. So note that Shasta at least on the Helen Lake-Avalanche Gulch does have cell phone reception.
The Trip Report
Saturday June 5th:
Summit Soldier, Jimbopo, and I left Seattle for the 10 hour long drive to Mount Shasta. We met our friend Jeff at the trailhead. The first thought was once meet at the trailhead we would just car camp there and then head of to Helen Lake early in the morning. But once all of us go down to the trailhead it was obvious that none of us were going to get much sleep at the trailhead so despite cloudy weather and a low treeline we decided to go to Lake Helen. So we left around and decided to head on up.
The trip up did not begin out so well. Despite the fact that Mount Shasta is typically flooded with hundreds of people on the weekend somehow we missed the footsteps to the trail and follow a lesser bootpath that followed the top a ridge. I have no clue how that happen but once we hit 8000 feet we knew we were going the wrong way. By 7500 feet visability was becoming less and due it being nighttime we had a start time making out the correct route. Luckily Summit Soldier's GPS caught it in time so that we could be able to side traverse back to the trail. It was tedious process but we eventually made it to the Horse Camp and the bootpath up to Lake Helen.
Once heading up to Lake Helen the weather really challenged us. At one point we heard an avalanche go off in the distance. We later found out that it rolled just two hundred feet from Lake Helen and dozens of tents. Going up to Lake Helen in full packs was a very tiring wake up call to what would be doing 24 hours later. Between following other peoples' tracks and post-holing occasionally through the constant white out. Once we reached the elevation of camp we realized that we were a couple yards from Helen Lake.
Unfortunately we could not see Helen Lake so we were about to set up camp on the trip when suddenly Jeff's backpack slid down the mountain. Fearing the worse Summit Solider and Jimbopo kept digging out while Jeff and I looked for his backpack. Luckily we found it 100 feet down right on a boot path heading to Helen Lake. Soon we moved onto Helen Lake and decided to set camp there, right before many of the others were waking up for a potential climb. After setting up camp in windy white out conditions, we settle in as quickly as we could. It had been an exhausting night and we were going to need all 24 hours we had to rest our bodies and prepare it for Shasta.
Sunday June 6th:
It was morning when we first saw where we were sleeping and where the avalanche was. It was a little shocking to see just two hundred feet from camp. The weather when we woke up was very questionable. Many of the guides services did not go up that day and all but two that did go up did not make it past the Red Banks. As for us it was time to sleep. The weather was not so hot and there was little reason to spend much time outside. We did see one person siding 1200 feet down the mountain head first and luckily only suffered minor injuries. With the clouds moving in and out climbing on that Sunday did not look promising.
During the day the weather kept changing by the hour. One hour it was foggy and the next hour it was clearing. We stayed at camp to adjust to the altitude. Summit Solider had a hard time adjusting to the altitude and by afternoon time he was beginning to show signs of altitude sickness. His face was pale and he was coughing rather seriously. It was obvious he had to go down. Jeff decided to be the one to make the sacrifice for Summit Solider leaving just Jimbopo and I still at camp.
Along the way a fellow climber named Trish was wanting to climb Shasta but not alone. She was up with a number of experienced climbers who had to go back to work the next day. She asked us and I did a little info checking to make sure she had enough skill to complete the climb and decided to have her climb with us. Once evening hit Jimbopo and I took a quick sleep to get ready for the next day.
Monday June 7th: The Climb
We woke up the next day around 2 am to give the climb a go or no go. The weather was still iffy so we decided to wait one more hour. After that hour I looked outside and it looked clear so I decided to give it a go. Off we went into the night up Mount Shasta. We made decent time up to the Heart. Once we hit the Red Banks conditions going down rapidly and we at time walking on solid blue ice with a layer of corn and powder on top. We decided to make the 35-40 degree snow climb right through the Red Banks. It was very icy and hard to get a good self belay in but we made it through what today was clearly the crux of the route. Trish was having doubt but considering how icy it was in the morning I thought it would be safer for her to proceed on and to give the snow a little chance to soften up from the sunlight later in the day.
So all of us proceeded on to Misery Hill. Misery Hill isn't the steep crux that the Red Banks are but it is a tedious long climb up that even if you are well adjust to the altitude will eat you up. Nothing scary here though but it is a matter of endurance. I know some people may stop here but personal once you are through the Red Banks you really are through the hard part. That being said it was really one step at a time as we went through Misery Hill until at last we reached the top of Misery Hill. Once on top we had a clear site of Shasta summit area.
For those who know Shasta, once you get to this point, Shasta summit looks dramatically further than it really is. You cross a level to gently sloping plane all the way to the beginning of the true summit of Shasta. From there we took went to the west side and ascended to the true summit of Shasta. Once on the top we sign the register and spent some time on the different summit rocks of Shasta we hit all of them just to make sure we hit the true summit. We spent some time celebrating but I knew it was time to head down. That being said we also took a moment of silence for Tom Bennett who died recently. I believe it is very important to honor an climber who lost his life on the mountain and to recognize him or her. I know that Tom spirit is still on that mountain that day because the summit was clearly the most peaceful weather wise all day of the climb. Light winds and a 25 degree summit was actually much better that the gale force winds we faced on the way up.
Review of Skills
Along the way up we realized that Trish was not quite as comfortable as we were with the axe as we were. Though she had some experience, both Jimbopo and I thought it would be a good idea to do a review on all the skills. Both of us are extremely comfortable with using the axe since we have been using it all winter but we want to make sure that Trish was in good practice as well. I know that 80% of all accidents are from descending not ascending. Anyone who has ever been to the Red Banks knows that the Red Banks requires excellent ice axe skills or accidents can and will happen.
We found a nice slope just away from the summit rocks that had a great run-out and was only 30 feet. The was perfect for practicing self arrest and there was no chance here of injury. It was like it was placed here for this very reason. Jimbopo did the block of the training but I jumped in as well. We reviewed. Side traversing, forward self arrest, backwords self arrest, glissading and side traversing. I wanted to make sure that Trish was experience as possible for the trip down.
Heading down from summit area was much easier at first than heading up. Misery Hill wasn't very miserable. The rime ice occasional tried to knock off my crampons but each time I would just readjust them. Once down Misery hill it was time to face the Red Banks crux again. We took a break here and gathered or confidence to head down.
Unfortunately despite the sun shining on it the slope down the Red Banks was still very, very icy. In fact there was still blue ice mixed in with the powder on top. I will say this much due to the amount of the surface being solid ice and the fact that crampons were not being that steady I knew that it was time for me to take this trip slow. I knew if I fell I could get in quick self arrest but I doubt I would stop for at least 80 to 100 feet.
So I decided to side traverse slowly and steadily each step moving cautiously. Jimbopo was struggling pretty bad because his crampons were to dull for the snow. Trish had problems at first but quickly got the hang of it. I think the thing that got me down that steep icy slope was thinking that I had no other choice. So I just slowly treversed down the mountain watch absolutely very step as I descended. I was forced here you block out the fears and self doubts hear. I continued down to about 1500 feet above Helen Lake where the snow really began to setup for a good glissade. I stopped there and waited for the other two. Trish was now quiet comfortable with the side traverse while Jimbopo was still struggling with his crampons.
Once they made it down, I was staring at the perfect glissade. Or another perfect place to practice self arrest. You can never practice it enough. So instead Jimbopo and I letting loose on a killer glissade we wanted to make sure Trish was comfortable. At first she was a little tentative but then near the bottom she got the hang of it and let it rip a little on the slope. Soon we were all on the bottom where we realized the snow had turned to slush.
Pack Up Camp and Head Back
Once back at camp it was time to pack up and head back. Unfortunately all the energy spent on the mountain was finally beginning to take it's toll on Jimbopo and Trish. They were both very fatigued and looked to be getting the beginning of heat exhaustion or sun poisoning. Though I was pushing both of them to head on out there was little response especially from a very exhausted Jimbopo. I though Summit Soldier was meeting us at six and wanted to be down there beforehand. I packed as quickly as possible and then helped Jimbopo take down camp. I realize though after this climb that next time I will do most us this before the climb if possible. It took them an hour to break down camp largely from fatigue.
Once our pack were on our backs it was time to head down. I was able to knock off 1000 feet of elevation via two quick glissade. Unfortunately though fatigue was really beginning to hit Jimbopo and Trish. They were barely able to handle there pack and then after the first glissade, Trish couldn't handle her pack at all. I sat on the bottom of the second glissade waiting when I realized what was going on. Both Jimbopo and Trish were too weak to carry their packs. so they got to the point where they were just throwing and dragging there packs down the hillside. It took them forty more minutes and I knew that Summit Solider was now going to have to be waiting. Once they got down to me I took the heaviest pack and whatever else I could take from them. I told Jimbopo to head straight for the car as quickly as possible. I stayed with Trish who was now with the lighter pack was doing better. Unfortunately at the 8400 foot mark she lost her rental snowshoe in the snow and could not find it.
After ten minutes of looking for it we decided to give in because at this point every minute was highly important. So we decided to continue on down to the Bunny Flats. Thankfully once past the Horse Camp the horrific post-holing became a steady trail back to the car. Once back to the car I noticed Jimbopo sitting in the parking lot with some friends of Trish but no Summit Solider. I first thought was that maybe he didn't make it back due to altitude sickness or maybe he was in the hospital because there was no note on the board. After twenty minutes of waiting Trish's friends decided to get us a ride to town concerned about about our safety if we had to camp out at the Bunny Flats.
On the Way Home
On the way back to the town we spotted Summit Soldier's car who at this point was going to make one last check before reporting us to the ranger. We turned around when we spotted his car and caught up with him. Finally we waived him down and we connected with him. We wished Trish a goodbye and headed into our ride. He was extremely angry with us about being very late. But luckily he was calm enough to take us home without too much incident.
It was for a long time a quiet ride back. I knew he was very concerned and was set out waiting a long time which is why he was upset. It was one of the very few times that I had ever finished a trip on bad terms heading back from it and the sad part of it is that it was preventable as well. So though the trip ended successful in that everyone made it back safe with two from our group along with Trish and sound and a simple mistake caused an otherwise great trip end on a sour note. Though we ended as good as possible I knew that it was not a proper ending for that kind of trip. As for me I have now learned to always carry all of your climbers numbers in your phone just in case something like that happens again. Hopefully my mistake will help others in their trip.
With that all said I want to thank Summit Solider, Jimbopo, and for coming out on this trip. I was glad to run into Trish to really kicked butt going up Shasta. For the most part it was a solid trip and you were all great company. I was glad that most importantly no was injured and though it didn't end so well at least it was another good day in the mountains.