DisclaimerI’m hesitant to plaster this report on the Internet, as I don’t know the current condition of the victim, or anything about his situation. I won’t presume to tell his side of the story, or even say too much about him. I’ve used fictional names, partly because I didn’t catch everyone’s name. This is not an official accident report. It’s simply my story, my personal recollections and impressions of the day's events. I try to avoid drawing any conclusions or giving any safety lectures. The lessons to be learned should be obvious enough. I neglected to exchange contact information with anyone who was there, so there’s been no double-checking of facts. The incident occurred on Sunday, January 28th, 2007, and the chain of events was greatly clarified by the time stamps recorded on my digital photographs and cell phone calls. I’d be happy to incorporate any additional information, comments, or corrections into this article. As mountain rescues go, this one was probably fairly routine. But, for us average weekend warriors, it’s an uncommon occurrence, worthy of writing home about. I'm hoping this account might paint some pictures in the back of your mind. A little bit of mental preparation for that coming day when your routine outing goes all to hell. And, like Clint Eastwood said in that old western movie, "We’ve all got it coming kid".
********************************************************This was the low point of my day. The voice on the other end of my 911 emergency call was cool and professional, "OK, Mr. Hughes, give me the number of the cell phone you're calling from, in case we need to call you back." I was caught off guard, surely my phone number was displayed somewhere on their sophisticated communications apparatus. The truth was, I didn't have the slightest idea what my cell phone number was, and didn't know how to find out. It occurred to me that some air-headed teenage mall rat would be much more valuable to this rescue operation than I was going to be. By now, she undoubtedly could have used her cell phone to not only get help on the way, but would have uploaded a video of the accident onto YouTube, text-messaged the news to six of her friends, and ordered a pair of shoes online from the Gap. But fickle fate had apparently chosen me to be the communications officer for this operation, a poor slob who could never remember that on these new-fangled cell phones you had to hit the "send" button after punching in the phone number. There was a man lying several hundred feet below me, crumpled in the snow, quite possibly either dead or dying, and I didn't even know my own cell phone number.
My sense of helplessness was already overwhelming. Only moments before, I'd watched him slide several hundred feet right toward me. I took a couple steps forward, thinking I might somehow be able to catch him, but then realized I might as well be stepping in front of a speeding train. He went by at maybe 30+ miles per hour, less than ten feet away, and I could hear him calling out for help in a weak and breathless voice. I'd been taking a break on a big rock, chatting with John, a climber I'd met the day before. John was with a party of three or four others who had camped the previous night a couple of thousand feet below our present location.
I was standing high on Mt. Shasta, at 11,300 feet elevation, near the top of Avalanche Gulch. I was midway between the rocky feature known as the Heart, and a flat bench called Helen Lake. I'd reached this location at 12:45 pm, after exactly five hours of climbing the 4,350 vertical feet from the parking lot at Bunny Flat. Even though I was already a few feet higher than the summit elevation of Mt. Hood, the summit of Mt. Shasta was still over half a vertical mile above me. I'd been pondering whether it was now turnaround time, or if I had time to continue upward another few hundred vertical feet and get a close up look at the Heart. I was planning to make the five-hour drive home to San Jose this evening.
The man went by in a surreal montage of slow-motion images and a breathtaking blur of speed. I heard John say, to no one in particular, something like "Sorry man, we can't help you." We could only watch in disbelief, and hope for the best. I pulled out my cell phone. John, seeing that I was already making the call, rushed on down the slope towards where the man’s slide had finally ended, nearly five hundred vertical feet below. The cell phone connection was excellent, and I managed to convey an account of the incident to the dispatcher, along with a general fix on our location. I mumbled something about not remembering my exact cell phone number, and agreed to call right back as soon as I'd gotten down to the victim and determined his condition. In the meantime, the dispatcher would alert the appropriate agencies and start the ball rolling for whatever type of assistance we might need.
I’d dutifully checked all the latest information from the Internet on Friday afternoon before I left the office. The National Weather Service was forecasting only a 0% - 10% chance of precipitation well into the following week, with lows in the high teens to low 20’s for the nearby town of Mt. Shasta. From the USNO website, I got the civil twilight times, which are an accurate estimate of the period of useful daylight. They were 6:55 am and 5:50 pm for Sunday. The USFS Avalanche Advisory was favorable. The danger level was LOW, except for “… pockets of MODERATE on wind-loaded and sun-warmed slopes greater than 35 degrees.” The snow accumulation so far this winter was well below normal, and current conditions were said to be more like late spring than mid-winter. All things considered, this weekend seemed like a rare opportunity to experience Mt. Shasta in prime springtime conditions without the hordes of springtime climbers.
But still, this is Mt. Shasta in January, and I’d be out there solo. I’d done some browsing, and found that Mt. Shasta held the world’s record for greatest two-day snowfall; an incredible 103 inches in mid-February of 1959. If that wasn’t intimidating enough, the USFS Climbing Advisory mentioned 120 mph winds at tree line as recently as three weeks ago. Since it would be my first time on the slopes of this mountain, I was prepared to bail at even the slightest hint of trouble. In fact, given Shasta’s fearsome winter reputation, and my own intermediate skills in winter mountaineering, I’d gone so far as to call REI and inquire about renting a personal locator beacon for the weekend. Turns out they don’t rent them, but they’d be happy to sell me one for five hundred and fifty bucks.
It had been a spectacular weekend in every respect. Yesterday, I’d arrived from sea level and made a leisurely four-hour jaunt from Bunny Flat up to elevation 9,300 feet and back. This warm-up outing helped me to get acclimated and oriented. It also boosted my confidence for today’s more ambitious climb. So here I was on the morning of Day 2. The bare bones of Casaval Ridge were basking in the morning sun, certainly a rare treat for them on a mid-winter day. The weather was brilliant. The solitude was welcome. I hadn't seen another person on the mountain for the first two hours of the climb. Then, as I was taking a break at 9,300 feet, I saw four guys bailing off Casaval and heading down the gully toward me. I thought about waiting around a few minutes until they reached me so we could exchange information, but decided I wasn't much in the mood for a conversation. I decided to traverse across the slope to my right and out of the gully. I’d come this far in bare boots, but the side slope was considerably steeper than the bottom of the gully, so I strapped on my crampons and headed up. Soon after, I noticed a solitary figure not too far above me to my right. I figured it was a member of John's party, as it was pretty close to where they'd set up camp. I continued on. The ideal conditions made the climbing effortless. I couldn't remember a better day. The next person I encountered would be John at the scene of the accident.
As John hustled down the hill toward the crash site, I turned back to the rock to mobilize my gear. I was clearly not climbing any higher today. My camera was sitting out, so I snapped off a blurry shot in John's direction. He was now almost halfway down. The photo was time stamped at 1:10 pm. Within a couple of minutes, I was also on my way, trying to mentally prepare myself for whatever I might find at the bottom of the slide. The small traces of blood in the snow were not encouraging. As I neared the scene, I saw there were already maybe three other climbers huddled around. The victim was there, in the middle of the huddle, and, amazingly enough, he was sitting up and talking. His most obvious injury was a large gash on the top of his head. His face was covered in blood. Fortunately, the wound appeared superficial, and the bleeding soon stopped. He had not brought a helmet on the climb. He also had an apparently broken finger, and was complaining of bruised ribs. I could imagine that his entire body must be one giant bruise after that spectacular descent. He was obviously one really tough dude to be able to sit up and talk coherently immediately after taking such a beating, and he was very lucky to have not suffered any more serious injuries. It was also apparent that he would not be getting off the mountain under his own power, particularly at this late hour.
We learned that the victim, Vince, and his 17-year-old son, Jeff, had left Bunny Flat well before sunrise. They had ascended high on the mountain, to something over 12,000 feet, if I heard correctly, and were on their way down when Vince went into his slide. It was fortunate there were so many people in close proximity to the accident. I believe our group now consisted of six people: Vince and Jeff, myself, and John, with two others from his party. As agreed, I called the 911 emergency line, and provided an update. I'd even discovered a sequence of keystrokes that resulted in my cell phone number being displayed, and I proudly relayed this newfound number to the dispatcher. We decided our best course of action would be to get Vince standing, and walk him a couple of hundred feet down to a large boulder that would provide some shelter from the elements. We stood him up. He threw his right arm over John's shoulders and his left arm over my shoulders. It was an awkward position, as Vince was a few inches shorter than either of us, and we had to crouch down uncomfortably while walking so Vince’s feet could reach the ground. We clumsily staggered toward our destination, probably looking like a bunch of old drunks hanging on to each other for support while weaving down the alley after the bars had closed.
Upon reaching the meager shelter, we all dug through our packs to offer up whatever might be of use. From the top of my pack came a 3/4-length ridgerest foam pad, which provided welcome protection from the cold, hard snow. My extra pair of dry socks went over his injured hand, as we were clearly not getting his gloves back on him. He was already beginning to shiver as a result of the shock and the cold. Our main concern now was to keep him from going hypothermic. John's keychain thermometer read 28 degrees. The sun was shining directly down from the brilliant blue sky. The winds were light and variable, with only the occasional chilling gust.
I wrapped my thinly-insulated hardshell parka around Vince’s feet, and dug out the space blanket I've carried for hundreds of miles but never thought I'd actually use. We watched in fascination as John unwrapped and unrolled the space blanket. It ballooned into a seven-foot by three-foot rectangular bag, open only at one end. I guess none of us had ever actually seen one outside its’ pocket-sized packaging. We pulled it over his feet and legs, and carefully raised him enough to get it up around his waist. The guys in John’s party had much more insulation than I did, as they were on a planned overnighter. Anything that might help conserve body heat was piled on, and warm bodies and packs were arranged as best we could to create a sheltered microclimate. And here we remained for the next two and a half hours.
We continued sorting through our gear, looking for anything that could help our situation. I pulled out a little bottle of Tylenol, but John wisely recommended against using it. We couldn't be sure how Vince would react to it, or how it might interact with whatever medication he'd be receiving later on. Anyway, his condition called for something a little stronger than ordinary headache pills. I produced a small roll of duct tape, but … hmmm, here’s a bunch of guys in an emergency situation, and we can’t find a single use for a roll of duct tape? I inventoried the remaining contents of my pack. Trekking poles were lashed on the outside. I had a pair of drugstore reading glasses, just in case I ever run into some old dude out there that needs help reading a topo map. There was a compass with built-in inclinometer, which I’d used to measure a couple of slopes on the way up, just out of curiosity. Digging deeper into the pack; referee’s whistle, folding knife with a single 2-1/2 inch blade, tweezers, spare bite valve, spare keys, extra pen, extra memory card for camera, lip balm, a couple of cotton bandannas, anti-balling plates for crampons, and spare sunglasses. In my pants pockets I had keys, cell phone, camera, sunscreen, a topo map, a pen, and a 3x5 notebook. My daypack was probably under twenty-five pounds, even including the five pounds of water I’d started out with. As I packed the previous evening, I considered tossing in my harness, a few slings and carabiners, and a hundred feet of cord, just to fill up the empty pack space. But, after a minute of reflection, I couldn’t think of any circumstance they were likely to be needed.
My entire food reserve consisted of a few remaining bites of trail mix and two granola bars. I had no stove, or any other source of heat. Not even a match. The nearest firewood was a couple miles below us, so we wouldn’t be building any bonfires. Someone pulled out some chemical handwarmers, which I’d heard about, but never seen used. As we were packing up to leave at the end of the day, I picked one up that had fallen out onto the snow, and damned if it wasn’t still really warm, maybe three hours after being activated. In fact, it stayed warm for at least a couple more hours after that. I had plenty of light; a headlamp powered by three AA batteries, a flashlight with four AA batteries, and a tiny backup flashlight with a single AAA battery. The only luxury I’d allowed myself in terms of pack weight was a pair of 16-ounce binoculars. They were used only once, later on. A couple of the guys in John’s party had worked out hand signals to communicate the status of the chopper. The guy down at Helen Lake who was supposed to be waving was barely visible from our upper encampment, so the guy up on top borrowed the binoculars briefly to see if he could pick up any gestures.
There were a series of phone calls in and out during this encampment that are now jumbled in my mind, and I won't try to recreate the series of discussions, decisions, and directions that ensued. Suffice it to say that we soon had confirmation that a California Highway Patrol helicopter was en route. I did, however, have to suffer another bout of technological humiliation. At one point, the dispatcher asked if anyone had a GPS unit to provide an exact fix on our location. Of course I had a GPS unit, what engineer wouldn't? Problem was, my GPS expertise was probably more dismal than my cell phone expertise, if that was even possible. But I bravely fired it up and pointed it hopefully at the heavens. After a few moments, it had a fix on the satellites, and I recited the displayed coordinates and elevation. There was a long pause on the other end, followed by something like "Umm, how familiar are you with the operation of your GPS unit?" There was some arcane discussion regarding NAD27 versus NAD83. My pride was once again wounded, and, just for good measure, this whole GPS episode had to be re-enacted in a subsequent phone call.
We knew the only nearby location large and flat enough for the chopper to land safely was Helen Lake, about 400 vertical feet below us, at elevation 10,450 feet. Helen Lake was a misnomer, as there was certainly no body of water present. It was just a large, flat bench on the side of the mountain. We’d been having some discussion regarding our next move. Should we keep Vince comfortable in his present position as long as possible, and pick up and move down to Helen Lake only when the arrival of the chopper was imminent? Or should we move down the hill now, and then have to repeat the whole routine of getting Vince comfortably situated?
We were concerned that Vince wasn’t keeping warm enough, so John decided to run down the hill to his camp to get some sleeping bags and foam pads. I also understood there were still one or two members of his party who had stayed in camp because they weren’t feeling well enough to climb earlier in the day. After John had been gone a while, I decided to make use of the down time and shuttle his heavy pack down to Helen Lake. John obviously wouldn’t be able to assist Vince down the hill and carry his pack at the same time. About halfway down, I met Ted for the first time. Ted was one of the guys that had stayed in the camp, and was now on his way up to help. I left John’s pack there on the slope, and returned up the hill with Ted. Shortly afterwards, John also rejoined us with the extra supplies he’d picked up from his camp.
I didn’t note the time we first spotted the chopper approaching in the distance. It hovered for several minutes near the bottom of Avalanche Gulch. We thought it might be having trouble spotting us, so we held up the space blanket and waved it back and forth. The sun was low on the horizon and glaring directly at us. I can’t imagine the crew could have missed the brilliant flashes from an object that resembled twenty square feet of crinkled tin foil. The chopper then disappeared from sight. It had apparently landed somewhere down below, waiting for the right circumstances to land at Helen Lake.
Our primary outside contact had become Corporal Adams from the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue squad. Because of my failed attempts to increase the ring tone volume on my phone, I missed a couple of his calls and he went to voicemail. One of his voicemails must have arrived very shortly after the waving of the space blanket, and is transcribed below:
Hello Brian, this is Corporal Adams, Siskyou County Search and Rescue. We have some visual with you from the ground and we just wanted to make it pretty clear to you guys that you really need to keep moving down toward Lake Helen. The helicopter may not be able to land on the mountain at all. They’re going to try again here in about an hour, and it’s going to be very difficult for us to get up to you, so the further down you can get the better chance we have. If we can’t get to you then it’ll end up being an overnighter for you guys up there. So keep moving, and we’re going to keep trying to get people up to you. Give me a call back if you have any questions. Thank you. Bye.
Jan 28, 3:56 pm, duration 42 sec
This voice message was the clincher, so right about 4:00 pm, we had Vince up and moving downhill. We employed our previous method of carrying him, but, this time, the slope was so steep that his feet kept slipping out from under him. John and I were wearing crampons, but Vince had no traction on the hard snow. John had the ingenious idea of having Ted walk a few feet in front of us and stomp closely spaced steps in the snow for Vince to drop his feet into. It worked very well once we got into the rhythm. John and I couldn’t carry any load other than the weight of Vince on our shoulders, and obviously Vince couldn’t carry his own pack, so the other guys were loaded down with all the excess gear. Vince’s son Jeff almost disappeared under the mountain of gear he was lugging down the hill.
Partway down, John realized he’d dropped his parka, but we decided to continue on, and return for it later. It took us maybe twenty minutes to reach Helen Lake. So, here we were at the landing site, but there was no indication that the chopper was making a move in our direction. We had no choice but to find another big, sheltering rock and try to get Vince back into a warm and comfortable position. John was busy getting Vince situated, so I ran back up the hill to retrieve his parka. I backtracked, following the very distinctive set of six-legged creature tracks that we’d made coming down just minutes earlier.
The tracks headed straight for a parka-sized dark lump on the snow a few hundred feet away, but, somehow, the parka had morphed into a rock by the time I got there. I headed for the next parka-sized dark lump another few hundred feet away, and, damned if it didn’t turn out to be another rock. Then, at 4:24 pm, my cell phone rang, and I realized I was probably about to receive mission-critical, time-sensitive direction from Corporal Adams, and it would take me probably ten minutes to get back down and inform the crew. Why didn’t my oxygen-starved brain cells consider this possible chain of events before I volunteered for this parka search and rescue mission? Sure enough, Corporal Adams informed me that we now had a couple of snowmobiles on the way up, in the gully to our left, and he wanted us to start walking Vince down to intercept them.
I acknowledged the Corporal’s instructions, but now had a bit of a dilemma. Should I rush back down and get Vince moving, or spend a few more minutes in search of the parka? My legs and lungs were telling me to go back down, as it seemed entirely unnatural to be returning uphill at this late stage of the journey. But I decided the benefit of having such a valuable piece of insulation in case of an overnighter justified a few more minutes of time, so I slogged on. Just when I’d pretty much convinced myself that the infamous Shasta winds had, by now, swept the parka into the next county, I spotted a dark lump with a distinctly blue tinge, and made a beeline towards it. Minutes later I’d claimed the prize. It was a seriously warm parka, and the weight of all that insulation in my hands made the 300 vertical feet of re-climbing all worthwhile. If things went bad, maybe John would take pity and let me wear it for an hour during the night.
The prospect of spending the entire night here at Helen Lake was disturbing. I was perfectly comfortable at the moment, milling about in the 30 degree sunshine and light winds, but I didn't have enough insulation to keep warm if I was going to be stuck up here overnight. I was wearing a long-sleeved, lightweight capilene base layer, a medium-weight fleece shirt, and a bright red DriClime windshirt. I was thankful now for the high visibility of the bright red outer layer. I cringed at the obtrusive color when I bought it, but hey, it was thirty bucks off. Bottoms were thinly insulated hardshell pants and high gaiters over briefs and bare legs. I had good BD Ice gloves, a long neck gaiter, and a warm fleece skullcap under my helmet. I was wearing heavy leather gore-tex mountaineering boots and brand new heavyweight socks. I'd pretty well trashed the outer finish on the toes of my boots scrambling on desert peaks, and even though I'd waterproofed the leather the previous night, my toes were starting to get a little damp. I had a backup pair of light fleece gloves and a pair of paper-thin windstopper gloves. I had a hooded hardshell parka, which is a bomber piece of gear, but lightly insulated. My spare dry socks were already on Vince's injured hand. There was a pair of goggles in my pack. And that was it. I was kicking myself for tossing my fleece pants and toasty down vest into the "do not bring" pile. Vince obviously had first dibs on my foam pad and space blanket, but even if I could reclaim those items, I was certain to be a very unhappy camper by the time the sun rose tomorrow morning.
Then ring-a-ding-ding again, I was surely about to get chewed out by the Corporal for not immediately following his previous orders and having Vince ready and waiting for our knights on shining snowmobiles. But alas, I was off the hook, for the chopper crew had seen a window, and was going to make a landing attempt within minutes. My new instructions were to have Vince stay put at Helen Lake, which worked out nicely, since that’s exactly where he’d been all along. However, if the chopper made a landing attempt, but was forced by wind conditions to retreat, we were to immediately go back to Plan A, and meet up with the snowmobiles. Or were the snowmobiles Plan B? I forget. But I was somewhat dubious of the whole snowmobile strategy. I was sure they would’ve made their loud and obnoxious presence known by now if they were anywhere within five miles of us.
I rushed back down the hill, determined not to miss the rare spectacle of a chopper landing high on the slopes of Mount Shasta. I relayed the news of our impending deliverance, and we made preparations to get Vince up and moving once again. Within minutes, the magnificent bird was coming straight at us. It made a turn and landed about a hundred feet away. Helicopter Man jumped out, asked a few questions, assessed our situation, and gave us brief directions on how to get Vince into the door of the chopper. Walk this way, then that way, turn around the other way and then hoist him up into the seat. Once he’s strapped in, reverse those directions, and whatever you do, keep your head down. “OK, Chief, we got it!” So, once again, with John crouched under Vince’s right arm and I under his left, we staggered off.
As we were lifting Vince into the chopper, I noticed he had a black jacket just lying loosely draped over his shoulders. I had a moment of panic as I envisioned the jacket being sucked up into the rotor as the chopper went into violent convulsions and the whole mass of machinery and humanity went careening off the mountain in a disintegrating fireball. I snatched the jacket under my arm, and we awkwardly maneuvered Vince into his seat. As I stood by while he got buckled in, I gave a quick look around to see if there might be an unoccupied seat, preferably a nice window in business class (there wasn’t). Then John and I made our retreat, per previous instructions, trying to make crisp and soldierly turns without falling over each other, all the while making sure to keep our heads down.
Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the chopper dropped out of sight over the bench of Helen Lake and was gone. Vince had been safely evacuated. I took a photo of the departing chopper; it was time-stamped at 4:54 pm. I checked against the time stamp on an arrival photo, and, by simple subtraction, deduced the chopper had been on the ground at Helen Lake for exactly seven minutes. There was a sense of satisfaction and relief all around. But the reality was, the rest of us were no better off than before. We still had three and a half miles and 3,500 vertical feet of steep, slippery snow to deal with between here and Bunny Flat, the cutely named parking lot at 6,950 feet elevation. Sunset was certain to be right on schedule at 5:20 pm sharp. Almost 4,000 feet above us, the cold, silent, snow-crowned queen of the mountains was looking down in contempt. She only had to say it once, “Now get your sorry asses and noisy toys out of here and leave me in peace.”
Up until now, she’d been generous and forgiving. So many things could have gone badly. What if a big, sharp rock in Vince’s path had been just a foot one way or the other? What if there had been no cell phone coverage at our location? What if the weather had made a turn for the worse, and the chopper couldn’t have landed until … who knows when? What if John’s party of competent mountaineers hadn’t been camped nearby with all their resources? Well, no time to think about all that now. We were still in a bit of a situation. Only an hour of daylight remained. A waxing three quarter moon was high in the sky. The slopes were coated in a white blanket that generously reflected whatever light still lingered from the setting sun.
Another descending climber had joined our group just about the time the chopper arrived. I believe I overheard someone say that this guy had actually reached the summit. If so, it was quite an achievement, given reports of the fearsome winds at the highest elevations earlier in the day. By now, I was getting nervous that there seemed to be much milling about and fiddling around going on, but no real prospect for an immediate departure by the entire group. John’s party still had to hike down the hill to the left and break camp, which meant they would probably be walking out in darkness no matter what. Even though I had an abundance of artificial candlepower in my bag of tricks, I would much prefer navigating through the trees at the bottom of Avalanche Gulch with some amount of natural light. So, at exactly 5:00 pm, I bid them farewell and struck out on my own.
My original plan was to playfully slide down much of this section, taking advantage of the gentle 20-25 degree slopes and forgiving runouts. But, with the diminishing light and occasional exposed rock, this wasn’t the best time to be practicing innovative self-arrest and glissading techniques. It took a fair amount of concentration to run/walk down the hill wearing crampons. Catching a front point could send me sprawling, so I found a good, steady striding rhythm and determined to maintain it until I was off the steep section. I breathed a sigh of relief when it eventually became apparent that I would win the race against the darkness. For a while there, it was even fun. I’d climbed over 7,000 vertical feet this weekend, and still felt I could go on for miles. Not bad for an old body that’s been banging around for half a century. Then, a couple hours later, after I’d checked into a motel in town, I hit the wall. I realized I’d just been running on adrenaline.
I reached the trees without incident, and slipped my ice axe back into my pack. The water tube and bite valve from my camelback had frozen shut about three hours ago, and I was beginning to feel very dehydrated. Several times Vince had asked for a drink, so water could obviously have become a critical commodity. I refrained from bumming drinks, not being sure how much everyone else had available. I’d started out the morning with 80 ounces of water, and later discovered that I’d only consumed 36 ounces during the entire 10 hour 15 minute outing. Not nearly enough. Looking back on the days’ events, I’d have to say the combined effects of dehydration, high elevation, physical exertion, and stress had noticeably impaired my brain function. Not a good thing for someone whose mental batteries are only about half-charged in the best of conditions.
To relieve the monotony of the slog through the trees, I focused my efforts on getting some water flowing from my camelback, and, just as the parking lot came into view, I finally succeeded. It was 5:57 pm when I plopped down over the snowbank and onto the solid pavement at Bunny Flat. I thought back to my only previous visit to the Mt. Shasta area, in late February of 2005. I’d spent most of a day helping a group of French Canadians dig out the Dodge Durango they’d managed to bury in the slushy snow on a back road out near Black Butte. Do people up here just wait for my visits to get themselves in trouble?