Casaval Ridge, Grade III,Class 4
A little less than a year before, I summited Shasta for the first time. Now in the late spring I planned to try a new route. A group of us decided to ambitiously plan a five day trip with an ascent of Mount Shasta by an easier route, followed by Casaval Ridge.
None of us had climbed for long. Our original plan centered on climbing the West Face Gully of Mount Shasta. Depending on our initial reconnaissance, we planned to make a decision if the Casaval Ridge route was within our group’s ability. If possible, we planned for a second summit attempt along that line.
Of the initial eight or so who showed interest in the trip, the number trimmed down to four, and then three. And number four of our party was to bring tent number two. We waited for him at the trail head for an extra hour. He never arrived. That left Garth, Ed and me. Our high camp now would become a bivy. Comfort exchanged for some suffering, or at least inconvenience and unsolicited intimacy.
We plodded up the lower reaches of the ridge and slowly the tree line lay behind us. After making camp, we brewed up for an early alpine start. With the loss of our fourth man, all three of us crowded into a single tiny tent. For one of us to move, we all had to shift from one side to the other. Three AM came, after several hours of a sardine-like experience that added further stiffness to our cold and weary bodies.
We donned our gear, laced our boots and tightened our crampon straps with chapped hands and started our ascent. We never completed the West Face Gully route. Our ropes and protection remained cached below. Before we knew it, we found ourselves half way up Casaval Ridge. We pressed on, never quite knowing what lay beyond the next gendarme. At one point we were sobered by watching Ed dislodge a loose handhold on easy 5th class terrain above 60 degree icy runout. He teetered as he regained his balance and nearly a thousand feet below the rock disappeared down Avalanche Gulch.
The route was liberating - I shuddered at the prospects of down climbing the 50 - 60 degree ice we had just surmounted. We would have to continue up the ridge and descend the standard route. Finally after winding along the tephra layer of the Red Banks I crossed a slope of talus. The rock was etched in a weird frozen sastrugi-like ice formations. The summit pinnacle was visible as we slogged up Misery Hill.
As I approached the summit I was alone - unlike the previous year when I joined fifty other people at my then personal altitude record. Ed and I waited for Garth who arrived 45 minutes later. We descended in the late afternoon as pieces of rock and ice detached themselves from the mountain.
We returned to our camp. Exhausted, we attempted to come up with some reasonable sleeping arrangement. We only succeeded in kneeing and elbowing each other throughout another sleepless night.
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