The Gear Tester
The Gear Tester
Climbing mount Shasta is hard work. Don't let them fool you. As a general rule climbing any free standing 14,000 foot volcano is going to present a number of challenges, the least of which is surviving the avalanche of gear, the most of which could be the navigation of any or all of the following: dangerous terrain, high altitude, hard physical labor, and bitterly changing weather conditions.
My best bud recruited me for this trip and the best recollection I have from it is the laughter he provided during the grunt up and down the mountain. His assault on every piece of rented or borrowed gear he'd gathered to climb the bitch was nothing short of extreme.
Crampons - Thankfully we had one experienced climber with us with a resume that includes a trip to the Himalaya and a summit of Aconcagua. Having made it relatively unscathed to mid mountain camp he engaged us in some basic crampon training to prepare for our summit attempt.
Enter the "Gear Tester". After some minor tweaks installing our crampons we were moving up a nearby slope with relative ease. GT appeared poised for quick mastery of his crampons after only a few cautious steps. Not so fast. Crampons are sharp, and quick to inflict pain. After what seemed initial success, he had inflicted not one, but three vicious puncture holes in his insulated snow pants. Thinsulate oozed from the wounds.
Long Johns - While long johns may seem an ideal option for avoiding cramp on snags, they are not proper insulation against sub freezing temperatures or high winds carrying biting ice crystals. They provide zero protection against the elements and are not known for being utilized as an expedition layer for good reason. External organs may be in harms way when long johns are the only thing you are wearing below the waist at 13,000 feet.
Randonee skis with Dynafit bindings - Clicking into Dynafit style touring skis on an icy, 35 degree slope would be challenging for the most experienced backcountry skier. Touring guides, with years of experience in the extremes of the Alps take time and care getting into these bindings.
As GT told me on the drive to Shasta, "sometimes it is better for me not to think about what I'm getting into before I do it." I've known GT for years and these words have served him well most of the time. Most of the time shit happens and it is no big deal.
Most of the time you throw your skis into the side of the hill, bang your boot into the binding, and rocket down the hill. Some of the time you are scared shitless of falling off the mountain and take great care, with knees shaking, to figure out for the first time in your life how to get into Dynafit style touring bindings and you just barely nudge your ski and it explodes off the side of the mountain with incredible velocity on a 2000 vertical foot descent.
It is safe to say that GT's lack of experience on touring skis was the primary reason he walked rather than skied down the mountain. However, it cannot be overlooked that he may have figured it out had he not been suffering from a frozen dick (see above, Long Johns).
Destruction of Marmot 4 season tent & Marmot zero degree goose down sleeping bag - Descending mountains sucks almost as bad as climbing them, which is why we drag 20 lbs of extra ski gear up them to avoid climbing down. Gear Tester hauled skis and boots up the mountain but did not enjoy a quick descent. He is strong like that.
For the 5 tough guys in our crew that did make the summit, waiting around for GT to walk his ass off the mountain was not appealing. Not with beers and pizza waiting a short 30 minute ski down the mountain from our camp.
Having not made it to the summit I volunteered to take down his tent and pack his sleeping bag. What I found when I unzipped his tent was vintage Crime Scene Investigation material: blood, guts, destruction, bird feathers, warm meat, and the smell of burnt nylon. It was the perfect excuse to sit my tired bones back down and wait for him to do it himself.
Let's deconstruct the scene.
GT borrows zero degree down sleeping bag from my brother. His girlfriend prepares 10 pounds of meat (steak, chicken, bacon) for him to eat during the trip. She packs it nicely into zip lock freezer bags which are opened for grazing but not shut. GT befriends REI associate while on $1000 spending spree gearing up for the trip, and learns that lighting a candle inside your tent is "a good way to remove moisture" while you're sleeping. He forgets his tent and has to rent a 4 season tent from the Mt Shasta climbing store. He burns a candle in the darkness before bed. The sun comes out the next morning for our summit attempt and beats down upon this mixture of carnage, which now includes a rented 4 season tent with multiple burn holes in the roof and floor, a down sleeping bag leaking goose down, and open bags of warm meat.
The climbing store in Mt Shasta did not want their tent back.
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