Jul 23rd 2017 was an important day in my life. At 11:40AM, I was standing on the peak of Mt. Shasta. What a humbling experience that was. I would like to share how it felt. How I prepared. And how it changed me.
To start, I could never have made it up without a lot of help. My guide, Alex, my team with Ashwin and Bhuvana, the porters who lightened my load on day 1, were all essential part of the success.
My dream of climbing shasta was an old one. And it predated the recent tragic end of my marriage. I have always been fascinated by mountains , and had never been on one. One of my greatest fears in life is the fear of heights. My legs get weak, I get light headed at the mere thought of being high up.
But there I was that morning, 14000 feet above sea-level. Having climbed for a total of 13 hours over two days. And for the whole way up I had glanced down into a potential slide of over 2000 feet on ice and snow. I had been mere inches away from drop-offs of thousands of feet , and my fear was always under check.
Mt Shasta was not scary. It was beautiful. It was awe-inspiring, almost beckoning me to climb it. And I was drawn to answer the call. I was drawn to cast aside a fear that has plagued me for as long as I can remember. And to experience the high that comes with pushing yourself.
My primary form of exercise was mountain biking. I would ride an average of 2 times a week. And the trails would be 1600-2000 feet climb on average and between 6-14 miles. This built up my general cardio and quads for the four months preceding the climb.
I supplemented this with stair climbs with weighted vest of 50lbs. I did this kind of workout maybe about 10 times in the two preceding months before the climb.
There were 4-5 trail climbs with the same vest and 2-3 climbs with a lighter pack in the last week. The trail I did climbs 2200ft in 3.2 miles.
There was occasional swim and run days. I would swim about 1200-1500 yards in 45 mins. And the runs ranged from 6-10 Miles.
Hike 1: We were 6 of us climbing with 2 guides. We started at approx. 7000 ft. at the bunny flats parking lot and started a 1.9 mile hike to horse camp @ 7950 ft. I believe this took us about 1hour 27 mins. Most of the hike is through woods and is fairly well shaded.
I was carrying not more than 20 lbs in my backpack. We had arranged for porters to help on the climb to base camp. I was grateful to have made that decision.
Hike 2: Horse camp has a water spring, where we all refilled our water and headed to 5050. This was going to be our base camp for the climb the next day. The hike is over Olberman’s causeway. And I climbed 1600 feet over 2 hour 26 minutes. Towards the end we saw snow for the first time. We were now roughly at 9500 ft.
This hike starts on a long series of flat stones place on trail to prevent trail damage, and then climbs the a steep slope up the side of the mountain. The surface is scree and talus.
The guides had already setup most of our camps, and the guides finished the rest. Some of us brought out our sleeping pads and rested on the snow. Guide Alex set up the kitchen and then made us some delicious Minestrone soup.
Guide Richard gave us the quick basics of snow school. This was mostly about the technique involved walking uphill and downhill. And then techniques for stopping a downward slide through snow, called self-arrest.
We settled in for the evening after dinner. We were shown how to put on crampons, and our harnesses. We were in bed by 7PM.
One of the most remarkable night skies greeted me when I stepped out to relieve myself. I was overwhelmed by what seemed like a blanket of stars.
I struggled to fall asleep for the first hour. But I did get some sleep, till Richard woke us up at 1:30 AM.
Hike 3: We scrambled to put on our gear in the dark. I was freezing when I woke up, but managed to quickly put on all the layers. I had my synthetic shirt on, followed by my fleece jacket and then my down jacket. That stabilized the shivering.
We didn’t leave camp till closer to 3. And proceeded to hike up to Helen lake at roughly 10200ft. We took a short break and then roped up in two teams of four.
From this point, the grade became significantly steeper. As a reference we were climbing approx. 1000+ feet every mile. The terrain was soft snow, which was pretty good to make steps.
With a series of breaks we continued upwards, About 6 hours of climbing later we reached the red banks, which was the steepest section of the overall climb.
Then we headed up two hills, short hill and misery hill. After Short hill, snow and the grade is not significant and so we got off our short rope teams.
Misery hill was a misnomer for me. I was struggling with the sliding feet experience of the snow. And on solid ground , I found my legs were still strong. And I blazed up the hill at a phenomenal 2 mph.
Then a short hike across a snow field. And onward to the summit hill.
The rocky hill has some drop-offs, But I stayed calm and made it up. It took us 9 hours to get there. And it felt incredible to be up there.
Another highlight of the trip was on the way down where we glissaded down on our butts. Felt like a 5 year old all the way down.
This climb was up there in the most memorable things I have done. Now to plan for another.