Glory Day: The Summit

Trip Start Jun 11, 2008
Trip End Jun 22, 2008

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Dern tent

Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, June 15, 2008

Wes woke me up at 4:15 a.m., 15 minutes before the alarm. Neither of us got good sleep. We were both a little nervous from the impending doom of Shasta. I had a couple nightmares about Shasta.

In one dream, my friend forgot gear and we couldn't even make a summit attempt. In the other dream, the mountain looked so big that the peak touched space. Total hours of sleep: 4 hours.

I counted 22 people headlamps already making their way up the hill by the time we got out of our tents. A few stragglers at Helen and a handful of dayhikers who came up from Bunny Flats tailed them.

We set out shortly after 5 a.m. The sun was already rising and we never used our headlamps. The snow was nice and hard - perfect for the steep climb up to Red Banks. At the base of the heart, the trail climbed about 45 degrees. On the right side of the heart, some spots were about 50 degrees - seemed like it was straight up.

I took a misstep and let a couple cantaloupe-sized rocks tumble down the mountain towards an old man who was hiking alone. I yelled, "Rock!" And he didn't hear me. It took a few times before he looked up and saw the tiny boulders of death tumbling towards him. The rocks tumbled about 10 feet from him. (Phew). I didn't want to hike back down the hill to have to patch the guy up.

Minutes before this incident, we passed a nice young woman who was heading back to camp crying. We asked her why she turned and she said that there was a rock slide near the heart and a softball-sized rock pegged her on the ankle and she was forced to turn around.

She wasn't hobbling, but maybe she was more scared than anything. Four others turned around within an hour of our hike. Two due to fatigue from "being old," one because of altitude sickness and another because his friend was sick and he felt bad leaving him at camp.

About 3/4s of the way up to Red Banks, the snow turns to doo-doo, then quickly to rock and ice. 24 hours ago, this exposed stretch measured 100 feet or so. Today, the trail deteriorated and we traversed loose rock and ice for about 200 feet. Luckily since everything was still frozen over, our crampons did a lot of the gripping. Can't imagine what this is like for the late starters who will climb this when it's softer.

We made good time up through the heart - despite the choking smoke coming from the Nor Cal wildfires. The trail was made easier because of snow cups. They acted like nice little steps to the top. It took us about two hours to get to the bottom of Red Banks.

A lot of people see Red Banks and just assume that you go through one of the chimneys and all of a sudden you're at Misery Hill. When I finally stuck my head into one of the 8-foot-wide chutes, I realized that Red Banks was a monster in itself. The "chimney" is about a 500-foot vertical climb at about a 50-degree angle.

Most of the terrain here is really icy since the snow is shadowed in the banks. At this point, Wes was an energy-filled jack rabbit flying up the mountain. My lungs felt like they shrank to the size of a walnut and I couldn't breathe after taking 10 consecutive steps.

One hour later, we got to the top of Red Banks and saw a comforting sight - Misery Hill. I expected Misery Hill to be hell. But they should really rename this section to Misery Mound. The hill isn't too big - we got to the top of MH in about 45 minutes.

Winds made Misery Hill interesting. A couple of hikers turned around because of the 50-60 mph winds. Wes and I found no problem dealing with it. At this point my lungs might as well have stopped working. I couldn't breathe.

I ended up following a guided group that took two steps then took a deep breathe. I followed their pace for 30 minutes without stopping and we made good progress. Wes, the jack rabbit, was just moving too fast for me. He'll pay the price later.

From the top of Misery Mound, the real peak comes into sight. At this point Wes and I are 100% confident that we'll make the summit. We already start talking about how we conquered the mountain, forget about the thin air and our exhausted bodies.

About 20 minutes later (around 11 a.m.) we were standing on top of the summit. No wind, not too cold and beautiful blue skies surrounded us. It was the mountain god's reward for fighting through ice, wind and snow.

Summit was pretty busy - about a dozen people up there. Half of the dozen was a Mormon Boy Scout troupe from Reno. None of the half-dozen kids had water, their leaders carried all of the water. Only a few of them had crampons, and only a couple of them had helmets.

I should've called child protective services.

Our stay at the summit was rather short, about 15-20 minutes. We knew we had a long trek back to camp. The deteriorating snow and steep hills made the return trip a bit tricky.

On the way down, Wes got a major headache and spats of dizziness. On the heart, he had to lie down and just relax. This was his first time above 12,000 feet and his body finally reacted to the thin air. This was also the first time Wes used a lot of ice gear, so coming down for him was a little tricky.

I slowed our duo going up, and he was the extra weight on the way down. Funny how mountain gods work.

We glissaded down a few slopes for a total of 1,500 feet or so. I went with the go-as-fast-as-you-can-then-go-spread-eagle-to-stop technique while Wes used his crampons to go slow and steady. We both got down safe.

After a quick 30-minute nap at camp, we headed down to Bunny Flats to meet up with the awesome PT Cruiser. At 8 p.m., more than 15 hours after we started our day, we finally made it back.

We were both sore and sunburnt and crashed at a hotel in Redding. Best bed ever.
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