Shastina and Mount Shasta 5/22-5/25/2015
Andy and I rolled out of Portland as soon as we were able to on the afternoon of May 22, aka, the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. I had been up late the night before baking trail mix cookies- a staple on our long trips- and making sure that I had all of my gear organized for the long weekend. When 3:00pm rolled around, I jetted out of the cafe where I’d spent the last part of my day working, ran home, showered as quickly as possible (relishing in the warm water that I wouldn’t get to experience again until late Monday), gave Pico to my Mom, and drove to Andy’s house… well, I sat in traffic for an hour on my way to Andy’s house… that was fun.
Eventually, I arrived, and we got our gear situated and modified my packing abilities since they are still fairly neophyte-esque. Then we were off! This would be the inaugural mountain adventure for the truck (Patrick Swyaze) and we were both psyched that we wouldn’t have to unpack, pitch and then ultimately repack the tent, etc once we reached the trailhead.
Something really important happened during our trip south- when we stopped for dinner at what turned out to be a pretty BOMB Thai place, I looked up trip reports for Cascade Gulch- the route we’d been planning on taking up Shasta. Turns out, the bergschrund has grown in recent years and can be very tricky to pass- an ordeal that we had not brought necessary gear for. After some digging on Google, we found an alternate route up Shasta- one that would allow us to continue with our plan of 2 summits, 2 days: the Western Face. Steep and long, the route provided easy access and would allow us to do our summit push without the technical gear that we’d left behind. THANK GOODNESS.
We became doubly excited about the fact that we would spend the first night sleeping in the back of Swayze when we rolled into Bunny Flat… at 1:00am. So much for our planned Alpine Start for Shastina on Saturday morning. We elected to keep it casual, slept in, ate breakfast and drank non-instant coffee (which is impossibly good when compared with the instant coffee we were going to be drinking for the next two mornings. Up the trail we went, the first two miles being relatively flat and helping us ease into the weight of heavy multi-day packs- weight that we try to avoid at all costs by doing everything light and fast.
Once we passed Horse Camp (7,800′) we broke off toward Hidden Valley- our camping destination for the weekend since it would provide us with direct routes up both Shastina and Shasta and held the allure of allowing us to avoid the cluster of humans that would surely be heading up the Avalanche Gulch route on Shasta.
Four miles after leaving the trailhead, we reached what can only be described as a EPIC valley. Settled in the foreground of both peaks, Hidden Valley offered spectacular views of the mountain landscape and far more privacy than we would have received elsewhere. We quickly ditched our non-essential gear (tent, pads, stove, etc) near a large rock in the center of the valley, and began our trek toward Shastina. I, of course, got my epic’ing out of the way early and had a miniature panic attack on a 20 degree snow slope… however, by the time we reached the actual climbing section (at most maybe 40-45 degrees), I was cool as a cucumber and psyched. The Lightning Couloir (the route we took), was basically straight up and I was pretty damn sure that the top of the pitch showcased the summit.
Well, I was wrong. As with many mountains, the top of the Couloir was a false summit and we still had 500 feet of climbing to do. Oh well. The summit of Shastina is actually a rad, crumbly little boulder, the pieces of which are held in place by ice and snowpack. We climbed to the top, topping out in good form and smiled happily from the top of the the third tallest peak in the Cascade Range. Damn. One more mountain (halfway) experienced.
The descent is where the fun began for me. A massive dehydration/altitude headache brought on by sunburn and not drinking NEARLY enough water had begun forming behind my eyes and was rocking the shit out of my body. I was only becoming progressively more miserable as we got closer to camp- Andy skied ahead in great style, I nabbed some sick videos of his ski descent off the summit and through the Couloir, and he went ahead to camp in front of me so we could start melting snow and getting the tent put up.
I was functional long enough to accomplish a few tasks but eventually succumbed to the brewing migraine and napped for two hours. When I awoke, I felt only slightly better- well enough to try to eat and to force some water down. I was beginning to fear that our push up Shasta the following day may not happen considering the shape I was in… getting hydrated was only step 1. Without enough calories stored up, I wouldn’t get anywhere close to gaining the 5,000′+ we would have to climb in order to summit Shasta. Reluctantly, I fell asleep and hoped for the best.
Sunday morning, I awoke ravenous and revitalized. Andy, however, was now the one feeling ill- a combination of the altitude meds zapping his energy and the massive sunburn he had received on Shastina working in tandem to make him feel as I had the night before. We opted to sleep a few hours longer than we’d originally planned in order to help us both recover. When we awoke this time, he felt a little better but was nowhere close to the ideal 100% that we both wanted on the day we attempted our first fourteen thousand footer… However, perpetual badass that he is, he rallied, forced down some breakfast, and we crampon’ed up for the climb up Shasta.
The first pitch of climbing was fairly steep- likely the second (or possibly the first) steepest section of the entire day. Luckily, once again, we were blessed with beautiful, unthinkable weather and the snow was primo for crampon’ing. The climbing was too steep for skinning so Andy planned on packing his skis up as far as he could. Eventually, the sun became so intense that we were climbing in our base layers at 11,000’ and up… only stopping for puffies when we took breaks and keeping our necks and faces protected with an extra layer to prevent furthering the skin damage from the previous day.
I was amped. Andy was not. I began playing a counting game in my head to keep my pace up and my mind occupied as we started up each section of Shasta: I would pick a spot, predict the number of steps it would take to get there and I would count… sometimes out loud, sometimes in my head. Every 50 steps I made myself take a sip of water. I was not going to fall victim to another headache brought on by poor planning and amateur-hour maneuvering. The counting was an experiment in maintaining motivation- the slog up to the top of the West Face of Shasta is nothing more than a steep, steep slog (we gained 2,000’ in the first 1.25 miles- it was nuts) with nothing to look at besides the guided parties struggling up the face with their unnecessarily donned ropes and harnesses and the occasion glance up from stepping on blindingly white snow to admire the landscape around us. Eventually, Andy began to rally and tried my counting game. We made bets at how far certain landmarks were from us and counted steps to those landmarks. Eventually, amazingly, we passed the summit of Shastina in the distance and I knew that I was at the highest elevation I had ever been at…. Shortly after that, we crowned the top of the West Face and saw the summit of Mount Shasta looming in the distance. That was when I suddenly started to bonk. I was hydrated and I was fueled but the previous hours spent climbing steadily in the hot sun at elevation had zapped my energy. The counting game became useless. I found myself at ease sitting on the top of the West Face, 13,000’+ above sea level.
This was when Andy began to really get motivated and he inspired me to finish the climb. We reached the final pitch to the summit with a slight amount of energy to spare and joined an extremely happy party up top who were excitedly snapping photos of each other at 14,150’.
We took a video to send to our friends who had recently had a baby and started back down. The ecstasy of what we had accomplished during the weekend didn’t truly set in until we reached camp and began wolfing down dinner and chugging snow melt faster than we could fill the Jet Boil.
We climbed the third and the second tallest peaks in the Cascades in two days. In my wildest dreams I never would have guessed that not only were we actually able to climb one mountain every month but also that we would be able to climb #2 and #3 over the course of two days. Happiness and satisfaction filled every fiber of my being on that last evening and I relished in it. Between my supreme adventure partner and myself, we were able to motivate and encourage and inspire one another to reach the tallest peak either of us had ever reached and we did so in style, with smiles, and with encouragement and laughter with the people we passed. I couldn’t have imagined a more challenging and fulfilling weekend.’