It’s midnight on July 3rd, 2011 and I am just getting up to start my day. I haven’t slept much. It feels like Christmas and I have too much on my mind. I pull on my long johns, my snow pants and jacket, grab my prepared pack, mountaineering boots, and a hot cup of joe. I step out under the clear Shasta sky and see my friends at the truck. We’re all nervous and excited about the adventure ahead. Thirty minutes later, we reach the parking lot of Mount Shasta. We cuss. It’s cold, we should be sleeping, and everything is icy. Together, we start hiking up the mountain. Step by step we get closer to the top of the world.
At 5:00 am we get to the base camp of Mount Shasta, Helens Lake. We’ve hiked 4.5 hours in the dark. When we arrive, climbers are just waking up. The mountain welcomes us with the most magnificent sight. The waking sun has casted a triangular shadow hundreds of miles long across the valley. We are high enough that we can see how light reflects differently through the atmosphere. There is a clear distinction between man and nature, real life and dream scape, valley air and crisp air. The colors of these worlds are brilliant.
We snack and prepare to conquer the Heart, a 4-hour hike of non-stop 45-60* incline of falling rock and ice chunks. I am breathing heavily, counting my steps, looking at the horizon which never seems to get closer, and enjoying myself immensely. I find myself laughing and encouraging my friends along this brutal incline. There’s is nothing to do but have fun and keep moving. We laugh as our feet and ice axes collapse into the ice… as if it’s playing pranks on us. I find myself playing cheerleader, yelling blatant lies to my friends, but it makes us feel better and push harder knowing we’re “almost there!”
At 9am, we reach Red Rocks, the pass between the Heart and Misery Hill. It’s on an edge of a giant glacier and a soft powdery slope that looks like butter or a deadly nest of pillows you’d love to lay in after such exertion. We snack and munch on flavored gels and salty bars. I sat silently and thought of Misery Hill, an obstacle everyone has spoken of, a hill that never ends. The incline is gradual and the length is deceivingly long.
My rent-a-boots have carved a permanent dent in my right shin. The plastic laces keep loosening. My leg rattles like a twig in a mason jar. Slamming against the edges of this plastic encased boot. It’s excruciating, but I can’t stop moving. I’ve come all this way and must make it to the top. My body and mind feel great, but every step is agonizing. This is my only hurdle. :P
When I started I was with the fastest climbers, now I am last. Slowly creeping up on Misery Hill. Scott, Monica’s boyfriend, has partnered with me. He waits as I tape my shin. I pray for relief, but find no comfort. We march. We can see the summit. It’s so close, yet so far. I wish I was a robot and could just reach into my nap sack and pull out a new limb. Scott and I get to last 200 feet. “Come on, Scott. We’ve got this. Let’s go!” I said. I could see the fatigue in his face. “We are so close. A few more minutes and we’re at the summit.” He says, “Okay. Let’s go.” Then he stops, “Wait, I need just one moment.” He lays down without hesitation. Never in my life has surrendering to a frozen floor looked so good. I get down and lay with him. “Sweet Relief!” I think to myself. We hear our friend Chris from the mountain top yell, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!?” I laugh hysterically, “Let’s go!” We both get up and march our asses to the summit. It’s 11am. ” Yay!” I said as I look over the world. I stand on top of Mount Shasta feeling invincible.
When we reached summit we had no time to waste. The snow was getting soft and it wasn’t safe anymore. We started plowing down our mountain. Each gliding step sent chills up my spine. The pain in my shin was no longer an obstacle, but a reality I had to deal with. Glide, glide, cuss! Glide, glide, CUSS!
We reached the bridge between Misery Hill and the Heart. The point of which I just sit and slide. We waited with a few other climbers for the snow to soften. One-by-one we sat and pushed ourselves off the mountain. Wee! Woosh! Woosh! We glacaded at a rate of several-feet-a-minute on our butts. It took me 4-hours to get up this face and only 20-minutes or less to get down! In fact, a climb that took 11-hours, only took 4-hours to get down!
By the time I reached the hot muggy car, I could wait to sit down after climbing through the night and day, but I also couldn’t help and think about what summit I wanted to conquer next: Mount Rainier. :)