Mount Shasta, August 2006

A few months after being forced to abandon our attempt to climb Huayna Potosi and evacuate Bolivia, the KTS team was feeling summit fever.  We needed to get back in the mountains, to climb again to find a cure, to attempt another summit.  We turned again to Mountain-Link for guidance and Robert Link said you need to head to Mount Shasta.  He started to tell us why but we were already ready to go.
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Here’s why.  Robert is one of the world’s great mountaineers and guides, whose climbing resume includes 300 summits of Mount Rainier, 21 expeditions of Mount McKinley, 5 expeditions including summiting of Everest and numerous other climbs and expeditions from Tibet to Argentina to Russia and to Antarctica.  And, Robert’s mountaineering and guiding prowess is surpassed only by his passion for helping his clients achieve their goals.

Only one issue, Jeff Hanson, our KTS friend and mountaineering guide on summiting Rainer twice, by different routes, in 2004 and for our Bolivian expedition in 2005, was not free to lead us in August 2006.  “No problem,” Robert said, “I’ll take you there.”

So, three KTS veterans of Rainier and Bolivia signed on for KTS – Mount Shasta 2006.  It felt so right.  But none of us really knew anything about Mount Shasta, yet.

A couple months later, the KTS team (joined by a fire fighter from Arizona and experienced mountaineer for his first KTS climb) flew into Sacramento, Ca.  After a hearty breakfast, we piled into our rental and headed to Mount Shasta.  A few hours later, we stopped to fuel up at a gas station and loaded up at the convenience store and headed to the car.  And then . . .

“Hey Nathan!”.  Nathan had no idea how the person knew him. Nathan thought we had set him up, but rest of the team was as surprised as Nathan was.  We each had a sense that someone was with us or watching us, but we needed to hit the road.  So we let it pass and we were off again to Mount Shasta.

Long before arriving in town one understands why Mount Shasta is special.  The mountain is big.  At 14,179 feet, it’s not the biggest in the Cascade Mountain Range (Mount Rainier is taller at 14,410’) and it’s not the tallest in California (four others including Whitney at 14,505’ are taller).  But, Mount Shasta is a stratovolcano, the most explosive and most picturesque of all volcanoes.  Unconnected with other mountains, a stratovolcano has classic cone shape with wide lower slopes that rise gradually up and ever more steeply until reaching a small crater at the summit.  And, among stratovolcanoes, Mount Shasta stands out.  It boasts one of the largest base to summit rises in the world, rising almost 11,000 feet above the surrounding area. One of the most beautiful mountains in the world, Mount Shasta’s magnificence dominates all around it.

As John Muir wrote in 1874, "When I first caught sight of Mt. Shasta, over the braided folds of the Sacramento Valley, I was fifty miles away and afoot, alone and weary.  Yet all my blood turned to wine, and I have not been weary since."

And he was not the only one to feel that way then or now.  But more on that in a little bit.  First, though, miles before we got to town, we caught sight of Mount Shasta and, as we drove toward the town, we couldn’t keep our eyes off the mountain, watching it from many angles and views, as we approached and the mountain growing ever larger.

We drove through the town of Mount Shasta and pulled into our hotel.  After checking  in, we headed out on foot to meet with Robert and our local guide.  And, as those who have been to the part of the world know, the town of Mount Shasta also is a special in many ways, a few of which readily apparent as you walk through its streets.  Some would say, Mount Shasta is a town that time forgot and others would say it’s a town that those from Summer of Love found, loved and never left.  We walked around and fell in love, checking out the shops, bars and restaurants and the people.  Minutes later we found our Mount Shasta Guides.

Robert was there and after all of the introductions, we learned the plan to meet in the morning for the gear check, get group gear and head to the mountain.  We then headed to a great restaurant.  And, sitting outside around a tree that literally grew right through the porch, we began to learn about the town of Mount Shasta and the history of the State of Jefferson, the area in Northern California and Southern Oregon that had for years contemplated breaking off, spirited by an agenda of freedom and taking to heart Jefferson’s own words that “ a little rebellion now and then is a good thing”.

The next morning after checking our gear and dividing up the group gear, we loaded up the truck and were off.  To get to the trail head, we headed North and circled around Mount Shasta and the whole way we continued the experience of day before, unable to take our eyes off the mountain.  When we reached the North Eastern side of the mountain, we turned in and began a long gradual climb up the gently rising slopes.
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A beautiful blue sky and warm morning greeted us as we arrived at the trail head, shouldered our packs and headed onto the trail.  After hiking for a while through beautiful woods, with the trail gentle at first and then gradually steepening, we stepped out of the woods and walked up a snowfield to an open flat perch at about 10,000’.  We had arrived at one of the best campsites I had ever seen, let along enjoyed.

mount shasta trail headThe site was not only flat, but full of sand, like a soft beach. We would sleep well that night.  And, like a perfect mountain porch, the site had a jaw dropping view off to the North and East.  I dropped my pack and walked to the edge and gazed down thousands of feet to the forest below and then slowly followed the forest spread out for miles over hills and several mounds evidencing the region’s volcanic history, and finally reached the horizon in distant California to the East and Oregon to the North.  After returning to the others and starting to set up or tent, I learned that, perhaps best of all, this site lay only a short distance from a mountain stream whose ice cold water was clean enough to drink.  I had not taken a drink straight out of a stream since way back when I was a teen in the Adirondacks and doing so now was perhaps even more magical that it had been then.

We enjoyed a great dinner on the perfect beach deck watching the purples of the dusk gradually spread out across the State of Jefferson, and decided to make a switch in our plans.  We originally had planned on moving up further the next day for a summit attempt the next night followed by a long full hike out.  But, because of the great weather and perfect campsite, we decided to make the summit attempt that night and then return to the campsite.  This would mean that we would have a big push tonight/tomorrow, with a climb of about 4,000’ of vertical to reach the summit.  But, not only would this allow for an easy hike out on our last day, if all went as planned, we would be able to enjoy another wonderful dinner and evening in this perfect spot.   And, so, as dusk darkened further, we arranged our gear for the summit attempt and headed into our tents.

mount shasta hiker with ice axe10Shortly after 1:00 am I heard a rustling and the fire being lit to heat water.  I pulled on my clothes and stepped out into the star-filled night. Way down below us, lights twinkled in a few isolated spots but most of Northern California was dark.  We enjoyed a warm light breakfast of oatmeal and coffee and then donned our crampons, grabbed our ice axes, tied in and, following the lights of our headlamps, headed out of our campsite and up the mountain.

After a few hours the sun had warmed the horizon and then rose into a beautiful morning, and we kept climbing.  The route was pretty direct, straight up an ever-steepening slope.  The snow was firm and our crampons gripped as we climbed.  With the sun now fully up to the East and warming the vast green area around the mountain, we took a break for food and water right on the side of the glacier.  I had fully unzipped my jacket and vest as we climbed, and still felt the sweat whisking off my body.  But, as soon as we sat, the cold air snapped back and it felt good to pull on the parka and zip it right up.

A short while later, the parka was back in the pack, and we were climbing again up the steepening pitch.

After another hour, we reached an area cut by crevasses and Robert searched for snow bridges that we allow us to cross.  After testing a couple, Robert found them still firm enough to handle our weight.  But, as he watched us safely cross, he noted that we would not want to test them later after the sun had been on them for hours.  We would need to find a different way down.

About an hour later, now mid-morning, we reached one of the only areas on the entire climb that flattened out just enough to allow for a safe place to stop and rest.  We had climbed steadily for hours and covered about 3,000’ of vertical and made it to over 13,000’, where with each step the air pressure and oxygen levels get exponentially worse.  And, we still had several hundred feet vertical and the steepest portion of the entire climb to go.  As was took off our packs, Robert said that a couple of our team had reached their summit for the day.  He would stay with them at this safe sight, while our local guide led the other two to the summit.

mount shasta hiker sittingAfter strong push up the steep vertical, those heading for the summit reached that part of the crater that quickly reminds you that you are climbing a volcano.  The air was full of sulfur and the snow and ice were stained with a seemingly florescent yellow-green.  Moments later, under a bluebird sky, the KTS team stepped onto the rocky summit of Mount Shasta!

After high fives and hugs, we dropped our packs to take a few minutes to enjoy the summit.  I immediately thought back to the prior KTS climbs, and to why were here, for Kate and the millions of others who suffer every day with the disease.  I was so glad to be here, on the summit again, and smiled thinking of the tens of thousands raised to find a cure.  Take that diabetes!

As we started down, I thought back to my first steps off Mount Rainier when I caught a crampon, strained my MCL, and had to climb down several thousand feet of vertical basically on one leg.  I had only made it down because of the support of Jeff and Chris, my great guides, and the rest of the KTS team, and I didn’t care to call on that support again.  I doubled my focus.

After a short while, we reached the steep pitch of ice right above where the rest of the group had stayed and moments later tied in again with them for the descent.

mount shasta hiker sitting in snowTo avoid the snow bridges, Robert guided us off to a different route down that required traversing an ice field with steepest pitch that we had seen on the mountain, and then climbing down a steep rocky ridge.  We successfully navigated that stretch and it was not long before we had climbed down far enough that the pitch eased and we were able untie and proceed without ropes.

Hours later, walking in the now warm mid-afternoon of a beautiful day, we were hiking down the soft wet snowfield just above our tents and the sandy beach of our beaconing campsite.

Moments later, packs, helmet and boots off, we were enjoying the ice cold water from the nearby stream and starting preparations for an evening feast.  A couple hours later, happy and satiated, and the purples of dusk filling the forests below, it took all of my remaining strength to get up and wander the few steps into the tent.  And, I was the last to do so.  I fell asleep in my clothes on top of my sleeping bag.

And then . . .

I opened my eyes.  I looked up and out the screened window of the tent.  It was dark outside and I was fully awake.  I rose up on elbow and looked at my tent-mate who was sleeping soundly.  I felt around for my headlamp, found it and turned it on.  In the LED light, I found my water bottle, removed the top and took a sip, and felt something.  Something very similar to the feeling we had had back at the convenience store two days before.  I swung around and flashed my light.  And there, right in front of me, my parka lay up again the side of the tent, and looking right back at me was a face.  A face, perfectly formed in my parka, the face of a boy, with a big toothy smile.  I stared at it, not really startled; I somehow knew he would be there.  But after what seemed like minutes, I reached over and pulled the parka toward me, fluffed it out a little and put it back.  I then lay down, feeling both a bit sad to not be looking at the smiling face, but also happy and refreshed.  I smiled, shut my yes, and went back to sleep.

When the bright sun was beginning to warm the tent, we got up and headed over to breakfast.  Seconds later, I burst out with the story of the smiling boy who paid a visit during the night.  And, then Robert began to tell us about Mount Shasta and why, months before, he had said we needed to be here for the next KTS.

Mount Shasta is one of the seven sacred mountains of the world.  For generations of Native Americans, Mount Shasta has been place of reverence, and recognized as a place of balance between earth and universe, an energy vortex. For generations of early Californians, and settlers, explorers and climbers, including John Muir, Mount Shasta has been source of awe and inspiration, a source or amazing power, of healing and rejuvenation.  Mount Shasta has been a place of many sacred ceremonies and miraculous events.  What better place to head after the evacuation from Bolivia?  What better place to be for Kiss the Sky to Conquer Diabetes.
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Written by Rick Noble