Monday, December 15, 2008
What it takes to climb a moutain.... Part 2
Base camp: 8,000 ft - Bunny foot trail.
S0 what is there to do at base camp when you're stuck on a mountain? You have 4 days on this mountain, and you're not planning on making your summit attempt for 2 days. I'll tell you what we did. We hit on all the crazy hot chicks that were there getting wasted and dancing with there friends all while making out with each other while getting sprayed with water cannons and briefly exposing themselves for all of us unworthy "gentlemen" there. Oh wait... that's what happened to my friends who went somewhere warm, like Cancun for Spring break. All the girls on the mountain I met hadn't showered in three days, and smelled as ripe as a bunch of old banana locked in Cory work desk for a week. But who am I to judge? I spent all 4 days in the same pair of long Johns occasionally wiping myself down with a frozen baby nap. The good news is, during the 2 days before our summit bid, we learned how to NOT kill ourselves and/or our friends. After a long day of being awesome on a mountain, learning how to self arrest, put on crampons and get out of the way of falling boulders, I'd text all my friends and tell them how hard core I was, checked my work email and chuckled knowing exactly what I was missing... Suckers!!
Once the sun went down the temperatures dropped close to zero. Jay spent the entire first day making an ice table for the entire crew so we'd sit down and eat as a family. Surprisingly enough, we ate very well. The guide service we had brought all of our food for us and we had burritos, and Chili an eggs... They even brought us desert! How awesome is that? And let me tell you, our guides were babes. I'm not sure if it was their self arresting technique, or the fact they had set foot on the peaks of mountains I can only dream of. Ones things for sure, I was definitely more charming, Cory was way more funny and Jay I think told them we were all doctors or something... bottom line, it made the trip that much more fun.
The night before we forged for the pinnacle of the volcano, we went to bed at like 5pm. Here's a nice little pic of Jay, Cory and I sandwiched in a two person tent. This was intentional... I mean sometimes dudes have to cuddle to stay warm. Also, the fact we didn't know how to make a good flat area for our tent means we'd wake up all on top of one another. The good news is we did have my iPhone and I loaded on the movie 'Juno.' But movie night abruptly ended when my batteries ran out at my favorite part (when Jason Baitman tries to rationalize dumping his wife to be cool in the eyes of a pregnant teenager...). 11pm came very quickly and was followed a sea of climbers making a last dash to the compost toilet to "lighten load" one last time to avoid being the guy that crapped infront of an entire mountain of climbers on a paper target which to rub it in, you had to cary with you the rest of the time. Awesome.
So it's pitch black, we get our helmets and headlamps on, it's like -20 degree's and the stars are out and posed in the sky is a full moon. It was gorgeous. 14 of us lined up and waited for what seemed like 45 more minutes waiting for a straggler to put his snow suit and boots on (side note: This is the start of a series of events I will bitch about later). We finally start breaking trail a little after midnight. It's a little over 2000 vertical feet of slow winding valleys from Bunny to Helen lake which proved to be a pretty easy stroll. Not all of us in the group agreed with that... our hourly 10 min breaks turned in to 20-30 min little freezing parties while the "less trained" caught up (Bitch #2). Finally we rounded the last crest and made it to Helen Lake at dawn.
Helen Lake is the base of a huge, steep glacier called Avalanche Gulge (comforting name). At this point we break off into rope teams. The guides, Kirah and Meg decide to break us off into strong and weak climbers which personally should have been done hours sooner, but whatever. The strong crew, Cory, Jason, Myself and Janet (made up name cause I forgot) shot up wiht Kirah while the rest hung with Meg. I was disappointed to see her go but Finally we can start making up the ground we lost waiting for the slower people... Unfortunately the last 4 days on Shasta were winter like conditions which meant lost of snowfall. It wasn't effortless drudging up that portion of the mountain and it sure as hell felt good to get to the entrance of the Red Banks.
Red Banks is at about 12,000ft and it's large chutes of red lava rocks that was created by flowing magma back as the creating of the Volcano. It was pretty cool to look at. Surprisingly enough, at this point nobody got had any altitude sickness. That's not entirely true, Janet got a little belly ache half way up Avalanche Gulge and was forced to drop one on a target in front of the entire rope team. It's not like it's something we haven't seem before though, I mean we are from Pittsburgh. Standing at the bottom of Lava chutes wasn't a typical experience, at least not for me. There's still 2,400ft to climb and your looking up what I've come to believe to be the hardest part of the entire trip. The chutes were solid ice, with a thin layer of powder snow sprinkled on top. Our guide Kirah had us barreling up without crampons which later turned out to be a huge mistake (Bitch #3). 1000 vertical feet of ice climbing without spikes on your feet proved to be a very frustrating learning experience for us all especially me... this is where the infamous "breakdown" occurred. Which I think blown out of proportion by Cory when we got back to Pittsburgh a little, but whatever. Two hours later, we busted through the other side of the Red Banks to the bottom Misery Hill. The last stretch of real estate before reaching the sought after summit.
We were all pretty tired at this point. But what's mountain climbing without being weak and tired. All four of us were still fully invested in reaching the top and would have done whatever to get there. Unfortunately Kirah didn't feel the same, and she with her 30+ summits of Shasta wasn't in the mood to make this day a "double headlamp day." (Bitch #4). So we turned around less than 1300ft from reaching the top of my first mountain. It did tear me up a little bit... Having worked so hard for something to not reach my goal. A character trait (flaw to a certain degree) all three of us share is we're goal seekers. It's what got us to 13,000ft and it's what will get us there again. It wasn't an happy or easy decision but we were another 2 hours from the summit, weather had started moving in and it was getting late, so we agreed and followed our guide back down the hill.
We made it through the Red Banks, then down Avalanche Gulge. It started snowing something fierce, and before we knew it all you could see was white. The growing inches of fluffiness prevented us from glacading down the mountain our our asses, which really stunk for me having tender knee's. It took another 4 hours to climb down the mountain. We reached Bunny Trail camp around 6pm cold, wet, tired and hungry. To make matters worse, we had to pack up camp and hike the remainder of the way to the car. So the next 2+ hours weren't to exciting. But we did see climbers on their way up to make their own attempt, and they got a bit discouraged after looking at Misery they had to look forward to as we passed them on the trail back.
Cory, Jason and I finally made it to the hotel around 8pm. Something I learned and will never make that mistake again, is putting on a very high SPF sunscreen on our faces. We all looked like hell. Places we didn't even think could get burnt did... like under our ears, and up our noses. It was painful. Nothing beat the shower though! Once we were all showered up, we went back to Billy Goats (Ha... I remember the name) for a celebratory beer, and another "Greatest Berger in the world."
I think all three of us learned a lot and we're all looking forward to climbing together in the future. As a matter of fact we started training this weekend for a climb we're making in April to the top of Mount Whitney. It should be Un.... Real. As far as the bitching is concerned.. I think we could have made the summit, had we not wasted all that time in one group, or waiting at base camp for the straggler... or even if conditions were better. Hindsight is always 20/20 and I'm sure if things played out differently we may have makde it. But they didn't, we all still had a great time and I don't regret one second of it.