Turned Back by Shasta

Sierra Sun

Four men, one mountain and one destiny.

Sounds like a teaser for a cheesy B-movie, I know. Wait – try this one.

Four angry climbers, one monster mountain, one bottle of Bailey’s Irish Creme Liqueur and one running joke about a girl.

Ahh. That’s a much better description. And we had hot chocolate to mix with the Bailey’s.

That was the scene when we headed to climb Northern California’s perennial mountaineering challenge: Mt. Shasta. All 14,162 feet of it.

I was climbing with friends that are REI employees: Jared Rodriguez, Hung Nguyen and Chris Richardson, all climbers with different levels of experience.

Rodriguez had been on Shasta several times. Nguyen doesn’t remember how many times he’s climbed it. Richardson, well, had no alpine or mountaineering experience whatsoever, but he had actually seen Mt. Shasta before and knew people that have climbed it, too.

We were climbing in early September. We didn’t have our snowboards and skis. We just had the climbing gear and a route so icy it resembled my glass coffee table.

We had one little advantage here: A weekend storm had left three to six inches of dry, flaky snow. It covered the sun-cupped ice, making it look like it was all just beautiful hard pack snow and slush, lovely for walking on. If we were able to see the ice, it would have scared us off.

“If this snow wasn’t here, there is no way we would be climbing right now,” said Jared Rodriguez of Reno who was leading the party. “I can see straight through it.”

But we were already on the ice, so there was no turning around.

It was a little out of season for Mt. Shasta climbing. There wasn’t a massive cover of fresh snow, like that can be found in January. It isn’t in prime spring skiing conditions like it will be in the late spring and early summer.

It was just ice with a little bit of dry, flaky snow covering it.

That will change very soon in a couple of months, when the mountain will be covered with skiers and snowboarders, gleefully earning their turns.

But this was September. Not February.

This was my first trip ever up Mt. Shasta. I’ve had a couple of different plans fall apart at the last minute. Finally, after more than three years of university life in Reno plus a summer, and being friends with lots and lots of climbers and mountaineers, I was finally on my way.

There are eight main trailheads on Mt. Shasta that have access to Mt. Shasta Wilderness where the climbing begins.

Depending on the time of year, an ice ax and crampons are required unless you have a screw loose. Snowshoes, ice screws, snow pickets, ropes and harnesses are all found in the mountaineer’s or skier’s arsenal when going to Mt. Shasta.

It’s not something to be taken lightly, either. It’s important to be prepared when climbing a mountain chock full of crevasses, unpredictable weather, potential avalanches and rockslides.

“I think it’s important that people have the right gear and check the weather,” said Mt. Shasta Wilderness Ranger Eric White. “It can snow on Mt. Shasta any day of the year, so getting those points across is important.”

To park in the Wilderness access areas, it’s $5 a day per car. If you want to summit, a $15 fee per person is required to go above 10,000 feet and it’s good for three days.

For $25, you can buy an Annual Pass for the Mt. Shasta Recreational Parking Program Area and the Mt. Shasta Summit Program. The pass is good for one year.

Mt. Shasta sees 10,000 to 12,000 climbers every year, so it can get crowded.

Do you have the skills but not the equipment? The Fifth Season in the town of Mt. Shasta can help. They’re at 300 North Mt. Shasta Blvd. in Mt. Shasta. Call them at (530) 926-3606 or visit their Web site at www.thefifthseason.com.

Do you have the gear but not the skills to climb safely? There are several guide services but there is one in Mt. Shasta and one here in Truckee.

Shasta Mountain Guides is at 1938 Hill Road in Mt. Shasta. Call them at (530) 926-3117 or visit their Web site at

www.shastaguides.com. In Truckee, contact Alpine Skills International at 426-9108 or visit its Web site at.www.alpineskills.com.

We failed to summit on our climb.

It was a beautiful day and we made good progress but we had two problems: We all had to work the next day and we had made a wrong turn on the way, adding a precious three to four hours to our ascent.

We had been climbing since 5 a.m. and it was 1:30 p.m. and we still had a solid hour or two to go. We could see the summit as clear as day. It looked close enough to touch, but we had to turn around.

We made it back to our camp by 5 p.m. and were at the car three hours later, right at dusk. We made it back to Reno by midnight and I made it back to Truckee by 1 a.m. and was working by 9 a.m. the next morning.

Hiking down in the dark would have been the pits. We figured we would have added probably three hours to our day, not counting the extra fatigue. Fortunately, we made the right call.

Nguyen put it best.

“It’s funny how when you start a climb you’re so excited,” he said. “But when you finally get back to the car when it’s over, you’re so excited to be off the mountain and going home.”

That was the case, but the following day, save for my blistered feet, I couldn’t stop thinking about my next trip up Mt. Shasta when I’ll take three days, not two.

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