Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mt. Shasta-Avalanche Gulch Route Trip Report

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." James 1:2-3

Testing of faith produces steadfastoness...produces resolution, unwavering faith, and allows you to stand firm in purpose. But these attributes of faith aren't born...they are made. And for most of us...they aren't refined until we go through "trials of various kinds."

Whether you are Moses wandering in the desert for 40 years (Exodus), Daniel in the Den of Lions (Daniel 6), or a person juggling a career, parenthood, marriage, finances, etc, etc, etc (Life)...you will inevitably meet trials of various kinds...
This is Mount Shasta...a behemoth active volcano that rises to 14,179 feet. And the red line above indicates the route we took up the mountain. The red line above also demonstrates the length of all the various kinds of testing we endured on the mountain. On this route, I went through a series of mood swings (excited..to frustrated...to pissed...to pure joy...all in one line). I also felt exhausted, overheated, numbingly cold, sun-burned, wind-chapped, dehydrated, hungry, restless, and flat out in pain when it was all said and done.

But the one constant test I kept battling is doubt! For starters, we are flatlanders (600-700') climbing up to basecamp (10,400') within 24 hours. I've never climbed a 14er with so much elevation gain (7,230'). Weather reports forecasted 30-35 mph sustained winds with 50+ mph gusts. Will our 3-season tent take on the forecasted pounding? Will our tent and gear be there on our return? Do we have enough water? Food? Will this high alititude prescription work? Am I hydrated enough? Will I have enough in the tank to summit? After all, the National Forest reports that only 1/3 of climbers attempting this climb actually summit! Will we be so lucky?

This of course, are all pre-climb doubts...then there are the barrage of doubts that crept in as I made my ascent up the mountain. On the way to basecamp...hauling 40 pounds of gear on my back in slushy snow...I doubted I could even get to basecamp. Especially feeling the radiation reflecting off the snow; I felt like a heat stroke was coming on. I fell to my knees a few times just to rub melted snow on myself...

The following morning, we woke up an hour and half later than scheduled... Alarm went off at 2 a.m., but we must have been so tired, no one heard it. We got up late...and began climbing at 5 a.m. We were told a storm was coming in this afternoon and by starting late...I worried the weather would ultimately turn us around.

Once we got moving...we were slow going. Don't know if it was fatigue from the rear kickin' the day before, altitude, constant gear malfunction (Sarah and Lu's crampons kept coming off), the cold, the steepness of slope, or combination of it all...but our pace suggested we were not going to summit.

Then Lu ran out of water...he began to feel dizzy and dehydrated. I can tell he was not himself...

As time passed, and we felt like we weren't moving fast enough (testament to how huge this mountain is and how decieving time and distance are on these slopes) and Lu continued to climb without water...I grew frustrated, upset, and even more doubtful.

Though we faced mental and physical hurdles...and my mind slowly gave way to doubt, my heart held on to hope. Though we were moving slowly...we were still moving. We met a few climbers on the route that gave us enough water to keep moving forward (Thank you!)...And after cresting over known landmarks, it would give us renewed hope to keep moving forward. As we continued up, I would look up and around, and it appeared the weather would remain in our favor...winds were not terribly strong...and we could feel ourselves getting closer to the prize.

Though I doubted many times...I equally held on to hope. I've been in these similar conditions on other mountains to know there was still a good chance of summiting. If I could just hold on a little longer and meet these "trials" head on...I would soon be standing on top. Despite battling frustration, dehydration, exhaustion, and myself...I knew I would finish. I just needed to pursue hope...not the summit.

(Me on Mount Shasta Summit)
Testing of faith produces unwavering faith...steadfast faith. As a believer in Christ, I found myself counting the ways my faith is continually tested in my walk in Christ. It was easy to see that I often mirror my struggle on Shasta with the trials I face in my everyday walk in life. My doubts start as early as I get up in the morning and continues through the rest of my day...
I often doubt my ability to meet my family's needs...I doubt myself as a husband, father, friend...I doubt myself at work...I doubt I am making a change in the community...I am tired. I am worn out. I am afraid. I battle frustration, spiritual hunger and thirst, and I know I am spiritually dehydrated.
Life is hard...I feel like there are times when I'm carrying 40 pounds of burdens on my back...sinking in the ground...feeling the heat all around me.
And just like on Shasta's slopes...I'll fall to my knees. It's at this point...I realize that I've been here before. I've seen tests...have gone through trials...and though they all have been different, one thing remains the same: HOPE! I've put my hope in Jesus! My hope in Jesus has resulted in a faith that has been tested. A steadfast faith...
And with this steadfast, unwavering faith...I can continue to HOPE in Jesus...which allows me to stand firm when the ground is soft...to be quenched of thirst when I am thirsty...and to have strength, when I am weak. My faith is not born...it is made through Him...and it's all I need to continue to keep moving forward! I praise you my Hope and Strength!
What: Mt. Shasta 14,179' (Northern California)
When: June 15-16, 2013
Who: Aaron ([Lu] or Baby Boy) Lawler, Sarah (Baby Boo) Pasquel, Big Baby (Me)
Route: Avalanche Gulch Route, 12 miles RT, 7229' of elevation gain
We flew in from DFW to SF on Friday, June 14th in the evening...Lu arrived before we did and had the rental car ready to go. He picked us up from the airport and we headed North from SF to Shasta. We stopped at Wal Mart for food and drove 4.5 hours North to the base (picture above) of Shasta. We arrived before 3 a.m. and slept in the car for a few hours before heading over to the 5th season (gear shop) to obtain permits and last second items. Permits cost $20 pp to climb past 10,000' on Shasta. ***Note: 5th Season Gear Shop is known as the best gear shop around...however, they gave Lu very poor rental gear and advice:
1) They told him his boots were not good enough for the mountain (Oboz Sawtooth GTX) which we din't question until we saw a climber near the top of the mountain with same boots...
2) The shoes they did rent him were 1/2 size to big because they didnt have any his size...and the waterproofing no longer worked...as Lu learned the next day when his feet were soaked.
3) They advised him that he didn't need gaitors this time of year...which resulted in snow entering his boots.
4) They told us the snow was consolidated and didn't need snow shoes...I felt like snow shoes would have helped us up to Lake Helen Base Camp since the snow was really soft.
After getting our gear and eating breakfast at a local bakery...we headed up to Bunny Flat TH. The town of Mt. Shasta sits at 3600'...so we drove up a few thousand feet on Everitt Memorial Hwy. The drive up is pretty scenic, through tall pines...and good views of Shasta above.
(Lu and Sarah at TH)
We officially started our ascent at 10:30 a.m. The base of the mountain (below tree line) was snowfree, dusty, and mainly shaded from the pines. Our first goal was to hike up nearly 1000' to horse camp.


(Views of the ranges to the West of us)

Below treeline and up to Horse Camp...there are signs at the junctions that help you navigate through the pine forest.
After hiking 1.7 miles and climbing 1000', or an hour's hike from TH...you arrive at Horse Camp/Sierra Club Cabin.
There are 4 kinds of people here:
1) The camp host...who stays in a nearby tent for most of the Summer...She's in dark clothing in the doorway.
2) Day Hikers who make this place their destination for the day...who are excited to see the mountain above from treeline.
3) Climbers who stop here on their way up...to take a break and fill up their water at a nearby spring...these people are generally easy to spot. Loaded packs, big grins, and uber excited.
4) Climbers on their way down...Easy to spot...dusty, dirty, sweaty, exhausted, and relieved. Typically not smiling...just relieved.
This is what the inside of the Sierra Club Cabin looks like...this shelter can be used in case of severe weather...but that's about it. You can visit, sign the register...take a few pics...borrow a book. But it's really for looks at this point.
This is the water source at Horse Camp. It's a natural spring from the snow melt above...the water is cold and refreshing. The water is w hole lot better on the way down the mountain!
This is the view looking back at treeline, Horse Camp...our next stop is to travel up to Helen Lake Base Camp at 10,400'. We were about to start trekking from 8000' to 10,400' in loose talus and snow...
Sarah making her way up the first snowfields...the snow was soft and slushy.
A look back at Horse Camp from a quarter mile up the mountain...
Sarah making her way up to 50/50 flat...an area about 9500' high that some people like to set up camp at. Between here and horse camp...the trail was rotten, chossy, loose, and shitty...Quite frankly, it sucked. A lot of snow melted off this mountain...due to high temps and very low snowfall this year. I believe it was a record low snowfall for Mt. Shasta...and most of the Northern California mountains. This made for a slow going and ankle twisting ascent up the first part of the mountain.
After cresting over 50/50 flat...we got out first good views of Helen Lake and the route up to Red Banks. Helen Lake is the first big hill above, and the Red banks are the obvious red rocks on the ridge. Don't know if you can tell...but there are tents and people on the Helen Lake, the mound in the lower center of the picture. If you zoom in, you may see the blurry images better...Also note...this picture is misleading. Actually, the sight itself is misleading...almost illusion like. When you are there...you feel like everything is right in front of you...but ITS NOT! This mountain sits farther back than what it appears...From this picture, the base of the Red Banks are 1.5 miles away and some 3000' above!!!! You are not even a speck on this mountain.
Sarah and I before I turned into a diva...
I zoomed in to take a picture of Lu making his way to camp...If you see closely, you can make out the tents on the rock ridge above Lu. The Ranger tent is the larger tan colored tent on the right.
The slope angle is not too bad here...however...imagine doing it for 1000', 1/2 mile, in soft snow...it can be a thigh burner.
Now add heat...and personally, it made for difficult climbing. If you know me...you know I don't do well when I get hot. It was at this point that I turned into the Snickers Diva guy. I was cranky, irritated, and impatient. Poor Sarah was trying to be encouraging and I think I grunted...yes, grunted at her. All I wanted to do was get off the "HOT SNOW!" I knelt down a few times to melt ice and cooled off with lelted snow...but nothing would work. So instead of following the snow route up...I chose to go up the loose rocks up to camp instead. Either way...they were both bad choices for me at the time.
Sarah making her way up to Helen Lake...
We finally arrived to base camp at 4:30pm. So after hiking/climbing for 6 hours...we finally made it to camp. From Bunny Flat TH to Helen Lake...it's about 4 miles and 3,450' of elevation gain to Helen Lake. BTW, there is no lake up there...it's all snow and ice. Maybe somewhere below all that snow is a lake...but you aint going to find it.
When we arrived to camp, we were all fatigued...and not focused. It took us three morons to put up a simple tent. And in the process...we snapped a pole. Luckily for us, the Ranger was nearby (who BTW is kickass climber and a "SheMcGyver" and taught us to stint our broken pole. We used this technique for the rest of the trip. All you do is take Zip-ties and a pole and use it as a stint...really simple. BTW, sorry Brad...your tent pole is broken. We'll figure something out. (Picture taken from Yosemite NP backcountry)

After setting up camp...we melted snow into water so we would have enough to drink that night and have our camelbaks filled for the next day...I am now officially going to retire my snowpeak stove and will be making an investment in Jetboil...This stove took way too long to melt snow.
These were are views from camp looking to the Southwest...towards the Trinity Alps. The highest mountain in the Trinity Alps is Mt. Thompson at right under 9000'. So from our camp...we are at least 1,400' higher than those mountains you see in the distance.
Sunset views!!!!
Sarah, right before bedtime...8 p.m.! I set my alarm for 2 a.m. and I think we were all out within 5 minutes...
The next morning...I woke up at 3:30 a.m. I didn't hear my alarm go off...I woke everyone up and we rushed out of the tent. We were told the previous day to get off the top early in the day since a storm was moving in from the Pacific. So we thought by getting up at 2 a.m., we would be fine...however, we didn't and now were rushing to get out of camp. By the time we put on our gear and ate breakfast...it was 5 a.m. Here is Sarah making her way up the mountain...
Lu taking a break...it's one of my favorite shots of the week.
Here's another favorite shot of mine...This is Shasta's shadow looming over the mountains to the West and over the town of Shasta. If you look closely...you can see a line of tents on Helen Lake Camp.

 
Here I am climbing right next to the "heart" at 11,500'. At this point, Sarah decided to head down...She felt like it was best to climb down and let us climb up at a faster rate. I appreciated her letting us move forward without her. Though I feel bad she did not get to continue...I felt like it was the best move for the team to continue to move on without her. I believe if we would have been up at 2 a.m. and up on the mountain earlier...she would have had a shot to summit. But our pace was very slow and it would have put our summit bid at jeapordy as well. Sarah was very selfless to let us go without her...Thanks babe.
Lu making his way up towards the Red banks...This part of the route is the crux...the angle of the route reaches a sustained 38 degrees and at some sections it touches 40 degrees. You are climbing between 12,000 and 12,600'...We were taking 5 to 10 steps and then stopping to catch a breath.
A shot of the Red Banks above...once you reach the base of the Red Banks...you are at 12,600'. Our route was to go through the notch or gully that was snow filled...and climb 400' to the top of Red Banks. The slope gets steeper in this section...but you can use the wall for support...
Here's Lu in the Red Banks chute...the climb to the top of the chute is about 500' and a slightly steeper than the climb below it...one fall here, and you'll be sliding down the chute.
When you climb above the Red Banks, you arrive to the base of Misery Hill. Depending on the time of year...the hill can be snow covered or not. As you can see above...it was mainly dry, rocky, and dusty. Though you can't tell in the picture above...the hike up that hill is about 500'. And though you are standing above 13,000' in this section...you still cannot see Shasta's summit. Misery Hill is appropriately named for:
1) After climbing near 3000' on snow and ice...you crest over and realize you have to go up 500' more...with no summit in view.
2) You are exposed to the winds after leaving the chute
3) Man, you are just tired...you feel miserable...and you still have to go up.
One of the highlights of reaching Misery Hill is you get a good view of the glaciers on the mountain. The pictures above are of Whitney Glacier and Mount Shastina. Mount Shastina is the highest satellite cone on Mt. Shasta. Shastina rises to 12,330' and it definitely looks like the traditional volcano we are accustomed to seeing. The second picture is a closer look at the Whitney Glacier and a few of the crevasses on the glacier. Mt. Shasta has 7 glaciers on it!
When you crest over Misery Hill, at 13,800'...you finally see Shasta's summit. The summit is a summit pinnacle...that rises a couple hundred feed above the summit plateau...
Here is a look back at the summit plateau on the way to the base of the pinnacle. As you can see...the plateau is lengthy...I believe we almost traveled a 1/3 of a mile before reaching the pinnacle base. The views are spectacular from this point on...
Reaching the summit...looking North.
On the summit...Looking West. Clouds were moving in on us...I am standing at 14,170+' and am above the clouds!!!

and at 14,179'...we are finally at the top!

This is by far the most difficult challenge I have completed...not the most technical, but by far the most enduring, tiresome mountain I've climbed. We started at 5 a.m. and reached the top by 10 a.m. Looking back...I am really proud that we ended up climbing this in 5 hours from base camp. I thought it was going to take us longer. We spend 20 minutes up top...
I signed the register...it was Father's Day and so I thought of my Father in heaven and my dad, TONY! I was thinking about you on this day...There's several things I learned from my dad...being persistent, stubborn, and not giving up is a few of them. This helped me on my way up the mountain.
What took us 5 hours to go up...only took us less than an 1.5 to get down. It took Lu and I about an hour to descend all the way back down to lower Red Banks (and quite frankly...could have been quicker but got stuck behind a team of guided climbers between the Red Banks chute) When we got to the base of the lower Red Banks...I glissaded down from 12,600' all the way down to base camp (10,400'). It took me 22 minutes to slide all the way down the mountain.

We hung out for an hour or so...drank plenty of water...ate a few snacks...packed up our gear...and headed down the rest of the mountain. We glissaded down to 50/50 flat...hiked down to Horse Camp...and finally back down to Bunny Flat TH. It took almost 4 hours to get back down to the car...We were glad to be back down safe and sound.

BTW...there were never any strong winds  and the storm never came. We loaded up the car, drove down to the town...and had a few beers to celebrate. Shasta was a success!

****UP NEXT, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK****



4 comments:

  1. I envy what you were able to do. I'm also a flatlander but I've only done a handful of 14ers in CO. w/o snow. I also love your spiritual comments. Bruce in Iowa

    ReplyDelete
  2. this is such a nice and useful information for us...i appreciate urs word........Boat Rentals In Miami

    ReplyDelete
  3. Being born in the town of Mt. Shasta to the daughter of the Forest Ranger, I remember hearing stories of climbers and rescuers as a child, but I never really understood the magnitude of what it takes to climb this mountain. I thoroughly enjoyed this post and am forwarding it to Dad. Blessings to you.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Fantastic Blog! with useful info and great pictures.........Keep Writing
    Mount Shasta Tours

    ReplyDelete