Can you say crap storm?
I just got back from Mount Shasta, and I have a good story to tell. It was a harrowing few days at high altitude. A weekend of weather that wouldn’t leave, with the jet stream literally parked on the mountaintop and climbers being knocked clean off their feet.
Indeed, we camped at 10,500 feet and were nearly blown off the mountain. Winds reached 100mph on top, and an estimated 80mph where we camped. A large avalanche slid less than a quarter mile from our camp. Our tent survived, though other climbers’ shelters did not: poles snapped, nylon ripped, some tents literally blew away, gear flying down the mountainside.
Here’s the bad news: No one, for the entire time we were there, made the summit, including us. I climbed with a friend, photographer T.C. Worley, and we got within a couple thousand feet, and less than a mile from the top, so our mountaineering experience was full-on. But we never reached the tippy top of the peak.
On this trip I was again struck by the realities of mountaineering, which are: Weather is the ruling factor, and there are no guarantees even for the most experienced climbers. In the last couple years I’ve done trips to five major domestic peaks—Mount Rainier, Grand Teton, Whitney, Boundary Peak, and Shasta—and I’ve summitted three of the five.
Our attempt on Shasta included several miles of climbing up the mountain’s snow fields, kicking steps on the steeper slopes, assessing avalanche danger, building snow walls, wielding ice axes, and spending what has been my most extreme night ever at a high mountain camp. Essentially, it included all the details of a mountaineering trip, just (unfortunately) without the actual summit.
Watch for my full story on the trip soon, including a hash through of what gear did and did not perform during this extreme test.