Letter to Monica - 7-14-14

Dear Monica,

I hope you China is treating you well, even though you are an outsider, I think you are more of an insider than you think you are. I am writing this because I wanted to share with you my experiences of Mt. Shasta because it was a very memorable weekend and thought it deserved more 'splaining than regular events. The following is what chronologically happened interspaced with random thoughts.

So, mostly uneventful 5 hour drive up to Shasta City, 5 guys packed into a Subaru Outback with all of our gear. on Friday night we stayed in a motel. The next morning, we saw a big group of Japanese tourists talking about Mt. Shasta and it eased my fears about the trek. Little would I know that it would be so hard...

We drive to a Diner and have a mostly silent breakfast, mostly from the nervous energy about finally starting. I finish a vegetarian omelet and we head out to the rental place. After signing off on our rental gear, driving to the wrong trailhead, then driving for an hour through deserted dirt forestry roads, we finally arrive at the Clear Creek trailhead after what seems like an eternity in the car.

We spend about thirty minutes carefully packing so that our items will fit. Backpacking 101: Heaviest items near the spine, focus on even weight distribution, and check for any loose items. It's a game of trial and error, and I can see why some people might find this fulfilling sort of like how color coding a bookshelf would be fulfilling. We start on our way through the forest to our destination for today: Base Camp. The Camp is located at around 8000 feet, where the base of the mountain meets a trickling glacial spring. The packs are heavy and although most of the weight is shifted away from your shoulders to the hips, you can still feel it in your knees and feet. Three hours later, we are at camp. It's 3pm and we still have many hours of daylight. The group takes off their packs and start relaxing, but I can't: my stomach is feeling really gassy and bloated.

One particular detail of backpacking is that you have to carry "wag bags" to carry your own poop. It's a plastic bag that comes with a paper bullseye target and some kitty litter. I short-sightedly took a single wag bag at the rental place. I should have taken eight. I don't know what it was about this trip, but from my observations, anything I ate would come out the other end in 2 hours, the body permitting no exceptions. So poop #1 was hidden in the trees. Out in nature, aiming for a paper target on the ground. Ah, nature.

The sun begins to set on our camp, we go to bed, and didn't even have time to see the stars! An unfortunate early bedtime because the next morning at 2am, we wake up to have a quick breakfast and water fillup in the glacial stream (purified of course). Up the mountain we go. We huffpuff up the difficult trail even at our relatively low altitude. We are all in denial about the fact that we will all likely return to camp in no less than 16 hours. The progress is slow, but steady. The minutes slowly pass as our boots slip in the sandy incline. We reach our first ice field and we learn to tie our crampons on. Bhaskar shows Brett and I how to tie them on and after some struggle, we slam our axes into the ice and pull ourselves up the cold slope. Alongside us, the muddled purple beginnings of a soon to be brilliant sunrise.

Cut to us laying belly up next to Pancake Rock, a distinctive rock formation at the top of the first false peak. As we near 12,500 feet (according to Brett's fitbit), we feel the altitude sickness: Lethargy and nausea. We are all facing the sky and in our heads (as revealed in a conversation the next day) we are all contemplating giving up. Or at least waiting for the others to say it out loud so we don't have to feel bad about it. No one says a thing. Too tired to even give up. We each take turns pooping behind Pancake Rock and by this time I'm already at poop #3. Oy.

Somehow we manage to stand back up to masochistically put back on our backpacks which don't seem any lighter even though we've drank half the water. We trudge around the corner of the false peak to be greeted with a mile of intensely inclined scree: Rocks that vary in size from baseball to basketball are all precariously balanced in an even incline. We cross carefully. Every step is a potential rockslide. No joke, especially when you're watching a 20 foot wall of rocks and boulders slowly slide toward you in unison with your foot. About an hour and a half later, we finally reach the other side.

Next up? A wall of slushy ice. A wall! Not quite a wall, but certainly more than 45 degrees. We strap on our crampons and start our ascent. At around 13,500 feet, you become faint even after a few steps.