Mt. Shasta | Monday, June 5, 2017 | 5:50am
“Well, I've always wanted to try ice climbing—now I get to.”
Except this isn’t a real ice wall—it’s more like a slushy mix of snow and scree. Regardless, I methodically dig my crampons and ice axe into the porous slope, following Jon. After 10 minutes, we reach a small flat landing, next to a vertical wall of ice. We don’t have the right gear to get up that. Even if we did, it would be a terrifying climb.
“So that’s the summit up there,” Jon says, pointing past the top of the ice wall. “This can’t be right.”
While Mt. Shasta is a big, long climb, it is not supposed to be technical. We went the wrong way, and now our only option is to climb down what we just climbed up. I steel my mind. I hate going down. Whether it’s a steep trail or a wall of plastic holds at the climbing gym—going down is my least favorite part.
Breathe through it, I tell myself. Every time I kick in with my crampons, I’m sure that the loose terrain is going to give out below me. My ice axe feels like the only thing holding me to the mountain, and every time I lift it, my stomach muscles clench with fear.
Fear, however, is not a bad thing. I remember these words from Dr. Willie Parker:
"You cannot be brave if you are not scared. Fear is a natural human emotion. When you ask me if I get scared, it's like asking me if I'm human."
We make it back down to the summit plateau where we started from 30 minutes earlier and spot two other climbers coming up the trail. They stop and chat with us for a few minutes.
From this vantage point, the path to the summit now looks obvious – we went right, we should have gone left. Our new friends take off towards the summit while we stow our water bottles.
“I’m sorry we won’t be the first ones up there,” Jon says.
It’s more than okay. All I can think about right now is the fact that Jon and I are both safe, and feeling good. We have a long way to go to get back down.
Our ice axes, boots, crampons, gaiters, and jackets lay in a heap outside the tent. We strip down to our long underwear, and collapse on top of our sleeping bags. With the sun now high in the sky, the inside of the tent feels like an oven and we bask in the stifling heat. We laugh at how bad we smell. I hesitantly suggest that we find a place to take showers that night.
“You have to give me some credit dude,” I say. “Most chicks would not be down for living the way we’ve been living.”
I’m not talking about the hard climbs or freezing temperatures. I’m referring to our general lack of personal hygiene - we've showered once in the past ten days.
“I know,” Jon says. “That’s why most chicks suck. But yeah, I could take a shower tonight.”
We talk about what our parents would think of what we just did. I chuckle at the thought of how my poor mother would react if she knew her daughter was freezing on top of a remote, ice-covered mountain.
“Thanks for taking care of me up there.”
“Of course,” Jon says. “You had me scared there for a minute.”
We talk about which of our friends would be down to do this kind of shit. We talk about the beers we’ll drink and the food we’ll eat later. We still have a few more hours of hiking down the mountain ahead of us, but in this moment we have everything we need. We made it to the summit. We have water. We’re alive.
After twenty minutes, Jon rolls over and says “we can’t stay here.”
My response is automatic. “THIS IS BAT COUNTRY!"
And with that, we can’t stop laughing. We laugh so hard tears well up in our eyes. We laugh until we’re gasping for air. We laugh as only two dirty mountain-climbing fools, high on life, can laugh.