Mt. Shasta | Sunday, June 4, 2017 | 3:30pm
[Click here to read the The Magic of Mt. Shasta Part I]
This is not the same climb we did yesterday. Hiking through snow and ice with a 25-pound pack is fine. Hiking with a 50-pound pack is another thing entirely. It’s also hotter today and I’m sweating more than I have at any other point during the trip. With my buff wrapped carefully around my face to cover my ears, nose, mouth and throat, I feel like I’m breathing through a wet t-shirt and my sunglasses keep fogging up. For some reason, the muscles in my left shoulder burn.
We finally stop. When Jon was leading yesterday, it felt slow. Today I feel like I can barely keep up. I resolve to incorporate significantly more weight into my training routine. Hill repeats with a 20-pound pack are not enough - I need to start hauling a 50-pound pack everywhere I go.
Jon asks me how I’m doing.
“Alright." I use my drenched buff to wipe the sweat off my face. “My left shoulder is bothering me a little bit.”
Jon moves towards me and puts his hands on my waist strap. “This thing needs to be a lot tighter,” he says, cinching it up. “You’re carrying all the weight on your shoulders – you should be carrying most of it on your hips.”
Throughout the trip, Jon has patiently yet pointedly shown me things like this. How to adjust my pack, how to roll my sleeping pad tighter, how to properly clean our cookware. If Jon wasn't Jon, I'd be pissed that a man had to show me how to do so many things. But his energy never feels patronizing, and I'm grateful that he is willing to teach me. Jon is very good at living in wild environments, and thanks to him, I'm becoming better at it.
After we set up our tent I take a few photos and write in my journal. Jon starts making dinner. We eat a strange yet delicious mix of tomato soup, Ramen noodles and green peas.
When Jon goes to light the Jet Boil again, the fuse makes a clicking sound. We can't be out of gas already - we packed a brand new can.
We did not, however, account for the altitude. The air at 10,000 feet has less oxygen and higher pressure, meaning gas burns a lot faster.
“That’s it,” Jon says, rattling the can next to his ear. “It’s out.” The implication of this hits both of us immediately, but we remain calm.
“Give me that bag of snow.”
Jon hands it to me and I immediately shove it inside my jacket and squeeze back into the tent. I lift up my shirt to place the bag directly against my skin and wrap my zero degree sleeping bag around me. I do a few sets of sit-ups and push-ups, trying to increase my body temperature.
Jon crawls into his sleeping bag with another bag of snow shoved under his shirt. I want to laugh at how ridiculous we are right now, but the situation is serious. We have one liter of water. To make the climb to the summit (and back down) we need at least two more, preferably three. The sun is setting and using only our body heat to melt snow is going to take a while.
Three hours later, we've managed to melt and filter two more liters of water. Jon hands me another bag of snow.
"Just put that in the bottom of your sleeping bag,” he says.
I shove the bag between my legs, willing it to melt. Even with the bundle of cold pressed against my body, I feel warm. It takes some time for sleep to come, but when it does, I fall into a hard, deep slumber.
We begin climbing just after 2am. The night sky is clear and calm. With every step, our crampons bite into the ice and frozen snow, generating a satisfying crunch. Jon lets me lead and I’m grateful. He says my pace is good, and I smile knowing we both feel strong. There is a three person team several hundred yards ahead of us. We pass them after twenty minutes.
It takes us two and a half hours to reach the top of the Red Banks. We step over a crevasse—the only one we’ll encounter on the mountain—and Jon pisses into it. I laugh and sit down in the snow, throwing back two handfuls of trail mix, and a couple swigs of our precious water.
I start to feel cold. We're on a ridge line now with nothing to block the wind. I can't feel my hands. Shit.
“From here on out the wind is gonna be pretty brutal,” Jon says.
“Got it.” I say automatically. “Puffy stays on.”
We start moving slowly up the ridge line towards Misery Hill. I feel like I’m on autopilot. The wind howls and for the first time, the bitter cold seeps beneath my warm layers. My hands are in trouble. They aren’t numb any more – they feel like they’re on fire. I think dumb thoughts about frostbite. I can’t get frostbite with these thick gloves on, right? Fuck this hurts.
[Editor’s note: You can definitely get frost bite even though you have gloves on.]
Then, all of a sudden, the pain in my hands is pushed aside by delirious thirst. My head is pounding. I stumble. I need water. I’ll walk ten more steps, then ask Jon if we can stop for a minute. No, fuck it—I have to stop now. I throw down my pack.
“What’s going on Marley?” Jon asks immediately. “You're making me nervous. You okay?”
“I’m fine,” I say, forcing my frozen hands to pull on the zipper of my pack. “I just really need some water.”
I chug water while Jon looks at me, concerned. Fumbling with the water bottle and pack busies my hands, forcing some feeling back into them. The wind dies down momentarily. I feel infinitesimally better.
“Okay, let’s go.”
My head still hurts, but I focus on my feet. I follow Jon’s footsteps precisely, counting my steps. Settling back into the rhythm calms me. The entirety of my mind narrows to two activities—walking and breathing.
Ten minutes later we stop again. “How are you feeling?” Jon asks.
“I’m alright. But if I vomit, we have to go down.”
His eyes bulge. “Yeah no shit! Why didn’t you tell me you were nauseous?”
“I don't really feel nauseous now. It was a lot worse ten minutes ago.”
“Here, sit down. Drink some water. Eat this.” He hands me a protein bar.
I lean against a rock and unwrap the bar. I’m so happy I can feel my hands again. When I look up, Jon is crouched over his pack, staring at me.
“I’m okay." I sound pathetic.
His expression is so intense, and I can tell he doesn’t believe me. I look down at the snow.
“Look at me Marley.”
It is the most serious tone I have ever heard him use. I look up and meet his gaze.
I have known Jon Haas for the better part of a decade. He is one of my favorite people to do anything with: engage in a long, reflective conversation. Collapse into a debilitating giggle fit. Climb a massive mountain. During all our years of friendship I have seen Jon full of joy, frustrated, stressed out, celebratory, sleep-deprived, and stricken by heartbreak.
But I have never seen him like this.
His bright blue eyes bore into me, brimming with some mixture of love and concern. And partnership. Then it hits me—Jon and I are the only people up here. We are hours ahead of the next climbers. He has to take care of me, and I have to take care of him.
I sit up straight and speak in a clear, loud tone, hoping I sound strong.
“I promise I’m alright. I really feel a lot better than I did ten minutes ago.”
“That’s great,” he says in the same dead-serious tone, still staring at me. “But I’m not going to take my eyes off of you.”
We stand up and shoulder our packs. Jon puts his hand on my arm and brings his face close to mine.
“No more acting tough, Marley. You have to tell me what’s going on with you—this is that level of intimacy we talked about.”
“I know, I will.”
We hug, and continue climbing.