Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Mount Shasta with Rachael: July 1997

I was originally planning to go to Kenya in August with my brother, Layne. We were going to spend a week in a small village building a portion of a school, then spend several days on a photo safari in the Masai Mara Game Preserve and then climb 19,000+ foot Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain on the continent of Africa, something I have wanted to do for several years. I had written a letter and sent an application to CHOICE, which runs the program, to go on the expedition.

I woke up during the middle of one night and lay in bed thinking about the impending trip and I did not feel good about it. I thought of my children, Rachael in particular, getting older and the fact that I only have a limited amount of time to spend with Rachael before she leaves home for college. The trip to Kenya would preclude any meaningful activity with the family for the year. The reality of this hit me hard and I had a strong impression that I needed to back-out of the Kenya trip and spend some time in a special activity with Rachael. In tears, I woke up Judy, apologized to her for such a rude awakening, and shared with her my need to cancel the trip to Africa and spend that time and that money on the family, and in particular, with Rachael. I felt that the promptings were from Heavenly Father and that I needed to act upon them.

I gave some thought as to what Rachael and I might do together and Mount Shasta came to mind. It would be a multi-day trip, allowing just the two of us to travel together for several days, and provide a challenging experience for both of us to share together for the rest of our lives. The benefit would not be limited to the trip itself. It would provide us an opportunity to spend time working out together before-hand.

Several people later asked me if Rachael was "in" to climbing mountains and I had to say, "No not really." In that context the choice was very selfish of me. Yet, I have found that I can get closer to people in the outdoors than in any other place. All other distractions are eliminated, the true person seems to come out and the togetherness, including sleeping in the same tent, tends to create more interaction than any other activity I can think of. Mary Pipher, in her book, The Shelter of Each Other, talks about the wonderful powers of the outdoors:

In the wilderness there is connection and complexity, challenge and serenity. In most of us there is a deep hunger for contact with the natural world...I think the natural world has great power to heal and restore...Children need connection with the natural world...Looking at the Milky Way makes most of us feel small and yet a part of something... The natural world teaches many lessons...All families have unfinished business from the ways in which they have hurt each other and have been hurt by the outside world. In almost all cases, healing is possible with the right words and the right ceremonies. My bias is toward out-of-doors ceremonies. As Thoreau said, 'In the wilderness there is life.' All experiences with the sun, water, the sea, forests and mountains can be healing...Families can have their spots...where they like to get together...Those sacred places can be anywhere...My bias is that the best spots are in natural settings. One of the greatest gifts parents can give their children is to teach them to love the natural world...My father always took us camping in the Ozarks, my brothers and sisters and I can remember a hundred stories of snapping turtles, giant catfish, water moccasins, rainstorms and crawdads in clear, rocky streams. Those stories form the walls of our family shelter and hold together what we have of love in our lives...Hunting often connects boys to their fathers. In fact, I am convinced that the reason so many men love hunting is that it was the one time their father spent time with them. Many Midwestern men have memories of fathers waking them before dawn, sharing big breakfasts and driving to the duck blind or hiking through snowy fields looking for pheasants. All day fathers and sons hiked, sat and watched the sky, shared coffee or whiskey and talked. The lure of those days, often golden in the memories of men, wasn't so much the hunting as the happy time with their fathers."

I talked with Judy about the idea of Mount Shasta and she consented. Then I asked Rachael about whether she would like to climb Mount Shasta and she gave a reluctant yes, I think somewhat awed by the prospect.

I called Layne and told him of my wakeful night and my feeling that it was not what I should be doing and cancelled my participation in the Kenya trip. I got more details on Shasta Mountain Guides, made several phone calls to them and eventually lined up two days in July for us to make the climb.

As time dragged on and we got closer to our trip, I was frustrated with my own physical condition and weight. After a week at Camp Cherry Valley in Catalina with the scouts and then Judy spending a week at camp in the mountains, I did no workouts other than a twenty mile hike on Catalina. I was disappointed with the fact that Rachael and I had not been able to spend any joint work-out time together. Rachael’s time with her boyfriend was keeping her up until very late many nights and early morning workouts, the swims and the walks, were not feasible. My dream of how this was going to work out, and all the time we would spend together, was going down in flames. I scheduled a hike of Mount San Bernardino for the Fourth of July as a training hike for the two of us, and the family decided they all wanted to participate.

June 29, 1997 (Sunday):

I waited until 8:30 a.m. before going on a walk. I was disappointed that Rachael and I were not able to walk together. When I arrived home Judy mentioned Rachael had gotten up shortly after I left. Later that day Rachael made a disparaging comment about hiking and I got the strong sense she did not want to climb Mount San Bernardino or Mount Shasta. I was very depressed. I talked with Judy and expressed the concern that I did not want to make Rachael do these hikes if she had no interest. I was concerned both about Rachael’s lack of desire to do them, as well as her lack of physical conditioning. I discussed with Judy the possibility of canceling Rachael’s participation in the Mount Shasta trip and taking Sam instead. Yet, I realized that canceling the trip with Rachael would damage the relationship I was desirous of strengthening and that it was counter to all of the feelings and promptings I had experienced earlier leading me to cancel my Kenya trip. Judy suggested that I wait a day before taking any action. As I will relate, this feeling of discouragement was followed by two weeks of glorious fulfillment of all I had ever desired about the trip. I am so grateful that I did not take a negative action during that time of discouragement.

June 30, 1997 (Monday):

At 6:00 a.m., Rachael came walking into the kitchen in her swimsuit and announced she was ready to do a swim workout with me. I was surprised and thrilled. We went to the Swim and Tennis Club and I was amazed to learn, at the end of the workout, that Rachael swam 70 lengths (88 lengths of the pool is a mile). That was far beyond anything I thought she would be capable of without any recent workouts. This gave me some encouragement for our hike.

July 1, 1997 (Tuesday):

Rachael was up at 6:00 a.m. again, swimsuit on and ready for a workout. I was even more surprised to learn at the end of the hour workout that Rachael swam 136 lengths, more than 1 1/2 miles. I had done 146 lengths, only ten more than Rachael and I have been swimming fairly regularly for several years. That was surely worthy of a celebration, so I obtained a Boy Scout Mile Swim award and a 1/2 chocolate cake from Lucky's and presented them to Rachael at work (she was working as an office assistant at MECH). My hopes for the Mount Shasta trip and the time Rachael and I would spend together were beginning to materialize and I was thrilled.

July 2, 1997 (Wednesday):

I had Rotary and was not able to swim. Rachael woke up at 5:00 a.m. and we went on a walk toward the Tree Farm. Time prevented us from going the entire distance, but I was encouraged by Rachael’s willingness to get up so early and loved to have her as a walking companion.

July 3, 1997 (Thursday):

We went swimming again. I decided to swim longer than an hour and continued until I completed 176 lengths, or 2 miles. Rachael had done 156 lengths to that point and indicated a desire to complete two miles. We swam until she did so. Again, I was very impressed and encouraged by Rachael’s determination.

About this time I was trying to think of any incentives I could provide for Rachael to make it to the summit of Mount Shasta, Judy and I determined that a small package from her boyfriend to be opened at the summit, might provide suitable incentive. I asked her boyfriend if he would be willing to do it and he agreed.

July 4, 1997 (Friday):                       (Mount San Bernardino)

I awoke at 1:45 a.m. to prepare for our early morning hike of Mount San Bernardino. At 2:30 a.m. I woke up the rest of the family. About 3:10 a.m. we picked up Rachael’s boyfriendfrom his home in Yucaipa and drove to Angelus Oaks to the trailhead. We started hiking at 3:45 a.m., headlamps and flashlights illuminating our way through the darkness. Much of the rest of the day is a blur to me. I was very tired, feeling somewhat sick to my stomach. As we got to the flat ridge that runs to the base of the mountain, morning was dawning. I could feel myself dragging behind. Judy, Andrew and I pulled up the rear until we all arrived at the Columbine Spring Campsite trail for a rest and a snack.

From there we set off again, and somewhere through there, Rachael took off and left the rest of us in the dust. She arrived on top of the mountain about 8:30 a.m. As the rest of us got closer to the summit, I really began to drag and fell way behind Judy and the rest of the group. I dragged to the summit about 9:10 a.m., at least 10 minutes behind Judy and the rest of the group. I was feeling sick and tired and discouraged about my poor performance. After a sandwich, I laid down on the rocks and tried to sleep awhile. The rest did me good and I felt much better after we spent an hour and a half or so at the summit.

On the way down, we stopped again at Columbine Springs for a rest and then Sam and I were left in the rear as Rachael and the rest of the group charged forward. Sam and I cut the switchbacks and were able to shave off some of the distance and arrived at the Angelus Oaks trailhead about 2:00 p.m., only about 10 minutes behind the rest of the group. I felt much better on the way down, but still somewhat discouraged by my poor performance. We had done a 16 mile roundtrip hike with 4,600 feet of elevation gain and had gotten to an elevation of 10,624 feet. The San Bernardino Mountain Trails book lists it as a strenuous one day hike.

Later that day we went to the fireworks at the University of Redlands stadium and watched a wonderful spectacular. At this time I was feeling very good about Rachael’s conditioning for the Mount Shasta trip and was very concerned about my own.

July 6, 1997 (Sunday):

Rachael and I went for another walk to the Tree Farm. Again, time prevented us from going the whole distance, but we walked a little more briskly and got a reasonable workout (and better yet, got to spend that time together).

July 7, 1997 (Monday):

Rachael and I went swimming at the Club together. I swam about 144 lengths and Rachael had some difficulties with her goggles, but still managed about 118 lengths.

July 8, 1997 (Tuesday):        (Mount San Antonio or Mount Baldy)

Rachael and I woke at 2:30 a.m. for another early morning of hiking madness. I had to stop  by work to drop off some pre-bills and Rachael and I arrived at Manker Flat, above Mount Baldy Village, about 4:30 a.m. Again we set off into the night with our headlamps. We walked a dirt road for about a quarter mile, then veered steeply up a trail which continued for a good grade all the way to a small stream alongside a green Sierra Club hut. We passed it about 5:40 a.m. We continued to push on and hiked across the Baldy Bowl and up the south side ridge. Our pace slowed as the grade steepened, but we did not stop.

I had been so discouraged by my Mount San Bernardino performance that I wanted to do better. I determined not to stop, if I could continue physically, until we reached the top or until Rachael asked to rest. Given Rachael’s strong showing on Mount San Bernardino, I wasn't concerned about her ability to do Mount Baldy. I found out later, that Rachael determined she was not going to stop unless I stopped. Obviously, neither of us signaled and we made it all the way to the top by 7:00 a.m., after 2 1\2 hours of steep, uphill hiking. I was feeling a little stronger and beat Rachael to the top by a few minutes, but was very impressed that she did not once complain, despite blisters on her feet from our previous hike and some pain in her hip.

It was cold on the summit. The wind was blowing and we were not dressed for cold. We made a call to Mom on the cellular telephone (I sang a fine rendition of "On Top of Mt. Baldy"), and then headed back down the mountain. Where it took us 1 hour 25 minutes to make the summit from the Sierra Club hut on the way up, it took us 50 minutes to make it back down to it. At the stream, Rachael stopped to admire some beautiful orange and red petaled columbine and expressed the desire to come back again some day and paint them. Rachael again expressed admiration for the beauty of a small meadow below the hut. It is so fun to be with someone that can appreciate the beauty found in the outdoors. We continued on and made it back to the car by 9:10 a.m. I'm not sure how long the hike was, but we had 3,500 feet of elevation gain. Therefore, it was a much steeper climb than Mt. San Bernardino for the distance traveled.

We drove down through Claremont and Montclair to the freeway, then took the Euclid exit and ate breakfast at Coco's. It was so much fun to sit with Rachael there, eating a great breakfast, after a good strenuous hike. I had pancakes, eggs, sausage and we shared a side of gravy and biscuits. It was so fun to share in Rachael’s enthusiasm. I thoroughly enjoyed that morning together.

July 10, 1997 (Thursday):    (San Francisco, Redding, Mount Shasta)

Rachael and I went for another swim. I swam 146 lengths and Rachael did 126. Physically, we were both benefited by the workout we had put in over the last week and a half. I went to work and scrambled to get out three pressing projects and met Rachael and Judy at Tolar's at 1:40 to drop off the Honda for some body work. Judy and the boys drove us to Ontario Airport where we boarded a United flight for San Francisco. We flew over Mt. Baldy but Rachael was not able to get position to see it from the second seat. In San Francisco, we had 40 minutes to walk several concourses and take a shuttle bus out to the United Express waiting area. We got there just in time to board our small propeller airplane. We took a noisy flight to Redding. As we were on the plane, we admired Mount Lassen, a nearby volcano, but were unable to see Mount Shasta. After getting off the plane, about 6:00 p.m., I pointed out to Rachael Mount Shasta, a large white mountain dominating the skyline. "Oh my word," she exclaimed, almost losing her breath. "It is big."

We gathered our luggage from the plane, only to find that my Gregory backpack was missing. We reported to the counter and they could not find it in the back. They suggested we would have to come back and see if it was on the next flight, arriving at 9:00 p.m. I was angry. Our hotel was in Mt. Shasta, an hour away. There was no way we could go and come back and make it worthwhile. The airline personnel did not seem particularly sympathetic or accommodating. Visions of missing our climb the next day haunted me and I silently prayed that the luggage would be on board the next flight. 

The woman at the Budget Rent a Car counter gave us good news. We were going to drive a white Mustang. She gave us a recommendation for dinner at a small hole-in-the-wall joint in Redding and gave us directions. We climbed into the sporty white car, with a wind foil on the back and cruised into Redding. We found the restaurant/bar, but found that it would take us an hour to get seated. We left, checked out the local movie house (nothing good available at that time) and headed back down to a Red Robin we had seen while driving. After a short wait, we got seated for a meal. I had a Hawaiian style hamburger with pineapple and teriyaki and onion rings. Rachael had a wonderful sandwich with a special thin foccacio(?) bread and buffalo fries. We both had tasty strawberry and lemonade drinks.

We arrived at the airport just as they were unloading the 9:00 flight. We breathed a sigh of relief as we spotted my backpack on the cart. We loaded it into the back seat of the Mustang and headed, in the dark, to Mount Shasta. I was tired and struggled to stay awake for the drive, wishing we could enjoy what we knew was beautiful scenery outside, particularly that large white mountain.

We checked into the Swiss Holiday Chalet in Mount Shasta and I promptly fell asleep on the bed, on top of the covers, in my clothes. I did not awake until 6:30 the next morning.

July 11, 1997 (Friday):                     (Mount Shasta, Horse Camp)

We scrambled to load our packs for the climb, grabbed some pastries from the motel office and drove to the Fifth Season in downtown Mt. Shasta. There we met Michael Zanger, the proprietor of Shasta Mountain Guides, and our guide, Ray, at 9:00 a.m. We spent the next couple of hours trying on boots, buying sunscreen and lip protector, a cheap pair of sun glasses for me, had our packs inspected, and bought two Mt. Shasta t-shirts.

We followed Ray and his old beat-up Nova station wagon up the Everitt Memorial Highway and were awed by the beautiful greenery and the glimpses of The Mountain. We pulled off at Bunny Flat (elevation 7,040 feet), distributed the group gear among us, Ray adjusted the pack to Rachael’s back, and we headed (hiking) for Horse Camp, a mile and a half in and at an elevation of 7,920 feet. During the hike, Ray mentioned a group of 14 to 17 year olds he had worked with the week before. They were in California for a month doing high adventure type activities and had the motto, "Suck it up," in referring to pain and fatigue. Ray indicated he had sprained his ankle at Castle Crags, but that it was not going to cause him a problem because he would force himself to ignore it. He would, as the group said, "suck it up." The second half of the hike into Horse Camp was a good grade uphill and Rachael struggled under a mountain load that was a large, Kelty pack. Rachael showed grit, never complaining.

We found a large rock hut with a small rock cairn flowing with spring water and enjoyed a sack lunch prepared for us by Shasta Mountain Guides. We had a wonderful turkey sandwich, chips, an apple and a large chocolate cookie that came from the natural foods and herb store in town. Ray set up a Eureka tent for the two of us (he slept nearby in a bivouac sack) and told us what we would need to take with us on the hike early the next morning: a small day pack, underwear top and bottom, shell pants, shell jacket, down parka, helmet, headlamp, gaiters, crampons, two quarts of water and snacks.

Ray then took us out for training. We hiked into the gully where an avalanche had deposited 25 to 30 feet (deep) of snow that winter and learned the French climbing technique (one foot crossing over the other), the Canadian climbing technique (one foot in a direct line with the other), and a duck toed technique where both hands grasp the ice axe uphill.

We learned several forms of ice axe arrest: (1) sliding down the hill on rear ends (left side and right side); (2) sliding down the hill on stomachs head first (left side and right side - hands with ice axe held high over head then thrust to the side and planted which swings the body around); and (3) sliding down the hill on backs, head first (left side and right side). Ray then showed us how to glissade, sitting on rear ends with crampons off, using the ice axe as a brake. We tried each technique, multiple times.

We hiked back to camp for dinner and an early bedtime. Ray cooked up some watery pea and carrot soup, chicken and rice (which we slathered with curry and garlic powder) and apple cobbler. We stuffed it down, to the point of feeling sick. We also drank the two quarts of water he recommended ("You should be getting up to go to the bathroom tonight," he stated). We were in bed by 7:30 p.m. and struggled to get to sleep. About 11:00 a.m., I arose, needing to go to the bathroom and found Rachael had been waiting for me to get up to go with her. We stumbled in the dark down to the bathroom and relieved our aching bladders. We headed back to our sleeping bags for one more glorious hour of sleep.

July 12, 1997 (Friday):         (Mount Shasta – Red Banks, Horse Camp)

At midnight, Ray's alarm, which was a rooster crowing, woke us up. We knew we were going to be hiking in an hour. We pulled on our clothes, boots, gaiters, I put in my contact lenses (a trick in the dark with a small mirror), drank a quart of water (as recommended), headed to the bathroom, and forced down a breakfast of instant oatmeal and hot chocolate (about 12:50 a.m.). We were hiking  just after 1:00 a.m., down the Olberman Causeway, a rock hiking trail, impressively built in the 1920's by the first caretaker of the Sierra Club hut (named Mac Olberman).

Around 2:30 a.m., after heading steadily uphill, we got to a small level area beyond which the snow began enmasse. We stopped for a break, primarily to snap on our crampons. Ray congratulated us for getting out by 1:00 a.m. and for our pace, indicating that he was not slackening his pace for us. We turned off our headlamps and had an amazing view of the night sky. I have never seen more stars. We were more than 9,000 feet in elevation with very little light interference from the surrounding tiny towns. The Milky Way was a murky band across the night sky. There were so many visible stars that it made it hard to distinguish any of the familiar constellations. Ray had asked us earlier if we were Mormons, noticing Rachael’s CTR ring. He now asked if we would like to have a word of prayer. After all, he indicated, "I am a baptized Mormon." I appreciated the request and offered a prayer, thankful for any additional aid and blessings we might be able to have for the challenging climb ahead. Finally, I pulled out one of the seven letters Rachael’s boyfriend had provided in a large manilla envelope, and gave it to Rachael to open. Ray was impressed that a boyfriend would do this for climbing a mountain and wished he could find a girlfriend that would do something similar for him for climbing mountains.

We now started up The Mountain in crampons, Rachael’s first experience with them. Rachael exclaimed soon after how well they gripped the snow. The steepness of the grade increased and we began using the French technique. As the grade got substantially steeper, we stepped into the rounded waterslide-like track of some previous glissaders and found the climbing to be easier, as the surface within the track was smooth and even. I was behind Rachael, just following her footsteps, neither looking ahead or behind. Eventually I looked ahead of Rachael and could not find Ray. I saw a headlamp substantially higher than us and did not believe it could be Ray, but saw no other headlamp to follow. We continued upward. Eventually Ray called out from our right, "Where are you going,  I'm over here." We turned to follow the voice onto a flat area and eventually found Ray in a large pit dug into the snow. The wind was now howling around us and the pit offered some respite from the bitter bite of cold caused by the wind.

It was now 4:00 a.m. and we were at Helen Lake, elevation 10,400 feet. I noticed several other headlamps, obviously people who had camped at Helen Lake and were getting ready to ascend The Mountain. We immediately pulled on our down parkas for added warmth now that we were not moving. Ray stated that we were now moving into the coldest part of the day, right before dawn, and with the wind, we would likely be cold. He suggested we hike with our down parkas on. Ray explained that the most difficult part of the hike was now ahead of us, from Helen Lake to the Red Banks above, about 2,000 vertical feet of elevation gain. He stressed that we needed to keep moving at a pace we could sustain. I gave Rachael her boyfriend’s second envelope. We decided to keep moving after a short rest as we were getting colder by the minute.

Initially I was encouraged because the grade was not too steep. It was beginning to lighten up and we could make out the dark outlines of the Red Banks above us. We could see the headlamps of several other hikers on the mountain, one quite a bit above us and one below us. As we climbed higher, several other headlamps appeared even farther below us. Gradually the grade steepened. Rachael started to slow a little bit, and stumbled back at one point. Ray found a large boulder resting precariously in the middle of the snowfield and stopped to wait for us, perched against it. He suggested we rope up for the balance of the climb upward.

Rachael indicated she had a blister that needed to be mole-skinned. I was concerned about having to do it, as it was very cold. By taking off my gloves to fish around in my first aid kit and cut the moleskin, my body cooled off considerably. I started to get cold. Rachael had to take off her boot and socks to put on the moleskin and I believe it began the downward spiral of her temperature which ultimately stopped her. Our perch was precarious. It was now quite steep and I laid down my gloves and pack quite cautiously to avoid it slipping to the side of the rock and down The Mountain.

We now began the ascent which we will never forget. The grade got steeper and the snow got very crisp, almost ice, like you find on very cold mornings. In portions it was almost like biting into frost as it was very crunchy. As the grade steepened, it became more difficult to get all twelve points of the crampons to make contact with the snow. Eventually, we were only making contact with the side points of the crampons. This got worse as we quit going straight up and began traversing at 45 degree angles back and forth across the face. The traversing back and forth made for longer, (and I felt) less secure, steps and forced me to look more often above and below.

I have to make an admission. I have somewhat of a fear of heights. Not a fear like some others I know, but nevertheless a fear I have to contend with on occasion. That fear began to take over. I could not help but consider the consequences of a fall where we were. It was apparent that if we did not make a good self arrest after a fall, we would slide well over a thousand feet. The consequences would not be pleasant. Losing the ability to plant all points of the crampons into the snow certainly did not ease my fear. When I looked down, that fear could be overpowering and I found myself battling to ignore the fear and told myself that I was confident and in control. During the times of greater fear, my body would tense and the hiking was much more labored and stressful. When I controlled my fears, I could relax and the hiking was easier. I forced myself not to look either up or down. I found Rachael often looking up. As I think back, I suspect that the fear Rachael was feeling sapped much of her strength and contributed to her loss of energy.

I thought of Rachael ahead of me and knew that she must be feeling that fear even more than  I and I wished that I could somehow take that burden from her. Unfortunately, Rachael, like me, was on her own in her own personal struggle to deal with the difficulties before us. I found myself relax as we traversed closer to the edge of the rock barrier to our right side as the way below us seemed much less exposed. I would tense up more as we crossed through the center of the snowfield and the broad expanse of what lay below us was opened completely to our view.

I asked myself during this portion of the climb why I was subjecting us to this. At that point, it certainly was not fun. I had the thought that I was going to go home, put away my crampons and ice axe and never use them again (I recall a similar thought after Mount Rainier, although the thought then was more related to the fatigue than to the fear). I reflected on this phenomenon several times after getting home and came to the conclusion that I end up enjoying the satisfaction of the challenge and overcoming obstacles. It is the same basic reason I went to law school. I had a fear of public speaking, particularly being called upon without warning, and the socratic method of teaching and learning in law school was a way to challenge and meet that fear. Isn't it odd that my profession and favorite hobby involve elements that confront my basic fears?

The Red Banks above us slowly, but surely, got closer. We eventually found some steps cut into the snow (I believe these steps were made by Robert Webb on his climb of Mount Shasta five times in 24 hours several weeks earlier). These steps eased my fears as they provided a solid base on which to plant all twelve points of each crampon. However, they did seem to me to require more energy and the steps were wider apart than I would normally step. Rachael seemed to slow dramatically here. Ray encouraged her regularly not to stop, but the intervals between her stopping decreased. Finally, as the saddle between the Red Banks and the Thumb got nearer, Ray promised Rachael that this was her summit, she did not need to go further, that she would find the sun and warm up and that she could have a long rest, food and drink. By this time the climber below us had joined us and waited patiently for us to go before him to the saddle.

At the saddle the wind was howling and it was difficult to retain warmth. Ray had Rachael put on his extra fleece jacket. It was obvious that Rachael’s situation was not going to improve there, so Ray suggested we go to a snow cave in the bergschrund about 50 yards further along. There Rachael could get out of the wind. Ray laid down his pack for Rachael to lay on. I came over and put my arm under her head and the other arm around her and offered her some gorp, which she willfully ate. She eventually fell asleep amidst the icicles in the cave. Ray found a place at the opening of the cave where the sun was hitting and fell asleep in that spot. I laid down out of the sun (but also out of the wind) and fell asleep briefly, although the cold of the snow I was laying on made it difficult to get totally warm.

I did not keep tabs on the time at this point so I am not sure how long we were there. It eventually became obvious to us that Rachael was not improving. She was still displaying symptoms of hypothermia: shivering, inability to get warm, slow reaction time and unsteady body movements. It became obvious that we would only get Rachael warm by getting her down the mountain.

Before the trip I asked myself several times whether I would be able to handle not completing the summit if something were to prevent it. I decided that I thought I could, because the purpose of the trip was for me to spend this time with Rachael. However, I wasn't positively sure how I would react. Now I knew. Rachael had obviously given everything she had to reach the Red Banks. She was exhausted and freezing and could not continue on. How can anyone be asked to give more than their all, and she had given 100%. There was no hesitation in my mind that we needed to turn back, and I had no regrets.

We decided to have Rachael open the rest of her boyfriend’s letters. She could not open the envelopes, so I opened them for her and read them to her. It was obvious later, that she grasped little of what was going on, as her recall was very minimal. Rachael suggested that we needed to call Mom or she would worry, so I got out the cell phone and called. Rachael was right, Judy had been jumping for the phone all morning. I held the phone up to Rachael’s ear while Ray stabilized her. I could sense Rachael fighting back the tears and could hear her unspoken wish that she could magically be transported to the bottom of The Mountain. However, Rachael registered nary a complaint, other than that she was still cold.

Ray started with Rachael back toward the saddle while I got myself put together for the descent. I watched him steady Rachael slowly along. As I reached the saddle, Ray was about 30 yards below Rachael, waiting. Rachael was bending down, apparently adjusting the strap on her crampons. We descended slowly, using the French technique in reverse. Ray called up to us to do as he had taught us, just walk straight down the mountain. I suspect that Rachael, like me, felt uncomfortable doing this. There is nothing like looking straight down the funnel of an abyss, with nothing between you and the bottom but those crampons, to create a sense of insecurity. There was nothing I could do further to speed Rachael up. She went at her own speed as I descended to where Ray was.

I asked Ray where we could begin our glissade and he indicated we needed to get below the rocks that lay below us about an additional 50 yards. We descended and Ray began to chip out a ledge for each of us to sit on. There we would take off our crampons and gingerly form a human glissade chain to descend the mountain. It took Rachael a very long time to get to us. She indicated later that each step was a constant struggle of total focus to maintain her unsteady balance. Ray indicated that the snow was too hard for a good glissade. It would be difficult to stop and he strongly urged total control at all times. He said it was his judgment call, but he felt we needed to glissade to get Rachael down The Mountain. He asked if I felt I could control myself, as Rachael would have to put her legs around his waist and he would control her descent. I said I felt I could, although there was no conviction in my answer.

The unstrapping of the crampons created a new fear. I felt myself hugging the small cut out step for fear that much movement might unsteady me and send me careening downward without the benefit of my crampons to stop me. I admired Ray's ability to move without his crampons, although he did it cautiously and slowly. I held my breath as Rachael slowly lowered herself behind Ray in the smooth glissade track. I held my breath again as I maneuvered myself awkwardly behind Rachael. Then Ray started-quickly. He got about four feet ahead of Rachael and Rachael slid toward him. At one point I thought Rachael might lose control and go around him down The Mountain. I decided that I would be better not being a part of that train and adding to the potential danger. I held back. Fear gripped me. I held onto the ice axe with a clenched fist and pushed the spike into the ice with all my strength to create the friction to stop my slide. It sapped my energy.

I constantly reviewed how I would arrest my slide if I lost control. Rachael and Ray got farther and farther away and eventually out of sight. The fear of going completely out of control replayed itself over and over across the screen of my mind. I stopped for minutes at a time between short glissades of 10 to 30 yards, to catch my breath, rejuvenate my tired arms and build up the courage to do it again. On several occasions, only the feeling of foolishness of sitting in one location for minutes while other climbers looked on pushed me to continue. It would have been very easy for me to freeze in fear. At one point, during a particularly steep portion, I gingerly pushed myself out of the glissade track and into the more bumpy, pockmarked snow. I felt the less smooth track would reduce the speed of the descent and increase the ability to stop in the event of a self arrest. All of the above were definitely true, but the bumps were a bit much. My pants gathered into my crotch and caused great pain. I decided I better get back onto the glissade track.

Eventually the snow did soften up and my feet were able to dig into the snow to reduce the speed of the descent. I increased my speed and the length of each portion of my descent until I reached Helen Lake, where I could see Rachael and Ray waiting. As I reached Rachael I apologized for taking so long to get to her (my guess is that we were apart for over an hour). Rachael was obviously feeling better. Her helmet was off and she had a big smile on her face and she said she was finally feeling warm again (the sun was shining brightly and the temperature had increased dramatically at this lower elevation). Then she gushed about what a beautiful mountain it was. Here she had just been through a terrifying experience, freezing to death, and she wanted to talk about how beautiful The Mountain was and how fun it was to glissade! I was impressed. No word of complaint from her.

After giving me a short chance to rest we continued on. Ray announced that there were three more sections of glissading before we reached Horse Camp. These sections were pretty much clear sailing, with soft snow making it easy to stop. After the first downhill stretch Rachael gushed about how fun glissading was. "Dad, this is a lot more fun than the Alpine Slide!" And "Dad, I have never been in this much snow before. It is so fun!" We avoided most of the dirt portion of the trail following the snow through the gully and eventually popped out onto the Olberman Causeway and back at Horse Camp.

We set about (slowly) to remove our climbing gear and begin packing. Ray announced he would be preparing lunch in the rock hut and to come by in a minute. I lost sight of Rachael and assumed she had gone down to eat lunch or had gone to the bathroom. She apparently went into the tent and fell asleep. I met Ray in the hut at a large wood table and she was not there. We started to eat jalapeno jack cheese and Cinnamon Graham Crackers when she joined us. The Sierra Club hut caretaker, a young lady and a good friend of Ray, joined us. Ray asked you to explain to her about Bryan and his letters to Rachael.

The rest of the afternoon was uneventful. Packing seemed to take forever, particularly as we were tired and the thought of having to hoist the large packs on our backs and walk another mile and a half was not appetizing. Eventually we did make it back out to the cars. Rachael maintained a steady pace with her large pack and seemed to show no ill effects from her eventful morning.

As we arrived at the cars and removed our boots, Rachael showed us her foot. The bottom was covered in broken blisters and liquid puss. It looked awful, yet she said she had not felt it (she had too many other things to deal with, I guess). Eventually I saw Rays foot wrapped in a bandage, very swollen from his sprained ankle and I began to rethink this whole adventure. Here Ray had been carrying a heavy load to and from Horse Camp, had carried a large pack up The Mountain, had used his feet as a brake on a long glissade down The Mountain and showed strength throughout with nary a complaint. I thought of the internal complaints I was uttering on the backpacking trip to the car as my toes hurt from the cramped aspect of my boots. I recalled his mentioning at the beginning of the trip that sometimes you just need to "suck it up." I was very impressed. He had literally "sucked it up." Then I thought of Rachael and the fear and cold and exhaustion she felt, and the blisters on her feet and again, nary a complaint. She too had clearly "sucked it up." I welled with pride.

The rest of the trip is inconsequential in comparison, but there are a few items worth mentioning. We had a beautiful dinner at Lily's in Mount Shasta that evening (recommended by Ray). The menu was so much fun that we had a hard time choosing. I got salad with roasted garlic and avocado dressing and we had bread with a kind of pesto sauce (olive oil with olives, etc. crushed in it). Rachael got the recommended Chicken Benicia (with artichokes, olives, etc.) and I got the prime rib. The setting was a beautiful small home with a white picket fence. I enjoyed sitting with Rachael in that beautiful setting until the food in my stomach, combined with the long day made me so sleepy I could hardly keep my eyes open.

July 13, 1997 (Saturday):                 (Redding, San Francisco)

We nearly missed our flight out of Redding. I was paying for a Mount Shasta fruit label when they made the last call for our flight. The clerk was so slow it was excruciating. When we finally did make it all of the doors were locked and we could see the last of the passengers boarding the plane. We ran around trying to find someone to let us through and in desperation, went through the "employees only" door into the back of the airline counter. There we encountered a snarling female employee who screamed at us to "get out," "how did you get back here?," "did you know you are violating federal law?" and other gems. She finally said she would check with the captain and see if he wanted to let us on. They eventually did open the door, letting us pass through the luggage check and onto the plane.

In San Francisco, we were also fairly close to missing the flight, but did enjoy a nice lunch at the Crab Pot Restaurant, where we had steamed clams and clam chowder.

Best of all, I enjoyed just being with Rachael, growing closer to her, and sharing this incredible adventure with her. It turned out to be all that I hoped for when I planned it months ago. Sunday evening and early Monday morning as I typed a portion of this, tears of joy and gratitude streamed down my face. I think I lost as much fluid in tears as I lost in sweat on Mount Shasta.

July 14, 1997 (Sunday):

Sunday evening Judy played a song for me by Judd Maher, titled, "Don't Grow Up Too Fast." It expresses some of my feelings and the reasons I was so thankful for this Mount Shasta experience with Rachael.

This is hard to say
But there's just no other way
How can you understand
That I love you more than I planned.

Little hands so bright
Tiny hands hold so tight
It's just so hard to know
How a man lets his little girl go.

Don't grow up too fast
Don't forget that there's a little girl inside you
And a father's hand to guide you
So don't grow up too fast
You can have the things you want to have inside you
And I'll always stand beside you

There's so much for us to do
And to you it's all so new
So many times to share
And I know how much it means to be there

Oh, but I know that things will change
And its bound to feel so strange
I just don't understand
How will I ever live without you
Now that my world revolves around you

Why are you growing up so fast
And why is it children never last
Oh don't grow up too fast
Don't forget there is a little girl inside you
And a father's hand will guide you

So don't grow up too fast
You can have the things you want to have inside you
And I'll always stand beside you
So please don't grow up too fast
You can have the time you want to have to find you
And I'll always stand behind you

So don't grow up too fast
You can have the things you want to have inside you

And I'll always stand beside you

1 comment:

  1. What an awesome post. That decision to take this trip with your daughter was life changing for her. I am so glad you made that choice.