Oh Shasta, You Were My Greatest Teacher
Have you ever been to Mt. Shasta in California? To a 17-year-old kid, it was the equivalent of Everest. This large mountain dwarfed everything around it and made every previous mountain I encountered, look like a hill. Mt. Shasta is 14,180 feet, making it a classic fourteener. The tallest mountain I’ve done previous stood at a whopping 9,494 feet. The idea of climbing a real mountain always perplexed me, so I made it a personal goal to climb it before I turned 18.
What’s your idea of adulthood? Is it just turning 18? Is it a stable job? Kids? Nice white picket fence and a three-bedroom house in the suburbs? I had these thoughts because every typical kid is told these things. When I went to high school, I wasn’t told college was the way to reach those goals that make you an adult. However, I was told that adulthood is being stable, controlling your goals, ambitions, and not having outside forces dictate who you were unless you allowed them. When I was 17 I was contemplating what it meant to be an adult. My idea of adulthood was to climb big mountains and crush big miles. So, Shasta it was, and oh Shasta, you started it all.
The Sarcastic Mt. Shasta Start
When one of your climbing buddies asks you to do a big mountain, don’t laugh at them because you think they’re joking. Why? Because that’s exactly what I did. When Zach asked me if I was willing to join a trip up to Shasta, I didn’t quite expect him to be serious. Zach is the type of guy to always have his shit together even when some people can’t believe it. He’s got one of the best attitudes of life, the type of attitudes that typically get shit canned when you work hard in a stable job for so long. Plus, he’s a piano teacher, the dude has the patience of a sloth. Lukas is joining us, making the trio. He’s a piano teacher with the hair of a mad scientist. The trio is set.
The plan is set. Zach, Lukas, and I will hike Shasta on Aug. 16, 2015. The plan is simple: Hike to a camp spot, camp, get up at 2 a.m. and use that pent-up energy to good use, sort of like a toddler. The training wasn’t super intense. We’d go on a few big hikes, get our gear sorted out, then head on out.
Does Training Even Need Its Own Section?
Well, I guess it does. The training was intense, at least for a 17-year-old me. You see, the only thing I hated more than talking to girls at that age was making myself look weak in front of friends. Maybe it was this masculinity, maybe it was pride, or maybe it was both.
The one hike we did was Mt. McLoughlin. It’s 9,494 feet. To some of you that may be insane and to others, that’s a glorified hill. To me, it was the biggest mountain I have yet to conquer. With a nine-mile round trip and a 3,900-foot elevation gain, it’s not an easy feat for the average hiker. If Shasta was my Everest, McLoughlin was my base camp.
The funny thing is… we got lost. We’ve done this hike before separately, but I was in way better shape last time. If I couldn’t make it up this time, Shasta was definitely not an option. McLoughlin is one of the best marked trails in southern Oregon. They even have signs that say, “Don’t go this way.”
Why Did We Keep Going?
We went that way. About a mile into the hike, there is this big sign. The sign says PCT, with an arrow to the right. Above the PCT mark, there is another that says Mt McLoughlin, with an upward arrow. Guess which one we took? Way to go Einstein, we did hike the PCT! Guess how long it took us? If your answer is “Far too long” You’d be 2/2. For three guys who have done this hike before, all of us ignored the sign and just felt like we were all going the right direction.
So, we take the right which was really wrong. We decided to hike about a mile in until one of us decides to ask, “Is this the right way?” Well of course it is. We’ve done this trail before. However, you’re right to question. Where’s the elevation gain? Why do we see a PCT marker on a few trees? Eh! The markers must be wrong. Pride was our poison. We get another mile in and see a campsite. This is August, PCTers are hiking through Oregon, Washington, or finishing. We ran into a few PCTers taking a zero and still hiked on. I blame my youth.
At Least We Didn’t Give Up
Three miles total and then we decided to hike back. We get to the sign and it’s around 11 a.m. Thankfully we started around 7 a.m. so we still had time to summit. However, we just did six miles. Adding the next seven miles would make it a 13-mile day. That doesn’t sound as bad actually. We weren’t in great hiking shape, but figured we’d go for the summit. If we could summit after six miles we figured we’d be in good shape enough for Shasta. With newfound motivation, we did it. We hit summit at 4 p.m. and headed back down. I didn’t feel weak, but man did I feel stupid.
It’s Actually Happening
The day of Shasta approaches a week after. It’s about a two-hour drive to the trailhead. The plan is to go get our permits, then start late morning. Clear Creek is the route we chose to take: low snow, a creek that flows through the camp, and relatively flat approach for the first day. The first day isn’t super exciting and it isn’t why I’m even writing this story.
Our campsites were pretty funny, though. Zach is a baller on a budget. He customizes Big 5 and Walmart gear to his liking and it tends to work out. He’s a budget backpacker and it amazes me what we can pull off. I was still living with my parents, so I had money to buy some fancy gear. I rocked mostly Patagonia, REI, and Mountain Hardwear brand items. We set up our camps individually. Camp Walmart and Camp REI were our homes for the next day or so.
The alpine start was around 4 a.m. For those unfamiliar with the term an alpine atart is a super early start in order to reach the summit around favorable conditions. We were up way earlier due to the need of a restroom. I woke up around 2 a.m. needing the restroom. My body free of my mind, hastily ran out of my tent at 2 a.m. and shortly after heard Camp Walmart waking up. As we all ran to our respective bathrooms, you hear us all in unison, “Ahhh. That’s gorgeous.” No, we weren’t looking at ourselves. We were looking up. The stars up on the mountainside are an experience to be cherished.
Company Of The Mountainside
There is something humbling being on the base of a mountain with the stars above you. I don’t live in a big town, but I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t within a mile of a dozen or more people for more than a few hours. Yet here we were, on a mountainside with the only thing keeping us company being the stars. Around 4 a.m. we had our water loaded up from the nearby creek and started on our way.
I never met a thru-hiker until this trip. They were legends, much like the story of Lemurians on Shasta. They were people who gave up life for a half year in exchange for a purified experience. That is, until I met Toast. Wanna know how I met him? By them catching up to us during our hike. The only difference was, they made it a day hike and we were overnighting it.
Toast was the classic dread head thru-hiker. With him accompanied Shake, Staying Alive, and Nameless (I call him that because I never asked him). They met us around 10,000 feet of elevation and we decided to take a break together. I was in awe of these dudes. Their legs were massive, elevation didn’t faze them, and they enjoyed the push to the summit. They decided to take a nap while we pushed on.
After eight hours of contemplating whether reaching the summit was worth it we finally saw the top. There’s a decent trail to the top of Shasta, but we didn’t use it. Instead we risked our lives (sorry, Mom) and went on a pretty sketchy approach. With the dream team of three amateurs and four thru-hikers we found our way. With me being the youngest, I went first. This was my first accomplishment worth bragging about, so I figured if I was to get hurt, it’d be during the adventure of leading the push to the summit. We made it. At 1 p.m. I wrote my favorite quote in the summit journal: “Stay happy, stay loving, and stay adventurous.”
Shortly after we scree skied down Shasta and raced each other. I found my camp in not so good condition because I only put in two stakes for my tent, and that wasn’t enough. My tent was fine, but it was still 10 feet away. We packed up, filled up in the creek, and headed on down. I ran because I wanted to catch the thru-hikers to give them the rest of my food. All I had was a pound of Swedish fish. They took all of it.
Toast and the crew ended up finishing the thru-hike a few months later. I told Toast I worked at a climbing gym in southern Oregon and to my surprise, I walked into work on a day in September and heard a familiar voice. I never knew a mountain would bring me my first date of trail family. Toast ended up in southern Oregon and worked with me for the few months I had before I left for college. He’s the one who convinced me this year would be my year for a thru-hike. So, to Toast, thanks a ton man.
As I’m planning for this coming thru-hike I got obsessed with base pack weight. BPW is everything besides food, water, fuel, and clothes worn. I shot to be ultralight without sacrificing comfort. I mention this because when I was 17 I had an 85L pack with a 5lb tent for an overnight trip. Both of those together were more than my current base pack weight. We all start off as beginners. We aren’t professionals the first time we do something. So maybe you have a massive pack and way too much stuff. It’s critical we don’t think there’s no room for improvement the first go at anything.
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