Monday, July 27, 2009

Shasta Climb - Part 3

It wasn’t a pitch black night (or morning) to start the climb. On the contrary, it was beautiful. The moon was near full. The sun light bounced from the surface of the moon to the surface of the snow created strange, but beautiful, may be with a little bit of eeriness. We each donned our gears on, soft shell pants, crampons, helmet, head lamp, ice axed and of course the backpack. This time the pack was lighter, about 20+ lbs, because we left everything not needed for the climb at the camp.

We were divided into two teams. Jason led Walter and Burr while Lynnette took the rest. This is their usual practice. They would group climbers based on their performance up to Helen Lake. I was in the stronger performance team. Honestly, it’s difficult to tell how the altitude will affect people. Burr and Walter practically did not have any AMS symptoms. They took Diamox. I had headache in Horse camp and David had been complaining about his headache since dinner. I have to say I was a little concerned too, due to David’s AMS. If one of the team member could not make it, everyone would have to come down. This was a team, we climb as a team. There is no “I” in the word “team”, as Lynnette repeated to me the slogan in her high school gym. I agreed with her.

We took Avalance Gulch to the summit

Four of us were roped up and started to climb the steep slope. We went pretty slow I thought. The goal was to gain about 500 feet per hour. This is about the average speed. It was a little cold up on the mountain at the wee hours. I sweated a little in my shell jacket as we climbed. At the first break, we found some exposed boulder to sit on. There we eat and drink to recharge, and the Jason’s team joined us after 5 mins. They left for the slope about 10 mins before us. I was surprised. It turned out Burr had some problem with his hip. They probably had to break somewhere. Since we were two teams, we said hi to them and on our way to higher ground. About a few mins, Jason was on walkie-talkie Lynnette saying that they would go back down to the camp. Jason (and Burr) decided that it was too dangerous for Burr to climb further due to his hip problem. At that time, David still had his pounding headache. Lynnette asked us whether anyone would want to join them to come down because this is the only chance. Obviously I wanted to continue. David replied that he could handle it at the moment and that in 10 mins, he might have different answer. Not a too comforting answer. We moved on.

We took two more breaks before we reached to the Redbanks. At this time the sky started to brighten up. It was cold. It was at this altitude I started to feel my headache. And It was cold and windy.

This is a little gross but I found strange was at higher altitude, I produced a lot of gas J At first I thought because my pasta meal or carbs. It turned out it was HAFE (High Altitude Flatus Expulsion -- they even have a scientific name for this as it happens to most people). The air pressure outside is less than the pressure within human body, so our body need to have an equilibrium, and hence, the gas expulsion. At first I was roped in the 3rd position and Kate was behind me. I did has some gas but really embarrassed and hoped she didn’t have suffer from it. Good thing there was the wind. Later I was roped at the end and I could gas my way up. Maybe that’s why I could speed. :)

After reaching to the Redbanks was the steepest section, the Chimney. At this section, we really had to work twice as much. Every step was 3+ feet high. We had to use the ice axe. And lots of kicking in the snow to secure ourselves. This was the most technical section in the climb. Once we passed it, it was morning sunshine and a plateau from where we could see the pinnacle. We were so please to see it. But it got so windy and very cold that we couldn’t enjoy the view. My jacket was helpful but I definitely could use a warmer one.

The next one big challenge was Misery Hill (13,200’) . It was name as such for reason. At this time, my AMS didn’t get much worse but about to. David was in even worse shape. I had to rally the team, especially David that we could make it and I joked that this was a piece of cake. He said I was too optimistic while he didn’t have any delusion. I think being optimistic helped. I learned this from my North Pole trip. After all, I did not want to go down without summit the mountain. I guessed the rally helped. David and us scaled the Misery hill, even though he was very slow and started to get more severe AMS.

It was short hike to the pinnacle after Misery Hill to the summit. Kate seemed to be ok. Of course Lynnette was fine. My headache was getting worse as we went higher. I tried to ignore it. I know it’s dangerous to, but that’s a way to make it. It was not too much more before we could reach to the top. Also, it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. David on the other hand, started to a little disoriented, but he kept going.

When we reached to the top at around 11am, I was so excited. A great view from the top. It was a sunny day, but really windy at the summit. There was this guest book that climbers signed their names at the top. We quickly signed ours and took a few photos. I congratulated David and said I was so proud of him and that he was my hero (It’s true. If he decided to go down, all of us must go down without reaching the top.) All I got was a blank stare back. I thought it was weird. It turned out he got overwhelmed and also due to his disorientation. We spent about 5 mins total at the peak before we rushed down to safer altitude for David.

Climbing up is only half of the way. Descending was not less difficult. We rushed down to Misery hill and took a break. David felt a slightly better.

We were supposed to go down the same way we climbed up but apparently it was cold that day so the snow had hardened and would be too slippery to us to glissade. Lynnette decided to take us to different route, through the gravel instead. The gravel was not fun to walk on. I was pretty gliding down the slope on my feet. I fell a few times too. It was very difficult on this kind terrain. I told Lynnette this was my least favorite section by far. Finally we reach to the snow slope, from the right side of the Heart. We needed to cut across a little bit before we could reach to the glissade section. Here Lynnette decided to make me go down first and she last. We were roped up. This way she could anchor us if we slipped. I didn’t think I was a great leader. I couldn’t see too far because I didn’t have my glasses on. But we managed. This section was very steep so I fell on my butt two times and Kate, who was behind me fell a few times. But the hard part was paid off when we got to the glissade-able slope.

Glissade is a term in mountaineering to describe going down my sliding on your butt. While it can be fun but it is quite dangerous. You need to be able to control the speed using your ice axe. We learned the technique in the snow school but this was the real deal. I was quite nervous. Anything with fast speed and not much of control I would be. Good thing Lynnette was in the front. She would be our cushion if you went out of control. Apparent we did need her. I was the 3rd in line and Kate was second. I bumped into Kate a few times and she bumped into Lynnette. It was really fun. Much like riding water sliding in a theme park. I had such a great time. I acted like a kid too :)

We reached to the camp after glissading our way down the slope. At this altitude, my headache was gone. It could be the glissade fun I had too. We got to our tents and I was not surprised to see Jason’s team already left. It turned out Walter was very pissed that he couldn’t go further. I would be too but again, he was told about the team policy. Apparently they went back and hung out the whole day. They were bored so they did not want to wait. At first I didn’t see my tent, I was happy and thought they were nice enough o pack the tent with them. Turned out they only took the poles and the tarp. And my portion is the whole tent. While this actually was my portion that I carried up, the still, I was so tired to carry more weight. What could I do except pack the whole thing up. The backpack was back to normal weight, ie, back breaking weight.

We spent about an hour at the camp to rest. In fact I thought we rested too much. But David needed it. It was here that I got to talk to Lynnette more. She made a comment I thought very nice of her that she wonder how she could last the weekend without me. I thought she was a great guide, not because of this compliment. I learned a lot from her, the techniques and the attitude on the mountain.

On the way down to the trail head, we were pretty much gliding down the snow. Again, it wasn’t too easy for me, but it was much better for the knees on the snow than on the ground. Struggling my way down, we got to the Horse Camp and then wound down to the trail head.

It was shortly after 8pm that we reached to the Bunny Flat trail head where I parked my car. I was so happy to take off my shoes and it was time for flipflops.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Shasta Climb - Part 2

After oatmeal and cereal breakfast, we departed for Helen lake which is at 10443' by heading to the Causeway - the rock steps created by a caretaker named Olbermann. The causeway look nice and neat but not good for hiking, certainly not with a heavy pack. At the end of the causeway the trail started to get very steep and soon enough we entered a snow slope, up the Helen Lake and beyond.

The climb was not bad for me. A few in the team though had some problem, mostly because they were not used to carry that much weight. This was when I appreciated the gym and hiking sessions I have gotten so far. I could keep on going while others requested breaks to catch up with breathing. I was also glad my headaches were gone. I must have been something else.

We reached to Helen lake 2pm-ish. The day was beautiful and sunny. We scouted the snow slope for area to pitch our tents. Not so lucky. We had to use the shovel to dig some area to make it flatter. Jason and Burr were doing the digging while Walter and I doing the stampede to pack the snow and even it out. Shortly we had a nice little sweet spot where we called it home for the day and we could all take a power nap before our snow school.

Trying to pack the snow for the tent
The snow school was supposed to be on the first day but since Horse camp had no snow, we did today. Jason was our instructor. We learned a lot in this, mostly basic climbing and snow traversing techniques, and most important thing, how to rescue ourselves. It was a fun session. However, in one of the practice of falling on the steep snow slope face down, I had spasm on my back. At first when it happened, i was like, Oh no, this is it, I broke my back. It was so painful that I could not even speak when Jason asked me if I was ok, I could only let out a few words. As soon as it happened, I rolled over on my back, using the snow to ease the pain and made sure one hand holding on to the ice axe (or I would slip down the slope). Magically, after like two mins, the pain went away and I felt like almost nothing had happened. Everyone was happy for me cuz they were really concerned. So was I. this would be my first taste of the danger of snow climbing. Now looking back to this little incident, I am glad I handle the way I did. I was so much in pain but still able to stay calm and made the right decision. This is one of the most important things to do on the mountain.

Me in front on our tent

After the snow school, we were starving as there was no lunch. Good thing Lynnette prepared a pasta dinner for us. A very early dinner at 4pm. It's here we started to melt the snow for drinking water. The snow here is not a pure as the one in the North Pole. It has interesting taste, might be due to the fungus on the surface of the rocks that the snow covered, so might be other stuffs we did not want to guess. Mind you that the park has a very strict rule on human waste. All solid waste, ie. poop, will need to be packed and brought down to the designated bin at the beginning of the trail head.

Speaking of waste management, we were given two small packages in which we have a sheet of paper printed with nested circles, much like a dartboard, some substance like cat litter to absorb the moisture and the smell of the poop. The technique for this is to squad down, aim at the center and do your business. Once done, apply the litter on top and grab the edges, sorta folder the sheet and put it into the Ziploc bag and tow it out of sight in a black garbage bag and carry that garbage bag inside your backpack.

We went to bed at around 6pm after packing for the summit the next day. We only packed the most essential items for the climb and leave everything behind inside the tents. The plan is to get up at 1am and have quick breakfast, put on our gears and hope to leave for the summit by 3am the latest.
It was so hot inside the tent because it was a 4 season tent and the sun was still out. My sleeping bag was 0F degree (approx -18C) rating, so that did not help either. That night, Burr did not need to pee as much but snored. Despite my attempt to put myself to sleep, the heat, the light, the snoring and the anxiety of the climb and possibly the altitude kept me awake pretty much all night. Again, we had wake up call soon after I started to actually falling asleep.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Shasta Climb - Part 1

I left work at 7pm on Thursday heading north to Redding for the night and Mt Shasta the following day. The traffic was really bad. It’s expected however, cuz this was the long weekend. I brought my leftover from lunch, so-called Americanized fried rice from Yan Can (Cook) and some stirred fried vegetables. Driving and eating fried rice is not the best combination, so I pulled over on the side of a road waiting out for traffic to easy off and filling my stomach. The dinner didn’t take me long and I was off on the road again. I did not get to Redding until 11:30pm, one hour later than I expected. Checked in this shady motel, with some interesting looking people in the lobby and I was off to bed.

9am on Friday, I was at the meeting place. I got introduced to the guides, Lynnette and Jason and other team members. We went over our stuffs and rent the missing ones. It turned out I packed more than what I needed and rent more than what I wanted to. I spent total of $270 (ouch!) for the rentals and gears. I brought along my sleeping bag and mountaineering shoes but unable to used them. My sleeping bag is too thin for the mountain (I actually now think it would have been ok too if I took the risk) and my shoes are too new for this big trip (I later really appreciated my decision to rent a pair of used and well worn shoes). So I rented these gears along with ice axe, trekking pole and crampons. I got ripped off on the glacier sun glasses and some other stuffs but I had to get them. I had thought I could get away with what I had but Lynnette is too tough :)

Lynnette is our main guide. She’s about my height, but boy, her voice projects. One of the loudest girl I met. She’s been guiding this trip for 3 years. She’s a very interesting character and seems to have gone through a lot. She works as guide for the summer and odd jobs such as sales person at a gear shop, substitute teacher and others for the rest of the year.

Jason is the “sous-guide” (I made up this word, after sous-chef). He is quiet, definite not as loud as his mate. This guy has better work schedule than Lynnette. He works at a ski slope in Alaska for the winter so that works out great for him.

The group has 5 people: Myself, David and Kate - a couple from Pennsylvania and Walter and Burr - two guys from Orange County. David teaches in a college and has PhD in economics. His wife Kate just quit her job to return to school for her PhD on immigration. Walter and Burr are buddies and both are cosmetic surgeons. All of us are new to mountaineering. Kate and David however have taken some mountaineering course in Colorado prior to this trip.

After settling with our gears and instructions, we packed them and put the backpack on for the first time. Man, it was heavy. It’s gotta be at least 50 lbs, and that we had been on the trail yet. That scared me, how the hell am I going to carry this piece of rock on the mountain? Besides the weight, my backpack was a little too big for my size. I tightened the belt – all the way to the point I couldn’t anymore - around my belly button but it kept sagging down. So it was like the pack rest on the upper part of my butt. Not a good posture. I wish I had bigger hip for once. After adjusting the straps and all, it felt better but still it didn’t fit me too well. Nothing I could do anyway, so I moved on.

We drove to the trail head at Bunny Flat and started the climb. It was 12:30pm. All of us started to feel the weight. And the heat! This was crazy, carrying huge backpack and in the middle of the day. The trail to the Horse Camp was actually not that steep but the weight and the heat could kill. So about a quarter of the way, we stop for the first break and Lynnette told us to introduced ourselves, and what mountaineering experience we have had. She also laid out the climbing plan. It was different from what people received prior to the trip. We were supposed to climb to the first camp, get some lessons, move to higher camp, more lessons and the last day is the summit day. Lynnette said it changed to climb to Helen Lake (higher camp) on the first day, get learn some techniques, second day to the summit and back to camp, and the 3rd day for descend. Most of the team was surprised to hear it but no objection to this new plan. We continued the 2 mile trek to Horse camp.

The Horse camp situated at 7800 feet, at the base of Avalanche Gulch. The camp was a refuge, built in the 20s of last century. Simple tiny stone house with nothing much in it. I don’t know if they really allow people to sleep in there. When we reached there, I was so tired and hungry. I did not have proper breakfast and certainly no lunch yet and carry the heaviest bag ever in the heat. You can imagine how I ate :) The huge turkey with cheese sandwich I bought before the coming to the Bunny Flat disappeared quickly in my mouth. At this time, it was clear to Lynnette and Jason that there was no way this group could make it to Helen Lake in time, so they changed the plan one more time, back to the original. Everyone was glad to rest but we were definitely concerned about the crazy 3rd day.

We setup the camp site and pitched the tents. This is when I felt the AMS. I got pounding headache. I couldn’t move too fast and was not as active. I kept on drinking water. Burr offered Diamox to fight it but I refused. I drank just too much water that evening, total of 4 litters, kept on peeing. Good thing I have other things to eat too or I would lose all minerals. Drinking that much water in short amount of time is very dangerous. Good thing nothing happened to me.

Walter, Burr and I shared a tent. That night we went to bed at 9pm so that we could get up early the next day at 5. I could not sleep at all, the headache still bugged me and plus Burr kept waking everyone by going in and out of the tent to pee. The guy is older (he’s 62) tall and of bigger frame, so he kicked things and us around while crawling in and out of the tent. Only when it was late (or early in the morning) that I could get some rest. But that’s when Lynnette had the morning call. The only good thing was my headache disappeared. Not able to have a good rest is definitely a bad thing on trip like this. You need all the focus for the climb and do not want to make mistake.

The trail head where we started the climb

Thursday, July 2, 2009

To Mt Shasta

Well, time to put all the training into real work. I am leaving for Mt Shasta tonight. I will stop for the night at Redding, a small town roughly an hour away from the mountain. I could drive directly to Shasta, which is only 4 hours 30 mins away but the hotel cost is almost double for the same chain. I will meet up with the group at 9am tomorrow, not too early (albeit I have gotten out of bed very late these days), so I have plenty of time in the morning.

I packed last night, only bringing the essential stuffs for the trip, and the weight of everything is less than what I have trained for (40+ lbs). I was glad for a moment but realized that that's not all I will be carrying. There will be tent, cooking stuffs and food for 3 days. Will see if it is a back-breaking trip :).

The plan to meet up with the group and guides at 9am. We will go over what we have and rent what we don't. I will need to rent crampons, ice axe, trekking poles and sleeping bag. I am bringing along my sleeping bag, but have no idea what sort of temperature rating. I bought this bag like 13 years ago for a summer camping in Algonquin Park in Ontario. It is required to have at least 20F bag. I doubt mine can cope with this temperature. I was looking to buy one online, man, they're no cheapo. I should know what I am getting into.

Anyway, once we're settled with equipments and all, we will start hiking to our first base camp. the guide will teach us some basic mountaineering techniques. The second day is pretty much the same, hike to a higher camp and learn some skills. On the last day, we will start the climb to the summit early, at 1 or 2am and hope to get back to the entrance by late afternoon.

It should be fun and I'm excited about it. And this time I will post some pictures (if I don't forget to recharge my camera battery). The blog must have been quite boring, all text, no photos, no sound and no bling bling :)