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.

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