For the second part of our Pacific Northwest road trip, Faith and I would be heading further south to make an attempt to summit Mt. Shasta.
Arriving in the small town on the base of Mt. Shasta, it’s impossible to ignore the 14,000-ft. peak bursting from the landscape and towering over the town. On a clear day it’s very obvious that this mountain is huge, not so much in terms of height but in terms of how much of the countryside is consumed by its base.
I was excited to get started on the mountain and the day started by meeting Eric and Jenna of Shasta Guides who would be helping us reach the summit. First thing was first, we were asked to empty our backpacks onto the grass outside the guides office where Eric and Jenna went through our prepared gear to ensure we had everything we needed. But probably more importantly that we didn’t have anything we didn’t need. As they worked their way through the crew questioning every single non-essential they gave the warning that carting ANYTHING we didn’t need up the mountain would be a huge mistake. By the time they got to my pile of gear I had done well to hide the copious amounts of chocolate bars I had stocked up on as well as other ‘luxury’ items like my book, speaker and deodorant. Wrapped in a t-shirt I stood and hoped I wouldn’t get called out in front of everyone. At the time I was thankful that my stash hadn’t been discovered. Just 4 hours later I was already regretting my decision.
We re-packed our bags and headed to Bunny Flats, a parking area on the west side of the mountain. Our plan was to ascend the West face, camping above tree line and make a push for the summit on day two before returning to camp for another night and on the third day, hiking out. Anyone who has seen Mt. Shasta will tell you that this is perfectly achievable, but it was a long way up and would require some suffering to make the summit.
We reached our camp and set up. The hike in to this point had only taken a couple of hours but by the time we had set up and eaten the thought of a 1:00AM start was enough for me to turn in for the night.
It would require some suffering to make the summit.
The night was windy and cold. I got up to use the ‘bathroom’ in the night and stood for a few minutes staring at the mountain above me. We had a long way to go. It wasn’t until the morning that I realized that the ‘summit’ I had been looking at was actually a false summit which hid the true summit a further 2000ft up the aptly named Misery Ridge.
Soon enough the morning came and we were ready to go. Leaving our camp set up, and my ‘extra items’ behind our packs were a lot lighter. For the first hour of the climb the moon was high and bright which limited the need for headlamps, but as we neared the west ridge the moon set behind the mounting leaving us in darkness for the rest of the night. As we trudged through the night there were sections of the accent that our guides felt necessary for us to be short roped in case of a slip. It’s always quite unnerving when someone with much more climbing experience than you suggests roping up. The route had been fairly simple to this point, but less than 20 yards later the softer snow turned to rock hard ice and it was clear that a slip here could be pretty costly.
We continued to make progress with Faith now tied in to Eric whilst Jenna hauled me up the steep face. It was a slow process not helped by the 20 minute break we took to enjoy one of the most beautiful sunrises I’d ever seen. Shortly after we continued until we reached the point I had seen from the camp below and believed to be the summit. Standing here I could now see the true summit towering above like it was a whole other mountain on top of this one. We could see the summit and everyone seemed to be in good shape. A few headaches but nothing serious. All that stood in our way was Misery Ridge.
All that stood in our way was Misery Ridge.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed. Misery ridge gets its name for a reason. It’s a fairly featureless ridge that connects the traditional south route of the mountain to the west face which we had climbed. The routes joined and misery ridge led you straight to the summit. Eric and Jenna had warned us about this part of the climb. This was the part of the climb where unless you really wanted to reach the top you’d likely fail or give up. Such a thought had never crossed my mind until around a 3rd of the way up the ridge. Now that we had joined the South side of the mountain the wind had picked up significantly blowing snow and ice everywhere with little space in-between gusts. Each rush of wind threatened your footing as you were forced to brace against the mountain and wait for the pause between it and the next one to take a solid step. At times I found myself hunched over whilst tiny pieces of ice hit my face like little needles.
At this point I just told myself one step after the other and we continued. After what felt like an eternity the ridge started to flatten out and all that was left to climb was a short 200ft collection of rocks which sat atop the mountain like a monument.
After a short pause we made the last few steps towards the summit. To complete our road trip, we stood over 14000ft above the pacific northwest – it was an incredible feeling. Since moving here in November of last year. Despite all of the amazing places I’ve visited around the world. The Pacific Northwest has always remained right at the very top of the list of places I love. So to be able to have this adventure in our own backyard if something I am really grateful for.
Mark Chase is the first international Director of Toughness and joins the company from Gloucester, England. Raised on a diet of climbing, skiing, camping, hiking and rugby, it was obvious that a warm office and a cozy bed was never going to cut it. An ex Semi-professional Rugby player, Mark is used to pushing himself both mentally and physically and is always up for a challenge. You can follow Mark’s journey as Director of Toughness here and social channels including: Twitter | Instagram