The cast of characters is set: Bob Shebest, Kevin Buchholz, Layne Scoggins and myself. The location determined: one of the highest mountains in North America. The weapons selected: ice axe, helmet, crampons. We loaded Layne’s green Honda Element with the gear and set off on a Friday afternoon to pay our respects to the end of Bob’s single days of bachelorhood.
While many would have settled for a weekend in lucky Las Vegas, our main character requires a celebration that showcases his strong and hungry will, his constant desire to test himself, his endless pursuit of a new mountain to climb and conquer. A bachelor party for Bob Shebest required a journey with those he has gone to battle with, an outing somewhere in the wild, add an element of danger, throw in a test of the body and at the end of the day maybe what’s left in your pocket is a picture that lives on long after the day is over.
There was some gambling on this trip, like when we rolled the dice and stopped the Green Machine at an Irish Pub in Lower Lake, a town not typically known for its Irish food. We feasted on the greasiest fried food we’ve had in a long, long time.
After enjoying the local company and watching the dart board action, we said our goodbyes and continued driving toward the town of Shasta. We didn’t make it into town until close to midnight. As we cruised through the streets looking for the 5 star Best Western hotel, suddenly the Element lit up with a bright red glow from behind. We were being pulled over. A minute later Kevin rolled down his driver’s side window and the officer politely informed us the speed limit through town was 25 MPH, not 40 MPH. He flashed his light in the car, looking at our empty water bottles lying all over the car. What sort of trouble could 4 guys driving a green Honda Element with a license plate of ITRIGUY be getting into? When he learned we were going to climb Shasta in the morning, he launched into his warning that every weekend some yahoos come up and try to climb the mountain only to be rescued by the police helicopter. We knowingly nodded and assured him we would not be those yahoos and we knew what we were doing. As he handed Kevin back his license and pointed him in direction of our Best Western, I shot a question from the backseat, attempting to earn some points and seal the deal of not getting a ticket. “You think we’ll need crampons?” I asked.
“Huh?” He leaned in to hear better. “Tampons? What about tampons?”
“CRRRAMPONS.” We quickly corrected: “CRRRAMPONS!!!” It was obvious to all that we were headed in the wrong direction in all ways that mattered. He let us go and a minute later as we slowed in the road, still unable to find the Best Western, he pulled up behind us and directed us through the squad car’s bullhorn: “On your left, Kevin.” We waved and smiled, pulled into the parking lot hidden on our left and had a good laugh.
We got a good 4 hours of sleep and then found the road to the Bunny Trail somewhere around 4:30 AM. Eventually we arrived at the trailhead, unloaded our gear, issued our self permits and were on the trail by 5:30 AM. A dozen or so cars were parked at the trail but we only saw one other climber set out and he was on his own.
The four of us hiked the first hour using our headlamps and the moonlight. Kevin predicted it would take us about 4 ½ hours to reach the summit and both Layne and Bob had been warned that we would not be able to do it in a day.
We followed the Bunny Trail to the Avalanche Gulch route but shortly after Horse Camp, we seemed to lose the trail and found ourselves scrambling over an endless field of rocks. It took us quite a while to pass through this section and every now and then we would spot our lone climber just ahead navigating his way up the mountain.
Shasta has a no human waste policy on the mountain so we all had to carry a park-issued waste bag in case nature called. A couple of hours into the climb, Kevin had to fill his bag and like a good boy he carried it up and down the mountain. (Don’t be surprised if Kevin implements this policy for the Echelon Saturday morning group rides.)
Not long after the sun rose and we were taking 2 steps up and 1 step back through the rock slides, we started hearing and seeing rocks falling from above. At first it might be a rock in the distance bouncing down the mountain but pretty soon the rocks started whizzing by way too close. Within minutes, we found ourselves trying to cross a bowling alley of rocks screaming by as one or two of us watched for incoming missiles and the others would scramble for safer ground. If one of us had been hit by one of these rocks, there could have been very serious damage. Earlier in the summer a climber was killed when she was struck by a falling rock. In our case, it must have been as the sun warmed the ice; the melting ice would loosen its grip on the rocks and the rocks would begin a free-fall a couple thousand feet. We happened to find ourselves right in the middle of their path at the wrong time of the day.
We decided it was time to try the crampons and climb the right side of the snow face, The Heart. Around 11,000 feet we caught our lonely climber from the parking lot, Tin, and took a breather as the pace started to slow and the effort increased. It felt like we were going straight up and if you didn’t lean forward so that it felt like you were hugging the mountain, gravity might tip you over backwards. This had to have been one of the slowest sections of the climb.
Everybody wanted to know how much farther and if that was the peak we could see above our heads. It was over 5 hours since we had started and we still had a few thousand feet to go. We confidentially assured each other that the summit was just ahead and our feet would be touching the peak within the hour. Yea, that’s it. Almost there. Just a little bit farther. But when we reached Red Banks, we learned from a couple other hikers that this was the first of a few false summits and the top was still a couple of hours away. A couple groans could be heard but after debating the next section to follow to the top, we decided to go straight up and entered a narrow chute that put our ice axes and crampons to the test through the Red Bank. This was one of my favorite sections as the ice was solid, surrounded on both sides by a red coral-like rock and every step up required a good swing of the ice ax and kicking the crampons into the snow.
When we emerged from Red Bank and reached the bottom of Misery Hill, we stopped and took another breather with Tin. Tin was chatting with two other climbers who were hoping we might have an extra pair of sunglasses. One of them didn’t have a pair and by this point in the early afternoon, the sun was out in full force and with snow all around, one of them was having problems with his vision and snow blindness. None of us had an extra pair and Tin advised them to turnaround. They decided to cover the eyes of the climber with a piece of black clothing while the other one lead him, like a blind climber hanging on to the trekking pole of the lead climber.
The rest of the climb to the summit was an enjoyable hike along the ridge line and then up to the peak where the wind howled. We spent enough time to enter our names in the book at the top and snap a few pictures. Everybody gave an outstanding performance and even though it took us more than Kevin’s prediction of 4 1/2 hours, we made it up at a pretty brisk pace. No one lost any toes or fingers and we didn’t have to resort to supplemental oxygen so I’d say we did pretty well for a bunch of bicycle helmet wearing triathletes.
The cold wind kept our stay on the summit short and we quickly turned around and had a fun time sliding down and made it back to the Green Machine by 5:30 PM for a round trip of less than 12 hours.
We are excited for Bob and Amanda as they transition to Mr. and Mrs., to have and to hold, through better and worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and health and into husband and wife. It’s the start of the ultimate journey. And we are looking forward to being with you along the way as you find new mountains to climb and leave your mark in more places.