Ascending Shasta MAG

June 6, 2012
By makalu BRONZE, Park City, Utah
makalu BRONZE, Park City, Utah
3 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Coming out of the tent, the wind hit me with a brutal gust that stung my underdressed body. One can get overconfident after spending a warm night wrapped in synthetic fluff, and my lack of clothing was a testament to that fact. Running out in nothing but a layer of long undies and alpine pants, I started our small camp stove and cursed my cockiness. Why hadn't I followed my father's advice and taken half a minute to dig out my coat and gloves from the pile of gear in the corner of our tent?

After spending an unpleasant amount of time trying to start the stove, I looked up at the sky and saw only blackness punctuated by a few rogue stars shining between thick layers of clouds. That's the tricky part of an alpine start – the 2 a.m. wake-up call climbers need to get a headstart on the day. It's almost impossible to see even ten feet in front of you, and the cold daggers constantly stabbing your eyes don't help. I managed to get a flame going and immediately began to melt snow for our drinking water.

As I made a beeline for the tent, I looked west at the small town at the base of the mountain. The town of Shasta, aptly named after the peak we were so desperately pursuing, had finally settled down after a long night of Fourth of July celebrations. There was still a faint glow, an ever-present reminder of the civilization we chose to forgo for this weekend trek. Yesterday we were asleep at the bottom, preparing for the hike up to the base of the summit. It's amazing how far your feet can carry you in a day. I kicked my dad awake to take on his share of chores, and crawled back into my sleeping bag.

It wasn't 30 minutes before we were off, pointing ourselves toward the long, snow-covered gully leading to the mountain's saddle. We began zigzagging up the steep gulch, avoiding the straight-up-and-down approach to improve our footing and save ourselves from over-exertion. The climb was longer than it looked from the bottom (aren't they all), and it took just an hour before the cold wind and fatigue began to take its toll. As my fingers began to lose circulation and my weariness crept in, I looked up the slope for any sign of the top. I saw only blackness.

We continued the ascent, my father stopping every few minutes to complain about his aches or make a good-natured quip (in my exhausted state, both were equally annoying). Another half and hour brought us farther from our camp but still offered no view of our destination. I had lost most of the feeling in my fingers and toes, and my face felt like it had been cut by hundreds of razors. Every step offered another gripe from my muscles, another plea for rest.

Finally, I hit β€œthe wall,” the dreaded mentality every athlete fears. It's the moment of doubt and frustration, the moment every fiber of your being insists you must quit and accept defeat. At that moment, when giving up seemed like the only option, I saw the first glow of dawn.

It started out as a light orange tint that hardly gave visibility or hope. Then it grew, expanding outward, brightening the bleak atmosphere. The light began to reveal everything – the saddle that would mark the end of our gully climb (notably closer than I had dared to hope) and the object we pursued, the glistening peak. The hint of sun refreshed my depleted spirit, urged me on, and gave me the will to overcome the last steep chunk of horrible gully.

At last we stood atop the saddle, a thin, flat strip of land that shot directly up to the peak. As we paused, I looked to the east, across flat land with small bumps that remained shrouded in shadow, mysterious and misty. I looked as far as I could see, at the brightest point on the horizon. The sun had began to rise.

Its climb seemed to happen instantly while simultaneously taking too long. As the top peeked over the skyline, the land became illuminated. In an instant, every geographical detail that had been obscured by darkness was flooded with light. A wave of warmth hit me, the rays piercing my eyes. I looked toward the ground and rubbed the spots from my eyes, but the momentary image of dark land suddenly illuminated was burned into me.

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