After an overnight nap, a lot of eating, and the nine-hour drive to Mt. Shasta, we were going to attempt to summit the 14,180’ glaciated volcano on April 3. When we arrived at the trailhead at Bunny Flats around 5 p.m., the weather was perfect and the atmosphere was joyful among those that had been skiing there that day! The weather was perfectly conducive to backcountry skiing as it had warmed up nicely, so the snow was wonderfully skiable. The sky was blue, the trees were bursting into spring green, and the snow was the perfect “corn” consistency for this time of year. The next day was going to be colder, but we had a limited window when we could attempt it, so decided to give it a try.
We started again at 4 a.m. We began with skis on our back and hiking in ski boots for only about an hour and 1,000’ gain, and then we were able to start skinning. We skinned for a few hours, then transitioned to crampons with skis on our backs.
It was a grind at elevation with full frozen conditions, but I said a couple of times to my friend that there was no place I would rather be. It was really ideal—not easy but perfect. With work, life, stresses, and everything else coming at me, just like everyone else, that was exactly where I wanted to be—with a great friend and phoneless on an epic adventure. It was all relatively straightforward until we got over the hump toward the top with about 800’ to the summit. As we got over that hump, it all changed! The wind was driving at I estimate 80 miles per hour. We gave it a push and after about 30 minutes, one of the guys we hooked up with, an experienced Swiss climber, was in essence picked up by the wind and bounced along the rocky, icy landscape. Some of his gear was blown off the mountain, his clothes were shredded, and fear rose high, so he and others turned around immediately. Being this close to the top, I wasn’t ready to call it. The wind was consistent, with intermittent gusts that required me to drop down to all fours, helmet on the ice and ice axe dug in. Despite these conditions, I was still comfortable and confident, without too much fear or enough to make me turn around.
Tony and I summited and started the ski descent. The summit is only half the effort and the descent is where many fatalities and injuries occur, so it was with focus, caution, and happiness that we proceeded. We were about a fourth of the way from the summit when the potential for injury struck!
It’s worth mentioning that the temperatures remained freezing all day, so what was great skiing the day before was a sheet of ice today. I compare it to basically skiing down an ice cube. Tony caught an edge, lost a ski, then a second ski, and the fall went bad quickly. He slid down the ice and it reminded me of the cartoon of a cat clawing and trying to stop! He slid on his belly and burned through his gloves as he shot down the mountain for about 500’. Eventually he was able to flip over and dig his heels in, carving out two boot trenches 30’ long, and he finally stopped! If he was 30’ in either direction during the slide, the outcome would have been a LOT different and potentially fatal as it was covered with drops and rocks. We collected his gear, took a breather, and proceeded to ski down. It was actual skiing for a bit and then turned into bushwhacking and skiing until we hiked out the final section of the climb, successfully completing the first two mountains and the first event of the Big Belt Buckle Challenge.