Sargent's Ridge on Shasta

15 Apr 1996 - by Rich Calliger

Phyllis called it "THE RIDGE FROM HELL"

Standing on the edge of Shasta's Sargents Ridge at about 11000 feet I remembered the emailed trip report and Phyllis' words: ("... laying down-- toes digging into the snow; winds over 80 MPH.. it was the ridge from hell").. as the wind starting picking up to 40-50 MPH--- and was not slowing the higher I got.

I fastened my ice-axe strap more securely to my wrist as I was getting a little fearful about loosing it down the 45 degree slope and making up my mind to turn around and descend as clearly the wind, today as well owned this hellaciously windy ridge.

Thoughts of many debates as to whether or not to fasten the ice strap to one's wrist crossed through my mind as well- at this point I knew what was correct- as in my mountaineering courses- always tie in to the ice axe! If you lose it "up here" one is in serious jeopardy! In avalanche areas maybe not as you want to get rid of everthing if you are caught in one-- but I debate that also - if I am buried a pack may come in handy as needed air space?

Putting my gloves on after tightening my crampons and getting water - I dropped a glove and tried to catch it ... and then proceeded to do one of those funny balance dances with arms flailing in circles- and the winds did not help one bit ... Even in crampons, Newton will not have any of his laws broken, and zip with the next large gust of wind --- I headed face first in a in-glorious swan dive down the fall-line of the slope towards the cliff 100 feet away ... my ice axe, still securely fastened to my wrist at this time, did a 360 degree cartwheel next to my head as I fell, apparently in time to the previous flailing of my arms ... I heard it whooossh by my ear ... and then ... whammp - it slammed pick first 3 inches deep into the snow and ice!! I then cartwheeled around hanging from it. Hanging, next to apparent oblivion, from my ice axe strap ---

the only thing saving me from going over the edge..I guess you could say my ice-axe did a real, A+, "self-arrest".

I got back into control and climbed up my ice-axe shaft and then continued my descent to try another summit route up upon very rubbery and shaky legs. I traversed and descended into the Gully where - yes! - the wind was just a breeze ...

I think I will bronze that ice axe and put it over my fireplace.

Since then I have been very vertigo-ish and probably just plain scared as hell ... So this weekend (25-26th May 96) I went to the Alpine Skills Institute of Truckee, Ca. for a refresher course in rope work, high altitude juggling, balancing acts, and other nominal circus stunts one can do on narrow ridges...

Their cure? Cure??!! Several class 4 vertical climb scrambles and a short low class 5 top-rope climb!! Plus 4 longish pitches up the 50 degree incline of the snow/ice side of Donner Peak! Plus 30-traverses, kick-stepping up + down on a 45 deg slope to practice (atone??) for my "lovely" slide down Shasta! Then - an unroped summiting to "top" the trip off!

I think now without a doubt the way to go on any snow/ice over 30 degrees with exposure is to wear a harness and tie into the the ice-axe with a web strap. As once tied into the harness it is very easy to change hands as needed without removing the strap- especially useful in exposed windy areas - as one does their pied-a-plat / piolet-ancres / piolet-ramasse up the slope.

I would highly recommend their staff and institute - my instructor happened to have a MS in psych which also did the world of good - he just finished a remedial tutelage for another person who got banged up on a 12B slip and fall.

(Yes - I did somehow catch that damn glove even in the wind.)

Next - I return back to Shasta to "face the cliff with calm & grace" in mid-June.


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