Shasta Via the Dog Leg; Third Time's The....

17 Mar 1996 - by Debbie Benham

John Muir climbed Mt. Shasta for the last time on April 30, 1875, forty days following the vernal equinox. During the descent of this majestic mountain, he and his partner found "...wind sufficiently violent to hurl us bodily over the cliffs (and)...our only hope was in wearing away the afternoon and night among the fumaroles, where we should at least avoid freezing." Kai Wiedman's adventurous and memorable winter trip to Shasta reminded us of the reknowned naturalist and explorer. Fortunately, our's did NOT include an overnight in the sulphur hot springs!

Twice our plans to climb Mt. Shasta via Sergeant's Ridge had been scrapped due to harsh winter weather reports. To truly have a winter ascent of Mt. Shasta, we had to climb the peak before March 20th, the vernal equinox, and, technically, the space-time continuum marker for Spring. The weekend of March 16-17 proved fruitful, as the sun was shining on our window of opportunity. Away we went, gathering at the Bunny Flat trailhead, ready to climb--Kai, our leader, Chris Kramer, Phyllis Olrich, and me (Debbie Benham). As Phyllis said on the drive to Shasta City, "We didn't come up here to footsy around!!"

We reached Sergeant's Ridge and started up the 'dog leg'. Spin drift was seen off the Ridge and whirling from Shasta-Rama. We stashed our snow shoes half-way up the leg of Sergeant's and, simultaneously, decided to make base camp near the Thumb, the intersection of Green Butte and Sergeant's. This would allow a speedier ascent the next day, especially with the wind looking fierce on the flat landscape of Shasta-Rama. Sun beating down, we stayed on the west side of the Ridge. Gusts of wind hit us occasionally as we traversed 45 degree slopes, each of us taking the lead in short bursts. As I crunched my boot into the soft layering of snow, embedding my ice axe with each step, I felt strong and was looking toward the hidden summit with anticipation.

Then, almost without realizing it, the wind did not let up, did not stop, did not relent. Prone against the mountain, boot tips dug in perpendicular to the slope, ice axe shoved in, we, each one of us, realized we would go no further. Kai started to descend and I, for one, breathed a sigh of relief. The wind had taken my strength away. Phyllis called it "the ridge from hell." Kai and Chris estimated the winds to be 80 mph.

We descended twice trying to find a calm area to camp for the night. The winds blew all night. The next morning, ever galant, the gentlemen again climbed the ridge to retrieve our snowshoes. We treated them to lunch in town. Thank you again guys! And, thanks, Kai, for a grand adventure in the mountains!

MOUNTAINEERING TIP: Kai suggests the following to train for a winter summit of Mt. Shasta: go to a nearby international airport; stand naked behind a 747; and feel the air-blast of the plane preparing for take-off.

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