Valle Del Sol District
Story Listing 
Venture Crew 491 Summits Shasta with Help from 3M and Outdoor Products
by Sandy Howlett
The wind had been hammering us for hours. Tent platforms had been dug into the snow providing a barrier to the North, but the wind seemed to be coming from all sides. At our base camp below Helen Lake at 10,250 the winds were a steady 50 mph, with gusts of 70 mph that cracked the tent like a whip. I thought about praying, but my tent mates assured me that they already had. The earplugs I brought dimmed the sound of ice pelting the tent, but I worried about the boys, and wanted to be able to hear, so I left them out and waited for the wind to stop. Our SWS Mountain Guide was knocked off his feet trying to secure our collapsing tent, and informed us of the obvious?we weren?t going to be summiting that day. We were due to wake up at 1 a.m., but were told to sleep (not likely), and that we would get another update at 7 a.m.

When we first saw the 14,179-foot mountain through the car windows on the highway, it was daunting, covered with snow from top to bottom and dominating the skyline. As we lazily tooled around the lake fishing the next day, the snowy mountain seemed to shadow us like a big, full moon, teasing us, filling us with a nervous, excited anticipation. We were informed by a gleeful gas station attendant that seven people had been evacuated off the mountain by helicopter the weekend before, one of them an SWS guide.

We went to the SWS office for a pack check the day before the climb. They had us divide our gear into a ?take? pile and a ?leave? pile to lighten our loads as much as possible. ?Ounces turn into pounds,? said our guide James Brown, aka ?JB.? Deodorants were in the leave pile; an unnecessary luxury on the mountain. We met up with Beth Wald, the renowned outdoor photographer who had been hired by Boys? Life magazine to document our ascent. She would be assisted by Todd Offenbacher, an experienced climber and Lake Tahoe Resort Sports Network (RSN) host.

We started at Bunny Flats, which had a six-foot base of snow due to the unseasonably high precipitation, and proceeded up the John Muir/Avalanche Gulch trail, the easiest and most popular route. From there we hiked up past Horse Camp and on to our base camp just below Helen Lake. (The climb from Horse Camp to the summit is only four miles long, but includes a 6,000-foot elevation gain). We got to our base camp at 3 p.m. and spent the rest of the afternoon doing ice ax, crampon, and self-arrest training, then ate dinner and went to bed early for our 1 a.m. alpine start.

In the morning we were faced with a dilemma due to the high winds: continue on, or turn back. It was a tearful goodbye as two boys and adult crew advisor, Chris Marquis, decided to head back; the rest of us would wait out the wind. We consolidated tents and again prepared for an early start. Second verse same as the first.

I woke up at 12:30 a.m. to go to the bathroom unable to hold it any longer. I was wide awake, anxious about getting all my gear on, and the climb to come. It was cold, not miserable, but still I chose to eat quickly and head back into the tent to soak up every last bit of warmth I could. By 2:20 a.m. we were slogging up an icy hill in the dark, headlamps illuminating our steps, in total silence. ?What the heck am I doing here?, I thought to myself, ?this is crazy!?

After five hours of continuous climbing we reached the top of the Red Banks at 12,800 feet. It was a hard, fast climb trying to get through this dangerous rock fall area as quickly as possible before the sun came up and loosened the frozen rocks. A big block of ice smacked my boot before the sun even came up, so I didn?t complain about the speed. Our hourly ?breaks? consisted of hanging precariously on a steep incline with nothing holding us onto the mountain but an ice ax, and the two back tines of our crampons. The reduced oxygen at the top of the Red Banks caused many in our group to cough.

We proceeded up Short Hill, then on to Misery Hill, which is miserable only because it?s long, and because it?s near the end of the climb when everyone is tired. After Misery Hill, we arrived at the Summit Plateau, the last stretch before the peak. The wind was blowing an icy chill through our layers of clothes and balaclava face guards. We stopped to rest and eat for a few minutes, and then made the final push to the top.

We could see (and smell) the sulfur fumaroles reminding us that we were on a volcano. The panorama at the top was a spectacular 360-degree view of the surrounding area. It was 10:30 a.m. ?Wow,? said Jeremy Kolbach, 17, ?We?re above the clouds!? He brought out a three-legged chair from his ?leave? pile and set himself down to take in the sight. We made it! All the work, all the preparation, all the uncertainty about the weather, and we were finally here. But we still had to get back to our cars at Bunny Flats which would take us another 6 ? hours! Luckily the snow softened enough halfway down the hill to allow us to glissade, or as Jeremy called it ?falling with style,? for much of the way down.

We arrived at our cars at 5 p.m., after 14 ? hours of near constant exertion. The boys were obviously tired, but didn?t complain much. They did reach a consensus, however, to stay away from snow for a while (perhaps, they thought, we could go to a sailing school in the Bahamas next year?). But they all agreed at the end that it truly was the ?trip of a lifetime!?

Venture Crew 491 wants to thank all our corporate and local sponsors: 3M, Outdoor Products, Jeff Scott, Gene Morrill of Certified Automotive Specialists, The law office of Thomas E. Thaxter.

About Venture Crew 491: Glendora?s award-winning high adventure Crew 491 is an exciting, adventurous, non-competitive outdoor program that teaches team building and leadership skills in a co-ed environment. The Crew is designed for active 14-20 year-old girls and boys who want to participate in adventure sports, learn new skills, and meet other outdoor enthusiasts. For more information, email, or call Chris Marquis at 818-667-3571.  [photos]
Date:Spring 2010 Location:Mt. Shasta Posted:2010-07-09 22:43:42