** Ever wonder what it would be like to be on top of the world?
IT IS AWESOME!!
Well, alright. I've never actually been THERE, but I've been in some pretty high places.
This is what it looks like at about 13,800 feet or so, on top of Mt. Shasta. Wear your sunnies because in the early summer (the best time to climb Shasta, in my opinion--early June) it is extremely bright up on, and around, the glaciers that live up there.
I've been up Shasta a bunch of times. I would climb it once a year in June if I was anywhere near it. The climbs are not much more than hard slogging uphill, but the exercise and the view are enormous rewards unto themselves. I climbed it once in a day, but I'll never do that again. From 6,500 hundred feet to the summit and back again. Sun-up to sundown. Seven am till nine pm. Very little time to sit up high and drink a coffee and reflect on the state of mankind and breathe in the ambiance of the mountain and its mysteries...
No. Climbing it in a day meant that I despised the guy I was climbing with as long as he kept pushing me and stayed fifty feet or so ahead of me, refusing to stop and take a break and making me push my skinny chicken legs harder than they liked to be pushed.
My climbing buddy was a volunteer fireman and electrician named Timmy, who was older than me by a good ten years, but who had a pretty good gift for walking up steep hills for a long time, and another gift to shame me into keeping up with him.
And let me tell you, I had plenty of time to analyze the situation. I was younger than Timmy. I was fitter than Timmy. A better athlete than Timmy. I had MORE HAIR than Timmy. I smelled better than Timmy. His wife was nicer to me than she was to Timmy. And yet I could not, for the life of me, and no matter how hard my competitive nature pushed me, keep up with Timmy.
The bastard just kept walking and I just kept thinking-- "Fall down! Fall down ya bastard!"
Now I really like Timmy. I always have and I always will. Timmy knew everything. Everything you told him he could amplify.
"Hey Timmy, I just got back from a day skiing in Tahoe..."
"Have you tried the new parabolic skis? Did you know they increase the turnability of your skis by sixteen percent? They produce less tip chatter than normal skis, and..."
Timmy never skiied a day in his life. But he just KNEW stuff like this.
"Hey Timmy, my back hurts today."
"L5 or L6? By the way you're moving, it looks more to be in the L6 and 7 area..."
And stuff like that.
I always suggested to everybody that there should be a column in the local paper called "ask Timmy". He reminded me a bit of that character on "CHEERS"-- you know, the mailman CLIFF-- only Timmy knew his shit. He really did.
Timmy had a tiny head and a bunch of hair missing at the top of it. He had a monstrous mustache that wiggled when he ate or talked, and he looked a bit like a Keystone Cop. "The Flight of the Bumblebees" always came to my mind when he drove up the road toward you. He made you laugh just contemplating his very essence in the world.
And he could walk up steep hills like a Mudder fudder and make a guy like me look bad.
This was not good, at least from my perspective.
Like I said, I had plenty of time to analyze the situation. I stared at Timmy's backside from about nine-thirty am onward, until we summited at about five in the afternoon.
The man was skinny from the waist up, and normal from the waist down. And I'm skinny from the waist down, and thick and heavy from the waist up. That meant that Timmy had a thick set of legs, carrying something light. And I had a skinny set of legs, carrying something heavy.
It wasn't fair. Damn Timmy! Slow down and give me an effing break!
Timmy stopped once for lunch at a cave near the Redbanks, and once at the summit.
Our summit experience was very similar to Chevy Chase's when he saw the Grand Canyon.
"Huh! Very nice! Gotta run."
It was five o'clock and due to be dark around nine fifteen. We had not brought sleeping gear. We needed to get off the mountain in less than four hours. It had taken us almost ten hours to get here. So we spent ten minutes sitting up at 14,400 feet with our legs dangling over the sides, and then we started back down.
The key to any successful and enjoyable Shasta descent in the earlier parts of June, are slippery pants and a child's reckless abandonment.
In early June, much of the northwestern slope is still covered in icy snow. There are patches that run uninterrupted for four thousand feet in elevation. If you are wearing slippery pants, you can slide down Mt. Shasta the way a kid slides down dry grass on cardboard.
Not only that, but under certain conditions (and the year I discovered this was like that, which was the year Timmy the Terrible and I climbed it in a day) ICE TUBES formed like those water slides you see in water parks, with high sides and smooth interiors. All you had to do was jump in one, start sliding out of your mind at speeds of up to 35 miles an hour, and you had made thousands of feet of negative elevation in a matter of a few minutes. Ice tubes were the way to go if you wanted to get down in a hurry. And we certaily were ready for that.
Glissading is when you slide on glaciers or icy snow on your feet. You keep control of your speed with your ice axe, which you drag behind you as you sort of squat and slide down the hill. A few glissaders had made the initial grooves in the snow which later thawed and froze over and over making the tubes. Timmy was demonstrating the technique to me in that pedantic way of his.
"Now, you don't want too much speed..." Timmy explained. "You use your ice axe like this..."
Timmy looked like a guy not sure whether to take a shit or dig for gold. He was squatting some, digging in his axe some, twitching his mustache a bunch, and looking like a rendition of "The Flight of the Bummblebees" was about to break out at any second over the wind.
I was not into that glissading thing one bit. For one thing, I've got really long legs. That means for me to drag my ice axe, I would have to squat way far down. I had just killed my thighs and buttocks trying to keep up with Timmy on the way up. I was seeing myself go wobbly on myself, and this was not a macho image I wanted to carry around.
I looked around and saw some of these tubes that had formed, and devised a plan.
I jumped into one feet first. I hadn't thought about it beforehand, but the pants I was wearing were slippery nylon ones over sweatpants. The slippery material reacted beautifully with my desire to get down the hill in a hurry, and I found myself hitting speeds I could not even dream of, even running downhill full tilt. I'm guessing, but I'd say thirty five mph was the top end, and about twenty eight was the norm. I basically held my heels and arms and ice axe in the air and let the contoured tube keep me safe and sliding. The tubes curved here and there and I rode up high on the berms like the Olympic boys and girls in the Luge event. I was giggling and concentrating at the same time. At those speeds, you don't want to catch an ankle or get spun around in an uncontrolled spin or drive your ice axe through your skull. You want to maintain your form, even if it is just simply sliding on your ass with your arms and legs held out of the way.
After about three thousand feet of rapid descent I encountered my first problem. A creek had crossed the tube almost perpendicularly, and had melted all of the ice and snow leaving a ten foot wide strip of gravel and rocks in place of my safe little tube.
Holy Christ! I stood up, traveling far too fast to actually run my legs underneath me, made about three strides with my flailing legs, and then fell head first at high speed back into the ice tube on the other side of the rocky creek, trying to keep my ice axe at a safe distance from my brain, then I spun around on my back and got my feet pointing downhill again and assumed the proper position for this type of traveling. Feet up. Arms up. Slippery ass on the slope and sliding...
Three more times I had to stand and run and fall and spin before I ran out of tubes altogether and the ground became a very nonslippery aggregate of ignus ignoramous...
I stood up and turned to look up the mountain to find Timmy. There he was, squatting and dragging his ice axe, looking like he wasn't sure whether to shit or dig for gold, almost three thousand feet behind me.
Na na na na na na naa... Na na na na na na naa... (sung to the tune of "The Flight of the Bumblebees...)
I got a belly laugh out of the site of that bastard. Make ME chase you all day up the slope, why don't you? Look at me now! Waitin' on you...
From about 8500 feet to the parking lot at 6500, there is much traversing and walking sideways along gravelly paths that don't hold tired walkers with slow feet very well. You step on a loose rock and you fall down--or at least I did-- landing on your side on a steep hillside where you can pop right back up again. Tired and wobbly legs prevented the extra steps you could take to stop the falling., and after awhile I just figured the fall was part of the way you got to the car. Timmy had slowly but very determinedly caught up with me by the time we got to the parking lot. I had nothing left in my legs, and I asked Timmy to go get the car and come back and get me. I was done. I had no legs left. I just wanted to sit on a big rock and let Timmy shake my ego like a microwaveable bag of popcorn.
Yep. No more pop.
Timmy brought the car up and after rubbing in the fact that I was spent and he "felt fine", we drove down off the mountain and headed into Shasta City.
Timmy kept doing funny things with the accelerator, and when cornered, admitted that his legs kept cramping up.
"Aha! You bastard..."
I fell asleep by the time we got to interstate five heading south. Timmy woke me because our front windshield had just been filled with the sight of a rocket cruising across the sky.
From east to west, a rocket poured out a contrail and traveled out to sea. It was amazing and surreal at the same time. There was a ROCKET flying to our south in the southern sky and then it WAS GONE.
We later learned that the military had test fired something down near Santa Barbara, out into the ocean, and we had just been lucky to have caught a glimpse of it.
"UFO sightings on Shasta go back over a century." Timmy explained...
Oh really, Timmy. Oh really...
Saturday, August 19, 2006
** Ever wonder what it would be like to be on top of the world?