Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Shasta: no summit but great training

Quick recap:

The Shasta area weekend forecast called for cold temps, high winds, and blowing snow. We decided that even if we didn't summit, it would be good training for the Big Guy, so we packed up and headed ~3000 ft. up to Lake Helen. My pack was heavy but not as heavy as the previous weekend's 70+ lbs. -- at least I could lift it off the ground this time as opposed to having to prop it up on a rock and backing into it. :p

The weather held for a beautiful climb to Lake Helen (see photo above). The entire area around Lake Helen is totally exposed to the elements, but there was a bit of bare ground surrounded by tiny rock windbreaks. We opted to set up the tents on bare ground rather than snow, Howard and me in the NF VE24, Bob and Lloyd in the newer VE25. As soon as the tents were up, the wind speed really picked up, and the next 14 hours or so were spent trying to keep the tent walls from collapsing.


As the wind speed steadily rose, the temp dropped to the single digits below zero. Poor Howard was repeatedly pummeled as the tent wall pressed down upon him with the higher gusts, those higher gusts eventually becoming the sustained windspeed, 40?, 50?, 60 mph? Sans anomometer we don't know the exact number. What we DO know is that around 2 a.m. the wind was strong enough to finally snap one of the VE24's tent poles. "HELP!" "HELP!" I gigglingly yelled to Bob & Lloyd, slightly frightened, at the same time laughing at our predicament. After unsuccessfully trying to repair the tent pole, most of the rest of the night was spent holding up Howard's side of the tent wall with my feet. Thankfully, a two-hour calm from about 3-5 a.m. finally allowed some sleep.

As the winds once again picked up, we were unable to light our stove as the VE24 has no vestibule (what the heck kind of expedition tent is that?!) Bob and Lloyd kindly let us into their tent so we could eat breakfast and hang out while deciding what to do. Meanwhile, the wind still howled... to the point I was afraid our tent might blow away even though we'd secured it pretty well. When we checked on it a couple hours later, it had further collapsed and the fly was half detached, at which point we decided to GET THE F OUTA THERE!!

We broke camp and retreated down the mountain back to the interesting town of Mt. Shasta where we spent a warm night at the Cold Creek Inn. The next morning Bob, Lloyd and I spent some quality hours doing crevasse rescue, running belay/rope stuff, and a little refresher on self arrest. I even hung from a tree and prusicked and ascended my way up the rope -- now THAT was fun!

So, in the end, even though we didn't summit the mountain, we got in some great training for Big Guy: as my good friend Doug kindly wrote in an email this morning:

"You probably did Shasta for training, and if it was nasty on Shasty, that is so much the better for Big Mac (you WILL have storms... take a good long book and lots of tea bags)."


Doug McKeever said...

Sue, glad to see you returned safely. I was a bit worried! (don't tell your Mom).
Even the best tents, like Biblers, can flatten when the wind gets strong enough. Like I said, Shasta has winds reminiscent of your familiar Whites back East (all these high peaks do, actually). Learn to build strong snow walls on Denali, especially at 11 k, 14 k, and build double walls at 17,200' Tents get destroyed frequently at high camp up north, and the wind can erode single-thickness snowblock walls...hence the double thickness walls)
OOOPs, don't wanna scare ya! Just be prepared...

Unknown said...

From my experience internal guy wires also help keep the tent from being blown in on itself...well for a little while anyway. My little Sierra Designs tent has been through the wringer a couple of times and although i have some bent poles nothing snapped (thank dog as the nearest inn was a couple of days away!

Sounds like a lot of fun though, what are your dates for Denali?


Steve Pero said...

Wow Sue....all I can say is "Whoa!"

Best of luck in the upcoming climbs ...it would certainly not be for this wimp, I do not like the cold ;-)

DRB went well, you were missed. We are heading up to the Whites this weekend as Deb has been invited to put some of her works in a gallery in Lincoln...unfortunately there is so much snow still up there, we might not be able to hike with her broken arm. Can't take a chance of her slipping.

Be safe!

RunSueRun said...

Fortunately we'll be using the newer VE25 in AK (and bringing shovels!). Bob, Lloyd and I will be one of three rope/camp teams. Our team will meet in Anchorage May 21.

Steve, I missed DRB -- love that event! Always great MMT training. (And hows about Joan Benoit-Samuelson's 2:49 Olympic trials time at age 50?! WOW!!)

There are a few Shasta photos posted here:

Unfortunately, the videos didn't load properly...

Brett said...

That is amazingly similar to what happened to me when I tried to summit about 5 years ago. The gusts had to be 70 mph+. We had a North Face tent guaranteed for life that was shredded to bits - broken poles, holes in the tent, etc.

We got to about 13000 feet but the wind was so bad that we couldn't keep our eyes open from the ice shards to stay safe watching for rock falls, so we turned around too.

My camelpak had frozen so we couldn't drink any water and the candy bars I brought were so hard/frozen that we had to nibble out tiny pieces like a squirrel or something.

That's a real booger of a mountain.

Bill said...

Cheers to you and your wisdom on the mountain. Enjoyed the read and look forward to hearing about your adventures.

Anonymous said...

Cool! Good luck on Denali Sue - My only words of wisdom, be prepared for nutrition changes at altitude - I remember sitting in high camp eating sticks of butter dipped in sugar and bacon, raw! Fats just tasted like candy - its wonderful! Stay safe and have fun, its an amazing playground up there! Jeff Wilbur (denali 78)

RunSueRun said...

Jeff, umm... yum? Thanks for your advice. :)

1978?? were you like 12 years old when you climbed Denali??