Three Ways to Reach the Summit: a Day on Mount Shasta

Mount Shasta, California, elevation 14,179 feet/4,322 meters

The trailhead for Mount Shasta is only just above the timberline and far below the summit. (Or at least it was in the 1970s, on the day in question.) So I awoke before dawn to make it up and down before sunset. The first thing I discovered was that, during the night, a racoon had helped itself to all my trail gorp. The zipper of my backpack had readily yielded to its powerful little claws.

Way number one: The climb was long, but required no technical skills, just putting one foot in front of another for six hours until .. the top. Any doubt that Mount Shasta was not so long ago an active volcano is laid to rest by a hot spring less than 100 meters from the summit. The view from the summit is spectacular and vast, it feels almost like being on an airplane.

Way number two: On the way up, I was passed by some much hardier hikers — and their three dogs. The dogs did not have the slightest idea what lay in store for them and ran hither and thither, easily tripling the length of the hike. When I reached the summit, the three were lying a flat as pancakes on the rocks, only their chests heaving for air. When it came time to go, their owners literally had to lift them up and put them on their feet. They hobbled off, grateful no doubt that it was all downhill from there.

The golden eagle

Way number three: Soon enough, my turn to descend arrived. There was a wonderful warm breeze blowing up the slope from the valley below. When I was about a third of the way back to the trailhead, I spotted a golden eagle taking flight in the forest far below. It was riding the updraft. I was spellbound as it rose without so much as a single flap of its wings above the timberline and, in a matter of minutes, as it was soaring above me. In less than ten minutes, it was above the summit!

Dare I draw three lessons from this?

Lesson one: Dogged persistence often achieves the desired result.

Lesson two: Ignorance is not always bliss.

Lesson three: Good timing and being well suited to the task at hand can make all the difference in the world.

Oh, and four: be sure to stash your trail gorp inside your sleeping bag!