“These things gotta happen every five years or so… ten years. Helps to get rid of the bad blood. Been ten years since the last one” – Peter Clemenza, 1946
Clemenza was right- it does have to happen every five or ten years; though he might have been talking about something else- I can’t remember.
At any rate, though, it’s actually only been five years since the last one; but whatever, I’ll allow it. I mean, what are you gonna argue with the Don’s right hand?
Five Years Gone
This Saturday, June 13, 2015, will be the five year anniversary of the day I broke my leg high on the upper slopes of Mount Shasta. I have been meaning, and promising, to give this story a proper telling ever since that day; and this occasion seems so apt a time to do it that I don’t think I could justifiably continue to claim any actual intent to tell this story were I to pass on this opportunity.
My relationship with Mount Shasta, the 14,179-foot premier pig of Northern California, has been a complicated one.
Just as with any long-term relationship, there’s always been a lot of love, and mutual respect; but at the same time, the shit has gotten adversarial and contentious at times, too. You know how that goes- sometimes things get said, things that can’t be unsaid. But you pick up and you get on with it. That’s all you can do. Come on- you know how it is.
In The Beginning
In the 18 years since the mountain first got on my radar (a childhood spent viewing the mountain’s outline emblazoned on the cans of a Triple-A soda franchise does not count), we have tangled more than a few times. More often than not it’s been no more than a relatively benign case of me camping somewhere on the lower flanks of the beast; or photographing it from some distant valley; or espying it across fifty miles of hazy, smoky atmosphere, from the summit of some far-off peak; or trying to sneak up on it from its back side via some or another rugged wilderness trail; or even just trying to slip by unnoticed, as I pass quietly beneath its westernmost feet on the I-5 freeway, bound for the Pacific Northwest. But on more than a couple of occasions, I have perceived my balls to have grown so large that a direct assault on Shasta’s lofty summit seemed an appropriate way to throw down.
Man vs. Mountain
Although climbing Mount Shasta is technically technical, depending on the route you choose, the degree of technical climbing required can be minimal. In fact, you can make it to the summit even if you’ve never before set foot in a pair of crampons, or wielded an ice axe. A fairly basic tutorial, wherein you learn proper techniques for stepping, moving across steep slopes of frozen snow and ice, maintaining weight balance, ascending, and descending, can furnish you with the basic skills necessary to attempt a few of Shasta’s least-demanding ascent routes. And not only does just such a tutorial come free with your climbing permit, but you’re actually required to withstand the spiel- even if you think you don’t need it.
But either way, to some folks’ way of thinking, the mountain simply demands that you climb it. Never mind what you want.
(to be continued)