Monday, July 12, 2010

Shasta - Round II

Shasta, round II

The coldest night of my life was spent at 10,500ft at Helen Lake on Mt. Shasta 3 years ago; the second coldest night of my life was spent… you guessed it! Mt. Shasta 2 weeks ago.

2 of the 5 moments that I have come closest to heat stroke were… on Mt. Shasta.

The closest I have come to frostbite (real frostbite, the kind that calls for amputation): on Mt. Shasta.

The two most poignant moments of realization that I am not in the shape in which I should be were on: Mt. Shasta

This has all brought to mind the volumes I have read on mountaineering, specifically in the Himalaya. I love the mountains! The air, the grandeur, the challenge, the vista, the history, the isolation, the camaraderie… they are all reasons to live in the mountains, let alone occasionally climb them. But at what cost do these moments and sensations come? Is that cost too high? Where is the middle ground?

I don’t know if I have ever before questioned my love and pursuit of the mountains, and now that I have, I am afraid what the answer might be and what it might mean.

I know for sure that I don’t want to have to live in a tent for (potentially) months, just waiting for the weather to be right; pissing in a bottle in the tent because leaving would mean my piss would freeze to my member upon release; having no appetite but needing to eat because I need every ounce of strength to survive, not to mention summit; having to somehow hide from the sun during the day, a sun that can give you a 3rd degree burn within an hour; staying warm in an environment which constantly lives below zero, with winds strong enough to blow you right off the face of the mountain; the constant headache and nausea which comes as a result of air too thin to sustain you for any prolonged period of time; the incredibly draining hiking and climbing where you are drenched with sweat while you move, freeze almost instantly when you stop, where there is no joy, only fear of falling in a crevasse or slipping off an icefall or ridge… only to stand on a summit for a few brief moments of ecstasy (moments inevitably cut short by the lack of oxygen, howling winds, and quickly freezing body).

Granted all of this is mostly descriptive of the Himalaya and Denali, but the extremes that we went through on Shasta, which is only 14,100ft, were enough for me to question my part in this endeavor. What is making me doubt my doubts is that I was very much out of shape which made the basic action of walking up slope with thin air a difficult task. But I am reminiscent of my thoughts during the ascent, and I was not miserable, I did not hate the fact that I was there and that what I was doing was hard – no, I was simply short of breath (with every two steps). I think what made the experience tough was the extreme heat of the day and freezing cold of the night; the lack of water; the lack of proper gear… so if I were better prepared would it have been different? Maybe. If I were warmer at night, if we had a better way of cooking, if I could figure out how to mitigate the heat of the day; if I were in better cardio-vascular shape – then perhaps it would have been more joyous.

I’m pretty sure that the experience of Everest is not for me, but I don’t think I can eliminate, as of yet, the rest of the worlds high country.

The experiment shall continue.