In an article titled (Almost) Climbing Mt. Shasta Active NorCal editor Chip O’Brien described his harrowing account of having to turn back near the summit of Mt. Shasta for fear of his safety. It turns out that Mt. Shasta holds as much danger as it does beauty.
That’s why it wasn’t surprising to see Columbia’s “Directors if Toughness” team have a difficult time summiting our beloved 14,000 ft mountain.
While they didn’t take the task of summiting Shasta lightly, they certainly had their fears and doubts heading up Misery Hill. Yes, there is a reason they call it Misery Hill. Around the 5:30 mark of the video, Faith Briggs breaks down as her fears culminate between 12,000 and 13,000 feet on the mountain.
But as they celebrate on the top, the fears subsided and elation took over. Here is what they wrote about their experience:
CLIMBING MT. SHASTA
After leaving the river behind and driving south, the gravity of their next challenge became apparent when they rounded a bend and saw their second destination towering above the horizon. “We’ve had our first view of Shasta this morning and,” Mark said, pausing, “It’s big.”
At 14,179 feet, Mt. Shasta is the second-highest summit in the Cascade Range—and an active volcano to boot. Faith and Mark knew that reaching its peak was anything but a foregone conclusion. “I am excited but I’m pretty nervous,” Faith said, eyeing the snow-capped behemoth. Indeed, any number of obstacles—physical or mental—could prevent a successful ascent. And one false step could lead to disaster.
After a final gear check with their mountain guides Eric Layton and Jenna Kane, Faith and Mark set out from the Bunny Flat trailhead to begin their three-day climb. After several hours, they broke through the tree line and reached their base camp at Hidden Valley—the stark, snowy doorstep for attempting a summit of Mt. Shasta. After setting up camp, Eric and Jenna took Faith and Mark through a “snow school” to practice safety techniques and familiarize themselves with essential tools like their ice axes, crampons, and ropes.
Just past 3 am the next morning, they switched on their headlamps and set out for the summit. They hit 9,000 feet. Then 10,000. The morning sun began to rise as the grade grew steeper and the footing more precarious. Just above 11,000 feet, the reality of the undertaking—and the potential consequences of a mistake—hit Faith hard. “This is the most dangerous and scariest thing I’ve probably ever done,” she said. “It’s just you and nature and there’s really no way out except your own two feet.”
As they reached the top of the West Face at around 12,000 feet, it was clear that the altitude, physical, and mental strain were taking a toll on Faith. She sank to her knees in the snow and sat for several minutes trying to summon the fortitude to keep going. “Faith is pushing through like Faith does and I’ve no doubt whatsoever that she’ll make it,” Mark said. Faith overheard. A few moments later, she pulled herself back up. “Sometimes it’s just really helpful to have someone believe in you,” she said. “And I think that got me to the top.
”Battling through ferocious wind gusts pelting them with ice shards, Faith and Mark battled their way up Misery Hill, the aptly-named ridge leading to the summit. Snow crunching, heads pounding, and lungs burning, they clambered up the last 200 feet of rock and then, suddenly, there was no more mountain to climb. They had done it. Another first. The group hugged and clinked their ice axes together in celebration before taking a few minutes to absorb the view and the moment. “Standing 14,000 feet above the Pacific Northwest, it was an incredible feeling,” Mark said. “To be able to have this adventure in our own backyard is something I am really grateful for.”