The Golden State is turning into the Dry State and my quest for snow drove me exceptionally early into the back country this year. The Sierra is bone-dry and the Donner Party would have easily made it at any given date. But sure enough, already from Corning I could spot a beautifully white and scarily high peak, magnificent Mt Shasta.
After monitoring conditions on Shasta closely and tracking weak storm systems, early March promised a light, ski-able dusting on a consolidated snow pack free of avalanche danger. Aiming for familiar Clear Creek I pushed the Jeep across rough dirt roads and over downed trees to 5,800ft where base camp was established. Spending the evening with reconnaissance I was certain to find a continuous snow pack beyond 7,000ft.
The next day, my pack weighed 50lbs as I hiked in ski boots through the wild forest towards the treeline before putting on skis and skins around 6,500ft. Reaching the advanced base camp at 8,100ft took 5h for only 4mi. The night was breezy and the wind blew away the last clouds over Shasta while the full moon was as bright as the sun.
The wind was even more gusty the next morning and I hunkered down in my tent until 9am. Clearly, it was too late to hope to reach the summit but this did not stop me from exploring the slopes. The two day old snow was blowing away rapidly beyond 9,000ft and revealed old icy corn which required crampons. With the skis on my backpack I climbed to 11,000ft where rocks provided shelter and a flat surface to put on skis. As the sun was disappearing behind Shasta It had gotten cold and my insulated water supplies were long frozen when I dropped in at 4pm.
Already while walking up with crampons it was obvious that the opportunity for self arrest was negligible as planting the ice axe was nearly impossible. Riding down on skis felt like heading down a skating rink made of corrugated ice cubes. Standing on their sharp edges, my skis touched snow rarely. Being familiar with the sounds that snow and ice make at low temperature you hear what my words cannot describe - the gnarly scattering across the ice and the squeaking of the cold and scarce wind-packed snow.
I judged these circumstance as a you-fall-you-die situation, yet when I fell at 10,000ft I didnt die. Sustaining significant injuries I remained conscious, avoided freezing to death and initiated emergency decent procedures. Skiing to 6,500ft I dumped all equipment not required for survival. After another hour of hiking through the forest I reached the Jeep 2.5h after the incident. My Jeep is my trusty companion who mastered the rough trails and got me to Mt Shasta City.
The no-questions-asked help I received at Mercy Medical Center Mount Shasta deserves an A+ rating. While it was evident that I had sustained long lasting injuries their outstandingly professional and soothing staff put my pieces back together. The cold loneliness of the high elevations slowly left my body, yet in my mind the severity of my experience lingered.
The MD suggested to cease any physical activity for the next weeks, yet I was back on the Clear Creek route 20h after my fall. [Flying to and skiing in the infamous steep-skiing location Revelstoke, BC with my buddy Dominik 5 days later is yet another story - vimeo.com/126025433] Having found my skis at 6,500ft I skinned up to the advanced base camp to collect my abandoned equipment. Without medication I remained aware of my limitations and carefully skied down with my left arm securely strapped to my torso. While pain blurred my perception I couldn't help planning the next lines on the endless slopes of Mt Shasta. It seems to be my destiny, for good and bad. Glory is forever - Pain is temporary.
The tracks are The Rise by Christoph (Noir), Der Lader by Toby Dreher (Pulsar) and Walk Away by Bedouin (Get Physical).