I think the most important thing to know about mountain climbing is the motivation for doing it. A greater man than me said he climbed a mountain because it’s there. In August 2000 when I climbed Mt Shasta in northern California my desire was to disobey my aunt. You see, when I was about seven years old, I told her I wanted to climb Mt Shasta and she said it was “too dangerous.” In fact, she said it had a fence around it to keep people out. “Don’t go there, Stanny,” she said.
So there I was with two other climbers and our guides, stuck to a glacier on the north face of Shasta, roped together in a daisy chain. We had been climbing for hours and the going was frustrating. We had to negotiate our way up the mountain while climbing around these cup-shaped holes in the snow called snow pots. They formed in the summer when the sunlight melted depressions in the snow. I was impatient and wanted to simply vault over them. The problem was that most times when I attempted this I would fall backwards and stumble trying to reclaim my balance. Our guides said to take it slowly but always, always move forward. Speed is safety in mountain climbing, but you have to conserve energy too. If you rush to take a step and stumble, you waste energy. So I took it easy and methodically climbed the glacier.
Soon we were near the summit but the biggest obstacle was still ahead. Maybe fifty feet from the top was a vertical ice flow. Slick and dangerous it could only be crossed without being roped to another climber. Fall while climbing across it and the search team would be looking for your lifeless broken corpse hundreds, perhaps a thousand feet below. We all got across, of course, but the terror of negotiating that slim ice flow left a mark in my mind.
Shasta is considered to be an active volcano. Just feet from the summit, I was reminded of this. Hydrogen sulfide, a gas that smells like someone else’s farts, was bubbling up through the mountain crust. As we passed a little field of bubbling mud I could smell the odor of volcanic activity.
A few vertical feet beyond the volcanic fart field, we summited. There below me was northern California; off to the east I could see a sliver of Nevada too. We spent about a half hour there looking at the landscape below us, having lunch, and then down we went.
Like I said, I was there to disobey my aunt. She said don’t do it and I did it anyway, because she said not to. I have to chuckle about this admission though. If she had said “Don’t go there, Stanny. Don’t climb that mountain. It’s too dangerous.” And then said “…and don’t even think about conquering France”, my Panzers would be drag racing the Champs-Elysees right about now.