June 1998
My Day On Shasta
Quang-Tuan Luong

Two years ago, I tried to paraglide off Shasta, but the mountain kicked my butt (and others' as well. See Mike's excellent story 5 Seconds). Due to gale-force winds, we didn't even go to the summit. This Saturday evening things looked promising. Jim had called me from the Helen Lake camp. He confirmed that, like the weather report said, winds were low but changing. I was going to climb the mountain from the North, so that we would have cars on both sides and be ready to fly either direction. This was going to work. And I would have plenty of time left to photograph the area (the week-end before we drove two hours to go on the north side of Lassen, only to turn back due to low gas).

Let's see...

Instead of going to sleep early, I scouted a spot and waited for sunset to photograph the North face of Shasta framed with a beautiful pine tree. I set up the 5x7 inches camera carefully, stopped down to f32. When I thought the light was right, and I grabbed my film holders I saw they all contained film already exposed.

After hiking 3 hours in the dark in totally unknown terrain, I reached the lower slopes. The glow of sunrise was wonderful with lavish colors. I spent some time piling up rocks to support my small camera for the long exposure. One hour later I realized that it was still loaded with B&W film from the Vietnam trip.

My book (J. Smoot guide to Cascade volcanoes) said 6-8h for the Hotlum-Bolam route, so I was confident that I would make it for the 9-10am summit meeting. I had somewhat bitten more than I could chew, trying to carry the paraglider from 7000 ft to 14000+ ft. At 12300, less than 500 ft from the summit, when I turned the ridge, a very strong wind hit me and I saw what looked to me like lenticulars. Feeling late and tired, I didn't go to the summit, despite having climbed 95% of the elevation.

Down the North side, I lost enough elevation that the breeze was predominant over the South (or what looked like it to me) wind. But the face was quite predominantly steep, and I didn't look long enough for a flat spot. Instead, I tried to set up the glider on rather hard and steep snow. It slid down, and got tangled. I barely managed to pack it back, but now in the process it got too messed up for me to attempt another set-up on the slope.

Tired of carrying the heavy load, I let my pack roll down. I followed it, but then traversed to the wrong drainage. By the time I realized that, I had lost too much elevation and was too tired to retrace the steps. I had to navigate cross-country in the forest for a distance towards the trailhead where my car was parked, in the fear of not finding it before dark.

By then, the other climbers had left the parking lot. Feeling impatient to go back and meet my friend, to avoid doing a manoeuver, I drove right into a shallow bank of snow which was barely longer than my (4wd) car. It sank enough that two diagonal wheels were free-spinning, which defeats this car's 4wd algorithm. I went to bed alone and hungry (unlike usual, this time I didn't take my food box, but only supplies for the Sat. night dinner).

However, on Mon morning, I was lucky. I was running the 9mi of dirt road to the hwy with a "I need to phone" sign and a thick book in my backpack. After less than 5mi, I ran into fishermen driving a truck. They accepted to detour to the North Gate trail head, and pushed the car. Thanks guys!


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