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So Many Gifts ~ Mt Shasta SUMMIT

July 18, 2019

“This is as close to my heart and as much of my life’s passion as almost anything else.” ~ Tiffany Locker, volunteer mountain climber

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Our 3-day climb itinerary up the West Face route on Mt. Shasta (14,179 ft) began the day prior, joining for a traditional team dinner and celebrating a team member’s birthday. Four of us drove from the south and three flew in from the north to meet at Mike & Tony’s restaurant for dinner in beautiful downtown Mt. Shasta, CA. Friendships grew out of the dichotomy of emotions that evening as we savored fabulous Italian cuisine

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together. Climbing connections are a beautiful gift, as the Climb to Fight Cancer attracts the most delightful people. After a night far too adrenaline-filled for sleep, we met our professional guides with Shasta Mountain Guides Friday morning behind The Fifth Season gear shop for the ever-important gear check. Equipment choices were made and alternate gear rentals were arranged. We hit a grocery store for some last minute snack fuel before heading to the trailhead.

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There’s always a special, bustling energy when taking off on a climbing expedition. There are so many feels and so many unknowns. I’ve personally learned that the only way to mitigate my nerves is to simply embrace them. Learning a new sport is, to say the least, an intimidating prospect and certainly, approaching a hulking mass of a mountain with 45 pounds strapped to your back is daunting, no matter how many times you’ve done it.  Who will carry the conversation or pull ahead on the hike pales in comparison to how your shoulders begin to feel as your pack digs into them, or how your feet feel in your mountaineering boots after the first few miles. Being mindful of the Climb’s purpose, the pleasure and the pain are both gifts.

We departed the Bunny Flat trailhead (6,950 ft), worked our way towards historic Horse Camp (8,000 ft) and filled our water bottles from its cold natural springs. Taking hourly breaks and moving well as a unit, we traversed around Casaval Ridge before climbing up into Hidden Valley (9,200 ft), our base camp for the next two nights. Hidden Valley makes for a long summit climb the following day (5,000 ft elevation gain) but it is the perfect campsite on the West Face. Upon our arrival, we set up accommodations and proceeded through “snow school,” learning the skills we would need to climb the mountain the following day. It was apparent we had been gifted with both an idyllic forecast and great conditions for the weekend. We were thankful.

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Summit day began with an alpine start, my very favorite time on a mountain. I adore the crunch of crampons as they gnaw into the snow against the deafening silence of nightfall. Headlamps beneath a pristine night sky illuminate a magical debut to a crisp composition of early morning senses.  The rosy pink sunrise soon greeted us and brought the sun’s warmth with it, a welcomed relief from the biting temps and chilly breeze. We slogged our way up the West Face, eventually reaching the Saddle (13,330 ft), a welcome change of scenery and a perfect place to take a break before the summit push.  The final portion of the route is appropriately named Misery Hill (13,800 ft), as alpine climbing often brings an element of suffering with it, this stretch being no exception. A diligent pursuit brings both the Summit Plateau and the Summit Pinnacle (14,179 ft) just beyond it, treasured gifts for weary climbers to be sure.

The summit is a precarious culmination of efforts and emotions. As a team, six of us raised nearly $25,000 for cancer research before setting foot on the mountain. At the summit, climbers take pause to honor friends and loved ones who’ve won or lost their cancer battle with banners, prayer flags, pictures and mementos.  It’s in those moments, reaching the metaphorical summit of your own heart and having achieved your personal best, that gratitude is felt everywhere.

After taking in the sights, capturing the photos, and signing the registry, our down climb began. Descending the West Face mandates roping back up because even while being expertly guided, a 30-degree downward pitch demands sure footing and laser focus, both of which are tempted to wane after such a long summit day. Once it was safe to do so, glissading techniques were reviewed and implemented, making for a sweet, swift ride down the snowfield, a gift in and of itself. We returned to Hidden Valley after a 16-hour day just in time to devour dinner and appreciate a good night’s rest. The following morning included a leisurely breakfast, packing up camp and hiking out.

Long after the blisters have healed and muscle groups have recovered, climbers are left with life-long gifts. Learning to lean headlong into the challenge of assisting Fred Hutch and the Climb to Fight Cancer who have successfully raised over $9 million since their inception in 1997 is a gift. Learning to do hard things while embracing primal pleasures is a gift. Each time I climb, the mountain has met me where I am in life and has taught me what I’m willing and able to learn. For me, the best governor towards the implementation of gratitude in life is conducting myself with reciprocity, which is perhaps, my life’s greatest gift of all.

~ By Tiffany Locker

Editors note: Tiffany has summited mountains six times for the Climb to Fight Cancer. Her climbs include Mts Hood, Baker, Rainier and Shasta. She’s raised thousands of dollars for lifesaving research at Fred Hutch. Thank you Tiffany, we are grateful for you and the whole Mt. Shasta team. 

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All photos courtesy of the Mt. Shasta Climb to Fight Cancer team.

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