I've got a burr in my saddle, to write up some of my stories from the years that I guided in the mountains. Namely, two mountains.
I may stick with it and jot down all the stories I can think up, or this may be a single post.
We'll find out.
At the time, it was just simply what was going on at the time. As time goes on, I start to realize those experiences were sometimes interesting, to say the least.
There were times that we were so broke, that I drove the distance down to Mt Whitney in Southern California with little to no money for the trip back home...I was banking on tips to feed me between trips and to get back home.
There were highs and lows too... My smallest tip was from a very German fellow who (after climbing to 11,000' and cussing me out) claimed Mt. Shasta was "unclimbable". He then donated to the Horse Camp cabin (owned by The Sierra Club) as we passed by, but didn't tip me; despite my two days of one-on-one attention with him.
One of the highs was when another guide and I split $1,200 between ourselves, after a single 3 day trip.
I made friends that I still keep in contact with... and would happily climb with again. ...and there were others, that, well; not so much.
I got rave reviews, but I also once got a four page hate-letter.
What story to start with?
[after moseying to the kitchen and refilling my pint of water...]
I had a set of three back-to-back trips at one point during my summer in Mt. Shasta City. (Meaning that between each trip, you only spent one night in town before going back up on the mountain. Usually just enough time to eat, prepare food and gear for the next trip, and sleep.)
The first was a porter trip. Easy. Simple. Clients paid extra money to have all their gear schlept up to their base camp at around 10,000'. Not a bad gig; all it was to us was paid skiing. We'd haul their whole kit up to camp, set up at least one tent, and stash all the gear inside. We'd get paid for a six hour day, and usually manage to get back to town within four hours. It was always bragging rights to say you hauled a clients over-loaded pack "x amount" of feet, in so many miles, within so many hours.
Second trip was a two day climb up the Clear Creek route with 15 kids and two other guides. On this trip, I summited with several of the kids. We had split up; one guide took some of the stronger climbers on ahead, I stuck with the stragglers. We only straggled by about a half hour. The third guide stayed back with the climbers that only made it out about an hour from camp.
To me, climbing the clear creek route isn't all that bad... it's the descending that makes it the most heinous route I've ever touched. It's nothing but scree by the time summer rolls around. There's not a whole lot I can say that would truly embody the mix of joint pain, boredom, frustration, and exhaustion that you feel while sliding, slipping, scrambling, and bumbling your way down this route. The only respite you can find while descending this route is that it can have some of the most amazing boot skiing I've ever done. The route faces South-East, causing the snow to melt very quickly during the day. I've maintained 200+ foot runs in fantastic corn conditions, turns and all!
The memory that sticks with me the most from that trip was the dinner. What did we make for 15 kids and 3 guides? Yep, mac and cheese. Pounds of it. Boxes. Many boxes. We put it in a stock pot with 3 cubes of butter and water. To cook it, we used 3 XGK MSR stoves ( Video of an XGK on Youtube) XGK stoves are heavy expedition stoves typically reserved for the colder climates of Denali or Everest.
Trip 3: Hotlum Glacier. I had never been on the Hotlum Glacier before. Nor had I ever been on any glacier before. There was already a trip up there with two clients. I was not the lead guide. I was coming in to shadow the trip, so that I could lead future trips. The guide and clients were already on day two of a five day trip. I was to be up there with them for the last three days, observing and helping where I could.
So, because they had already been on the mountain for a few days; the sooner I could get up there the better. I didn't sleep in town that night, I slept in my truck at the trailhead. I felt I could get more sleep and be better acclimatized. Also, I wouldn't have to find the trailhead in the dark, the morning of the climb.
I pop out of my bed, cram all my gear into my pack and hit the trail at sunrise.
I'd talked to a couple of the other guides who had done the route in the past. Everyone said it was very straightforward/no problem/just follow the trail. Great, sounds easy. I'll be walking into camp by 8AM.
Couple hours later, I can tell I'm off course. The trail has gained very little altitude, but has circled around a huge chunk of the East side of Shasta. The glacier that was right in my face at 6AM, is now over my right shoulder at 8AM. I keep reminding myself of the advice I'd gotten the night before "very straightforward/no problem/just follow the trail".
I kept going. Besides, I wasn't lost. I knew exactly where I was...I just knew I wasn't on the most direct path to the glacier.
I followed the trail until it dead-ended at a long glacial moraine. I took a hard right, following a climbers trail through the scree and talus. I was headed up, at least. At this point, I was not only on another route, I had a ridge between me and where I knew the glacier was. The main question mark was where camp would be. I was going on faith that my co-workers knew better than me. Maybe camp was on the ridge between me and the glacier.
I continued to hike upward. Eventually I got to around 11,000'. I still had not seen camp. Camp was at 10,000'. I knew that much.
I crossed through a notch onto the glacier at 11,000'. I was below the first headwall, nearly half way up the glacier. It was around 10 AM now. I was two hours late and I still couldn't see camp.
Luckily, it was late in the year. Most of the snow that blankets the glacier in winter had melted away at this altitude; leaving the glacier to be bare ice. This meant I could travel the glacier in relative safety, not having to worry about hidden crevasses.
I headed out on to the ice, having no other choice.
Now...I have to stop for a second and try to describe what was going on in my mind...
Here I was; miles from any part of the mountain that I'm familiar with. I'm solo. I'm not lost...but I am far from being on track. I'm also very confused. I thought all morning that I was just around the corner from camp. I knew that camp was only 2 hours from the trailhead. I've now been hiking for close to 5 hours. I don't know where camp is and I've never been on a glacier before.
Glaciers are a very surreal and dynamic place. Their massive weight coupled with gravity propel them down hill, causing them to split, and break; opening up crevasses. The top of the glacier is littered with boulders and rubble from the mountain as it tears and grinds at it. It can be very chaotic and sometimes overwhelming.
I've studied and read about glaciers, but now I'm going to find out first hand...and by myself...how to really travel and be safe on the glacier. I've got to admit though, I was thrilled and euphoric at being able to head out on the glacier for the first time.
As I traveled around, I was mesmerized by the landscape. I was only sometimes looking around for the camp. I was so in awe of the glacier, that it captivated most of my attention. There were boulders perched on small pedestals of ice. Boulders the size of cars, perched on a column of ice 1' to 2' tall and no more than 2' across. It was the kind of scene that makes you want to just sit down and take it in...as if to not sit and enjoy it would be a travesty.
I was looking across the mountain, uphill, and downhill. Still did not see camp. I knew that they wouldn't wait for me forever. Today was their "skills day" They would head up on the glacier if they didn't see me by a reasonable time. I didn't see them. Didn't see camp.
Finally, as I continued to traverse across the glacier... I saw a speck. Maybe a tent. Over a thousand feet below me. I continued to traverse. I saw another speck start to appear. This one was definitely a tent. Two tents, pitched near a glacier lake a the bottom of the glacier. I had spotted camp.
All in all, I had added several miles to my trip and 1,500' of elevation. The other guide wasn't overly annoyed... and the two clients were looking at me in amazement.
We all summited on this trip as well; climbing off the glacier to climbers right, and carried on up through the 'bunny ears'. We descended via Hot-tune ridge and crossed below the same headwall where I first crossed over.
Moral of the story... Do your own route research. Don't just ask a few people the night before.