My love for adventure and the outdoors began as a young boy growing up in a small village in the Honduras-El Salvador border. Most of my daily activities involved being outside in arid climate; walking and being on my feet was my way of life. As a young adult migrating to the U.S., I became involved in high school sports as a way to make friends and learn English. Growing up in Berkeley, I was fortunate to be in a community that appreciates and respects nature and the environment. I was formally introduced to hiking and mountaineering by a good friend of mine, Arnaldo Calderon, veteran of the Iraqi war who served in the marines for seven years. Like me, he is Central American born in Guatemala, and a thrill seeker. He would often plan short local hikes around the East Bay with friends and family. Within a year we began to plan more strenuous hikes around California and our goal was to enter into mountaineering with Mount Shasta being our first climb.
On May 18, 2013 we attempted to summit for the first time with a group of friends who were all first time climbers. We chose the popular route known as Avalanche Gulch; class II & III of mountaineering. This route starts at Bunny Flat trail head 6,950 feet of elevation with a vertical gain of almost 7,300 feet to the summit over a stretch of 7 to 8 miles. This route can be accomplished in one day but is commonly climbed with an overnight at Helen Lake at about 10,443 feet of elevation. We started at midnight to complete a one day attempt. However, we reached a point on the mountain where we dealt with elevation sickness, exhaustion, and gusty winds, forcing us to turn back. I felt disappointed but it was the best decision at that moment. In mountaineering it is important to use proper judgement to decide when it is safe to continue or to turn back. To prepare myself for the upcoming climbing season, I focused on endurance running and training that included long hikes with weighted vests on steep terrains.
We headed back to Mount Shasta on June 21, 2014 better equipped and determined to reach summit in one day. This time we pushed the climb for a month with favorable weather conditions. For weeks prior to our scheduled climb date, we monitored weather conditions, we contacted Mount Shasta rangers to better keep us updated on the climbing season. This time we felt more confident with how we had prepared both on the physical level and gear selection. We came to a point on the mountain known as Misery Hill at 13,800 feet of elevation; it was here where we turned back during our first attempt. Misery Hill is exactly what the name describes, miserable. As you climb, it deceives you into believing that you have reached the final stretch when in fact you have to climb up higher. We kept the team morale up reminding one another to push through. The rewarding moment came when we hit the summit and got that chance to enjoy the 360 degree view of the entire northern California state border and Oregon.
On May 2, 2015 I made my third attempted to summit Shasta with a group of experienced mountaineers via Casaval Ridge route. This route is slightly more technical than Avalanche Gulch. Casaval Ridge is a class III of mountaineering with a level 4 of difficulty. While we conquered the technical aspects of this route, it was unfortunate that due to timing and weather conditions we had to turn back just 760 feet off to the summit. It was late into the day at about 4:00 PM when clouds reduced our visibility forcing us to descend. Time of day for a safe and efficient climb is critical in mountaineering; it is often recommended to start as early as possible to capitalize on the well compacted snow.
I wanted to enjoy that 360 degree view again this year and relive the emotion of being at the summit. On May 30, 2015, I packed my bag and all the lessons I took from my previous attempts drove directly to the trail head for my first solo climb. I was determined to start on time to enjoy a sunrise three quarters up into the mountain. I remember the route vividly, how could I forget Misery Hill, it was there where I had to turn back my first time. When you’re facing nature, you’re not only facing the environmental challenges or elements but also enduring exhaustion that comes from being focused on your task. I broke down the long trek in my mind by creating short term goals for myself; taking 7 French steeps at a time on steep stretches. I enjoyed the quietness of the starry night and the gentle breeze. I was alone but the mountain wasn’t a lonely place. Breakfast was at sunrise, it was a brief break for about 7 minutes. I carried enough food and hydration but at times I forced myself to consume it to keep energy levels up. Like once before, I reached Misery Hill and faced gusty winds. This time, however, I was equipped with the right gear and so I threw on my snow mask with googles to cover my face from the wind and pushed through.
At 8:30AM I reached summit and my stay was not brief. I rehydrated, refueled and made myself at home. During that hour at the summit, I took the time to capture its beauty. To the southern east California border, I was able to see Lassen Peak. To the North West I was able to see Mt Hood in Oregon. I had carried my Honduran flag from my previous climbs and so I took advantage to capture a photo with it at the summit. This was not a typical selfie as I had to place my GoPro resting against a boulder and I was able to control the shutter with my iPhone.
Normally people glissade down to descend quicker, however, I didn’t feel rushed and so I took my time descending down. Mount Shasta is a very special place to me. My current record is two successful summits and two failed attempts. I have learned as much from my failed attempts as I have from my summits. Mount Shasta is by far the only mountain in the vicinity for novice entry level into mountaineering. Prior to Mount Shasta I had no experience in mountaineering and almost no experience trekking through snow. The final destination isn’t the summit, the accomplishment comes from the journey itself and the stories and people you meet along the way. I plan to continue my adventures with my next expedition to Mount Rainier in Washington State. Every climb is different in any given day.
Join Ron on his future adventures by following him on Instagram: @rontheram or click here: https://instagram.com/rontheram/
For any questions regarding hiking, mountaineering, or fitness, send him an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Click play below to view a recap video of Ron and Arnaldo’s first and second attempt to climb Mount Shasta. – Video created and edited by Arnaldo Calderon.