“This isn’t just another weekend trip.”
We had to continually remind ourselves of this as our excitement grew on day one – heading north on I-5 past Redding and through redwoods on our way to Weed, CA and Mt. Shasta – stop number one of Small Towns to Summits. We are both so used to cramming adventure into two or three days with minimal sleep and maximum stoke. Having the time to settle in, choose the best weather for our summit day, and have meaningful conversations every day so far of our journey has given us a taste of how glorious full-time dirt bagging can be. While we have had to learn how to efficiently pack the Kia so it doesn’t take 10 minutes to find a pair of underwear, being able to have a camp picked out and set up in 15 outweighs the minor inconveniences. In the first six days – we had stood on top of Northern California and gathered a handful of individual stories along the way. Our journey is officially is underway – and we’re so ready to share every minute with you all.
Nestled between Mt. Shasta, the Oregon border, and Redding; the town of Weed was our home for the first week of this road trip. While Mt. Shasta City, which neighbors Weed but sits directly at the base of the mountain, provided us with essential gear and coffee we needed before and after our climb – Weed was where we mentally prepared for Shasta and rested our bodies afterwards. One couple in particular made their home our home for our stay, providing us with showers, dinners, a place to sleep, and stories of others who have passed through this special place.
Before sharing a delicious stir-fry dinner with the two of them we had the privilege of sitting down with Alistair, a retired contractor originally from New Zealand, for an interview the night before we embarked on our first summit of the trip. He shared with us many valuable thoughts in considering why settling town in a small town like Weed is fulfilling.
Getting through day to day life we don’t actually take time to just stop and take the moment in – enjoying the sun or the clouds or the way the birds are flying. It’s part of the beauty of living out here in this quieter environment. Depending on the time of the year, sometimes I’ll come outside and drink my coffee, watching the sunrise and the shadows change on the hills around here. It’s just.. different every day.”
“I’m very grateful that I have nature in my life every day, it keeps you in check with reality. You realize that you’re only here for a short period of time and you’ve got to enjoy those moments that are just natural beauty alerts.. When you have a look out there and you’re just like, ‘Wow I’ve got to share that with someone’ because it looks spectacular.”
While both Alistair and his wife Carol have officially retired, there’s still always something exciting happening. When they’re not hosting bike packers or giving two young women a hot meal before summiting Shasta, they spend a ton of time in the mountains themselves or simply enjoy the “five acres of manzanita they turned into a little piece of paradise.” Their home, garage, construction workshop, and yard was entirely done by the two of them – which they so graciously have shared with us and many other travelers. Waking up to the view of the mountain every morning – they have a seasoned opinion on what Shasta provides.
“It gives a lot of people inspiration to do things. I think that’s the big thing about Mt. Shasta… it inspires a lot of people to get out and do stuff.”
Incredibly excited and slightly nervous for our first climb of the road trip the following day, we asked both Alistair and Carol for their advice as we set out.
“Be safe, use your judgement. Just look over your shoulder now and again just to make sure that mother nature’s not gonna come in and put you in your place.”
“It’s all about the journey, not the summit.”
Taking Alistair and Carol’s advice from our interview the night before – we set out for a two-day summit trip up Shasta on Friday, June 28th. After a five hour trek up to our 10,400 ft base camp at Lake Helen, we set up our tent for the night. As we were boiling snow for water the next day, the climbing ranger Paul came to chat with us and generously agreed to sit down for an interview. Originally from the Bay Area, his move to Shasta after he completed the PCT was unexpected but coincidentally led him back to unknown familial roots.
I ended up moving here, and three weeks after the fact my mom told me that my grandma was born here – it was called Sisson then. A year after that, I was down at a fundraiser for the Shasta Avalanche Center and I found the curator and I asked: ‘I’m gonna name drop the Doney – my mom’s mother’s family, do you have any information?’, and she busts out this book about Albert E. Doney – my great great grandpa and his son Ray Doney. So I bought the book and I cross referenced it, and sure enough Albert E. Doney and Ray Doney are my family and he summited Mt. Shasta from the Callahan side.
As a well seasoned mountaineer, Paul has bagged quite a few of the volcanic Cascade peaks. Entirely different from climbing mountains within large ranges, the view from summits like Shasta or Hood stand high and solo.
“These stand alone volcanoes, these Cascade volcanoes… are just impressive in their sheer mass. Their size, their prominence is like nothing else.
While we have both hiked a handful of impressive peaks, we are very beginning mountaineers. We each had used crampons one time each before starting our road trip, so we knew that these glacial peaks would require both getting out of our comfort zones and help from our fellow climbers.
“When you’re getting started it’s important to go with experienced people who are better than you. Cuz that’s how you’re gonna learn, that’s how you’re gonna get better.”
This advice from Paul was certainly taken to heart. We enjoyed chatting with every climber on the way to and from the summit of Mt. Shasta – both the ultra runner who made it up in just five hours in micro spikes and the people who were on their first mountaineering endeavor as well.
Before we made our camp for the night at Lake Helen, we saw a group of three females standing together and trying to keep warm before retiring to their tents. Though we were all ready to climb into our sleeping bags for the night in preparation for the long day ahead – they agreed to talk with us for a few minutes. The advice they wanted to share with fellow female mountaineers through us was incredibly valuable and resonated deeply.
“Do it anyways. Even if you have to rent men’s boots.”
“Find your female friends. And even your male friends, too. It doesn’t really matter. If it’s something that you want to do, then there’s nothing stopping you from doing it.”
“I think you need a good supportive team. A trail group of friends and family, people you can go with.. They’re out there. There’s less of us but we’re here.”
There are a few anatomical challenges that many female hikers face that might not even be considered. For example at our Lake Helen base camp, there was a designated spot to go to the bathroom. Unless you wanted to potentially flash your bare butt to the entire camp, the women had to hike down this extra hill to receive any coverage while the men just had to turn around. It’s something simple, but it’s still something.
“We just need to keep doing it. And the more women that come out, the more resources and gear we’ll have. The more potty spots that will be available…”
On Mt. Shasta – we noticed that we, as women, were significantly outnumbered and only one of two groups of all females. Having fellow female hikers to lament together that our legs truly are just as capable of making it to the top makes our two-woman team feel that much stronger.
Heading north on I-5 once again – this time with Shasta in our rear view – it was almost surreal that one stop of our journey was already over. We successfully summited our first mountain as well as gathered stories from very different individuals. Even though we all had different paths, we found ourselves in the same space and took the time to appreciate that. To Alistair & Carol, Paul, and the three female climbers we had the fortune of speaking with as this crazy idea was becoming real – thank you for giving us further insight in how to both appreciate the beauty we have been blessed with and inspiring us to seek after all there is to see.
Interested in receiving postcards and other surprises like this while we continue our journey? Check out our “Get Involved” section on our website – all of our sponsors receive handwritten love straight from these small towns to you!
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To all those who have supported us thus far, thank you. Each and every nice comment, donation no matter how small, and kind words shared have pushed us forward confidently in this direction. We truly could not make this happen without all of you – we hope that you feel a sense of pride in this journey as well.
2 thoughts on “Voices from Northern California: Musings On and About Mt. Shasta”
Ladies, This brings tears to my eyes. U2 are setting precedents for lots of girls and women to go forward with dreams about summiting mountains. I can’t wait to read about the rest of your journey. 😎❤️👵🏻
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Well now this is making US tear up – you are the best. thank you for sharing this trip with us, that is the absolute dream ❤