It’s been one month since 3 Peaks. One month since I tagged along with a group of ultra-tough trail beasts in the annual quest to summit Mount Shasta’s three most prominent peaks in a single day.
One month, and I’m finally ready to write about it.
The event is a point-to-point run starting at Bunny Flat on Mt. Shasta and ending at Parks Creek trailhead on Mt. Eddy. The 50-ish mile route summits Mt. Shasta (14,179′), Black Butte (6,334′), and Mt. Eddy (9,025′).
That’s a lot to think about.
To be honest, my mind was so completely blown that I had to use google maps to navigate my way back home after the trip, on a route I’d driven literally hundreds of times.
Now that I’ve had the chance to stitch my brain back together, here are some pointers for the next crew of savages that dare to take on this incredible (and completely terrifying) adventure
1. Trails are subjective
3 Peaks is the brainchild of local ultrarunner Tina Ure, who has completed multiple 200-mile races and is pursuing her 6th Hardrock 100 finish as I type this. Tina is like nothing else I’ve encountered in this lifetime. It’s a real privilege to run beside her, but anyone who tries it should be prepared (for what? you never know.)
Running with Tina is… an experience. One that might, at times, require a machete, full body armor… perhaps an inflatable raft.
Tina is wonderful and devoted a lot of time and energy to coordinating this run, including marking the route, stashing coolers full of food and drinks, and letting us all crash at her house.
But let me tell you, there were points where she led us through patches of shrubs so thick my dog wouldn’t even think of trying to plow through.
Tina Ure does not take the easy road, even if it’s only a few feet to the right of the one she’s on.
2. If at first, you don’t succeed, dry out your socks and try again
Five of us set out to summit all three peaks, then we met up with two other runners who joined us for Black Butte and Mt. Eddy only, but nobody made it to the top of Mt. Shasta. The weather was brutal and we decided to turn around before reaching Lake Helen (10,000ish feet.)
Judging by the number of people coming down the mountain so early in the morning, I doubt anybody summited at all. Every few minutes a piece of gear would come tumbling down from tents that must have gotten ravaged.
The wind was blowing hard and whipping up little chunks of ice that pelted my delicate baby face and completely soaked my gloves.
It was effin miserable. Even though I really wanted to reach the summit, I knew turning around was a wise decision. This is the second time I’ve climbed Shasta and had to turn around due to weather.
When people hear my stories, they often ask if I feel angry, frustrated, or bitter about not getting the summit.
My answer is no. Mother Nature is a force tremendously greater than myself. I have no clue what she’s up to at any given moment and I don’t ask why.
There’s a reason you don’t find condos and Starbucks on a mountain. It’s a harsh climate and storms can whip up out of nowhere.
We followed the forecast in the days leading up to the trip and the weather looked fine… but then it wasn’t. These things happen.
We got back to Bunny Flat, changed into dry clothes, and laid in the sun for a bit before moving on to the next two peaks.
Several people in the group went back to Shasta the following week and made it to the summit. I totally would have joined them if I had the funds for it, but I didn’t.
That brings me to my next tip…
3. Unless you own or borrow gear, be ready to drop some cash
Between gear rentals, summit pass, and dog kenneling, I spent about $200 on this trip.
You can buy or rent everything you need at The Fifth Season.
The Avalanche Gulch route on Mt. Shasta requires crampons and an ice axe. If you don’t own sturdy boots with at least a 3/4 shank (and I do not), you’ll need to rent those, too. The first time I climbed Shasta, I skipped the helmet, but that’s always recommended.
When I worked at The Fifth Season, I remember a couple of angry dudes coming in and demanding their money back for the gear rentals because they had to turn around in poor weather.
THAT IS NOT OKAY!
Like I stated above, climbing is a crap shoot. The mountain owes you NOTHING.
Keep that in mind and never ever take your drama out on a sweet lil mountain shop employee.
4. We get by with a little help from our friends
The entire group of people I ran/climbed with were astonishingly kind, helpful, and always there when anyone needed a hand.
- I might still be lying on the side of Mt. Shasta, frozen in fear and ice, were it not for my friend Gerad’s patient guidance and spare gloves.
- Tina lent me her favorite running shirt to wear on the Mt. Eddy portion when I realized I had only imagined packing mine.
- Lorelei saved me from falling on my face by having the second brightest thing to the sun strapped to her waist when my own headlamp started to dim.
(I started out with fresh batteries, but they were drained when my light accidentally turned on inside my pack.)
I could go on, but I won’t. Point is- I couldn’t have done this alone. No way. In fact, NO ONE SHOULD EVER TRY TO DO THIS ALONE!
5. Bring a backup headlamp
It doesn’t hurt to have two… or three. nuff said.
6. There are worse things than having a bad song stuck in your head
3 Peaks was the first time I’d ever run through the night. I had no idea what to expect from my mind or body after it’d already been going for 20 hours.
I was feeling sleepy on Black Butte, and even took a 5-10 min power nap at Tina’s house in between there and Eddy, but my brain really started to unravel around 11:30 p.m.
Thinking was hard. Visual perception was all kinds of altered. I had to make sure someone was near me at all times for fear of getting lost.
But worst of all was the song repeating in my head during quiet moments…
It was that children’s song about five green and speckled frogs sitting on a speckled log, eating the most delicious bugs.
I wanted to jam a stick in my eyeball.
But then I remembered that movie Touching the Void, where that dude clawed his way down the gnarliest mountain with a horrible song stuck in his head… except he did it on a broken leg.
So then, every time I took a step I thought to myself, “at least my leg isn’t broken,” and it was alllllllright.
7. Do like the Boy Scouts and always be prepared
The most terrifying part of this whole endeavor came at the very end, at the only part of the trail that hadn’t previously been scouted out.
We summited Mt. Eddy around 1:30 a.m. It was cold and windy. Everyone was thoroughly wiped out and ready for blankety snuggle time.
After descending Eddy we all stopped in our tracks as we were greeted by a **surprise** steep, icy snowfield covering the route down into Deadfall Lakes basin.
Some of us were in running shorts (including me), and nobody had trekking poles or anything for traction.
I had enough layers to stay warm as long as I kept moving… but if something had happened and I needed to stop, I would have been screwed.
The fear that ran through me at that moment cannot be expressed in words.
Just imagine the most terrified you’ve ever been, and then place yourself at the top of an icy hill, in the dark, when you’re physically and mentally exhausted but still aware of the frozen lakes at the bottom of the hill, and you know you have no choice but to keep going.
Okay… got it?
Cool, thanks for playing along. I was really struggling to adequately convey that horror.
At some point though, my fight or flight instinct kicked in. It even warmed me up a little. Suddenly, the terror was replaced with something like rage and I just started moving.
I realized that my traction improved if I hopped a bit and kept my hips over my ankles when I took a step. That way, my body weight helped me sink into the snow and get a grip instead of reaching out ahead of myself and trying to dig in with a fatigued foot.
We’re lucky everyone made it out safely. In a situation like that, so many things could have gone wrong.
I own every decision I made as far as what I chose to take with me and how I dressed on the Mt. Eddy climb. Although I admit I was poorly outfitted for the conditions we encountered, that was entirely my own fault.
I knew better. I always know better, and I rarely carry all the safety items I would if I were guiding.
In a past life, I was a licensed guide for (much tamer) hiking and backpacking trips in upstate New York. I’ve taken all the classes. But still, this was the second time I’ve put myself in a sketchy situation without the proper gear and managed to escape unharmed (Zion snowshoe disaster of 2010!!!)
I suspect I’m running out of lucky breaks.
On that note, I have to say that 3 Peaks was the most difficult, intense, and awesome thing I’ve ever done in my life.
I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Final approximate numbers for the day are 45 miles, 12,400 feet of climbing, and slightly less than 24 hours of travel time.
….. and 1 month of recovery before I could talk about it.