When 60-year-old Mark Wegener and his daughters Courtney and Kaycee climbed 14,179-foot Mount Shasta last month, he couldn't help thinking about his dad, Bud Wegener, all the way up.
Mark guided his father to the summit 30 years ago, when he was 30 and his dad was 60.
"Every time I took a break and started up again, I'd say, 'This step is for you Dad.' "
Ashland resident Kaycee Wegener, 23, grew up hearing about that piece of family lore — how her dad took her late grandfather to the top of the mountain years before she was born. So this year, she and her sister, Courtney, decided to write another chapter of family history and get their dad back to the summit.
Mark, who lives in Paradise, Calif., climbed Mount Shasta for the first time when he was a student at the University of California at Davis.
"It started with a bunch of us guys sitting around drinking beer at Davis on a Saturday, when somebody said we should go do something crazy," he recalls. "We decided to go climb Mount Shasta. Five of us piled into a Ford Econoline van and drove to the mountain. We got there at 2:30 in the morning, slept a couple of hours and then four of us started up. Two of us made it to the top."
Mark was 22 years old that first time up 38 years ago. He's since climbed it 32 times and says the mountain became something of a teacher for him over the years.
"I've used it as therapy. As a way to learn how to go slow," he says. "We get so caught up in this fast-paced world and forget to go slow."
Mark figures he has led about 400 people to the top during those treks, taking anywhere from two to 10 people each time, but he hadn't been to the top for six or seven years.
"Dad always told the story about how he hiked up with his dad when he was 60," says Kaycee, who owns a food-and-wine marketing company in Ashland called Direct Link Demos. "So my sister and I had the idea to get him up there again. The mountain has a special place in our hearts and minds, and it was special to honor our grandpa in that way."
Kaycee's brother, Brede, 30, planned to be part of the family outing but couldn't make the trip from Boston in time, leaving it up to his younger sisters to make it happen.
The weather on the day of their climb was anything but ideal. With sustained winds of 65 mph and gusts up to 85 mph, their window for reaching the top was narrow.
Like they've done every time up, the Wegeners took the Avalanche Gulch route up the mountain's southwest flank, starting at the Bunny Flat trailhead on a Thursday and spending the night at Horse Camp 8,500 feet up the mountain. The next day, they hiked up to 10,500 feet and established a base camp at Lake Helen. On that Saturday morning, they made their push for the top.
"The ranger told us we had a three-hour window and we needed to be on top by 9 a.m.," explains Mark. "We left base camp at 3 a.m. and were on top at 8 a.m. It was so windy it was like being on the wing of an airplane. We had to crawl on our hands and knees to reach the sign-in book."
In spite of the weather, the family had no problem encouraging each other to the top.
"I was amazed at how well I felt going up this year," says Mark, who started training for the climb a month out, mainly by riding his bike. "This was one of the easiest climbs I've done, even though it was some of the worst weather we've had."
With his years of experience on the mountain, Mark has become something of an informal mountain guide. He's been involved in several rescues during his annual trips, including his most recent trek June 30.
"I've been involved in a lot of rescues over the years and seen a lot of bad climbing deals going on," he says.
When he and his daughters summited last month, they ran into a 17-year-old boy who had been hiking up the mountain with his father as part of a church group. The father had turned around near Red Banks high on the mountain, and the boy, who was poorly equipped and unprepared for the weather, continued on. It was lucky for him he ran into the experienced Wegeners.
"It was really cold with lots of wind, and he wasn't wearing the best clothing," says Kaycee, who summited Shasta for the first time when she was 11 years old.
The youth, wearing a pair of homemade crampons that didn't fit right, was out of water and on the verge of panic, says Mark.
"We gave him a pair of gloves and a hat," says Kaycee, who trained for the climb by running and hiking the Ashland trail system. "We calmed him down, tightened his crampons, showed him how to use an ice ax and brought him down with us. I'm glad he ran into a group of people who were willing to help him, or he would have had a bad experience."
"When we found him, it was near whiteout conditions," says Mark. "I always tell people that during a whiteout, you sit down and wait. You might be waiting five minutes or five hours. But you wait because it's easy to get lost up there. When you can't see, it's very precarious."
In all his years of climbing Shasta, Mark says he failed to summit only once.
"I spent three days in a tent in a blizzard, and that was the only year we didn't summit," he says.
In fact, of the 400 people he's taken up the mountain, just three didn't make the top, he says, a record he attributes to his go-slow approach.
"If you have to stop and rest, you're going too fast," he says. "The key is to go real slow and keep moving. Put your mind someplace else and keep putting one foot in front of the other and don't give up. Just like life. That's what it's all about."
Climbing a mountain like Mount Shasta is an emotional challenge for a lot of people, says Mark.
"The physical part is maybe 50 to 60 percent. The other part is emotional and dealing with the anxiety that comes from wondering when you're going to get to the top. It's a lot of stress."
On the day Mark guided his father to the top three decades ago, "my father kept asking me, 'How far to the top?' he recalls. "And he was always sitting down when he'd ask me. I'd say, 'I can only tell you how long it is if you're moving. As long as you're moving forward, you're going to get there.' "
The parallels between that trip 30 years ago and this one go beyond the experience of a father and his offspring sharing time on the mountain. As it turns out, the men were at a similar crossroads in their personal lives.
"Dad lost his job at 59 and was in a reboot spirit, trying to get his groove back," recalls Mark. "So we climbed Shasta when he turned 60, and then we climbed Mount Whitney a month later."
Mark now is facing a similar challenge. He owned a civil-engineering firm that fell apart during the recession and finds himself looking for a new start.
"We lost our house and business and have been living in an Airstream trailer," he says.
Which makes it all the more appropriate that Mark's daughters got him back up the mountain that proved so catalytic to their grandfather.
"It was a great thing," says Kaycee. "My dad was working against his age, and my sister and I were working against our inexperience. But we were able to work together and help each other. It's great to know we could do it and could bring mountaineering back into our lives."
Reach Mail Tribune Features Editor David Smigelski at 541-776-8784 or email@example.com.