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Taking aim at the top

A group of seven climbers, mostly with connections through Southern Oregon University, on Sept. 12 tackled Mount Shasta, at 14,179 feet the tallest of the region's peaks. Climbers ranged in experience from one who had summited Mount Shasta several times to another for whom the trip was her first backpacking experience.

Photographer JD Anderson chronicled the journey, with photos and text, excerpts of which follow:

We decided to take the Clear Creek trail to the summit, partly because it was new to those of us who had climbed the mountain previously, and partly at the recommendation of rangers and climbing friends.

We left late on the 12th and pitched camp at about 8,400 feet at Clear Creek to rest before attempting the summit on the 13th. Timing was going to be tight because of the diversity of schedules of the people who came, so the next day we needed to go up, tag the summit and turn around for the cars.

The next morning we left the camp set up, ate breakfast, then hit the trail — or, rather, blazed our own — after sunrise. The weather was eerily nice. Austin and I, the only two who had done the mountain before, couldn't believe how receptive the mountain was for us — sunny, light breeze and limited smoke.

With almost no ice remaining on this route, various bootpaths weaved up to the summit from camp. We cut our own up along the ridge above Watkins glacier and then came around the east side of the summit.

From our basecamp to the summit was about 3 to 3.5 trail miles. But the elevation we'd have to gain in that time was over 5,700 feet.

Due to our late start and low elevation camp we came to the false summit (just about 13,000 feet) around 1:30 pm. With our group hurting and strung out along the switchbacking scree, we decided to call it rather than wind up returning in the dark. We passed several parties in our same predicament — poorly timed, or just plain worn out from the slogging through scree.

The climbing site Summitpost.org claims that only a third of all summit attempts are successful. I believe that statistic after this experience. While profoundly disappointed that we couldn't summit, we were all grateful at the prevailing wisdom of the group to turn around when we did, rather than risk an evening descent. All of us are more than eager to go up again.

— Story and photos by JD Anderson

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Casey Brandel, Haley Brandel and Kristen Gran descend to camp on Sept. 13, beneath Watkins Glacier.
Austin Andrew rests at about 11,000 feet as other climbers make their way toward him along the Clear Creek route.