Physically I am nowhere near ready to climb Mt. Shasta, but in less than a month I will don crampons, ice axe and helmet and wake at 2 am to face the endless switchbacks through snow and loose volcanic rock.

Leaving Horse Camp, on the way up Mt. Shasta in 2015. Photo: David Loughnot
Last time I climbed, in 2015, I turned around a mere 350 feet from the summit. I had entered a grey area of the mind where your body is so cold and so tired that simply lying down to sleep, despite the likelihood that you will not get up, seems like the best idea.

Turning around was the right thing to do, and every climber faces this decision a number of times on the mountain.

I expect this year will be no different.

What will be different is me. In October of 2015, I developed an autoimmune condition called ulcerative colitis. It presented as extreme fatigue – imagine struggling to walk six blocks to work just four months after climbing 13,000 and some feet – and various digestive complications.

It would be a full year before I would start to feel somewhat normal. So in June of 2016, when my colleagues geared up to face the mountain once more, I stayed home in LA, imagining their progress from my couch.

So this year I am climbing Mt. Shasta with my doctor’s permission. After dramatically changing my diet to exclude foods that contain inflammation-promoting compounds, packing for the trail will be a new challenge. No Clif bars, no trail mix, no PBJ sandwiches. And my body is different, too; after shifting my diet to focus on nutrient-dense food and learning, the hard way, not to push myself physically, I am two years older and 10 pounds heavier than the last time I carried a 35-lb. pack on my back.

The mountain will surely kick my ass, as it does every year. The altitude will compress my lungs and I will take it personally. My backpack will feel unbearable, and I will remember how it hardly seemed to weigh anything at all in 2015, when I was possibly in the best physical condition of my life.

But to keep me going I will have the memories of all those days and hours when I felt like I could hardly move. I will remember that feeling exhausted from doing something, from challenging my body, is a gift and I will savor it, even when I’m cursing the peak in front of me.

I will feel proud of the former foster youth who pass me on the trail, who have never done something like climb Mt. Shasta before, but who have persevered, despite being let down by the people closest to them as well as the system that’s supposed to step in and care for them when their family couldn’t. I will cheer them on, and though it won't be an easy decision I will give myself permission to turn around.

If you want to be part of this year's climb, use the link to donate below through Crowdrise, or send a check to Fostering Media Connections at 412 W. 6th Street, Ste 925, Los Angeles, CA 90014. Please write Questival in the memo. Thank you!

6th Annual Foster Youth Questival on Crowdrise


Popular Posts