Mt. Shasta: Not your average "Picnic" - Jason Hardrath
While the word “picnic” evokes imagery of wicker baskets, quilted blankets, and neatly packed meals, these were not quite the components in my mind as I set out on the “Shasta Picnic”.
Replace the blanket with a wetsuit,
the basket with a bike,
and that tasty sandwich with a summit of Mt. Shasta.
(You can keep the beer, just make it a Cerveza Athletica from Athletic Brewing.)
Now we’re on the same page.
The Shasta Picnic is modeled after the infamous Grand Teton Picnic with the exception of the swim coming first and last instead of in the middle, as it does during the original Grand Teton version. However, this small change does not make this undertaking any less daunting. Ram-rodding a whopping 10,995’ of vertical gain into 22.2 fewer miles than its predecessor, the Shasta Picnic packs a punch.
A side by side comparison…
(7200’ gain one way, 7200’ loss the other)
Lake Siskyou 3,185’
Jackson Hole: 6,273’
Grand Teton: 13,776’
Total Prom: 7,503’
Steep snow travel
Shasta Picnic Format:
- Swim 1.2 miles
- Bike 15 miles
- Ascend Mt. Shasta 5.3 miles
- Descend 5.3 miles
- Bike 15 miles
- Swim 1.2 miles
This “triathlon” can be done fairly easily in self-supported or supported styles (read here for differences)
Swim 1.2 miles across the length of Lake Siskiyou, starting from the green gate at the edge of the parking area for Lake Siskiyou Beach on the Northern aspect of the lake, swim South to Cable Beach, and running up to the parking area for your transition
The dawn was still breaking as I finished pulling on the sleeves of my wetsuit. I set my hand onto the green gate, the weight of the entire day’s effort seeming to rest there with it. I am not sure how long I paused here to relish in the sensation before I looked up and chimed a lighthearted “See you on the other side” to Ashly.
She responded in kind, “See you on the other side.”
5:23 am. I pushed the button. Heard the chime. And just like that I was running down towards the cold water.
It would end up being a rough morning in the lake…
Goggles fogging, kick feeling uncoordinated, breathing out of rhythm… “Damn, when was the last time I swam?”
“Oh yeah, all the pools have been closed since March.”An enduring 50 minutes later, I pulled myself from the other side of the lake, slipped on my shoes that had been staged there, and ran up to transition at the parking lot. Since it was a supported effort, Ashly had everything set out at the edge of the parking area as we had rehearsed, and was there to help peel the wet wetsuit from my legs, as it seemed to have a will of its own to stay suctioned on.
Bike 15 miles from Cable Beach (3,185’) to Bunny Flat Trailhead (6,950’)POP! POP! Out came the feet. I hustled to throw on my bike kit, downed some premixed Tailwind Nutrition, snagged a quick kiss, grabbed the road bike I bought for $500 out of a guys garage, and pedaled away. I knew I would have to meter my effort out as the next 15 miles would include over 3,700 feet of gain in order to get me up to Bunny Flat Trailhead at 6,950’. It was then that I was brutally reminded how a bad swim can make you feel queasy on the bike. I was mentally working through this; “Jason, give it time. It will feel better. Remember the triathlon days.” Just then a sound echoed out ahead.
“You have to be kidding me” was my thought as I realized I was now in a sprint battle against the morning train. My thousand-some-odd watts [1.3 in horsepower] churning uphill pitted against those ungodly powerful diesel turbines [approx 6500 hp].
I didn’t win. But I also didn’t lose bad. It was only about a minute that I stood in my pedals, hand on the railroad crossing gate, or “ding-a-lingers” as we called them as kids. As soon as the last train car passed I surged through, back into my rhythm.
I looked over my shoulder at the train and thought, “If it was flat, I would have had you.”
After a few more intersections I was onto the A10 Everitt Memorial Highway, where the grade pitches up. Still battling the queasy sensations, I tried to stay light on the pedals. A bit over a mile up the A10, I got a honk and a wave as Max King and Chris Jones drove down the opposite lane, on their way to start their own separate FKT efforts on Shasta…this same day. I have a head start, “lets see how long I can hold them off.”
Each milepost of the Everitt Memorial Highway displays not only the mile but the elevation at that marker as well, you watch your vertical ascent displayed a mile at a time. You can decide if that is awesome or excruciating.
I downshifted and stood up on the pedals when Bunny Flat came into view. “Mt. Shasta, here I come.”
My van (actually a retired ambulance) was there waiting, staged with all my gear for the scree and snow ascent of Mount Shasta.Ascend Mount Shasta from Bunny Flat (6,950’) to Summit (14,179’) via Horse Camp, the snowy slopes of Avalanche Gulch, the 2,200+ vertical feet in a single mile past “the heart” to Red Banks, cruise up Short Hill, grind up Misery Hill, run across the summit plateau, and send the final switchbacks to the top of the true summit block.
Tearing off cycling layers and throwing on my Ultimate Direction Duro Pants, Shasta Mountain Guides sun hoody, and La Sportiva Blizzards with built in micro spikes, today was going to be a super-light push to summit
Keeping with the ultra-light mountain kit I grabbed my Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest 5.0 loaded with 1.5 liters of water mixed with 700 calories of Tailwind Nutrition, one Petzl Ride Ice Axe, my Ultimate Direction FK Ultra Poles, and a handful of Clif Shot Blocks, then bolted up the trail.I was still feeling woozy from the morning swim, but had the mental game of holding off the legendary Max King and Chris Jones as long as I could. Hey, whatever works to motivate some extra speed. I pushed past the historic Horse Camp without missing a beat, or stopping to fill from the fresh spring. I hopped up onto the path of large stones, called Olberman’s Causeway, that are arranged to walk on top of to prevent erosion of the fragile alpine ecosystem. At a jog, Olberman’s Causeway always feels a bit like the old agility drill where the football players run their feet quickly through the tires, except it is almost a mile long and if you mess up you fall onto a rock with your face...oh, in case that's not enough the causeway is about 8000’ above sea level. Clearing the causeway, I started up the scree switchbacks of the now melted Avalanche Gulch, the route gets significantly steeper here. Thinking of the day remaining ahead of me, I settled into a powerhike. As I approached the top of a rocky knoll, I glanced over my shoulder to see Max powering up the scree, still running, chasing an FKT of his own.
As he approached, I let him slide by, “DUDE! You are crushing!”
“You too” he chimed back with his hallmark charisma.
I fell into rhythm with him for a bit. “Chris is about 20 minutes back on me.”
Finding his rhythm a bit too intense, I let him slip further ahead. I knew that if I was going to swim across an entire lake again after ascending the 7200’ this route requires, I needed to dial it back. But he had given me a bit of gold. Chris was 20 minutes back. Can I hold off a former pro-athlete until summit with that handicap?About this time, I was approaching where I would climb past “the heart” up to Red Banks, a stretch covered in icy snow that gains over 2,200 feet in less than a mile. As I looked up, I could see a multitude of climbers, some switchbacking slowly, others hunched stationary over their ice tools, and Max, also now powerhiking. To me, this stretch is the mental and physical crux. Many climbers get turned around by either the exposure, exertion, or elevation here. I grind on. Motivated. The air is notably thinner now at nearly 12,000’. As I approach the top of Red Banks, I let myself glance back. I am fairly certain I spot Chris below. I look down at my legs, “let’s go!”
I again find a jogging rhythm across the top of Red Banks on my way to Short Hill, as astonished climbers who are taking two and three day trips to reach the summit, look on. Having not one, but two, scantily clothed runners pass you above 12,500’, where for some new to elevation it can be difficult to string a full sentence together at a slow walk, is a lot to take in. Some call out, “gee, you’re making us all look bad.”
“No way, what matters is we are out here in THIS! [I gesture to the immense views around us] who cares how fast or slow” I fire back. To me there is nearly no happiness to be found in comparison. We are all on a ball of water and rock hurling through space around the raging inferno of a nuclear reactor. Who cares who goes fast and who goes slow. It is about choosing the adventure that makes you feel alive. My adventures just happen to include choosing to be the one going fast.
“You’re an animal, Hardrath,” a climber clad in full mountaineering gear and facecovering chimes as I crest Short Hill transitioning again from powerhiking to a jog to get to the base of Misery Hill. I can tell they are with Shasta Mountain Guides from the insignia but all I can muster is a brief tongue out smile paired with a “Rock On!” gesture.
Misery Ridge, the final push through 13,000’ before the summit plateau, has its name for a reason. I have had my beard turned to a mass of icicles while pressing into a fierce February wind, but in my mind it has become a symbol of almost there, a final short effort before summit glory.
No misery from the mountain today, so I was making my own. I surged yet again into a jog as I broke across the summit plateau toward the final summit block. I always think how amusing it would be to organize a football or soccer game up here. This flat expanse of snow and ice within a hair of 14,000 feet above sea level. Imagine the experience, both for those playing and the climbers who stumble upon them. The thought never fails to amuse me.
“Is that Jason?” another voice question as I am managing my experience with the pain cave.
“Guilty as charged.” I pop back through a smile, again unable to recognize them through their gear, or maybe it was the haze of effort, couldn’t be sure at this point.
I didn’t even look back. I just followed the steepest ascent line to gain the summit. I think I passed a few people here. I think they were nice.
As I tagged the summit, ascending the 5.3 miles and 7,200 vertical feet in 3:05:58 since I left Bunny Flat (5:40:27 since I started at the green gate), I could see Chris just making the summit plateau. YES! I voiced mentally as I felt the stoke. Call it silly. It wasn’t really about staying ahead of Chris, it was about the meaningful engagement in those moments of life where I was finding out if I could. It's a small difference, but it's all the difference in the world...the difference between allowing our interactions with others to cause us to rise to be better versions of ourselves, or just trying to tear others down so we can feel safe being stagnant as we are. What is life except a series of small meaningful moments, call them games, we make for ourselves.
I snapped my summit photo, completely forgetting to film any content for the video I was capturing of the effort, and started my run down, high-fiving Chris as he hit his final steps to the summit.
“It's all yours, Dude! You’re a monster!”
I now needed to re-frame my mind. I had gone hard up. My second fastest ascent from Bunny Flat ever. I needed to let my body rally for a bit while still covering ground. I was happy as I stepped onto the snow at the top of Misery Hill to find it softening from its earlier, icier state. From years of experience on the mountain personally and as a guide, I knew I would be glissading very soon. Glissading is essentially a fancy word for sledding on your butt down a steep mountainside. If you learn proper positioning, you can imagine yourself on a lawn chair relaxing...unless you’re scared of heights, then it is terrifying. Remember that 2,200’ in a mile, that was a bobsled run.
I sloshed through some softer snow below, almost post-holing off and on in an effort to move fast. I was ecstatic to rejoin the scree trail right when I did. I kept my pace metered as I cruised through switchbacks.
Then back to Olberman’s Causeway. More agility drills. Come on legs, let's not fall now.
The trail below Horse Camp is a blur. I remember making it back to the van. Ripping off mountain gear. Throwing on cycling gear. Grab the bike. GO!
Bike the 15 miles back down to the Lake
Down, Down, Down. Deep aerodynamic tuck the whole way. I passed a car. More rest while moving fast.
25 minutes for 15 miles back to the lake. Faster than I expected.
Ashly was blown away as I leaned my bike against a rock and started pulling on the wetsuit.
“This is happening!” I stated in full stoke as I grabbed my goggles and started running towards the water.
Swim 1.2 miles back across the lake, run up and tag the green gate to finis
I had internally feared this second swim the whole day. The first swim went so terribly. I was so out of practice. My body will be tired. What if I cramp up. 2.4 miles is the same swim length as an Ironman Triathlon. These were the doubts that tried to creep in throughout the day.
I hit the water at a run, diving in and starting my stroke immediately.
It felt great, I felt strong, stroke gliding with kick timed in unison. As I swam back across to my starting point, I took my breaths to my right, side sighting off Mt. Shasta herself, shining in the sun.
I was up there.
I was up there.
I was up there.
I allowed myself to internally verbalize for a number of strokes as I sighted the top of her. The cramps did come, I powered through. Determined. Also, safely accompanied by two friends on paddleboard and kayak, capturing film of the final swim.
I stumbled a bit on tight, cramping muscles as I stood out of the water for the final short run up to the green gate, but I ran.
My hand tagged the gate. And my finger pushed the button. As I heard the chime of the day ending, I threw myself over the gate. 8:25:30 was the time elapsed. I was pleased with the day. Pleased with a new FKT route that would be called the Shasta Picnic. Pleased with bringing a bit of creativity from my mind into actualization for others to come try.
So as I crack into my ABC Cerveza Athletica, I have to ask…
~by Jason Hardrath
I am an elementary school teacher who tries to live what I teach.
I am on a quest to be the first person to establish 100 “Fastest Known Times”
on amazing trails and mountains around the PNW. This was number 63.
Follow my journey to 100 FKTs