Transcript: Podship Earth Episode 024: Shasta
JARED BLUMENFELD: Welcome to Podship Earth. This is your host Jared Blumenfeld. Two years ago, when I hiked the Pacific crest trail, Mount Shasta was with me for weeks. You can start seeing the mountain a hundred miles to the south and it continues to dominate the landscape all the way into Oregon. This volcano is by herself in the landscape and with year-round glaciers, she looks like the Mount Fuji of California. For centuries, Shasta has been a destination for mystic sages, gurus, and explorers from all over the planet. Shasta is known as one of the seven sacred mountains on earth. The mysteries surrounding Shasta are endless. There have been expeditions to find the hidden city of Lemurians within the mountains’ lava tubes and reportings of alien landings. But the most common reason that people go to Mt. Shasta is to be in the presence of a very palpable energy vortex. Native Americans hold that Shasta is inhabited by the spirit of Chief Skell and that the summit is a portal to other dimensions. In 1874, John Muir, the famous environmentalist said, “when I first caught sight of the Mount Shasta over the braided folds of the Sacramento Valley, I was 50 miles away and on foot alone and weary, yet my blood turned to wine and I have not been weary since. Markus, my 19-year old son, and I decided that this was the summer we were going to attempt to reach Shasta’s summit at 14,179 feet. Markus’s friend from high school, Ian, decided to join us. We set off on an adventure of a lifetime. After a five-hour drive from San Francisco, we finally get to the Clear Creek Trailhead on Mountain Shasta.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, and I think it will be an adventure. I don't think it will be too physically grueling.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Maybe not for you.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Yeah, maybe. I don't know. I think each of us will bring something to it. Ian's done some climbing in Alaska. You've hiked a lot and hopefully I'm in shape enough to keep up with you.
JARED BLUMENFELD: You are definitely the fittest. So, the only thing that I'm worried about Markus, is like we tried to put a lot in two days. I mean, it seems insane. So, day one, like we're going to summit one of the highest mountains in California and then, day two, we are going to be fly fishing. I mean, I don't know. Is it too much?
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: I don't know. I think if we just play it by ear, it won't be too bad. I think the hike should be a challenge, but I don't think there'll be too intense to the point we won't be able to fish tomorrow. I think that there'll be a lot in two days, but it'll be a fun two days.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I'm excited. It's hot today. It's like 105, so hopefully it gets cooler as we get to our base camp. I'm so excited to have a base camp. It makes it sound like we're going to Everest. That first evening, we hike for a few hours to get to our base camp at 8,600 feet. The view is incredible.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: We went up just a little bit higher to pitch our tents. It's amazing. The sunset kind of going into the clouds on one side is just bright orange and pink and behind us, there is kind of a gray dense fog. It looks like there might be a small fire from the east.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So why do you think, why for you is it important to get the hell out of the city?
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Until you get out here you forget how important it is to be out in the wilderness and how different a feeling it really is. It's almost a culture shock in a way, like going to a different country. It's just a completely different surrounding and it's really amazing just to have this open air. I mean the air right now is really cool and thin, so maybe that's why I'm thinking of the air. But other than that, I think it's just important to kind of get out of the chaos of the city. I think it's definitely something I've always loved to do, to get out into the wilderness and out of the city.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I feel good. I'm ready for tomorrow.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: We covered four miles. Yeah, I'm excited too. The sun is already setting. There are not too many bugs out here, which is nice. Our tents are set up. It looks like a comfortable camp spot. I’m excited for tomorrow. I'm a little worried we might be waking up too late. I just don't know how long the hike is going to be. I hear some people waking up at three or maybe midnight starting.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Yeah, we are not, we're not crazy. The next morning we get out of our tents at 5:00 AM and make oatmeal and a strong cup of tea. So how did you sleep, Markus? You were making so much noise on the air mattress. It was insane.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Oh yeah. The air mattress I had was very loud. I think it kept Ian up too. I probably fell asleep at 11:30. Woke back up at 2:30. I just couldn't fall asleep. I think maybe the thinness of the air, I felt like I had sleep apnea. I kept jerking awake moments after.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I heard you, like the between the sound of the air mattress squeaking and then you're like gasping for air, I felt bad for you.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Yeah, and Ian and I were also fighting over one pillow. So that kind of carried on throughout the night as well.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I didn't sleep either, not because you were keeping me awake just because I think that I was just so pumped up and also nervous. Like I'm nervous for today. The mountain suddenly at base camp when you look up just feels kind of terrifying. Like did you wake up and see the stars?
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Yeah, I did see the stars. That was probably the most stars I have ever seen in my life, which did keep me up as well. I mean really after the moon went down because the moon was so bright and kind of took up the entire sky. Facing the reality that we actually have to climb this thing today. It feels a little more intense than I had imagined.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Let's just go. I'm ready. Let's go.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Yeah, I'm excited.
JARED BLUMENFELD: We finally begin the actual ascent into this massive volcanic mountain at 6:00 AM. So, our goal this morning, which is taking a long time, was to get to this thing called UFO Rock, which we can now see just below us. It is hard walking in this green shale talus. There are all these different frigging names for this rock. But basically, it's this, yeah, describe it.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Quite honestly, I'm exhausted right now. I'm also feeling, I mean one of the things is not only is this basically a 90-degree face were hiking up through what feels like mashed potatoes. You go two steps down every step you take. So far, I've been having to, I'd say after 9,000 feet, every 10 steps I take after I take a nice long breather, just so hard to even get up. Like anywhere there were, at one point there was a little ice patch about a mile down from UFO rock, and I really could never seem to just get to the ice patch. And I kept setting that as a marker and trying to get there and it just felt impossible.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Did you want to give up?
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Uh, for right now, I mean now we're too close to give up, but I'm feeling lightheaded, a little dizzy, very dehydrated. I ran out of water.
JARED BLUMENFELD: What keeps you going?
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: I'd have to say the Trader Joe's fruit snacks.
JARED BLUMENFELD: But mentally, like it's a mental game. Like you were doing. You were like counting when I, I could see you above me. You were like counting. What kept you going?
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Well, at first my goal was to count to a hundred steps and then stop and take a break. Usually I can make it about 13 steps, usually more like 10. 10 was a good realistic goal and you know, it made the four hour hike feel like three hours and 59 minutes.
JARED BLUMENFELD: One of the things that we did have, which turned out to be useful cause we ran out of water, was the ice axes, which you use to like shave, it was like Hawaiian ice. You use it to shave the glacier and shove it in the bottle. That that was pretty effective.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Yeah. Unfortunately, I ran out of water at 9,000 feet and had to fill up both my bottles. I think you and Ian had at least half of half of your water left, still a liter, so I feel quite dehydrated. I've been bumming your guys’s water a little bit, but I don't know.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Don't worry about it. Which it felt like so far on the hike, I don't know if you felt this, but like, like we switched roles, like you kept asking me if I was okay. Whereas before this it was my job to take care of you as your dad. This time you kept coming in saying, you okay. Everything okay. You doing fine?
Did you notice that?
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Yeah, I'd say, I mean to get to where we are right now just above these rocks, it's taken leadership from each of us. I think from Ian kind of just setting the pace, a fast pace, like getting us up the first couple thousand feet of elevation to you really just taking up the tail end and just pushing us to that. We wouldn't stop. All of us just kind of braving that part where there was just absolutely no trail, the trail disappeared and we just started climbing. I mean that was just straight vertical rock where we were just climbing that. I mean, right now you're laughing, giggling and I mean, I'm impressed with your energy right now.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Well, let's keep going.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Okay.
JARED BLUMENFELD: We've got to get to the summit.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Yeah. Maybe just one more smushed banana.
JARED BLUMENFELD: After seven hours of scrambling and climbing up scree and boulders, we finally get to the summit of Mount Shasta and right on names in the register. So, Markus, we made it to the summit. Nice job. This was hard. I mean we had to walk through that ice at the end, but mostly it was just a slug out near vertical. So, what does it feel like?
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: I think what I've seen so far is the summit is amazing and beautiful in its own way, but every step along the way has been equally incredible and breathtaking. So, I think the summit isn't really what I had expected it to be in comparison to all the amazing things I've seen along the way.
JARED BLUMENFELD: It's been amazing. I mean, just the clouds just, I've never seen clouds like right now at 14,000 feet. This is the highest I've ever been, and what you get is just this perspective on like the weather, like clouds are being made, the glaciers. It's like, it’s just something about mountain climbing.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: It feels like you've been transported to someone's dream here. It's really not like reality at all. Just the clouds act differently. The climate is just it's completely own thing and I really have no idea what's going on, but it's amazing. The rainbow, the clouds, the temperature, the breeze, the glaciers, the jagged rocks.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Yeah. It definitely, for me it feels like I'm in Narnia, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It feels like an alternate reality right now. I mean even just having these crazy wasps and the butterflies and the rainbow and looking down, like when you see the teeny specks of, I mean, you can't even see where our tent is, it’s so far away, which makes me nervous for going down.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Ah! Lot of yellow jackets.
JARED BLUMENFELD: There's thousands of them. Where the hell do they come from? This is insane.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: We just saw thousands and thousands of monarch butterflies that must be migrating up here, and I've never seen more of my life. There's must be a wasp nest because there's all these yellow jackets flying around here.
JARED BLUMENFELD: It was time to leave the wasps and the thin air and start the long descent back to base camp. It only took four hours to get down, but it took about 10 years out of the life of my knees. It was basically surfing shale.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Yeah. I think one thing about the descent that was really remarkable to me was how far we went up.
JARED BLUMENFELD: We didn't know how steep it was, but now that we've come to the bottom, I look up and I'm like, holy crap. How did we, I can't even believe we did it.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: I think there's no way in how that if anyone paid me any amount of money, I could ever do this again. Just not being able to see the whole thing in its entirety because of the steepness in the ridges kept me going.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Now like the coolest thing is I then if you can hear it, but there’s the thunder and it's starting to rain. I love the smell right now. It’s just incredible, the trees and the sand and there's lupine and just, I don’t know. We just got out in time. I'm looking up and the mountains are black with the clouds, I'm glad we got out when we did, but I just happen to love the sound of the thunder.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Yeah, I agree. It was great being here while we were, but I'm ready to get the hell out of here now.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And Markus, guess what? Here’s a surprise. We are not going to stay in the tent tonight. We're going to go to the McCloud hotel.
MARKUS BLUMENFELD: Oh, thank God.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I thought you'd like that because tomorrow morning we've got to get up super early and go fly fishing after hiking for 13 hours. We make it back to the trail head and then drive through the forest roads to the small town of McCloud, California, where we stay at the 103-year old Mcloud hotel. It's also been one of the most transcendental days ever. Being in the clouds and witnessing where they are being made was insane. It's the difference between watching clouds and being in them as they form. We wake up the next morning early, so sore we can barely make it down to breakfast. We meet Steven Fry, our fly-fishing guide, and head down to the Nature Conservancy reserve on the McCloud river.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Stephen, how's it going?
STEVEN FRY: It's a beautiful day, and you can hear the birds and the bugs chirping.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And what are you doing right now?
STEVEN FRY: Tying up our set ups for the day. We're going to go fly fishing.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I'm excited.
STEVEN FRY: I'm excited too. We saw a bear up close and personal that even stuck around and we'll probably see a couple of rattlesnakes, elk tracks, deer tracks, and hopefully a couple of big brown trout.
JARED BLUMENFELD: How much time do you spend on the river in the summer?
STEVEN FRY: Oh gosh, during the summer. I'm at least on the river 25 days plus a month.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Amazing.
STEVEN FRY: Yup.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, you know it pretty well.
STEVEN FRY: I know it pretty decently. I'm always learning though, always learning. I love it a lot, really appreciate it, and it always surprises me. So, it could be very rewarding, or you could be along for just a beautiful day in the woods.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Ian, tell us why you are excited.
IAN: I first came to the McCloud in May of last year, and it was the best fishing day of my entire life. And so, I've made it a goal of mine to return here as much as I physically and financially can. It's like a really special place - the bugs, the nature, the fish, and it has a lot of historical significance in fly fishing. So, I think it's a very, very special place and it's almost like a pilgrimage to come back here.
STEVEN FRY: It's not about the amount of fish you catch, it's just what you're learning. And just enjoying your surroundings and everything. Appreciating not just the fish but the river and it's a pretty awesome thing.
JARED BLUMENFELD: As we wade into the water, I find out that the rocks we are walking on are covered with a thin layer of super slippery moss. With my legs weakened from Mount Shasta the day before, I spend a lot of today falling into the river. Markus’s friend Ian was quiet yesterday, but on the McCloud, he's really in his element.
IAN: I hooked into a brown trout. I didn't land it though, so, I'm going to keep trying. But you know, this river, it's so beautiful. It's hot out. We're in the water. Life is pretty good. We're in about a 2000-foot deep gorge with crystal, Listerine turquoise blue water, all around us granite boulders that are red, green, lush greenery, and granite cliffs on the side, and it's just an insane contrast. Nobody's fished here in a while so hopefully we get into some good fish. It’s a very technical sport, and the McCloud is a very technical river. You're surrounded by plants that you can snag, underwater snags, strong current and very slippery rocks. Not to mention just a executing your fly-fishing skills, right? It's a tough spot, it's thespot, and it doesn't really get any better than this
JARED BLUMENFELD: Down the river, I ask our guide, Steven, why he thinks the McCloud is such a special river.
STEVEN FRY: What really intrigues me and what really has brought me to McCloud for years on end is the brown trout. They're pretty majestic and sometimes they're hard to find, but when you get into them, you can have a fish of a lifetime. I'm very lucky to do what I love for work. And, I get to experience a lot of different things every day. That's what I love about my job. And being outside you just really get to just really connect with nature and see what's going in our nature. Being out here everyday you get to really see what's going on as far as hatches and how many people are in our areas and what the fish are doing and what the fish, how many fish are in our system.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Like in terms of the health of the McCloud, how's it doing?
STEVEN FRY: McCloud is actually one of the rivers where it's really nice to come to because you don't get a lot of polluted water and it's very, it's a very clean fishery. That's what's nice about it. For the most part, all the anglers and hikers have a lot of respect for it and we all appreciate that.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?
STEVEN FRY: I guess all fly fishermen, in some way, shape or form are environmentalists. I think we kind of have our fingers and hands and all sorts of professions when you start to think about it. We study the flows of the river, we study bugs, we study fish. So, we are kind of a jack of all trades when it comes to being out here. You find yourself find always studying water flows and I mean it's a, you really, it's not just fishing, it's a whole lot more than fishing.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Do you think there's a need for the city folks to better understand the actual physicality of the environment?
STEVEN FRY: I'd like more people from the city just to kind of realize what's out there, and to hire guide, book a sight-seeing trip, and just get out there and see what’s out there besides the city. Because a lot of the decisions Bay area people from the city make, a have a lot to do with what's going on up here. So, if you get a firsthand experience on what's going on, you'll have a much better idea of what you have to say. I always say hunters and fishermen and hunters are the best. Conserve, we're the best conservation is out there. So, I like to, I'm glad that I have my hands in both ends.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So why do you think hunters and fishers of the best conservators?
STEVEN FRY: Well, because they get out there and they see everything there. They're out there seeing what's really going out in the woods and not just having an opinion. They're out there firsthand and not just going off hearsay. So, if you get a chance to sit down with a hunter, fly-fishermen, just pick their brain, they're not what they seem to be. You know, there are those guys out there that are wasteful, but that's one guy and not the whole community of outdoorsmen in general.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Cause to me it's really weird that there's this division between environmentalist and then what they call the hook and bullet crowd. Like to me, isn't it pretty similar?
STEVEN FRY: Very, very similar. You know, I'd like to say that if we all just went to the table with an open mind, I think we're all more alike than you think. And, you know, just other, it all depends on, some of us are meat eaters and some of us are vegetarians, and but we also might have the same point of view. Let’s not let that get in between our opinions. So, I think if you got us all together with some open minds, I'm sure we can all work together and figure some good outcomes out for our society.
JARED BLUMENFELD: When Ian caught a fish, you're like, yeah, the fish probably pulled it into the snags.
STEVEN FRY: Oh, no, the fish, they're smart. They don't get that big for no reason.
JARED BLUMENFELD: We all caught and released a few rainbow trout and Markus even got a big brown trout. As we were walking along the river on the way out, we bump into Vince Cloward, who is the reserves manager.
VINCE CLOWARD: How can I help you?
JARED BLUMENFELD: What do you do here, Vince?
VINCE CLOWARD: Well, I'm the caretaker, which includes a lot of functions from moving the toilet one day to fixing things on the preserve to taking environmental data. We've got a probe in the river, so river quality data and angler communications and relations. Some really creative individuals in 1973 came from the art school in San Francisco
JARED BLUMENFELD: And the California College of the Arts. My wife happens to be a graduate of that.
VINCE CLOWARD: Awesome. She should come down and visit. They basically helped create the vision and the creativity of building this cabin.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I love that. And then after that came, came the sanctuary?
VINCE CLOWARD: Simultaneously. So, the property was gifted to us from the McCloud river club and it's been under our preservation kind of ethic and control of the conservancy since 1973.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And how many acres?
VINCE CLOWARD: 5,300 acres. Approximately three river miles.
JARED BLUMENFELD: It's just stunning. So, what have you learned about nature just by being in it every day?
VINCE CLOWARD: Well, I'm not new to this. It's kind of been my MO and my lifestyle forever, but this is one of the most pristine areas. And it's because of the preservation concepts and philosophies here, it is a wild, wild feeling place. Everything's protected here, preserved.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, so when you wake up in the morning, do you blink and say, oh my God, I can't believe I'm here?
VINCE CLOWARD: Yeah, it's pretty nice. This is in my blood. This is what I do, and I am proud to be here. And people who visit, the number one thing they say to me is, dude, you're living the dream.
JARED BLUMENFELD: What’s the see secret?
VINCE CLOWARD: You honor your passion and you set the path. You have to put things in place to be here. It's building blocks. You have to say, I want to be there. So, I'm committed to being there and what am I going to do to make that goal? And those are kind of the practical things in life that remain true. It took me a couple of years to get back here to be near my kids and be at this river, which I love. And I've got a whole background of river conservation. So, for me it was just about putting the building blocks in place.
JARED BLUMENFELD: How can we get rivers back in people's hearts as opposed to making it an intellectual discussion?
VINCE CLOWARD: You got to be there. You got to put your toe in it. I mean you got to feel it. You've got to live it. We protect things that we love and it's a passionate thing. It's ingrained in ourselves and it's all about experiences, so we have to welcome them to experience it so that they can in turn become stewards of it.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I found the day very intense, like just being with the river, the river's just got this energy, this flow, it's never ending.
VINCE CLOWARD: I guess I would ask you what that intensity was about for you to reflect on that.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I hadn't spent a full day on a river in a long time and it was, it was intense in a good way. Just a lot of sensory input.
VINCE CLOWARD: I think you reconnected with water and I think we're about water as humans naturally and it's just that magnificent, particularly pure, crystal clear water, is just a kind of reminder that this is a special place. This is what it should all look like and that's the benefit of the preserve.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Do you see that effect on people that come through here? Does it have a transformative impact?
VINCE CLOWARD: Yeah, it's not always articulated. They have to sit with it a little bit, but the general comment is, wow, this is a special place. So even if you can't identify what that specialness is, it has an impact. They come back year to year. You look at the logs. This is a place that is special, and they connect to it in so many different levels, depending on the person, that they return and love this place and support it.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Putting land aside seemed like the most powerful thing that we can do. This will never be built on. This will never be developed. It will be here for time in memorial, which is what you want. What I want. Today I found myself wondering why I hadn't caught a fish. Isn't that the purpose? And it took a lot of a lot of Zen to get to the place of, you know what, I'm here just to be in nature, not to constantly worry if I've caught a fish on not, or wow, someone else called a lot of fish, why am I not catching a fish? Then I guess part of it is just realizing you need to have skill to do these things. You can't expect, I can't expect to catch a fish if have absolutely no idea how catch a fish. But somehow, I just did think, oh, I'll be good at this. I'll be able to catch a fish. At the same time, I had a fantastic day just being out in nature and I wouldn't have done it if it hadn't been for fly fishing. So, my recommendation is to try it out. You'll love spending the day by the rivers and you'll be completely exhausted. I'm just looking forward to a nice meal.
Thank you to Markus and Ian for being such great company climbing Shasta and fly fishing on the McCloud. And for Stephen Fry for being so patient in guiding us on the river and for Vince Cloward for spending day and night stewarding such a remote stretch of the McCloud river. What I took away from this week's episode was how tangible and present the force of nature is when you encounter her up close and personal. Being on Mt. Shasta, I really did feel transported to another world. The scale and perspective I carried with me were completely altered by the mountain. Looking down 10,000 feet to the valley floor through the ever-changing layers of clouds rearranged my equilibrium so that I lost all sense of the world below. The mountain became everything. In the river the next day, the power of even the smallest fish overwhelmed me. There was so much energy, force and vitality to the river that when it eventually knocked me over, I didn't even try to regain my footing. I just wanted to float. The river keeps flowing with such determination and strength that I felt powerless in a way that had not experienced before. I wasn't trying to fight back and yet, I was also not giving in. There's a dynamic tension that exists between nature and us, and the McCloud helped me see it anew. I also saw how much nature we could pack into just a few days. Now I have even less of an excuse to be indoors. It was so great to be able to do this trip with Markus. Thank you for looking out for me. As we drove back through Redding, California, a forest fire was starting to rage out of control. Our thoughts are with all those who are currently battling the hundreds of fires across the globe from Greece to Sweden to Yosemite. Please like our show on the Apple Podship Earth page. Thank you so much for being part of the Podship Earth journey. From the entire Podship Earth crew, sound engineer Rob Speight, producer Nancy Ferranti, executive producer David Kahn, and me, Jared Blumenfeld, have a great week.