The Open Road IV

Chapter Four


During the W-EMT course, we had particularly few moments of free time. We always seemed to be studying, or taking open book quizzes and tests, or in the local hospitals for clinical rotations, or out in the field doing scenarios during those hours in which we weren’t in the classroom. This chapter will chronicle several of those adventures that I went on with a few of my classmates. It starts on Saturday, the Fourth of July, 2015, after our first full week of class.

We were all itching to get out and explore this northern part of California, seeing as how most of us weren’t from there. We had guys and gals from Alaska, Maryland, Washington, North Carolina, Chile…all over. So this first weekend we set aside time for study breaks and around mid-afternoon that Saturday, I went with classmates Max Schoenlein, Joe McInerney, and Nash Rahill to check out the nearby Castle Crags State Park. We drove down south on I-5 towards the park exit and were a bit disappointed with the hefty $8 entrance fee that we somehow came up with. Regardless, we parked and started hiking through the piney, dusty woods towards the distant crags we had glimpsed briefly from the highway. YDXJ2032-2

After about a mile of gradual uphill walking, we emerged into an open bend that finally brought the crags into view. We stopped for a brief water break and looked at the crags, jutting into the sky another mile away like some sort of rugged, rocky fortress to which we were preparing to lay siege.


Soon we arrived at a a spot where we could scramble up off the path and up into a rocky chute. Emerging from the chute, we were rewarded with views of the distant Trinity Alps in the background and a jagged spine nearby.


YDXJ2055-2The ruggedness and precariously positioned rocky fingers that look like they are about to fall, if the earth were to tremor, brought to mind similar places – like those rock formations seen in Huangshan, China

We clambered around on the boulders and easy-to-climb spires and nervously laughed at how close we were to the sketchy exposure only mere inches away. Far below us in the green pines to our southwest, we could make out the red-orange colour of flame retardant dumped by a tanker onto some long past spot fire.


After a few hours, we called it a day and downclimbed whatever section we were on before hiking back to the dry, dusty trail that would lead us back to the parking lot.


We came across a father and his daughter who were a bit lost and, although I was positive we were heading the right direction (it’s a single path!), I was outvoted and our team of four was led astray by this lost family. I decided to keep heading on down the path toward where I knew the parking lot was, and so I did while the others turned around and looked with the lost family for the phantom trail that had somehow been missed. After I reached the parking lot, I tossed my daypack into my car and then jogged back to find the rest of the crew. Finding them, we all returned (with the dad and his daughter) to the parking lot. Then it was back to the studygrind for us. The following day, I drove the hour down to Redding with some of my classmates to go to Bethel for church, and it was a packed service! We ended up sitting in the overflow room after worship, which turned out well because two of us had to go to Yreka for clinicals at the hospital there and had to leave early.


Sunday, July 12th

After clinicals on Saturday (the 11th) in Redding, followed by hanging out at Whiskeytown Lake that evening with my roommate and clinical partner, Kevin Collins, and a friend from college, Gabi Jackson, Kevin and I stayed the night in Redding for church the following morning at Bethel (thanks to Katie coming in clutch and letting us stay at her place when she was out of town that weekend). After church, Kevin and I drove back to up Weed and worked on homework. Finally, with studies done for the day, I went with Maxwell Kincaid and Konstantin Gayle over to Middle McCloud Falls to help Maxwell put up a first ascent of the wall.

We clambered down the trail toward the falls lugging our rope and climbing gear. Soon we had descended to the creek and carefully sloshed (or rock-hopped) over to the trail on the distant side.




The trail led up to the top of the wall, but first we wanted to get a good idea of what we were going to try to climb. So we left our packs on the trail and looked for some good lines. The rock seemed a bit loose, probably loosened by years of moisture from the waterfall percolating into its cracks and wiggling it away from the main body. While the more experienced guys, Maxwell and Konstantin, looked for routes, I sat back and enjoyed this oasis of green nestled below the pines and dry brown grass above.



We hiked up to the top of the wall and looked around for a sturdy anchor. We found two strong, lively trees so we set up an anchor on one, backed it up with the other, and proceeded to rappel down to clean the rock.


We went one after the other, with Maxwell first, then me, and lastly Konstantin. As Maxwell went down, I noticed a basketball-sized rock that was half-buried in the loose soil near the edge of the wall. Every time Maxwell stopped to clean the rock face, the rope would seem to swing into the basketball-sized rock and jostle it a bit, slowing freeing it and preparing it for a quick descent onto Maxwell’s unprotected head. We yelled at him to wait but with the roar of two waterfalls rushing down into the pools below, we couldn’t tell if he replied or even heard us. So Konstantin and I quickly crawled over and got the rock stabilized until Maxwell was well clear of the area below. Then we yelled, “ROCK!” and pitched it over the edge.



After we had all gone down, Maxwell rappelled down again to clean the spots we missed. As he cleaned and scraped moss, bird poop, dirt, and loose rocks from the line, I crouched back on the path and shot some photos. 

Probably one of my favorite photos of all time is this one (below) as Maxwell rappelled down next to the falls.



Once he came down, we grabbed a couple of selfies with our cellphones, GoPros, and my Xiaomi Yi camera.


While Maxwell prepared to climb up and attempt the first ascent of the wall at Middle McCloud Falls, I headed down to the lower pool to check it out. Along the way, I snapped a few photos of the creek that flowed over the wet granite edge of the falls and bubbled lullingly on behind our anchor trees in the cool midsummer evening heat in its everlasting attempt to make the pools below overflow.




As darkness started to creep in and the waters of the pool (that I was now swimming around in) got colder, we decided to head back to campus. Maxwell didn’t manage to put up a first ascent of this wall (yet!) but one day I’m sure he will – he’s put up others in the past.

Friday, July 17th

After class was over on the 17th, Stuart Weymouth, Andrew Weil, and I decided to check out a place called Pluto’s Cave that one of the dorm directors at College of the Siskiyous had told us about. She, being Mama Ty, had written about it on a large whiteboard in the main lobby of our dormitory; the same whiteboard that our classmates doodled on during study hours…and by the time we graduated from the course, the doodle of Mt. Shasta had turned into a priapism complicated by an avulsion. With not a lot of beta to go off of from the internet, we headed out with the few remaining hours left of the day’s long, summer sunlight. We drove around on the backroads northeast of Weed, California, and eventually found the dirt road that led to the empty dirt parking lot.


Mt. Shasta loomed large in the distance, much larger than my wide-angle camera could capture.

The smell of fresh sage and wilderness hit us as we walked along the dusky trails. Gone were the pine forests and waterfalls and in their stead was this rugged sageland right out of a Frederic Remington painting.



We tramped down the path, slightly unsure of where exactly we were heading when the ground opened and swallowed us whole.


We had arrived at the first of several lava tubes (correction: it was one large lava tube that had crumbled and had sections of its ceiling collapsed many years ago) and we eagerly explored the first section. Layers of bat guano and dust shifted across the ground in breezy whirls, awoken from their sleep by our footsteps disturbing the still air.


We headed out of the first section (that had a recently-used fire pit even though there was a fire ban in the area…) and made our way up the lava rock trail until we came to the first natural bridge, an unsunken part of that lava tube).


Here we paused for a bit and explored a nearby nook, while I wondered why I hadn’t brought any N95 masks.


Then, with daylight hours burning away, we made haste to the large opening in the rocks, where dragons probably resided.



As we entered the mouth of the cavernous tube, I dug through my first aid kit and improvised a dust mask out of gauze and 1″ athletic tape (hey, histoplasmosis is a real deal, and I didn’t want to get sick – I still ended up getting the dust in my eyes though and had to live without contacts for a week).


Layers upon layers of dried bat guano (or was it just dust?) stirred up in the air as we clambered around the rocks leading deeper into the cave. The light on our backs gradually diminished until it was just a pinprick, with motes of dust (or was it dried guano?) captured in its rays.

Soon we came upon another sunken part of the ceiling, only this one was much smaller than the outside ones. It was tough to say how recent it looked, but it looked much more recent than the others. On the wall nearby were the wizened old scrawls of tribesmen and explorers from 1917 who had etched their named as some sort of pact.



We explored as far as we could go before the lava tube became so narrow that we were forced to go on our bellies for a few yards. After I attempted this and kept wiggling around further and further, hoping to pop out into some massive cathedral room with an underground lake, and lost voice contact with Andy and Stu, we decided to call it a day and head back. Along the way, our flashlights bounced off a beam of eyes above us on a pile of rocks where the tube sloped upward. We froze, thinking it was a cougar, and then proceeded to yell at it. The eyes chillingly disappeared and nothing more was to be seen, so we armed ourselves with hefty rocks and got our knives out. We slowly crept forward, ready to smash the skull of the cougar if it came at us. Yet, upon reaching the top of the small pile of rocks where the eyes had been seen, we couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary ahead of us (or behind, above, or to the sides of us). Then one of us said, “Wait, what’s that?”

We peered forward, shining our lights on a den made by several large rocks. There WAS something in there.  We yelled at it and then I chucked my grapefruit-sized rock into the den.

Nothing stirred. So as I re-armed myself, the other two hurled their rocks into the den. Still nothing. We all re-armed and slowly walked towards a better overwatch position. Then one of us said, “That’s a LEG!”

Sure enough, still in its blue denim was a leg. Thoughts rushed through our heads. Was there a half-eaten man inside? Dragged in by a ferocious mountain lion? Was he bleeding out? How would we stabilize him and evacuate him? Was it even a him?

Then one of us had the bright idea to yell, “Hey, we see you! Get out of there!”

And not one, but two crackheads slithered out of the den laughing at us. Some unkind words were exchanged and then, equipped with their high tech iPhone light and penlight, the couple climbed past us and headed deeper into the cave to do their dirty deeds.

We rushed out of the cave, just in time to make use of the dwindling light and wondered who and what those people were. Perhaps they were Lumerians on their way home via some secret lava tube route. We walked by their car in the parking lot and noticed that it had zero intact windows. Sketchiness was occurring in this rugged sageland.


We snapped some photos of the dying light and then drove the forty-five minutes back to Weed, California. The rest of that weekend was spent in clinicals up in Yreka and studying for the final tests to be certified as a Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician.


Thursday, July 23rd

After passing our practicals and tests, most of the class celebrated by hanging out at the local microbrewery in Weed. Andy Weil, Alec Walter, Matthew Wen, and I celebrated by going up to Castle Lake and freezing our bodies in the wind-chilled lake water. We drove off hoping to have a great view of Mt. Shasta at sunset or an awesome sunset over the lake, but unfortunately didn’t see either from the lake bed. Instead, we were met by a cold evening wind howling through the gnarled rocky slopes and across our bare skin.


Since I was moving back home to Washington after this, I had my wetsuit and snorkel gear in my car and quickly struggled to get into them. Unfortunately, my pals didn’t and so they froze a bit more than I did. We swam out to the middle of the lake and inspected a large buoyant boxy object that seemed to be sampling the water quality.



Then as the evening temps dipped lower, we all agreed to get back to shore before succumbing to the “umbles” and hypothermia (but if one of us did, we knew what to do!).


We staggered to shore, wincing on the sharp rocks that lined the banks and hobbled back to my car. A miniature camp towel is horrible at trying to dry four sopping wet guys, but we made it work.


I turned the heater full blast and we started the drive back down to civilization. In the distance, we got our view of Mt. Shasta basked in evening-glow on its volcanic summit.


We pulled over at Lake Siskiyou and watched the sun finally sink completely behind the hills as the moon and stars began to shine evermore brightly.

My time in Weed had come to a close, but in that short four weeks I had made some solid friends and adventure pals who were now also W-EMTs. This chapter has come to a close as well, but adventure still awaited because I would soon be on the slopes of Mt. Shasta the following day with Maxwell Kincaid.

Continue to Chapter V.


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