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As It Was: Mount Shasta Climbers Descend by the Seat of Their Pants

A previous episode of As It Was described how an assistant surveyor had narrowly dodged a giant falling boulder while climbing a steep snowfield on the slopes of Mount Shasta.

The climber, B.A. Colonna, spent nine days in 1878 installing equipment and taking measurements from the 14,190-foot summit.

At the end of his assignment, he and a companion started down the mountain to where a snowfield, in Colonna’s words, “stretched out before us, beautifully white and even” for about two miles while dropping 3,000 feet in elevation.  They shoved 600 pounds of tightly bundled supply packages onto the snow and watched them slide down the mountain and out of sight.  The climbers descended a mile on foot, sat down on burlap bags and slid down the snowfield, using iron-spiked climbing poles as rudders.

“We were off like a shot. I have had many pleasant rides, but for rapidity and ease of motion this beat them all.” Colonna said. “This delightful ride terminated just where the packages (had also) stopped rolling.”

He added that while sliding down the mountain, “I had lost not only the gunny sack, but the seat of my trousers.”

Source: Colonna, Benjamin A. "Nine Days on the Summit of Mt. Shasta." NOAA History: A Science Odyssey, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Central Library, 8 June 2006, www.history.noaa.gov/stories_tales/shasta.html. Accessed 21 August 2017.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.