Greetings from Mt. Shasta--just coming to the end of Day 2 of the retreat, having completed all of the adventures I talked about last week—The Sweat Lodge, Squaw Creek and the Chute, and a very chilly swim at McCloud Falls. It’s a great group—seemingly willing to follow me anywhere. Yesterday I convinced them, after yoga class and a sweat lodge, to hike a long distance into the woods, then sit on pointy rocks in the hot sun or scramble down some steep rocks to dive into the creek and “Run the Chute”—a brief, but chilling experience that proves to be quite refreshing. Today I encouraged everyone to brave the icy waters of the McCloud River—a swim of about 50 feet in water that is around 50 degrees. Amazingly, the first one in the water this year was Holly Gastil—a notorious non-lover of cold water. I jumped in next and swam over to my usual rock, where I tested my powers of attraction. Sure enough, within minutes the population density on the rock rivaled Mumbai. One of my new friends on the rock, Anthony, is bald, so I recommended that he use a leaf from the Elephant Ear plant as a hat. As he wore the leaf it slowly began to conform to the shape of Anthony’s skull until he looked like a Keebler Elf. When he dove into the water to swim back to the other side the leaf somehow managed to stay on his head—talk about a power of attraction!
Tomorrow I will try to convince the group to leave the pristine beauty of Castle Lake—an archetypal mountain lake with crystal clear waters that the warm summer days have heated to about 70 degrees—to hike up a steep and rocky trail to a small, brackish pond that is affectionately known as Heart Lake. It is, indeed, heart shaped, but hardly large enough to be called a lake. There is considerable algae growth the gives it a brownish color, but the water is quite clean and almost as warm as Castle Lake. Our favorite hangout is the rock that is responsible for the heart shape. A short swim across takes you to a rock that offers one of the best views of Mt. Shasta you can find. Another half a mile up there is a spectacular lookout spot, directly above Castle Lake.
Thursday is a free day with no scheduled outing for the group. I usually take advantage of this day to go out to Big Bend Hot Springs—whose location is a carefully guarded secret. (I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.) These are some world-class natural hot springs in some beautiful woods along a river. For those of us who are fortunate enough to know where it is, it is one of our favorite places on the planet. It’s always just what these old bones need after all the hiking. To top it off, that evening I get my annual massage from my dear friend, Leigha Nicole, a very gifted masseuse and yoga teacher who is assisting me this week.
On Friday we’ll do our longest hike of the week to Deadfall Lake—six miles roundtrip on the high trail and five on the low—but steep—trail. It’s another spectacular alpine lake, with an abundance of many varieties of wildflowers. I always pick enough to make a bouquet to give to my wife as a kind of peace offering, because by now she’s starting to get a little resentful of the fact that I’m spending all of my time with the group at the expense of not spending much time with her. Usually I get the-- “Nice try, but you’re still in the doghouse”--look.
The final hike is Mt. Shasta on Saturday—to the very center of the vortex in Squaw Meadows—a magical fairyland of springs, creeks, meadows and trees. Here we convene in the Temple of the Trees to consult the Oracle and plumb the depths of the Collective Unconscious. Afterwards, we offer tobacco to the Great Spirit—a Native American tradition—and spend some time in prayer and meditation. It’s a powerful experience and a fitting culmination of the week—rivaled only by the “Circle of Tears” on Sunday morning.