We woke in complete darkness for our attempt on Mt. Shasta from the Helen Lake base camp on the mountain’s southwest side. Under the feeble glow of my head lantern, I opened the sleeping bag compartment of my backpack to store my rain gear—and a mouse hopped out. It was somehow surviving at over 10,000 feet—far above timberline —presumably living on the scraps of food climbers dropped in the snow.
Once we returned from the summit later that morning and were relaxing in our tents, I overheard other climbers talking about the mouse: finding it in their tents, their backpacks, their clothes. “Keep your eyes open when you’re packing up tomorrow,” I told the boys. Sadly for the mouse, I didn’t listen to my own advice.
We left at 8:30 the next morning, hiked back down to Bunny Flats, stopped for a celebratory lunch in the town of Mt. Shasta, then drove four hours south to Ukiah where we got a cheap hotel for the night in preparation for a day of wine tasting in the Russian River valley the next day. By the time I opened my backpack to air out my stinky mountaineering duds, it was 6:30 in the evening.
And the first thing that happened when I opened the sleeping bag compartment?
That’s right: a mouse popped out and began frantically darting around the motel room looking for escape.
I tried to corral it unsuccessfully. My climbing companions heard the ruckus and joined me in the effort. We were being rather loud (mostly laughing pretty hard) so naturally the motel owner was drawn to the scene—just when we managed to get it out of the room.
“What’s happening?” he asked.
“There was a mouse in the room,” I replied, feeling rather guilty as I was not about to admit that I had stored the mouse in my backpack and carried it down from 10,000 feet on Mt. Shasta! I could see the dollar signs spin backward in his eyes as he envisioned having to refund our money.
In the meantime, the mouse found refuge under a motorcycle in the parking lot. We were quite willing to let it stay there but the owner was determined to take care of the problem so he shortly reappeared with a broom—and the last we saw of the poor mouse was the owner shooing it out of the parking lot. After surviving in the alpine environment, my guess is that a local cat quickly ended its life that night. You know the story: County Mouse in the City.