Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Elbrus

 Dear Mountain,
I want to offer my deepest gratitude for allowing me to crawl on your magnificence.
Yours truly,
Humble humanoid ant
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When I was first writing my Bucket list back in 2011 I thought I add climbing a mountain or two because it seemed fun.  I have no previous mountain climbing experience and my trekking expeditions are in numbers less then the fingers of one hand.
Now that I think about it, I remember them vividly. One, when oblivious to my aversion to physical exercise self at the time age 18, a boyfriend-wanna-be took me to a day long hike in the Balkans. Wrong shoes, wrong expectations and awful big amount of mosquitos prevented me to take full enjoyment in that adventure. Second one, age 24, South of France, with bf at the time, flat terrain, 6 hours total but at 40 C and we started at 11 am! Arguments ensued. And my shoes were wrong again. Third, age 34, Norway, running shoes, 2 hours up and down to the Pulpit Rock, I practically ran the whole thing, great experience.
So, modest experience, pretty much close to none.

And we are talking the Seven Summits here.
But I signed up for Elbrus, so I had to do it.
Much to my joy and even relief, hubs decided to tag along.
June 22, 2013, we arrive at Mineralnye Vody tiny airport, greeted by our Russian mountain guide, age 22, 48 kg girl. I was more expecting a 50-60 y old, big Mountain Bear instead, but Dasha proved to be solid. 2 more guys in the group, both with lots of experience. Here again as in most sports I am picking up lately, ladies are far less in numbers than guys. In our tour, 2 groups, 9 people total I was the only female.
Day one, we arrive in Cheget village in The Caucasus and check in a hotel where we would be staying for 3 nights. Decent enough, hot water in abundance, great local food, pleasant staff, no wifi but 2 min away wifi possible in any of the restaurants on the square. Amazing views.
view from the hotel on arrival

Cheget village

Day 2, early rise, first acclimatization hike to Cheget itself. Fairly easy yet my shoes were not completely broken in hence the blisters. Besides I had too many cloths, lesson learned.
Day 3, Treskol, a bit higher and a bit longer. Beautiful view of Elbus from there. So far so good, the 4-5 hour sessions seemed to be going all right. All 4 in our group seemed to be in pretty much the same decent shape. We briefly met the other group, 5 Brazilian water Polo guys age range from 19 to 50 y old, seemed ok.
Day 4, off to the Barrels. Last lift didn't work so we were packed in a pre-historical car which I thought would never make it all the way up. It turned out it didn't so we carried all our gear and food for 3 days up. Another acclimatization hike to 4200 m. You could feel it was different by the fact that it's much more difficult to breath than down in the valley. Besides the snow makes every movement much slower and harder. It was windy and cold and one could only see Elbrus for a second or two before another cloud came. I started to feel slightly nervous about the whole thing.
The barrels

The accommodation in the Barrels was ok. I don't understand why people complain, you are up in the mountain, what do you expect. At least you don't have to put up a tent. Someone said they saw a mouse, I didn't see any.
Toilette was shit. Apparently voted the world nastiest outhouse by some American magazine. Not going to the describe it, it's just shit, especially if you have to go during the night as I do and it's -20 C. We had food cooked for us, really good. We got a bit too many soups for everyone's likeing, but then again, that's probably the best thing you can eat up there. I did not feel too hungry for some reason. I think I slimed down a size over the whole trip.
Day 5, Serious business. Pastukhov Rocks acclimatization climb. More like acclimatization crawl for my part. The altitude really took it's tall towards the end. I felt like a heavy smoker climbing Burj Khalifa with a 20 kg weights in each ankle. It felt so great to seat down at the top and enjoy this view:
View from Pastukhov Rocks, Elbrus
I am not sure where exactly, but during that climb the entire group burned terribly and my case was the worse.

Day 6 After a night in the barrel with Slovak roommates who set off at 2 am to summit, I woke up only to discover my face swollen in almost allergic reaction to the sun-burnt. I was literarly scared when I saw myself in the mirror. But my lips... that was the real shocker. They were pretty much double the size  and ready to burst in sores. The doc in the camp said I had a second degree lip-burn, only thing to do is moisturize and let it heal with no sun exposure. Which meant to wear a face mask pretty much all the time. That will not be funny as it seemed that we will have a very sunny weather on ascend day. It crossed my mind to go down and give up... But I didn't.
Hubs had continuous headache, shortness of breath and overall weakness already since arrival in the Barrels although he made it in flying colors to the Pastukhov Rocks. But he decided to go down. So I was on my own with the guys and Dasha. It did cross my mind again to give up and join him. But I didn't. We had a relaxed rest day. Did some yoga with our Brazilian friends, chatted a bit, early dinner and I was asleep at 9.30 pm since wake up time was set at 2 am.
Day 7. Ascend day.
Actually more like Ascend Night. The big Party.
My gear was ready the night before, neatly set on one of the empty beds. I had the whole barrel for myself, real luxury ;) Btw, luxury and the Barrels can't really coexist in the same sentence but who goes to climb mountains to look for luxury.
I slept at least 4 solid hours so I felt pretty good. Headed on to breakfast, all happy with my eggs. I was ready to go. Of course I was scared. Pitch dark outside and really cold, everyone using their headlamps to tie up crampons strap ice axes and poles.
Our group shrank even more. The British guy gave up with some altitude and alaregy problems and so the final count consisted it the German guy, and Dasha and I plus all the Brazilians and their two guides.
We all crammed up in the snow cad and set off for the Rocks. 30 min later out in the cold, I shivering-ly was collecting my gear. It was dark, extremely cold and the path look horribly steep. Especially for my grossly uncomfortable rented plastic boots which were at least 2 kg each. The snow was absolutely frozen. There was only one positive side, since it was dark you could not see crevasses.
Is this is actually positive? ;)
We started slowly with Dasha and I and the German ahead of the other group. We were overall faster for some reason, so the distance between us slowly increased. The route goes on the side of the west peak which, after the initial steep incline, is relatively flat traverse. We walked without talking or breaking for about 2 hours. I was thinking about summer in cyprus to try distance myself mentaly from the fact that my right arm started loosing sensitivity from the cold. Eventually the sun appeared, most startling sunrise I have ever seen.
Sunrise view from the saddle, on the way to Elbrus West Peak

We reached the saddle and stopped for a break. I swallowed an energy gel with some hot water. My nutrition for teh whole ascend and descend included half small a chocolate bar, two energy gels, 500 ml of tea and handfull of M&Ms. Felt just right, not too much not too little.
In front of us there was only one more group, so we hurried up for the final, a real steep ice axe friendly part. It was probably 70 degrees and you could now see that if you start rolling down it will take a while more someone to find you, or what's left of you anyway. I just didn't look down much. You just follow the path I guessed. It took us a good hour and a bit to climb, but we were ahead of the other groups and finally saw the summit. A beautiful sunny clear day
Above the clouds and it all looked magnificent.
It took a while for me to realize I have done it.
I climbed the highest point in Europe.
It was a calm peaceful feeling, a silent victory.
Mt Elbrus Peak 5642 m




View from the top

Then it was time to get back. From my little experience so far, that is the hardest part. You use your adrenalin and motivation for the ascend but that runs out after you reach your goal. After that it's all discipline and optimizing whatever energy is left. Going down can be extremely painful on the knees, calves, ankles. And in my case I was pretty much walking with torture devises of a boots.
It took me a total 3,5 hours to get down. The German guy hurried up and was back in less than 3 hours I believe. Overall we summited and came back in 7,5 hours, which was by far the fastest of our guide's 20 summits to date. I was very proud, especially since it was my first time. I think what helped us a lot was the perfect weather conditions, fact that we were in a good shape and we did not take long breaks.
We came back early enough so we decided to go down to the hotel instead of spending one more night in the Barrels. Reunited with hubby it was time to enjoy a nice glass of red, or two and eat a lot of food.  A lot of food. A lot.. :) Fun night.
Day 7, we went for another 4 hour post-summit trek.
And that was it, back to Mineralyie Vody and Back to Moscow, to civilzation... Actually I am entirely sure about the later. I felt that the mountain life was somewhat better than what we know, more real, grand, honest.
Up on teh mountain I though I would never climb again. When were down first thing I googled was Damavand climb, and Kili and I don't know what. I am already thinking about next climb

happy, terribly sun-burned 

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