Summit Day

Summit Day

Summit route from base camp.

Elbrus route. My last post was how wonderful I was feeling when I got up at 5:30 a.m. and chopped Ice from our steps in my underwear and flip-flops so no one would fall. Eugene from Portugal got a picture of it that I don’t think it will make the blog. Speaking of Eugene, thirty minutes after I sent the last update 10 p.m., just five hours before our summit attempt, he throws up. It is bad enough that he is sick and even worse he is in the bunk above me. My summit gear is laid out for a quick change at 1 a.m. He and his friends are all sick. They made the 5000 meter climb today and will make a summit attempt tomorrow night. Ferahad (Fred), is the first to get out of bed to help his friend. He is not ill and he has to go slow, but is doing well with the altitude. Goretex really does repel everything.

The group that will be making the attempt in a few hours is feeling well and I am looking forward to our last night sleeping in a oil tank. I get up and start getting dressed – which at altitude is a chore. Heidi, Christian, Illian, and myself get our cold gear on and go to the kitchen for tea and porridge. I explain to Lisa that we had no sleep, and not using the SnowCat to get us there isn’t a good Idea. She said if we would pay extra 1000 Euros she would rent one. She has two snowmobiles that can get to Pastukhov Rocks at 4700 meters. It will take us an extra two hours making our way up the 1000 ft. to the SnowCat drop on foot. A trip that is steep with a 50 mph wind. The team chooses not to spend the money. We get separated on our way up so the snowmobiles stop and take us up one at a time. Christian and myself start up. My pack and poles are on the snowmobile that was to take us to 4700 Pastukhov Rocks, so all I have is an ice ax, which slows me down. It is dark and I am on the busy part of the mountain. SnowCats and snowmobiles are hauling ass almost out of control up and down the mountain. You have to dodge them. They are worse than the mules in Aconcagua.

I end up with a guide, Sultan. who I have never met before or climbed with. Lisa and Amjahd are in the other group with Christian, Illian, and Heidi. Christian is carrying his skis and boots and plans to ski from the summit. Lisa said her or her guides couldn’t carry either of these items because they were too heavy. I saw him ski from the Snowcat pad at 5000 meters yesterday. He is a former ski racer, and is very good and fit for 51. He said he would carry them, so he packed the load.

5 a.m. I make it to the SnowCat pad very winded and very cold. I’m not feeling great, pissed that I was not able to take a nice ride in a heated cab, and worried that the last two hours have taken too much out of my legs to make it to the top. I start up with just me and Sultan losing the others, glad to be off the busy trail dodging SnowCat and snowmobiles. I look behind me and see the sun lighting up the mountaintops to the east. Thought about trying to get a camera but I’m too cold to remove mittens and a long way in front of me. I hope someone gets a picture because the view is amazing.

We have about 1000 meters, or 3000 ft., to get to the summit. Our trip consists of three parts: climb from the rocks, up the east mountain very steep, and then traverse along the east mountain. Second part we drop into the saddle between the two mountains, losing some of the altitude you gained on the traverse that you will climb on the way out. Then the final summit push up the west mountain. This is very steep, and you use your harness and climb belayed with fix ropes until the ridge and then a gentle up hill to a small bump on the top with a blue flag. Not too dangerous – if you fall you just slide back to the valley.

The route is now marked with red stakes every 100 ft. all the way to the summit. The wind is blowing snow so hard that I can’t see the next pole. I follow Sultan, stepping in his tracks. The wind covers his tracks quickly so I stay close.

The sun is coming up behind me and I look back thinking that I would love to get a photo, but don’t want to stop and afraid to take off my Arctic mitts.

Lisa warned us you will feel bad when you drop into the saddle. You finally get to go downhill and there is less wind, but your heart rate drops. I actually did feel bad. I started up the west slope and I felt better. We stopped halfway up the fixed ropes, and I dropped my pack in a patch of rocks. I knew the summit was getting close.

We climb to the ridge of the west mountain, and can see the peak about 400 yards away. A big blue flag stands on the top. It is bright and sunny. I walk to the flag, tearing up. We take a few pictures. Now that I look at them, I should have taken off my hood and mask. Sultan walked around the small mound, away from the group that was on top. I followed and found him saying his daily prayers. I join him, thanking God he got me here, then we start down.

I meet the rest of the group just above the fixed lines. I thought they were ahead of me. I find out they took a different route. No one told me about a short cut! They look good, and as I continue to descend I see Christian skiing down the mountain.

Like all climbing, most people die on the way down. Elbrus is the most deadly mountain in the world, leading Everest in deaths many years. This year 11 have died. Most are underprepared, and the weather can change instantly making it easy to go down the wrong path. We took the normal route. If you go straight down the mountain, there are snow-covered crevasses that will eat you. Afternoon storms also bring lightning. Last year, a climber got struck on the summit while celebrating with his ice ax in hand.

The group catches up, dropping down to where we left the snowmobiles. It is about noon, and I am very tired. I was first up and last down. I’m actually glad to finally be in the oil tank. I pack and hurry to go to the ski lifts that close at 4 p.m. Haven’t had much sleep in two nights and want to sleep in a hotel room with a bathroom and shower. Monique and Eugene join me down. The altitude sickness ended their attempt. Tony and Fred will stay one more night, and later make the summit. We make the last lift down and are eating kabobs at the bottom of the slopes by 6 p.m. Making first summit window will get me home two days earlier.

Carrying my 50lbs of gear I caught the last lift down at the base of the mountain looking back at the twin peaks. Two more gondolas and I am at the hotel.

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