Our Journey to Russia was about to begin and I think we met our first challenge pretty soon... packing!
Later on once we miraculously fit all our gear into the bags we arrived at Heathrow airport ready for our flight to Moscow and later a connecting flight to Mineralnye Vody where we would meet our guide Katia. The flights were long and draining and on finding out the van that would take us to the hostel was parked a country mile away and the journey itself would take a painstaking 4 hours, we prayed the day could only get better...
The journey was one I had never experienced before. lets just say driving in Russia is more like completing an obstacle race as fast as possible, trying not to hit other cars, or worse cows. Although worrying, it gave the group a joke to laugh about and everyone seemed to be well acquainted by the time we arrived.
The hostel was interesting, to say the least.
Once we settled into the hostel near Terskol we got a chance to explore the neighboring mountains and used our few days before the climb wisely by doing some acclimatization treks. Well that went for some of us..
The border between Russia and Georgia was situated only a few kilometers away from us and with young military men marching up and down the mountain with large backpacks and expressionless faces the ambience suddenly became quite sinister. We reached around 3000m where we took a break at a nicely situated café overlooking a ski lift which looked incredibly comfortable at this point in time and watched the men indulging in their famous blueberry pies, (another thing which looked very nice at this point in time) We resisted all temptations and trudged on to the summit of this small mountain.
On reaching the top we collectively decided that we deserved to take the ski lift down at a hefty (tourist) price of 3,000 Ruble (40 quid). This price didn't come as a surprise seeing as this wasn't a prime tourist destination, so any tourists that did happen to feel lazy would get a hefty penalty, however the only American (obviously no emphasis on nationality intended) in the group approached and exclaimed.. "this isn't free!!?"
The rest of the two preparation days where spent travelling to the base of Elbrus on the not so safe mini bus.
The first day on Elbrus' base camp had arrived and well.. It was very uncomfortable. The building or more appropriately the wooden hut we were staying in accommodated around 20 people and all 20 of those possible people were there. Our room was on the second floor of the building but the biggest challenge was climbing the ladder to get there. As we had travelled to around 4000m in less than 30 minutes we had no time to acclimatize and every small task meant I was almost left breathless, the ladder meant I was almost having a heart attack... Well not that extreme but you get my point.
The first night was not nice. The toilet (voted worlds worst outhouse btw) was a whole different experience and was not one I got used to during the trip, in fact as the days went on the toilets got considerably worse and so did my stomach from resisting the need to endure this disgusting "task".
Well, here it was, the last night before our 2am ascent to the summit of Mt Elbrus. I was excited, tired, ill, and I needed to remove the extra 3kg in my stomach - to the hole I went. I got wrapped up with 3 layers on trousers, 4 layers on top, a balaclava and high altitude mitts - later realizing I couldn't put on my crampons as I couldn't move...
The group decided in a not so joint decision to take the snow-cat which would take us up to 4500m, which we had climbed the previous day anyway. This eerie 10 minutes in the pitch black travelling to this point soon ended and we were now alone, a group of 9, about to climb Elbrus.
The climb itself was slow yet steady. The first 500m was a long sludge up a small slope which led to the abandoned snow vehicle which unsuccessfully attempted to drive to the summit. This was then followed by the Pastukhova Rocks, which led to the saddle at 5416m. The saddle was the flat area between the two summits which made up Mt Elbrus. In order to reach the higher summit we had to pass through the saddle which was also renowned for its covered crevasses. Here we had a short break which I managed to use unproductively by walking far enough from the group so I could go to the toilet and waste 10 minutes. The next part of the climb was the hardest and most dangerous and involved a very steep slope with fixed ropes that would get us very high very quickly. This was not fun.
Once we reached the top, the summit was only a few meters higher and before we knew it we were standing on the summit, with an overriding joy... waiting for one of our group members to take a bloody selfie!... this was not okay. The ascent took us around 9 hours in total meaning it was a race against the clock to go down the mountain and pack our stuff so we could make the last ski lift down to our hotel back in Terskol.
The way down seemed almost a blur, but I do remember crying with what I guess was joy and pride in what I had just achieved. I also wanted to get these boots off my feet. We flew down the mountain in about 4 hours and I had never been so happy to see a shelter. But there was no time to waste! I had never in my life seen people pack up their bags so quickly to get off Mt Elbrus...