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Climbing Elbrus (5,642m), Russia – Second Rest Day

Second Rest Day

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Again, another uneventful day other than the ice axe practice. We got up late and had breakfast. The weather was unusually misty and cold at Barrel’s Hut. However, Elbrus was clear and visible which got us wondering if we should have gone up.

After breakfast, we put on our double boots and crampons and took our ice axe. Dasha led us to a nice spot on the Garabashi glacier where there was sufficient snow and ice to practice ice axe usage and self-arrest.

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We all took turns falling and arresting ourselves on the glacier. There were a couple of other people who were doing the same thing. It was fun overall, but we wondered if we would have the presence of mind to execute the self-arrest if it did really happen in reality on the mountain. It requires a lot of concentration and placement of the ice axe to execute a good self-arrest.

After about an hour, we returned to the Barrel’s Hut and the rest of the day went by lazing around. We were mostly indoors in the hut as the weather outside deteriorated even further and became really chilly.

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Lunch was pretty standard with the usual food. Dasha collect the funds for the snow cat for the next day. The fees was 1,000 euro for travel up to 5,100m. It would be 500 euro if we were to travel till the Pashtukov Rocks only. That is some serious money that the snow cat makes for difference of just 300m. Anyway, considering our stamina and not knowing how we were going to perform at higher altitude, our best bet was to get the snow cat to drop us off as high as possible.

By dinner time, around 7pm, we had a quick dinner. I did not eat much as i did not want to have any issues regarding toilets early in the morning. Since we were to wake up at 1.30am, and there will be no electricity, we had to sort out all the gears so that we could get ready with our lead lamps.

I wore two base layers and prepared my climbing bag. It contains a spare set of gloves, ice axe, trekking poles, first aid kit, water flask, some sweets and snacks for the trip up the mountain. The rest of the items that i needed to wear were the head scarf, beanies, down jacket, outer shell, mittens, gaiters, double boots, crampons and head lamps. I changed the batteries of the head lamp just to make sure that they were fully charged. I also had a spare set in my bag. All arranged and set in order so that i do not need to think the next morning when getting ready.

With everything ready, we went off to sleep. Luckily, i had a sound sleep that night, which was quite surprising as the night before the climb i do not normally get any sleep at all. The mood was of excitement as well as uneasiness. We all looked forward to getting this thing over with while at the same time not knowing what to expect.

We had watched a lot of videos online of the summit, but most of them were taken on the easier sections of the climb. What we were going to experience the next day will be something that we will always remember.

Climbing Elbrus (5,642m), Russia – Rest Day

Rest Day

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Today was quite a lazy day. We got up and had breakfast. The weather was very good and we heard that during the night, some people left for the summit. It was their normal plan.We checked the weather forecast again and consulted several websites. All of them still indicated that Sunday was the best day to climb. So, during lunch, we decided that we will run the risk and postpone our summit attempt to Sunday. This leaves us tomorrow to rest as well.

Dasha told us that she will teach and practice some ice axe handling and self-arrest in the event that we slip and fall in the snow. This was to be done the next day.

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We spent the entire day roaming around the Barrel’s Hut with nothing much to do. Benson put on some good music and did some dancing while the others roamed around taking photos. This was good in a way that our bodies were getting acclimatized and was recuperating for our summit attempt.

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That evening, we had dinner at 7pm and then went off to bed. We chatted for sometime before going off to sleep as there was no urgency in getting up early.

Climbing Elbrus (5,642m), Russia – Pashtukov Rocks

Acclimatization trek to Pashtukov Rocks (4,700m)

Today was going to be a long day. We had to trek up even higher to Pashtukov Rocks at 4,700m. The climb normally should take 4 hours, but given our track record to Prijut 11 Hut, we expected the trek to last anywhere between 5 to 6 hours in the least. Also, the weather forecast did not bode well with the whole day predicted to be snowy.

We got up at 6.30am and had breakfast at 8am. After breakfast, we put on our climbing gear and then got ready to start the walk up to the rocks.

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Mariam came over and told us to fill up a few water bottles with water from the glacier, so we each carried a few empty plastic 5 Ltr bottles and followed Dasha to the glacier. The water was very clear and we started filling it up and transporting it back to the Kitchen.

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Once the water was filled and delivered, we set out for the rocks. The weather was not that great to begin with a soon enough it started to snow. The pace of progress became even more slow with each step. Unfortunately, i had tied my double boots too tightly and it was giving me a lot of ankle and knee pain. So, i had a lot of trouble walking. The pain was even more excruciating when the team stopped. It was a lot less painful when you are moving your legs and walking.

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We had to retrace the steps that we had taken the previous day to Prijut 11 and then climb an even more steeper section to the rocks. There were a lot of people doing skiing and trekking. After what seemed to be an endless trudge we came to the rocks. The original plan was to trek up and then down the mountains.

Towards the very end, Uantchern could not take the pain on his feet with the boots, so, he took a snowmobile down to Barrel’s Hut. He was only 15 minutes away from the rocks. We looked at him with envy as we made our way to the rocks.

Luckily as we reached the rocks, a snow cat had arrived at the point to take some people down. I and Benson, who was just behind me requested Dasha to check if they could accommodate us in the trip down. The driver said that he had exactly two vacant positions as each snow cat can only accommodate up to 14 people. So, we immediately jumped on the opportunity and took the snow cat down to Barrel’s Hut. We had to pay a fee of about 1,000 roubles. This can vary depending on the time of the day and also the number of people. The trip down was done in like 30 minutes. The BL, CK, Vinnie and Dasha decided to come down the hard way.

As soon as we reached Barrel’s Hut, we got out of the boots and took some rest. After about an hour and a half, the rest of the team reached Barrel’s Hut. This would have been quite a long walk which we had escaped.

The debate

Over dinner, we gathered at the kitchen again. Again, Dasha mentioned that we were extremely slow. So, considering our pace and our fitness level, the team decided to take the snow cat to 5,100m on summit day.

Another issue that was of concern was the weather prediction for the summit day. The original plan was to rest tomorrow (Friday) and then attempt the summit the night after (Saturday early morning), but the weather prediction was not that good for the noon and evening period although the morning was cleared. Considering our speed, we may well be making our way to the summit in the noon, when the bad weather sets in. Elbrus has a cut off time beyond which the guides will turn back the climbers. This was kind of set at 11am up to the saddle. If you only reached the saddle by 11am, then it is highly unlikely that you are going to reach the summit soon. So, the guide will turn you back.

As an alternative, the expedition plan had one spare day (Sunday) to have another attempt at the summit if we missed the first one or due to bad weather. The weather prediction for Sunday was cleared throughout the day. So, we were in a dilemma as to whether risk it by going on Saturday or use the last chance opportunity and go on Sunday. If we missed Sunday or if the weather was bad, then our Elbrus efforts will come to a disappointing halt. If we attempted on Saturday and failed, then we will be so tired for Sunday that it wont be possible. Also, we will have to end up paying for the guides for the second attempt. We kept belaboring on this for sometime till we decided to consult other guides who were planning a summit on the same day. Since the weather forecast may change over time, we decided to wait and see for a few more weather updates to check if there is any change in predictions.

The conclusion was to wait till noon the next day (rest day) and then decide. However, all indications were clear that we would rather go up on Sunday than the original Saturday. That meant another rest day in Barrel’s Hut before the climb. Meaning our vodka session had to be postponed by one more day. We went to bed as this grim reality sunk in.

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