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.