ELBRUS CONQUERED! NOW “ONLY” SIX MORE...
17. 09. 2018
At the end of August, an interview with me came out in a local Czech Newspaper, Metro. They mentioned the 7 summits right in its headline! It was kind of funny to observe people in the underground, sitting and standing around me and staring, not being able to say whether it was really me or not...I did not do up my face that day, but a frame backpack and hiking boots most probably gave me away.
I am just travelling to the airport. Travelling to my first expedition. With 7 Summits, I want to climb the highest mountains of each continent, taking the Russian Elbrus (5 642 m) as the first to conquer.
The flight was a little bumpy but, after a short nap, my team, for this expedition, and I arrived in Moscow. After an hour of searching for our hotel and thinking how can we possibly make it to the summit of Elbrus if we are not even able to find our hotel within a 3 km range, I came to the conclusion that I should brush up on my Russian a little for my next trip. We used our hands and legs to get the right direction to the hotel and eventually we found it, Hurray! When you imagine Moscow, without those millions of people pushing into each other, it is just a breathtaking city…
The following day, we flew to Mineralnye Vody and set off on our journey to the summit. The fog was so thick that we could barely see our boots. For overnight, we found (hopefully) a lovely, lonesome place with a brooklet and an unfinished cabin on a steep hillside. The fog was really thick, so we had to be careful where to step as not fall down the rock. During the night, an avalanche tumbled down somewhere nearby. A rumbling noise awoke us all. Luckily, I was able to fall asleep again. In the morning, we were kicked out of our tent by the warmth and, the very next moment, we were astonished by the beautiful view of Elbrus. Not a single cloud was to be found in the sky, so we hit the road!!
It’s about 12°C. The sun is literary roasting us. I do not take any risks and put on a UV50 factor sunscreen. We pass a route buried under (most probably) torn-off, fallen rocks with RIP written all over them. Some mountain climbers must have lost their lives under an avalanche...these things always hit you. Sometimes one is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nature is utterly unpredictable.
After a few more kilometres, we met another Czech expedition. When I mentioned the 7 Summits, they looked at me as if I was from Mars, but what could I expect, haha…
VODKA? NO, THANKS…
I had some time to feast my eyes on the view of Elbrus. Stunning! These are those breathtaking moments that make us climb up all these mountains. Silence, beautiful silence… but back to our goal. The following moment, a potbellied Russian soldier with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth shouted at me: “Vodka, gal??” I immediately responded: “Nyet, nyet, spaciba.” I was advised, in advance, that to drink with Russians leaves a memory you would rather forget but can't, for the rest of your life. So, no, not now, thanks. At night, it was colder than in a freezer. My teeth were chattering but I tried not to put on too many warm clothes so I could acclimatize to the temperatures here. So I shivered with cold the whole night in the tent, while outside a windstorm was wildly raging, throwing the tent back and forth. We set off, for the next camp (4 200 metres above sea level), in a group of seven, including two women. With a glacier walk ahead of us, we mounted crampons.
I need, here, to take soem time to describe a rather peculiar experience, and somewhat intimate, but definitely worth mentioning. I needed to use the toilet in a legendary pub along the way, but, because it was under reconstruction, I had to use the outhouse instead. It was a little, wooden, outside toilet standing on a few planks at the edge of a precipice, so quite an adrenaline rush. Moreover, to actually answer the call of nature, I had to pull the door with my whole body, so I was urinating standing up… Anyway, after this, I heard everybody talking about me being a superman...or rather a superwoman!
Now back to climbing. To be honest, it was my very first experience with crampons, and I have only one thing to say: An absolute stunner! I was literally running on the glacier like a chamois. But what frustrated me a little was all the snow cats and snowmobiles passing by. Those lazy Russians! We were trudging up with 20 kg baggage on our backs, Grrrrrr… Some members of our expedition were running out of energy, others had headaches. I told myself: I hope this will not be my fate. In a way, it was beautiful how I, the most underestimated member of our group, was one of the few who did not suffer any of these ailments, walking up to the top without saying a word! Our team went straight up without any acclimatization, with the following plan: 2 300 m, 2 800 m, 3 800 m, 4 200 m, 4 800 m, 5642 m - the summit.
IN SNEAKERS ON A SNOWMOBILE
On the way up, at about 4 300 metres above sea level, we met some Germans, who informed us that a few hundred metres up, was a young man who was tottering down the mountain alone. They said that they had offered him help but he had refused. They asked us to check on him on the way up, but we were not able to find him. Hope, he is alright…
The nights were harsh. At this altitude, sleeping was hard. Without crampons, we would really be in a mess, because the steepest part so far was just ahead of us. What drove me really crazy was all the blondes in sneakers and sweatshirts with selfie sticks on snowmobiles. We reached the top of the Pastuch rocks and in the freezing cold, we waited for the rest of our group. We had no idea where to pitch our tents. Luckily, we had shovels!
he cold was immense. We could feel the height on our own skin. We even met a group with oxygen bombs. Some others, without them, had obviously been losing energy very rapidly, falling to the ground and taking a rest. Also, in the tent, it was indescribably cold on the ground, so I put “an emergency blanket” under us, which was meant to isolate the cold. At half past three in the morning, we were woken by pieces of frost falling in our faces from the inner side of our, completely frozen, tents. When we peeked out of the tents, there were headlamps shining everywhere.
We had been walking for seven hours, steeply, upwards only. Almost a thousand metres of elevation difference. After, say, the tenth rest break, my head started to spin. I still had both strength and appetite, though, so I kept on walking. I met a girl, convulsively holding a helping hand rope, refusing to continue climbing. It was steep and falling down would most probably kill her. She was not the only one there.
THE SUMMIT, FINALLY!
The ascent to the top was harsh but we made it. We were there! The outlook was just staggering. The mountains around seemed to be so small, the wind had stopped blowing and the sun was warming us up. We reached the very top in twos only. We were savouring the greatness and magnificence of the mountains. It was an indescribable feeling to appear on the summit after a week of such endeavours! We got thirsty pretty quickly, tough, and clouds were beginning to shroud us slowly, so we began the descent.
Half way down, a huge storm struck, flashes of lightning were striking everywhere. The visibility went to zero in just a few minutes...it was unbelievable how fast the weather could change. With much effort, we descended to 3 800 m, where the top end of a lift was to be found. We wanted to ride it down, but, unfortunately, it was late so it had stopped running for the day. There was nobody there, all the hotels were closed. So we went to the legendary pub, which was luckily still open. I asked the owner if there was a hotel that would accommodate us at that late hour. He responded by pointing to his friend, who pointed at a couch right next to him and smiled nicely. SALVATION! The sleeping arrangements had been arranged.
However, a few moments later, my most feared moment had arrived – the uncapping of a bottle of that transparent Russian alcohol. And to wash it down, homemade wine, “perfect!” One shot followed another at a pretty fast pace. Refusing, until the bottle is empty is utterly rude here in Russia. And so, drunk on Vodka, we found our way to the couch and fell asleep.
The following morning, we met the rest of our group. Except for one, they all had managed to climb it to the top. Excellent! Everything was properly celebrated, meaning, we literally drank out one of the local restaurants and that was the end of our first expedition. Hurray, hurray, hurray!
I do not know whether my nose or my liver got burnt more, either way, we had a great time!Daniela Kroulíková