The Elbrus, the European representative of the Seven Summits; a summit at 5.642 metres. This was the next of mountains for me to hike and I made it. But …
Mountains and summits have been fascinating for me since years. After I had hiked and found the end of the world in Kamchatka I was wondering what should be coming next. Which challenge to pick up, which long-term physical activity to perform. I soon after discovered hiking mountains as one of my favourite sport.
During the last 10 years I have hiked a few summits and the emphasises is on hiking and not climbing. I don’t climb. Climbing does provoke vertigo to me. I have no issues with altitude – as long I feel safe due to a railing or the such-like or any other kind of protection.
I get a lot out of hiking: Above all I reach my physical and psychological limits. Knowing about them helps and protects in daily life not to overstretch one’s own capacities. Then the calm in the mountains up in altitude. For days you hike uphill and spend time with yourself. Talking is limited firstly because I never go hiking in a group but on my own with a guide and porters. So there is no talking partner. In addition to this you don’t have the strength to talk, as hiking uphill is very demanding. Also you don’t want to talk, well, at least I don’t. I appreciate every moment you progress in altitude making you see the surroundings different from step to step. In gaining altitude the angle how you see thing is changing. And when reaching the summit everything around you is breathtakingly below yourself. An amazing and silencing impression. I simply don’t want to spoil this quiet moment of having reached your goal and hence sap the success.
Here in the mountains I genuinely find and feel myself. As much as I love to live in cities, being in alpine mountains gets you down to the ground, finding out what is essential in life. You become devout to the world around you. What if you are about to hit summit, the weather turns bad? Then you have to turn around, wait a few days or deny the project altogether.
I had decided to hike the Elbrus as it is member of the Seven Summits. It is not my intention to hike all seven, but those which are „easily“ feasible for an amateur alpinist as I am I will. It will have been my third of the seven and there will two more to come. Luckily alpine hiking is not my only activity, so no need to reach for the unreachable.
The trip was nice but unusual as ever. Unusual indeed, as I did no physical preparation whatsoever. On the contrary, I performed destructive exploitation to my body. Smoking a packet a day, drinking alcohol almost daily and no physical exercise at all for 4 months. Luckily I have a good general fitness, so I was nevertheless quite optimistic to make it, though not sure. I decided to rely on my previous experiences in hiking mountains.
If you decide to go to Elbrus, I strongly advise to contact Liana at Kavkas Ski Tour in Nalchik. She is best service I saw compared to all other local operators. Individualised service, really caring and in case of problems she always provides a solution. Her guides are real professionals, and as I propose you do the Northern tour ask for Alim as to be your guide. There is also the option of the Southern approach, but you have technical means to get you up until 5,100 metres! So where is the point in hiking 500 metres and claiming to have hit summit or simply hike beneath a ski-lift carrying everybody up to the summit?!
The evening before starting attacking the summit we partied heavily on a nearby farm. Lots of Vodka, lots of cigarettes, little sleep. So with a tremendous hangover we started our ascent. Even this was not a first time … to such starting conditions I am quite familiar.
You have to know one thing: Hiking mountains and the success to it depends 70% on your motivation, willpower and hence overall psyche. You have to seriously want to reach the summit. Surrender is no option. This has to be clear with the first step you do. And it is always the same: you do your first step and you ask yourself, why the hell you do such things, but the moment you reach the summit you ask yourself what will be the next summit to reach.
5 hours after we started we reach the 3.800-camp and despite inconvenient conditions are indeed a good average time. My hang-over was gone and I felt quite fit.
Next day I understood the Russian way of thinking about life: In our camp we slept on hard wooden benches with almost no cushion to soften, and when next morning moving up to Lenz Rock I realised the Russian go straight up hill. Not the willy-nilly way of serpentines as on Mont Blanc for example. No hanky-pankying about. Straight up. Bear this aspect in mind when you meet Russians trying to understand how they function. Straight talking and no fillings. Short and snappy life-style with regards to all aspects of life.
We reached Lenz Rock at 3:00 pm and as soon as we had built our tent, a storm broke with heavy snow-fall. We had a tent for 2 which was cramped with us and our gear packed in two back-packs. Not only was the tent already too small for us and the gear only, the snow piling up out side pushed the tent tighter and tighter. In the end it was as wide as our both shoulders were combined.
We had no room to move or turn around when sleeping. Really awkward. To turn things worse the frozen humidity on the inside of the tent trickled onto us with each gale. This stayed on for 36b hours and I was psychologically at my limit. I seriously had enough. On midnight the next day we woke up, the storm was gone, snowfall had stopped but it was still overcast. We decided to hike for the summit, but the Eastern summit only. From Lenz Rock it is 3 hours closer in ascending and 1 in descending. As we were not sure about the potentially changing weather conditions we opted for the lower summit of the two.
At 8:30 am we eventually reached the summit. When at midnight before I was not motivated at all to summit, I was now really happy and satisfied to have made it. Though having reached the lower summit only gives kind of impression one has not made it. But that is decadent.
And this circumstance will ultimately give me the chance to get there again and do the Western summit. Will keep you posted.