If you missed Part One (Days 1 to 4) of this blog you can find it here
Day 5 – Wednesday 30th August
After four days in Russia and three of those spent acclimatizing in the mountains, it was time to set foot on Mount Elbrus and begin our trek to the summit.
It was a leisurely start to the day with breakfast at 8:30am. We were being picked up by our transport at 10am to be taken to the gondola station at the base of Mt Elbrus. The weather was appalling with heavy rain forecast for most of the day. We were just hoping that in the high winds the chairlift would be open. Around 30mins later we had moved all our kit through and up both gondolas and had arrived at the chair lift…but it wasn’t running! Not because of the winds as it happens, but due to it breaking down. So we had to wait as they sent for a truck down to pick us up. What a ride up the hillside! I didn’t know trucks could drive up slopes that steep! Certainly beat taking the chairlift up and was a lot more entertaining.
So in this less conventional way we arrived at the Barrels, which were going to be our accomodation and base of operations for the next few days. After settling in and a spot of lunch we headed off up the glacier for a short acclimatisation walk, taking us from the Barrels at 3730m to the Diesel hut at 4100m and back. It was more of a check really that folks were ok moving about in crampons. The weather blew in and out quite often with a mix of graupel and snow just to remind us that it can be a harsh mountain to operate on. Back at the Barrels everyone relaxed despite the heavy winds, with all of us looking forward to our dinner.
After dinner we witnessed the most spectacular thunderstorm lighting up the night sky and the mountain around us as the heavy rain swept in. For us though at this altitude it was falling as a mix of graupel and hail. Whilst in awe of the power and spectacle of the storm little did we know that it would go on throughout the whole night and wouldn’t stop until around 6am the following morning and have serious consequences elsewhere…
Day 6 – Thursday 31st August
Today was going to be a hard day with approximately 1000m of ascent, leaving the Barrels at 3730m, climbing all the way up the top of the Pastukov Rocks at 4700m. Once the weather had abaited from the previous night we made our way from the comfort of the Barrels towards the glacier and slowly made our way up the mountain. The weather at this point was still pretty poor and whilst the hail and graupal had stopped the wind was still relentless. Up past the Diesel hut more climbers began to appear as they too continued with their acclimatisation plans. Every now and again the low cloud would part and you could see further up the mountain towards the rocks and our goal.
Slowly we continued our climb making progress up the mountainside. As we approached the base of the rocks it was clear that the last few hundred meters were going to be steep. By this point we had already been walking for just under 3.5 hours so we had been making good time. Mountaineering is just one step at a time, so once again we slowly moved up towards our goal for the day and a little before 1pm we arrived at the top of the rocks – lunch time! A quick sandwich and drink and it was time to descend back to the Barrels. Going down is so much easier than going up. In no time at all we were back at the base of the rocks and the weather had really started to improve with the sun coming out now and again.
As we progressed further down we continued to pass climbers on their way up. I couldn’t help but feel a little pleased with myself as we had already been to our objective for the day and we were now heading for the comfortable accommodation, a bowl of soup and hot drinks – the benefit of being organized and having an early start.
The weather was really starting to warm up and as a result some of the previous nights snowfall was starting to melt. As we approached the Barrels we had to be extremely careful not to slip over as the melting water was creating a very slippery slope under the snow.
In a little over an hour we were back at the Barrels sorting and drying kit out. The following day was going to be a rest day, taking it easy before making our way up the mountain in the early hours of the following morning in order to tackle the summit of Europe’s highest mountain.
Day 7 – Friday 1st September
Rest day! What does a mountaineer do on a rest day, in the Barrels partway up Mount Elbrus? Well it was a blue sky, sunshiny day – cold and crisp. So I grabbed my camera and headed out for a short walk. I saw a couple of the members of the group practicing moving around in their crampons, and other climbers whiling away the time. I headed back to the Barrels for lunch and got my kit sorted out for the following day and listened to some music. My wife makes a playlist for each expedition I do, themed on the expedition type or location so there are always a few surprise tracks in there – some with more tenuous links to the theme than others – as well as the old favourites that I can’t be without. Generally a chilled out day to relax and prepare for the summit bid tomorrow…