Monday, 17 December 2012

Some Feedback from our Nepal Trip!

From Russell: I feel that it has changed who I am, as I am much more focused on goals and achievements. I will never forget what it was like being at Base Camp and the feel that it gave me. Do it without hesitation.

From David & Gavin: Expedition Wise were very supportive of individuals and the group.  My most vivid memory is the emotion we all shared in the success of reaching base camp and taking in the landscape around us, and the fulfilment of a boyhood dream to go and see Everest.

From Sally: Words cannot really describe what there is to add about Expedition Wise, the following text does not really begin to explain, but it will give you an idea .............. The personal input from the Expedition Wise team went above the call of duty. It is obviously a career of choice and a life they love, their passion and belief in what they do shines in their faces even when faced with a client like me!! Their enthusiasm is exuded with their every breath and it rubs off on you morning, noon and night, ensuring that if you have a moment when challenge ahead feels daunting, it just melts away and is replaced by confidence in yourself!! Their friendship and attention to our needs both personally and as a team ensured everyone felt cared for. Their leadership skills and support were second to none. They made everyone one of us feel valued as a team member and were genuinely interested in our goals for the challenge and helped us all every step of the way. Their experience of the Nepal and the mountain region along with their encouragement made the whole experience absolutely Amazing!!! Professional Experts in their field!!! Recommend - LIKE - Follow - Definitely book again!!!!! In fact - When can we go again???
The challenge - for me, I realise now that anything you want to do IS possible - Just DO IT!! Memories - 15 New Friends, I feel like I have a second home in Nepal I have ventured into the unknown and loved every minute The sounds, the smells, the colours, the sky, the mountains, pictures in my mind I see everytime I close my mind! A culture so different from our own, religions I have learnt about. The whole experience, MIND BLOWING AND LIFE CHANGING!!! Advice - Don't diliberate for long, just BOOK IT and GO!!!!!! Life is too short!

And from me: I wanted to thank you for making the trip so incredible for everyone.  It was by far the best organised and lead challenge I have been on and you put the others to shame, really great to work with you and on to the next ones!

The Year is Nearly Over...

And what a year it has been for us here at Expedition Wise, with trips far and wide across the world, from the Brecon Beacons to Mount Elbrus, Snowdonia to Iceland, by foot, by boat, by rail, by bike, by plane....

Saturday night saw the Staff celebrating the year end with drinks, food and the promise of a chilly mountain bike ride on Sunday!

Next year is looking great already, with bookings coming in for existing events and new exciting challenges such as Beat The Sun to look forward to. We facilitated the raising of over a half a million pounds (£530,000) for charity in 2012 and would love to double that in 2013.

Thanks for being with us and hope to see some of you next year. 

Have a fabulous holiday season and enjoy every precious moment!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Everest Base Camp and Back!

Recently a group of intrepid adventurers made the challenging and arduous ascent to Everest Base Camp. We are currently in the process of writing a blog that reflects the challenges and triumphs of this iconic climb, along with some photographs to give you a feel of what it is all about.

In the meantime, we share with you here a poem written by one of the group as they flew back to Heathrow:

   Safely back at Heathrow, here at Terminal Four,
   It’s where we began our trek, and lots lots more,

   We bonded together, as one great big group,
   Even looking forward to our teatime bowl of soup,

   Little steps we took, all the way up those hills,
   And depleted Brian’s supplies of most of his pills,

   Avoided the Yaks, and got covered in dust,
   We were all very determined, Shit or Bust!

   So this little poem is from the Cornish lot,
   To our guides Kate, Ian and Brian, it has really meant a lot,

   We can't thank you enough for all you have done,
   And hope you remember us, when we have all gone home.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Great Wall of China Trek - Autumn 2012

China Great Wall in Autumn

I have led several Great Wall of China charity treks in the past but this one was to be a first for a couple of reasons.

  1. I had never led a Great Wall expedition in Autumn
  2. We were to go to a section of the wall, Dayingpan, not open to the public and still unvisited

We were lucky enough to fly on BA which meant arriving quite early into Beijing so not only did we get to our lodge early but were able to trek on the Juyonguang Pass section of the wall on the day of our arrival – a real bonus extra section on top of the other 6 days of trekking.

Trekking in Autumn in China does provide generally more stable weather and the views of the surrounding trees changing through the bronzes and golds made the surrounding landscape very memorable.

There did seem to be more charity groups from different companies on certain sections of the wall this year – a testament to the popularity of people now spending their annual leave on charity challenges, rather than the usual holidays.  However we were able to spend two days free of other groups in the wall and one day free of anyone on Dayingpan.

Dayingpan is a very broken down area of the Great Wall with a tough and exposed central section to negotiate.  This is called the Water Gate and is at the furthest point from any assistance and involves traversing off the Wall to avoid a huge unprotectable boulder that the Wall has been built over. The group then had to down climb part of the wall to reach the relative safety of the Water Gate itself before climbing back up onto the Wall proper.  This is a great wilderness section of the Wall and well worth the effort involved to get to it and along it.

This was a great expedition with a fun bunch of challengers, all raising money for Breast Cancer Care which led to some very emotional moments along the Wall.

Thank you to all involved.

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Brutal by Derek Boothby

Another of our intrepid Brutal athletes has submitted his Race Report for us to share - read on and enjoy!

First of all I need to thank Katy, Morgan and Charlotte who have had to put up

with me disappearing for hours on end to train for this race and also the week

before when my nerves were becoming a bit on edge with the realisation of

what I had set myself up for.


Thanks also has to go to Chris for the training plan which got me to the start

line and round to the finish, plus the support all day and on the final leg up

and down Snowdon. Tom was a great help in being a kit man and sorting out

digs for the night before and Ian for turning up and joining me on the last lake

lap and trekking up Snowdon with me and Chris at the end.


The day started out clear and cold (frost on ground) and in the dark at 5am

as I loaded up the bike with food (too much it later turned out) before heading

into the heated tent to set up transition bags. The two hours before race

start disappeared very quickly and it wasn’t long before I was stepping into

the mist covered lake at 7am (just getting light) which was at 13 – 14°C and

given the low air temperature did not feel too cold.
The first lap of the swim was spent hopping from pod to pod of middle distance swimmers to try
and conserve energy for the second lap which I knew would be swum pretty much

in isolation due to the lower numbers of competitors in the full and double

(insane) races. Due to mirrored glasses I could not see too well on the first

lap as the light levels were still quite low and just followed the feet of the

swimmers in front. I exited the first lap feeling good and warm and begun the

second lap. Due to the lower numbers of swimmers the lake was now like a

mill pond due to the lack of wind, as I turned the top buoy to head for the swim

exit the sun had come up quite a way (glad now for the mirrored glasses!) and

was silhouetting the mountains at the end of the valley and made for the most

amazing sight every time I lifted my head to sight. I exited the swim feeling

pretty good and headed off down the field (still with frost on!) to the nice,

warm tent to get changed for the bike leg. In the tent marshals were handing

out warm drinks whilst you dried off, so a few minutes later now dry and in

bike gear and with a cup of tea inside me it was off to start the bike leg, with

Sam doing an excellent job on the bike exit stopping traffic.


The first lap on the bike was still quite cold as due to shade in the valleys and

from trees, etc but the spectacular scenery took my mind off the hills and cold.

The long climb up to Pen-y-Pas was not as bad as I had thought, just a case

of getting in the correct gear and keeping a steady pace all the way to the top

before the descent into Llanberis. The first two descents were disrupted by

traffic, the third was ok except for the traffic light in Nant Peris being red, but

the last descent was brilliant, no moving traffic, traffic light on green and being

able to sweep around bends with out fear of hitting something was great and

meant that I reached transition with my legs having had a nice rest on the way

down. Overall I was pleased with the bike, but did have to adjust my nutrition

as the gels started to affect my stomach and give me a headache, so I had to

lay off them for a while and rely on my other forms of nutrition – a sausage roll

and flapjacks.


The run started off with three 5 mile-ish laps of Llyn Padarn, which included a

climb after about 2 miles, which I had decided before the race I was going to

walk up to rest the legs for Snowdon. This strategy worked pretty well as the

legs felt strong and with the aid station being just after the top of the hill gave

chance for a short rest for some cake and water. Ian joined me for the last lap,

which seemed to go quicker than the previous two.


After the lake laps it was then back into transition to pick up Chris and

mountain kit and head up to Snowdon. Ian also went to grab his mountain kit

and joined us for the last leg. This again was always going to be walked and

we kept a good pace, stopping for a minute to speak to Matty Roberts from

Eryri. At the last bridge under the railway it was getting a bit chilly so extra

layers were donned for the last push. The view from the summit was amazing

with Llanberis lit up below and a steady stream of headlamps lighting up the

path below.


After punching my wristband at the summit (whilst Ian wound up some fellow

competitors) it was time for a brief check-in with the medics at Bwlch Glas,

and off down the hill I went.

Even though I had now reached the point that finishing was priority I wanted

to put some distance between me and the runners behind so began running

the less technical areas of the path as my legs felt surprisingly good. After

Halfway House on the way down however my racing instincts got the better

of me when I saw two other runners just ahead and set off after them, with

Chris reminding me not to take any risks as I was catching them, which we did

and carried on to put distance between us when I could. We finally got off the

mountain path and onto the final bit of tarmac into Llanberis when we heard

the gate behind us open with another runner and his support bearing down

on us. At this point the pace really picked up as we rattled down the steep

tarmac, blocking the way for those behind us, I was finally caught just as it

flattened out, but managed to kick again and go past them, before Ian pulled

alongside to pick up the pace, followed by Chris who just told us to keep going

until we heard behind us “I’m not keeping up with that F*****G pace!” which

pretty much meant the pressure was off and it was onto the main road by the

train station and then across to the finish and slump into a chair whilst I was

fed cake.


All in all it was an amazing race, which was helped by the glorious weather

and having a fantastic support crew, especially for the unexpected sprint finish

at the end!



Monday, 8 October 2012

The Brutal - A Race Report

The weekend of 22nd September saw a group of intrepid athletes take on our latest challenge - The Brutal. The name of the challenge gives a hint as to the nature of the challenge; a long distance triathlon set in the heart of Llanberis in North Wales. Here follows one of our challenger's race Report!

Dave Parker - Double Ironman

The alarm sounds, it’s 5.30 and freezing! That’s ok; I’ve planned for it, extra thick suit with vest, surf hat and thick gloves. Don’t worry about it making me slow, I only want to avoid the cut off. Down to the water, quick chat with some other competitors, cuddle from the boss and we’re off!


What a beautiful place to swim, mist rolling on the water and mountains for backdrop. Start as I mean to go on, nice and steady, control the breathing and concentrate on the stroke. There’s a group going my speed, green hats, doing the full, find some feet to follow and settle in. First lap seems to fly by, out of the water for a quick drink of tea but don’t want to lose my pals so straight back to work. We’re starting to spread out now so just do my own thing on the return leg, might as well get used to it. Out again for tea, what a great Idea, why don’t they have it at all races? There’s nobody anywhere near now but that’s OK I’m still on target, only two and a half miles to go. Feel like royalty on last laps, two lovely canoeists for company and not a ripple on the water, sun getting warm and I’m doing the Double!


Glad that’s done, the cut off was always going to be close for me but I’m ten minutes up on schedule as I go into transition. I couldn’t get a seat in the bloody tent at 6.30 now it’s deserted. Take my time getting ready, full cycling kit as planned, with a nice thick jacket for the first lap so I can warm up. Pockets full of flapjack, a pasty to eat on the way and off we go, 11am and I’m 10 minutes up. 225 miles and 16500 feet of climbing to go, that’s OK, I’ve planned for it. No tri bars, just twiddle along, enjoy the scenery and eat. First lap just ease into the rhythm, see how the legs feel after my long taper and prepare for the day ahead.

First lap feels ridiculously easy, but I’ve got a plan and I’m going to stick to it, so into the transition lay-by for my Bacon and Egg butty and a mug of tea! Two laps straight through now, same tempo, have given myself 2.15 per lap during daylight and I’m cruising. Get some great company on each lap from Jeff and then Richard who are interested in what’s going on and happy to go at my slow pace for a chat. Have to call in at ground control before 4th lap to fill up with flapjack and grab a sausage roll, happy to see my support  team has shown up (my kids and their partners), just one more lap before tea.


Halfway there, 7.20pm, eating a lovely curry while my bike gets its lights put on. Dark is closing in and the temperature is dropping quickly, that’s OK I’ve planned for it. On with all my winter clothes and off with all four of my support in the car, leaving the boss for a well earned rest, after she’s washed up. The plan was for them to alternate cars with two in each so they got a rest, but they’re having so much fun that they all spend the whole night with me! After a bit of practice we fall into a routine of them waiting 15 minutes, passing me to pull in at earliest point giving a silent cheer as I go past and repeat. I have given myself 2.30 during the night and it flows by without a problem, plus after midnight I start to catch and pass people, I have no Idea what position I’m in. Finish bike at 0540, twenty minutes up on schedule and fresh as a daisy, practicing riding through the night has really paid off.


Grab some cereal and coffee then off for the run, this is where I find out if the training has worked. Get two laps done before we have to go up Snowdon and it’s not as bad as I expected, actually making up time, meanwhile my poor lad has to get up after only a couple of hours to go with me. I walk the whole way up as planned, eating as many pasties, chocolate bars and flapjack as I can manage. Then walk and jog down, meeting a few mates on way who have come between nights to support, it gives me a real boost.


Bacon and eggs for breakfast, a very steady lap with my pal to get my legs back, then it’s in with the earphones and down to work. Start to pound out the distance, have a break at the feed station with the best two helpers in the world ever, still don’t know their names, and feel the miles pass. Don’t know what has happened but have moved up to second and I’m flying! Force out a fast seventh lap just because I want to, then a cruise to the finish trying to thank as many people as possible. Can’t believe I’ve done it!! Just over 36 hours and nearly 5 in front of schedule, nearly all made up on the run. Not bad for an old lad. Thanks Claire, Brian and all at Brutal. The rest of you know who you are.

If this has wetted your appetite to take on a challenge far greater than you have ever done visit here for details of our 2013 events!!
Midnight Mountain Marathon - 29th June 2013
The Pig Ultra Duathlon, Llanfighangel-y-Pennant, Gwynedd - 14th July 2013
Smugglers Run, 24 hour Endurance Race, Swanage, Dorset - 31st August 2013
The Brutal Extreme Triathlon, Llanberis, Snowdon - 21st September 2013

Monday, 1 October 2012

London to Paris Poem

One of the Clients on our London to Paris Charity Challenge in aid of Child Bereavement wrote this poem for us. We felt it worth sharing!

Early in 2012

Lou & Paul began to delve 

To friends who like a challenge

A cycle ride from London to Paris

Was scheduled for September 14th

Training got going in early March

A heavy night before you were left rather parched!

Wednesday night we trained 20 miles

Back to the pub with plenty of smiles

Road bikes & Lycra were purchased in mass

The task ahead we'll have a sore 


Crystal place was our starting point

Eager to start forget the joints

The charity Child Bereavement is such a worthy cause

Fran unfortunately wrapped her knee in gauze 

After 60 miles we reached Newhaven, some of the girls wished they had shaven.

When we reached the ferry it was heavy going

All were tired it sure was showing

We got to bed at half past four

B4 u knew it, it was time to do more!

2nd day,  a 50 mile cruise

My god we felt the bruise....

We ate more food & time for sleep 

Bloody fire alarm what a beep

Early start before the dawn

So cold we longed to be warm

We pedalled on throughout the day

Our destination was just past 

St Germais

One mile to go

2 by 2

We past Eiffel tower what a view

Into the last straight with all a sore Haris

We had finally made it from London to Paris

Monday, 20 August 2012

Where Has the Summer Gone?

Summer! What Summer? I hear you cry! Well, here at Expedition Wise we've been too busy to really notice it, and so it has been quite a while since our last blog.

Our Boss and grand explorer Brian has scaled Mt Elbrus once more and has managed to fit in a quick trip trekking across Iceland and leading a group up Kilimanjaro (for the 16th!) time over the summer months.

Tom has done several 3 Peaks amongst other things and as I type, is pitting himself against all the elements that Stirling has to offer, as he takes part in the Adidas Terrex 5 Day challenge, involving moving himself and his team across 600km of Scottish land, by foot, canoe and mountain bike! Not for the fainthearted and we eagerly watch the website for updates of his progress.

I took part in my first charity challenge with Expedition Wise, acting as Rear Cyclist for a JDRF (Junior Diabetes Research Foundation) on a London to Paris cycle. This was great fun and quite humbling talking to some of the participants about their experiences of living with Diabetes.

The London to Paris cycle challenge took place back in June and is fading in the memory now, but bits that lodged in the mind are:-

·       The rain was horrendous on the English part of the journey – but somehow my little group and I managed to avoid it every time – we even managed to avoid the hailstones. Yes, that’s right. Hailstones in June. And why not?

·       The uphill into Portsmouth. No-one warned me about that, did they? Excruciating at the end of the day and endless. Somehow, I didn’t expect an uphill to the coast....

·       I’m not so good in the dark and so the ferry room was a bit of a shock.... pitch black! Still, they played a gentle melody in the morning to wake us all up at silly o’clock!

·       It’s true what they say about road surfaces on the Continent – as smooth as silk in most places and a joy to ride on.

·       Chocolate box houses. Everywhere.

·       Cycling through Paris is such a contrast to the countryside. We were cycling on a Sunday and to say rural France had taken the day off would really be something of an understatement! And then the hustle and bustle of Paris. Pure madness and a case study in organised chaos!

·       Paris is clearly used to manic looking groups of British people careering around the Arc De Triomphe on bicycles – the sound of car horns tooting encouragement filled our ears as we made our way around the iconic route.

·       No disasters befell our group; the worst thing that happened was one lady packing her passport into her bike saddle bag. Not really a disaster in itself, but she needed the passport to cross the channel and the bike was all packed up in the van, with several other bikes in front of it.... At the end of a long days’ cycling and with tea beckoning, it felt like a disaster.

In other news, we are busy working on our challenges for the remainder of this year and then on to 2013. Keep your eye on our website for news of our two new series of challenges, Brutal Events and Race the Sun.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Mount Elbrus - Part Eleven

A day to chill

I wake just after 5am and it's already getting warm, I try to get back to sleep but my brain is running overtime. I toss and turn 'til 6:15 when I can stand it no longer, I put the music back on and start to write. The heat inside the tent is becoming unbearable, I dress and move outside into the bright sunlight. The Norwegians decided that they liked my story of the spa and have enlisted Vladimir to take them down to sample the waters. We meanwhile take it easy in the sunshine, enjoying a late breakfast and the tranquility of an ever emptying base camp. The Adventure Consultants break down their base camp and hand Sergei some supplies, everything here seems to work on a trading basis. Amusing that such a world renowned commercial venture such as AC work in this way, but I suppose that they sub out to local contractors and after all when in Rome! Midday and the afternoon clouds are gathering at the end of the valley and bank along the high peaks to the east. BJ goes down to the silver pool and returns just before Una and EK who are a little disappointed because it's ladies time until 1pm and they didn't want to wait about that long. We need to organise our kit for our return, which is so much closer now. It's going to be strange leaving this patch of grass in the shadow of snow capped Elbrus and to return to a culture that is so very different that's less than 24hrs away now. There is no real plan for today, Sergei has spent most of his time on the laptop. Kenny the third Norwegian arrived back in camp around 3pm from his successful summit earlier this morning. Una and EK are pleased to see him but rag him until he produces his camera and shows them conclusive proof in the shape of his summit picture. They wait all day for Andrei to pick them up and take them down to Ptiagorsk (City of 5 Hills), this leaves BJ and I wondering about our travel arrangements tomorrow. After the brilliant sunshine of this morning for most of the afternoon it's been cool and raining. The only time to be outside the tents/bags is to see the hapless newcomers attempt to be photographed with the stroppy Yak/Dzo. While we are eating one of the hardcore camper vans rocks up and the Norwegians are told that it's their transport down. Kenny is trying to eat his first meal, Una and EK are watching a video on the laptop in their tent. All hell breaks loose as the three of them dash about grabbing kit and stuffing it in to bags. With goodbyes said they trundle and bounce away.  Then as we go to turn away they circle back around about 50metres away and head back, we start cheering! As the van pulls up Una jumps out of the back, clambers over the fence and trots over to the mess tent "I’ve forgotten my boots!" he grabs a plastic bag and dashes back. With a few toots of the horn they bundle down the track and they're gone. We're left to speculate about Andrei's arrival time tomorrow.

And so to Civilisation

We wake early with the heat. Stuffing our sleeping bags and sleep mats and that's the last of the kit away. We eat breakfast and then just hang about, we've seen both a jeep and a camper van come bundling up the track into camp, neither are driven by Andrei. We continue to think of useful, fun and effective ways to deal with the cows which, like a scene from Vietnam movie, are testing our perimeter again. One causes a diversion, diagonally opposite the toilet opening, while another trys to slip in, they are also making an assault on the military post and toilet too! Vladimir calls from the other side of camp, we don't connect with what he's calling out. Sergei then confirms this is our jeep, I head back from the toilet and I'm glad I've been as the thought of being bounced around in the back of that tough little beast and it's 4hrs to Ptaigorsk!   BJ and I look at each other as our driver loads our bags, he looks like the archetypal Russian Bond villain, complete with DPM cap and waistcoat. He puts his own rucksack and waterproof boots on the roof rack as there is barely enough room for us and the kit. As BJ and I crawl onto the rear bench seat we realise at our heels is a hunting rifle! Laughing about shooting the cows becomes ever more feasible on our way out of Dodge. As we rattle about along the track down to the river BJ grabs at the handle by his head, there's a telescopic fishing rod tied to it, the driver is a bit of a hunter we figure, haha. We're laughing like idiots as he reaches back and offers us a bag full of 2" apples from his "area", we don't know if that means garden/farm/hunting stomp. I politely refuse but BJ has one to my great amusement, his face is a picture, haha, how sour? We rumble off through the river bed, so different to when we arrived, hardly deep enough to wet the axles, while a week ago it would have swept us away.

The driver and Sergei are in deep conversation while BJ and I are dying from a mixture of Carbon Monoxide and fuel fumes. We stop a couple of times at what seems quite random places, once for our driver to hand over 3 Leki poles over to the driver of an expensive and very new looking Toyota Landcruiser, while Sergei chats to 3 guys from a hardcore camper. "Is that guy in the Toyota taking photos of us?" "Yeah! what the fu..?" It must be BJ's glasses that draws so much attention to us, haha. We crack on, half the time on the wrong side of the road/track as it seems smoother, then veering back across the marbles on the surface to elude the on-coming vehicle, but that’s only about six times in a 4hr journey. As we drop down through a weird village, comprising of brand new and near derelict homes and towards a bridge I tap Sergei on the shoulder and point to the obstruction in the road "Sergei, it's the muzafukincowz!" This dusty track loops through valley after valley, after about 21/2hrs in the middle of nowhere on a bridge, over a gap rather than what will probably become a torrent in the winter, Sergei says "This is where the border check point was". We begin to wonder how we could have dodged around that? Bouncing along we are then treated to a metalled surface although still full of craters infinately smoother, our heads and spines grateful for the respite. Both we and the oncoming vehicles swerve back and forth to avoid potholes and each other. On and on we drive with the fumes making it difficult to enjoy anything of this journey.

We finally turn into Pytaigorsk and weave our way through streets filled with suicidal pedestrians and kamikazi drivers. We drive alongside an ornate square filled with people, flowers, trees and fountains there before us is the "Intourist" hotel. Built in the 70's at the height of developing communism for tourist market. The entrance hall and reception is vast, high ceilinged marble Russian excess, on the other hand BJ and I with the big bags and day sacks barely fit in to the lift. As we look about for directions to our room in the lift lobby we realise we have our own bar on our floor. Laughing we wander along the corridor to our . . . . . small squalid box. Thank God we don't have a cat, we have to move the coffee table and an armchair out on to the balcony in order to have enough room to fit ourselves in. "Well it has beds and running water" We have to keep the balcony door open in order to breathe, it's meltingly hot in here. Both freshly showered and dressed in clean "going home" clothes that make us so much more presentable than our trekking shorts and fetid shirts we set off out into the heat. This place is so surreal, everyone but everyone is dressed up to be going out for the evening but it's only just lunchtime?! We have limited idea of where to go from Sergei, taking mental notes of cafes, restaurants and bars we could try later. The heat is too much and we desperately need to feed and take on fluids so we settle on an open fronted cafe in the shade, where the menus are all in Cyrilic! We haven't a clue about any of it, haha. When the waitress comes over she explains that she doesn't speak English just Russian and Spanish in English, how random!! but she swaps the menu over for one in English, PHEW!! So we order from the English menu she uses her Russian menu to take our choices, again quite random. BJ does his best to translate English to Spanish but becomes royally confused when she asks where we are from in Spanish and he thought the question was in Russian, his excuse was that he was severely dehydrated and had just downed half a litre of Russian beer, low altitude lassitude strikes again! So here we sit watching the strangest city catwalk drinking local beer and eating mussels and chips, just gets weirder. We finish our meal, if it could be called that, and wander off through the streets finally ending up in a swanky mall. Then down into the "fun park" that had seen better days (or possibly not), BJ eating his ice cream is desperate to get a quad peddle cart to hoon around on, only to discover that it was kids only and confined to a tiny square, he's crushed. He suggests that we rent them and just ride off around the park, I again smash his dreams by telling him that there is no way that we could out run the attendant. We meander through the streets back to the hotel and take a turn back down the hill, BJ says "Hey here's the cafe", we head up the stairs and discover that it is actually a ladies outfitters, amidst our laughter and the confused looks of the assistant and the customers, the cafe was was on the ground floor and closed for refurbishment. We continue our quest. A little further along we discover a kebab shop?!  of sorts, looks pretty busy with the locals ordering meat and chips in pitta bread, BJ starts salivating at the window. Further still is a bar with some very flash 4x4's outside, we both instantly think Mafia. BJ starts giggling like a schoolboy looking at boobs for the first time I turn back and see him standing outside a shop full of hookah pipes and belly dancers costumes, I assure him that Steph wouldn't want him in one. HAHA. We reach the bottom of the hill and try out the "walk of death", you just step out in front of the moving traffic and watch it stop instantly with no foul words, blarring horns or gesticulations, bloody hell that really works! We head back up the hill and stop off at the "bling" bar, where they curiously don't sell Russian beer?! so a Tuborg and a quick wifi surf, where we learn a little about this crazy city and we're back off to the sanctuary of our hotel to ready ourselves for tonight’s onslaught. Back in our room we change down in order to cool down, remember AC in this place is an open balcony door. We come to around 8pm when we are due to go back out to eat, BJ is complaining of a headache and goes to the bar on our floor and returns with a couple of litres of water, fruit juice and a sack of crisps, which we demolish in seconds. We seek some cooler air out on the fire escape and to our surprise watch the sun set on Elbrus, it's incredible that it only a 4hours drive between these two places, yet there it stands before us showing its sheer snow covered size, bloody hell it's huge!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Mount Elbrus - Part Ten

A day at the Spa – joining the locals

A day at the Spa – joining the localsI wander out into the thickest fog on the way to the loo, desperately trying to locate it amongst the cattle and the moody yak. On the way across the field I encounter two of the local “cowboys”. The shortest a hugely stocky man in an animal skin cloak engages me in conversation. We haven’t a clue as to each others language, until the second guy throws in an English translated word here or there. It turns out that No.1 wants me to go drinking with him. I explain that we’ve just come off of Elbrus and need to sleep, we shake hands, wish each other and trade words of best wishes and go on our separate ways. I didn’t fancy being the prize in a Chechen drinking game.                  
After a surprisingly cold night, that brought a thick fog through the valley, but allowed us to fully enjoy being burrowed down in the sleeping bags, we’re woken by the rapidly rising temperature and Sergei asking what we want to eat. After a fine breakfast of cheese spread, bread, rivita, muesli, canned peaches and tea we kit up for our spa day. We walk casually back down to the “Bridge of Death” where we started the real adventure. Instead of crossing we wind our way up through the rocks up to a plateau that gives views back to Base Camp and out to the crossing valley we saw on our way in with the White Hotel, but this time scattered around the “grounds” are all sorts of tents, tarps and vehicles. It looks like a vagabond community has just invaded. We dip down and cross the thundering river that cuts through the deep gorge far beneath us. The path turns, weaves and heads steeply up. BJ takes it at great speed, I’m feeling the effects of altitude as I huff and puff my way up only to find BJ at the top close to throwing up, again even at this low altitude we’re suffering. Sergei again points out what looks like marsh mallow and tells us to be careful as “This plant burns and you’re in short pants”, I don’t even notice I’ve come in contact with it at all until I feel a severe stinging on my shin, a blistered area of about 10mm diameter, I lick a finger and dab at the spot with which a layer of skin comes away! Vicious vegetation around here. We descend on to the valley’s edge, the gorge to the left with the White Hotel reminiscent of a Romanian horror scene. To the right is a mixture of portacabin/static caravans, tarps and tents, it looks not too dissimilar to a refugee camp. Quite squalid, the permanent buildings are decrepit and look at first glance derelict. We follow down the dirt road past a collapsed bridge and around the river’s edge to the right, across a bubbling spring to the base of a colossal waterfall. Retracing our steps back to the bridge where we cross to the spa pools. Some of the concrete structures have been washed away by landslip, not surprising when you look at the valley walls of soft loose powder fine scree. Further along are four similar concrete "pools" filled near to the top with this loose strata. During the time before Glasnost the army would have been sent down here to dig these pools out and generally maintain the facilities, something that we wouldn't have expected from our Western perception of the former USSR. Luckily for us it's now the male time to use the tiny pool, which when we arrive is already quite crowded, a similar smaller pool to the front has two small boys splashing about in it. I turn round to find BJ stripping down to his boxers, he's going in, "to join in with the locals", I pull off my clothes and tip toe across the sharp stones to join him. As BJ steps down the re-bar ladder in to the group he discovers what 22o feels like, the manic giggling tells me it's quite cool. the locals, all cross armed, stand crowded together glaring out of the pool as these two tan striped white guys clamber in. Outside and over to one side guys stand in their shorts rubbing joints or whole limbs with the damp Iron Oxide rocks, leaving ocre coloured paste on the skin, left to dry and then washed off prior to sitting in the pool. I try to blend in with our counterparts and wash the cold water over my head and face, cleaning the dust and muck off, BJ trying not to raise interest of our neighbours says "Don't! That’s the quickest way to pick up all sorts of bad bugs" "really?" "oh yeah, how hygenic do you think this water is? anything could be in this water they could be peeing in it and you know how rough our bog is!" "Ahhh!" I could be doomed, great. One of the locals amongst us calls over to Sergei and on his answer start to file back out of the pool, we tuck into the line and exit too. I stagger about attempting to dry myself while trying not to continously hit my head on the low roof of the clothes rack, I'm chuckling to myself as I wobble about drying my feet and trying not to contaminate my dry shorts with these small sharp stones that cling to the soles of my feet.

Once dry and composed we wander off to the small cafe and shop to buy freshly baked bread. I notice that my ankle has a strange heat inside of it, it feels surprisingly good on the way back. It's only once we're back at base camp EK tells me that it's a holy spa and that the people down there go as a pilgrimage to take the medicinal waters. Complete bunkum! But the ankle is feeling strangely better. We walk past a small pipe, stretching across the river from the opposite side, spilling water onto the bank. Sergei suggests that we try the water, I cup my hand and take a sip, eeek that's metallic!  We search the shop and cafe for a coke for BJ and draw a blank, we did however buy 3 round breads, fresh and warm. Which we start ripping at and devouring, delicious! Heading back and back at the pipe we encourage BJ to try the water, which he decides tastes like Alka Seltzer, I try again and see what he means by the effervescence. Back at the pools it's peak time as we follow back down to the bridge. Returning up and over the hill it's warm and steep, wandering across the hill we look across the valley floor and out towards our base camp. To get there we have to cross the "bridge of doom", this time though the water is considerably lower. Sergei leads across, BJ camera in hand snaps away, and I follow turning to photograph BJ, who as he gets midway starts to rock and bounce the bridge. Sergei looks back to see where we are and seeing BJ goes crazy, "I'm only joking around, no harm" "Many peoples each year die by this little joking!" BJ looks suitably admonished. When we arrive back at camp the two Norwegians are busily drinking cognac, it's about 3pm and they are well on their way to being completely trashed. When we arrive back at our enclosure the Adventure Consultants’ staff have tethered their Yak/Dzo right at the entrance. BJ holds his fist out for the animal to smell until the owner says it's really not friendly, we three tactfully skirt around it. "If it's a moody git then why park it right by our entrance?" A little later after some tea BJ goes over to the loo, except the Yak/Dzo doesn't want anyone near and drops its head. I hear him call over to me, I look out of the mess tent to see the owner trying to pull it out of the way.

I'm in tears. The owner tells me "Mafia" and gestures that it wants money or food as a toll. Vladimir says "everyone here says 'mafia' to get what they want". In any case it's a dumb place to park your Yak. We go over to our tent and hunker down trying not to get involved in the increasing levels of drinking as the soldiers come round and join in, the noise levels from the mess tent tells its own story. After it's calmed down I catch up with Una (the big Norwegian, who looks like Ross put on a bodybuilding course). He tells me a story of climbing the highest mountain in Norway where he and the guys set out without a guide. They're given directions but they are sent off in the opposite direction. An epic ensues, following just behind them are a group of Russians who are under the impression that locals should know the way. But with closing clouds the route isn't obvious, they take a longer route and eventually meet up much later at the summit. EK hooks out of his pack a bottle of cognac and shares it with the bedraggled Russians. He tells me he has just shared this story with the soldiers, who enjoy this tale, one of them says he has also climbed this mountain. Una pulls out his laptop and shows the photos of the adventure. He scrolls through and when he reaches the summit pictures one of the Russians recognises himself, the mess tent errupts. The small world just gets a little smaller. As I return to our little tent to hide from this craziness I find BJ is craving red wine. He crawls out and heads down to the weird shop/cafe to satisfy this need. A little later he comes back clutching a bottle of Merlot but it's a cork not screw top and I get lumbered with going back to the mess tent to get mugs. I try to slip in - slip out but I'm held captive by the massively drunk Norwegians for an hour, but the guys are endearing and honest. I escape with the mugs and on my return find that BJ all this while has been unable to remove the cork, I'm up and out so it falls to me to return to the shop where they've already agreed to pull it for us. The reason that BJ gives for pulling the cork and for not driving it into the bottle is that we can finish it tomorrow, we settle in and finish the bottle as I read this journal back to him. EK pitches up outside of the tent and has one of the worlds most random conversations through the flysheet, is it his or our consumption of alcohol that's making it so strange? A short while later Sergei brings over half of a bread and a tube of cream cheese, which is rapidly and eagerly consumed. BJ settles back reading his Kindle and I lay back listening to my Walkman, waking up much later with my headphones still in an BJ snoring, oh yes he does snore despite his protestations. I look out of the tent, all the lights are out across base camp and I have no idea of the time, all I do know is it is cold and I need to hunker down in my bag.