Monday, 25 June 2012

Mount Elbrus - Part Seven


We’re awoken to a stampede through our enclave. Sergei is threatening the cows and their owner with all sorts of violence. The cows have exacted their revenge for our occupation of their meadow by goring the black plastic sheeting sides of the toilet. Now even more flies can enter the foul smelling enclosure, if that’s even possible. We break camp, pack our sleeping bags and mats, load our altitude kit, climbing irons, wishing we’d carried a little more yesterday. BJ and I leave loaded down and feeling fairly optimistic about the day ahead. By the time we reach our first the first gorge we’re dripping with sweat. We dodge the “danger zone” by peeling off and taking the alternate route which turns out to be a steep climb through another gulley. We may be dodging the loose path but this is very hard work in this heat. The Achilles is starting to flare up as we get up onto the moraine basin. BJ reclines on a sun lounger shaped rock and starts to chill but this growing pain is driving me on. I dare not stop as the thought of having to start again is too foreboding. BJ catches up with me by the wadi and gives me a verbal pasting for walking on “We’re supposed to be walking as a team, aren’t we?” I explain that if I don’t just keep going I’d be turning round and going back down. He talks me round into him strapping my heel and fills me with painkillers/anti-inflammatories as Sergei catches up, he is hanging out and sweating like a mule. He says he needs to rest for ten minutes and says that he’ll meet us at the base of the final rise across the moraine to help me in with my pack. I’m having a real sense of humour failure and that dark voice in my head is suggesting that I’ll break before the summit. We slow our pace slightly and push on, the pain can be pushed back into the depths of my mind. We reach the top of the escarpment, sitting down resting and eating our “mountain mix”, when the 3 soldiers who have been trailing us catch up, looking wasted too. This is a psychological boost to us, they’re hanging out. Sitting here we realise just how exposed we are; the sun has lost its heat with the fresh breeze blowing in from the east across the glacier. We exchange welcomes and talk of the heat and the effort but we don’t speak each other’s languages. One of them decides he wants a photo of us, the photographer says “синица”(sinista) the guy with us replies, the photographer translates “Breast!” this causes everybody to laugh like schoolboys. We bid farewell and carry on. The pain is searing behind my eyes, it doesn’t let up, but BJ realises that if he continues to talk (incessantly) it’ll keep me from that dark place where missions are lost. The wind picks up and very quickly chills to the bone missing out the enjoyable cooling phase. We start across “the beach”, a rubble version of Dungeness beach at altitude. Glistening atop of the rocks like a crashed spaceship is the goal!

We pass resting groups spattered the landscape. We climb on to the moraine ridge and both voice our dislike of this the hardest section. Crossing the moraine and up on to the glacial fingers, scrambling back through the rocks Sergei is there to meet us. BJ pushes on as I sling my pack over to Sergei there, it fails to ease the climbing, my breathing doesn’t ease either just the pressure on my Achilles is lifted. We finally cross the flat area just beneath the huts and make the last 5 metres of the ascent. The relief isn’t as instant as I would have wished, I’m now just left daunted by the prospect of what lays ahead.

 The Rest Day

Our first night is treated to a huge storm. We’re tucked in the corner of the hut on the bottom level of the racks, taking up the space of three on our ledge, our kit laid out between us. As the wind builds it’s lifting our tin hut. The rain, hail and sleet rattling against the red arched structure, some leaking in through the roof where the chimney/cowl is missing, making sleep a challenge. We’re sharing this crazy place with a couple from Germany and another from South Africa, Renée and husband Mike a Scotsman. The Germans summited in beautiful weather earlier yesterday but Renée and Mike are leaving at 2am. This we think is madness. The wind continues to howl late into the morning. The weather is foul and we decide to postpone our aclimatisation walk to Lenz Rocks. The door pops open around 9:30 Renée and Mike stagger in, soaked and frozen. As they peel off layer after layer they describe their summit push. After having crossed the glacial lake just below the huts, climbed over the moraine wall opposite and out onto the glacier proper they battled with the winds. They battled on against the wind and snow for four hours finally reaching Lenz Rocks, where the guide has them sit, despite there being little shelter, for an hour in case the weather broke!!! The Lenz Rocks are a sheer rock face outcrop of about 15metres with a cross on top. They both look shattered but are surprisingly high spirits allowing for that being their summit window. They don’t have long back in the sanctuary of the hut as they have to pack and head down. Renée played a kind of chess with her kit, moving it between their ledge, the spare one and her pack, a process we couldn’t pass up taking a pop at her about. They waited for a calm in the weather before the four of them left. We lay back in our bags happy with the idea that we’ll have the hut to ourselves tonight. As we relax passing the time napping, writing and organising future adventures the door bursts open and in drip 14 Frenchmen and women. They have no sense of courtesy, swing wet kit about without care of soaking ours. The noise is off the scale, they have no concept of closing the door and with the storm raging outside what little warmth there was in the hut is quickly gone.

Down in the kitchen hut BJ starts chatting to one of the Adventure Consultants clients who speaks of his charitable treks and tells of his North Pole crossing which turns out to have raised funds for the Cancer care centre where BJ’s wife works. A small world-ism. BJ would have been at the lecture he gave if it hadn’t fallen on the same day that BJ was running a L2P charity bike ride.

BJ and I eat and head back to our bags to settle down for an early night as we’re heading out on our acclimatisation walk tomorrow and we’re going to be up and away early for once. When the French come back after their meal they show no care for the fact that we’re in our bags and trying to sleep. Every time someone enters the hut they bang the door relentlessly trying to close it. They don’t attempt to keep their voices down and dazzle the interior with the light from headtorches. Despite our vociferous complaints their actions change little.

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