Friday, 6 July 2012

Summit Attempt: Part 1

I was super excited, but nervous as hell - my main concern being that disastrous snow cat beast!
I started dressing at 12am, it looked great outside to me, but I couldn't really see properly.  I couldn't hear any wind or sleet/snow falling so I took that as a good sign.
Robby got up a few minutes later and warned the group that he did not think it a good idea to go out for the summit, as he felt the weather was not right and that the snow would still be too deep.  He also mentioned that it had snowed all night and was in fact snowing a few minutes before the chat...anyway, we all said no, we wanted to go!

I needed the loo so badly, that I asked Joe to quickly accompany me as it's not a little path I would like to do on my own...and guess what!!?  It was the most beautiful weather we had seen there in the middle of the night!  The stars were shining brightly...the moon was full and we could see the twin peaks of Mount Elbrus glistening and looming over us!! Yeeha...I just knew the weather was wind, no snow, just amazing!  This gave us so much more confidence as well...breakfast at 1am should be fun!
We all piled into the little kitchenette and sat down for some warm oats, cookies, tea least I got some oats down...I knew that today I would have to dig deep!

Back to the barrel to get my harness on, pack the final goodies and head out to put my crampons on.  My pack felt quite light as I was wearing everything that I had to carry the previous day...those training sessions at gym with a heavy pack sure paid off...and I would do it exactly the same way again!
I put my snow goggles around my neck for later (I really don't enjoy wearing them much..I feel that it restricts my sight as well as my breathing...and the fit is great, so it's just me!), head torch on and I was ready!  The realisation that all we had trained for, travelled for and prepared for was now about to happen just gave me butterflies in my stomach - but that could also have been the dread for the waiting snow cat beast?

We were all so excited and organised, that we were ready and waiting for the cat before 2am...
To my dismay, the driver started up one of the smaller snow cats (still very large though) and not the big black beast I had watched earlier - I was convinced the large one would sail up the slopes without any sliding...but I would just have to keep the faith now.
I got on and chose a seat on the side - the seats were covered in snow so my butt got a bit cold, but I was dressed in all my great gear and wasn't freezing at all!
I was shaking, but that was soon as the cat started moving I put my head down, held onto Joe's arm and closed my eyes....I literally prayed from the minute we moved, I even sang a few hymns, I don't think I have ever been so scared in my life...The first part went so quickly - the really steep slopes made me pray even louder...we did a few tiny slides, but nothing close to the first experience, my arms were getting so tired from squeezing Joe!

It felt like an eternity, but the ride was pretty much over in 30min or so...perhaps less, I wasn't going to let go of Joe's arm to even attempt a squiz at my watch...all I knew was that I WAS ALIVE!! I jumped off as fast as my jelly legs would leg me and just shouted THANK YOU God.  I was so relieved and excited, that the slope ahead wasn't even a worry to me.  We all regrouped and once everyone's headlamps and mittens were on and sorted, we started the slow slog up the slope.  At first the doc was behind Yuriy with me following him, but after a while Robby asked to swap the line up and I was moved to behind Yuriy.  We got a great rhythm going, and we had to switchback continuously as the slope was incredibly steep - and SUPER LONG...I just put my head down, help my trekking poles and concentrated on stepping in Yuriy's tracks - we were first up so he was breaking trail - a very hard job to do in the very deep snow conditions we were encountering.  We had to stop a few times as our hands were literally starting to freeze - the pain and burning sensation was something I had never experienced before and it was quite scary! Yuriy showed us an amazing way to swing our arms which brought the blood and pressure back to the digits!  It lasted for about an hour at a time, and really made a huge difference! I never once used any hand warmers, only my inners and the down mitts.

When I looked over to the right, Yuriy showed me where the sun was rising in the distance and also the planet was this bright shining star, an amazing sight which I will never forget - unfortunately it was too steep and precarious to get the camera etc out, I think Robby took a few shots and Joe got one or two!  The slope was super super steep and the drop off too scary to look at, I kept my eyes firmly to the ground and if I did want to see a view I turned and looked at the beautiful fluffy clouds below and the sunrise to the is a very exposed slope and I did not want to lose sight of the steps Yuriy had made for any amount of time!  We were following little red flag to little red flag...and let me tell you how deceptive snow and mountains are...just when I thought there were only 12 left, another ridge would reveal itself and another 12 flags would be added...we got to a section (probably half way who knows) and Yuriy said we could have a break.....

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