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Winter Elbrus Ascent

Climb Elbrus with our guides

Somehow there gathered a whole of group of us, eager to summit the famous giant – Elbrus. For about two months I was living with anticipation and all my thoughts being about climbing Elbrus in winter. Finally the day came when we were to set out.

Of course, it wasn’t my first winter Elbrus climbing expedition, but I’d like to assure that I’m not going to carry out my future trips with an old itinerary. And here is why. As usual, we set out in the evening and were riding a whole night through. In the morning we were among the first ones in the wagon in Azau valley – so eager we were to get with all our things to the Barrels (“Bochki”) huts. It is on considerable altitude of­ 3,900 meters. I should say, that time I wasn’t fighting against sleep at all. There was just no need for doing it, since we couldn’t even think about sleeping. By 7 AM we arrived at a valley with poetic name Azau. So far everything was going on as planned. Our bus left and we gathered our packs by the lift station and began waiting for it to open. Later in the morning we were joined by a lot of skiers also waiting for the lift station to open. But the ticket window wouldn’t open. And later we learned that the station wouldn’t open – there were some technical works going on there. We had no other choice but to think about spending the night at the overcrowded resort. We were lucky enough to arrange for accommodation at a local hotel. After checking in we decided to walk around the neighborhood and headed towards Old Krugozor station located at the altitude of 3,000 meters. By that time we already began thinking about how we were going to get to Barrels the next day. Although everybody was saying that there was no way the station would work, we were lucky again: the chair lift worked and took us to Mir station at the altitude of 3,500 meters. There we loaded our packs on a snowcat, sent it to Barrels, and headed towards there by foot. We got to our destination in no time and there was only one thought in our head – Elbrus climb. Further events were proceeding by the so-called traditional scenario – some of us got sick, some of us were as fresh and cheerful as in normal conditions, and a few others were suffering from some kind of infection. Magnificence of surrounding mountains was also perceived in different ways: some climbers were admiring them while others were playing smart, lecturing us on what one should do in order for Elbrus ascent to be successful. Overall, things in our group were going on just like in any other. The next destination in our Elbrus climbing tour was Priyut-11. We weren’t lucky with the weather but somehow we managed to pass the part of our route that was stretching to the end of Pastukhov rocks above Priyut-11. But we weren’t lucky with the weather. However, as we learned later, it wasn’t really terrible compared to the severe cold – actually, unusual for winter Elbrus – that was there before our arrival. We could hope that the bad weather would be over soon, and we would be able to carry out successfully our Elbrus winter ascent. I risk to sound sentimental but I should confess my love towards that mountain. No matter how many times I’ve climbed it, I always long to repeat the experience once again. Particularly I’m impressed by winter Elbrus with lots of snow and absolutely incredible ice fields around. All that makes me feel dizzy and stays in my heart forever. I really love all that. I love walking in the snow with my headphones on – just walking without stopping, like a robotic machine. This physical activity seems to become a background for my thoughts as well as for some incredible perceptions. Even when walking surrounded by friends, you are, in fact, alone – alone with that giant called Elbrus. After our hike to Pastukhov rocks we slowly descended to its lower edge. It was a sort of semi-rest day for us. Later we decided to take a real rest day and went to the local museum at Mir station only to discover that it was closed. After hanging around there for a while we turned back. The summit day – the culmination of our trip to Elbrus – was approaching. The interesting fact is that a good half of our group were climbing Elbrus for the first time, while for several of them it was also the first climbing expedition. I even envied them a bit for that chance of experiencing everything for the first time, when all little things seem exciting and incredible, and first impressions bring torrents of emotions. With Elbrus everyone is due to have a first-time experience of their own, but by all means it would be real and should be quite agreeable. People in our group were in serious mood in the evening before summiting day. Only in the morning, right before our setting out, somebody tried to tell a joke to reduce a bit the tension in the air. But somehow jokes were not welcome at that moment – everybody were very, very serious and concentrated, like before taking an important exam. And in a certain way it was an exam all right. I remember that on that day our guides wouldn’t let anyone go before them, all the way until we reached Pastukhov rocks. He set a steady pace and we all followed it. However, later every one of us retrieved a personally more convenient pace. The guardrail of the summit – finally! Somebody was sick, somebody decided to turn back, but the greater part of us accomplished the climb. On the summit day we set out by 4 AM. We were afraid that before the sunrise we would get so cold that would have to head back. The temperature was about -20°C, but thanks, God, there was no wind – this precise circumstance helped us greatly. And when the sun rose, things became much better. During our acclimatization hikes some of the climbers from our group would always turn back on all sorts of reasons. I should say that the wisely selected outwear (like down-padded coats and different accessories) saved us from severe cold on those days. Especially I want to thank our guides (who rented them) for the coats that were tailored specially to make our Elbrus ascent comfortable and warm, and neutralized the effect of severe cold. I thought that no matter what, we should climb all together, irrespective of individual level of training and state of health. Thus, quicker climbers sometimes had to wait for the rest of the group. And only the absence of strong wind allowed us stay true to this condition throughout the entire route to Elbrus summit. I recall about 15 other climbers (besides our group) starting on the same day with us. But only our group was actually climbing by foot. Other climbers would arrive on snowcats or snowcars. But even if others opted for that method of climbing, I was adamant and stuck to my beliefs that what is meant by “ascent” is climbing on foot and not using vehicles. That Elbrus ascent proved to be successful for entire our group but for one climber. She (it was a girl) failed because of her health condition. Most of us managed to cover 5,000 meters, and that girl also was among those brave ones. As it turned out, during summiting she was suffering from that sneaky altitude sickness. The curious fact is that during acclimatization climbs altitude was having no effect on her. She always felt great, with no hint of discomfort. And only during summiting the sickness got her. It began on the slope just above Pastuknov rocks. With her hands swollen, she thought that she was losing her motion coordination. Lucky for us, we had two guides, and one of them took her to the saddle of Pastuknov rocks. Such were the results of our Elbrus ascent. Then followed the planned descent to a desolate gorge and barbeque on a clearing full of Narzan springs. We spent that night on the road to town Nevinka (the passage of vehicles was barred during dark part of the day because of the weather). Then we headed back home. What was I thinking afterwards? What thoughts were swarming in my head? Of course, the greater part of them was recollections of that Elbrus climbing expedition and my new friends. Those are the things that I will keep in my mind forever. And everything I wrote above is of little significance and bears no comparison with what I went through. Elbrus has always been a very special mountain for me as well as those who had seen it even once. It is a symbol of greatness and beauty, and I think it will stay forever as such. I am sure the mountain will always help those really eager to summit it. My guide once told me that no matter what happens in my life in the future, Elbrus will always have its unique place in my life.

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