Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Brief Reflection...

Some Reflections on Elbrus...

I can’t believe it’s already over…it feels like just yesterday that I told Anastasia that I wanted to switch to the north side expedition. And I sure am glad I did! I got to spend 10 days with an awesome group of men and women, see beautiful scenery, and have the usual group of unanticipated highs and lows that come with climbing a mountain.

In reflecting on this particular expedition, there are two comparisons I’d like to make. First are the differences between a local operation (like this one) and a Western company trip. Second are the differences between Elbrus and Aconcagua and Kilimanjaro.

1)   Western company vs. Local company

This expedition was a quarter of the price of the cheapest Western operation. Going into it, I expected those price differences to be reflected in the smoothness of the operation and the presence of a Western guide, with few additional disparities. Unfortunately I discovered that one big area of difference is food. I have never been on an expedition on which I have been fed such little food, and such low quality food. For lunch, we could expect—at most—a piece of fruit, a pair of crackers, and a chocolate bar. We were never given more than that. For dinner, the food ranged from a bowl of soup to mashed potatoes and a sausage (which we ate for three nights straight). I understand that we are on a mountain, but clients should not be expected to hoard food (such as ramen, which I hid away like a crazy man), or to bring additional food to the mountain, to survive. In terms of guiding, having a Western guide would have helped with communication and to sort out differences in opinion and perspective that were lost in translation with Andrey. Other than this, I don’t see many major differences. One simply must consider these things when deciding between a local operation and a Western one.

2)   Elbrus vs. Aconcagua vs. Kilimanjaro

I would say that, depending on one’s specific strengths and weaknesses, Elbrus’s north side could be harder or easier than Aconcagua. For me, endurance on an expedition isn’t much of an issue. In other words, whether it’s a week or two months, it doesn’t matter—I’m mentally fit and in it 100%. So, while Elbrus was only a week and Aconcagua was three weeks, I found Elbrus to be harder due to the extremely intense summit day. There was no day like that summit day on Aconcagua or Kilimanjaro. Technical difficulty is pretty equal on Elbrus and Aconcagua (Kilimanjaro is completely non-technical). So, if you prefer a shorter expeditions, Elbrus would probably be easier, but if you are worried about the long summit day, Aconcagua might be the easier bet. I’m very curious how Elbrus will compare to Denali…more on that in a month!

Overall, I am very pleased with how this expedition turned out. Yes, it had its lows (the food! Or lack thereof…) but it also had its highs (my teammates and the beautiful mountain). Even though I only have two days before I head onto the glaciers of Denali, I am already keen to get back onto a mountain. I’ve certainly caught the mountain climbing bug hard. I think I’m addicted…

Denali, here I come!

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