Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Number Three!!!

Day 7, June 9th, 2012: Summit Day!

Yay! I can’t believe I made it to the top of Elbrus today. And woah was it a long day. Without a doubt, my Elbrus summit day was the longest and hardest day of physical activity I have experienced so far.

Though technically we were planning to summit today, we didn’t actually believe it would happen considering the horrendous weather of the preceding two days. Even our guide Andrey was doubtful we would summit, but he said that if it cleared he would wake us up around midnight. By some coincidental fluke, I woke up at 12:01am and didn’t hear any disturbances, so I went back to sleep thinking our summit day would be postponed. Lo and behold, 6 minutes later Andrey came around and woke us all up with a loud call of “Get up! Get up!” I stuck my head out of the tent and was greeted by a cloudless sky and a fresh blanket of snow on the ground. We got our gear together, put on our layers, and gathered in the kitchen tent. At around 2:30 we were all set to go and we started the long trek up the mountain.

No more clouds...a good sign!
Summit day on the north side of Elbrus is a long affair no matter how you cut it. Unlike the south side, on which you take a snow cat up half way on summit day and only have a 5-hour hike to the top, it’s between 10 and 15 hours up on the north side, with a 1,800m vertical rise. That is not easy.

Despite the difficult day ahead of us, the first four hours were pretty peaceful and relaxed. The temperatures were cool but surprisingly manageable…nothing like the freezing cold I had experienced on summit day of Aconcagua. At around 5:30am, the sun’s rays began peeking up above the horizon, lighting up a beautiful inversion layer of clouds. We took some pictures and, before we knew it, were up to Lenz Rocks—the same spot we had gone up to for an acclimatization hike two days before.

The sun begins to rise over the clouds.

By this time the sun was fully up and the temperature was starting to increase. The mountain’s pure white glaciers reflected the sun, magnifying its effect tremendously. We continued up a path along Lenz Rocks (which goes from 4,600m to 5,200m), before heading west towards the west summit of the mountain (the higher of the two cones).

Lenz Rocks in the daylight. As the sun rises, the heat rises...
It looks so close! (Elbrus is the large mound behind my head...)

Then came the Death March.

What had looked like a simple traverse to the saddle between the two cones was much steeper than it seemed. Moreover, the temperatures had soared—the lack of cloud cover brought the heat up to painfully steamy conditions. Because we were the first group up the mountain that day, our lead guide was having a tough time breaking trail, which meant that our progress kept starting and stopping—not what you want 9 hours into summit day.

The painful "traverse" also known as the Death March.

Somehow we managed to survive this Death March, only to find a path of flags leading up the west summit that seemed much, much too steep. We were only 200m from the summit—there’s no way it could be that hard! Luckily, by this time we were all operating on adrenaline and we gutted out the last two hours, finally ending up on the top of the mountain.

100m of horizontal traverse brought us to a 5m hump in the flat peak—the true summit of Elbrus. Laura and I were the first to make it up there, and we waited about 10 minutes before the rest of our team arrived. Soon it was full celebration mode, with hugs, kisses, and lots of crazy, joyous dancing all around.

Number Three! 

The group picture on the summit. 11/13 made it all the way to the top of Europe!

Total time up was just over 11 hours, with our precise summit time of 1:42pm. And we were only half-way there…we still had to get down.

Unlike Aconcagua, the weather held up and the descent wasn’t overly strenuous. The only frustrating aspect was the heat, which had turned the morning’s hard, icy snow into deep mush. We were slipping and sliding down the mountain for another four hours before we made it back to High Camp.

Some food and water were much needed at that point, as we had only 2 liters of water and 3 chocolate bars during our 15 hours of exercise. Even more necessary was sleep, which we all got a lot of that night.

All in all, 11 of the 13 of our expedition made it to the summit, and spirits were very high at the end of the day. 

You can see our path going almost all the way up the mountain! Notice the black rocks below the left (East) peak--those are the Lenz Rocks. Believe it or not, they are still 1000 vertical meters below the true summit.

1 comment:

  1. It's sounds really amazing. Congratulations on the climb. -Kevin Bannon