Why sometimes it’s better to not pick up the phone, can you live in a barrel roll, what are you thinking about sitting in a WC wich stays over the abyss, can you steal a smoke at 5000 meters height, and finally what rakes can teach you.
Four days before my trip to the half-marathon in Tallinn I got a call. A mysterious voice slowly whispered into the phone: “We are flying to Elbrus with Ruslan the day after tomorrow. What about you?”
What do you mean, what about me? What does it mean “the day after tomorrow”? I have a race on Sunday, and on Monday you are already climbing up the mountain. I do not have all the equipment, it requires a couple of months to prepare, because mountains are not a joke, not a weekend party! I have a start of the year in Chicago near at hand, why should I take the risk? This is crazy!!! To cut it short, guys … Of course I’m coming with you! 2 hours later I had all tickets for all the flights in my hands.
I will be brief – Tallinn is gorgeous. It’s a surprisingly comfortable place to stay. Beautiful, neat, comfortable, with nice people and developed infrastructure, with ancient monuments, the Baltic Sea, funny accent and tasty sandwiches with rye bread, anchovies and eggs … In short, it’s a city for people.
Thanks to our new friend – Victor Guzun, the former ambassador of Moldova in Estonia, for showing us this city from its peaks to basements, from the beaches to the garlic restaurants, from Town Hall square to the residence of Peter the Great, City Wall, House of the Brotherhood of Blackheads, Oleviste Church, Upper and Lower Town, TV tower, Marzipan Museum, the oldest pharmacy in Europe, the Song Festival Grounds and much more …
I went to the half marathon with Mishka Gavrilov, my running mate. There we also met with Igor and Katyusha Nisenboim, everyone’s running the “half”.
At the last moment we were joined by Victor Guzun. As it turned out, he is an amateur runner, but was not going to participate in the competition. Short time for convincing, and here he is with us!
At the expo, young people approached me and asked for a picture – it turned out they were preparing for the Ironman by my video report… So, all this is not in vain, damn it!
Well, here goes the start. I stood up in the front row, thought I would run at least a hundred meters along with the leaders. No way…
In fact, there is nothing special to be told about the race – the shape was excellent, the weather was beautiful, the route was flat, running was going surprisingly easily and naturally, the result – 1:35 (place 221 out of 3500) and a great feeling!
After the finish, all of a sudden we gave an interview to local television and went to celebrate the race in a medieval pub.
The next day, early in the morning we had a flight to Mineralnye Vody. Before leaving, we met with the organizer of the Tallinn Marathon, Mati Lilliallik. The conversation was interesting, useful, I learned about the pitfalls, reefs, whirlpools and creepy carnivorous fish that are waiting for us.
Thank you for your testimony, and advice, dear Estonian friend!
We arrived in Mineralnye Vody late in the evening, took a taxi, and three hours later together with Andrey Khokhlov were brewing tea at the Terskol camp at an altitude of 2100 m. In the morning, instead of the morning exercise we went to mountain jogging, in the end of which we were drinking from the source of mineral water, a real miracle – I never drank mineral water from the tap.
Then we got a little bit up by the cable car, then we walked with backpacks another couple of hours.
Modern Elbrus does not look like a wild place – civilization is everywhere here, and it’s a lot more than we would like to see. The roads with garbage on roadsides, trucks, ratracks, workers, more rubbish, houses, cranes, rattle, rumble, Low! Up! Construction, to cut it short.
The chairlift to the Elbrus mountain should become an unique and the only one among the similar European and Russian structures, since it will be located at the highest altitude. The construction will connect the station “Mir” (altitude 3455 m) to the station “Gara-Bashi” (3847 m). The length of the “skyline ropeway” shall reach 1675 m. The stability of the ropeway will be provided by 12 feet. Cabs will be capable of lifting eight people, and will be able to carry about 750 passengers to the height.
We stopped for the night in Barrels Hut.
“Barrels Hut” is a mountain refuge (3750 m) in the former railway wagons for pumping oil, a harsh place for professional climbers, who are spending time here for acclimatization before conquering the Elbrus Mount. The houses are designed in the form of barrels for 6 people each.
Each house has: 6 beds with mattresses and pillows, table, chairs. Facilities are on site. Dining room is united with open kitchen and is located in a separate building. The generator for electricity runs in the evenings. Overall, it is a nice place with a view of the Mount Elbrus top.
The next morning we have gathered and went to the “Refuge of 11” (4100 m), from where, in fact, we will be taking the Mountain by the storm.
Now, several wooden houses are standing at the site of the burned hotel. Here the climbers are being accommodated.
I would particularly like to note the place of worship, which is good to think about the eternal, Toilet in the Refuge.
Having caught our breath and eating after the lifting, we took thermos bottles with tea, and made an acclimatization exit to Pastukhov Rocks. We did not reach them by about 200 meters, took a sit, marked the territory, and went down. To sleep.
We “woke up” at 3:30 am. Woke up is in quotation marks, because it is impossible to sleep in “Refuge of 11″ during the season.
Groups for the ascending started waking up since 12 in the night. They get up, turn on the generator and lights, and begin gathering their stuff. In short, you get roar, noise, light and persistent questions like – Where are my grapples?
The weather was calm and not very cold. The route was as follows:
Refuge 11 (4100) – the Pastukhov Rocks (4700)
Pastukhov Rocks – Sloppy area (5050) – Saddle (5300)
Western summit (5642).
At 4:30, having turned our flashlights, we cheerfully moved up.
From the “Refuge of 11” the route goes up between two rocky ridges, formed by lava flow. The trail goes along the closed glacier, no cracks; you can go without tangles, the slope is about 20°. Clearly visible traces of ratracks, it’s not difficult to stay on the trail.
The first couple of hours went well, the silence, the dawn in the mountains (in fact, it is a topic for a separate conversation), the forces are there, the mood is excellent.
A ratrack drove past us – it took the tourists a little higher, so that they have more chances to ascend. But this is not our method – we want to do it on our own feet :)
By the time we reached the Pastukhov Rocks, the situation started changing – the steepest area begins over the rocks (4700 – 5000m). Here it got me. At first, I just couldn’t keep up with the guys. Then bad sign came – I was made the leader. This was aimed at not letting me fall behind everyone and I should be giving the general pace to the group. The rate continued to fall, and soon I stopped. Andrew wondered if everything was ok, and I strongly waved my “mane”. Although the sensations made me feel that I just ran a half-marathon. After catching my breath, I decided to count the steps. 50 steps later my legs got leaden, and I stopped again.
Now that’s flick on the nose … Honestly, I thought that with my achievements in running, swimming and, most importantly, in freediving, I will have no problems with acclimatization and lack of oxygen. In vain. Everything turned out to be not so easy – 2 days for acclimatization give no chances for a light ascend. Acclimatization for Elbrus should take 7-8 days. Though I have not been experiencing the classic symptoms (headache and vomiting). But there was sooooo little oxygen for the muscles, and they were getting stuffed sooo fast.
Well, let’s go in spurts, it’s not the first time when we have to tolerate something; the main thing is to have time for reaching the summit and descend before the dark. Indeed, the mountain takes the majority of victims after sunset – people go astray, the weather worsens, the wind rises, the cold and darkness are doing their job – people are falling into the cracks, freeze, slip out from the slopes.
And so we went – 50 steps – stop, waiting until the heart rate drops below 130, and again 50 steps. Ruslan ahead (Doing well!) and Andrew behind. We labor up. From a height of about 5000 m, the trail goes sharply to the left, and this is the beginning of the Sloppy area. The slope in this area gets smaller, the trail, rounding the eastern peak, takes you to the saddle of Elbrus. Here we met a guy – he sat there, tormented by altitude sickness, refused our help and decided not to tempt the fate and go down.
When going through the Sloppy area, the number of steps fell to 40. We made a halt, drank tea, and stretched our legs. We warmed up, rested a little and here we go up again. Then I made an important discovery – no matter how long are the steps I do, anyway I count 40 of them. Therefore, I began to step rapidly and widely.
And now – the Saddle. The height of 5300m. At the Saddle you can see the ruins of the old Refuge – snow swept boards, and higher there is a new Refuge, in which you can hide, when being caught up in the storm. It was from there we decided to take out the trash on the way back, to make our ascent useful for the mountains and for other climbers. Wind at the saddle was already seriously blowing, so I barely managed to catch my glove.
From the Saddle, the trail to the western summit goes left and up steeply. Here is where you have to sweat – the most difficult area at the angle of 40 degrees, ice axes in your teeth, sticks are left at the Saddle. Away we crawl.
Generally, I hardly remember this part of the route, because my interval fell to 20 steps, and in between I was resting, leaning on the sticks and literally falling asleep.
It was probably looking very strange from aside – you see a man, leaning on the sticks, breathing heavily. It is evident that he is barely alive. Suddenly he straightens up, makes, as if nothing happened, 20 rapid, broad steps, and again falls on the sticks and falls back asleep.
My friends knew, what was happening to me and waited patiently, while I was gathering my thoughts. I promised them to drag the pot and mamaliga to the top, and they could easily help me do it by taking off my backpack, but apparently they did not want to offend me – thank you, that I dragged it to the end on my own. Wind is already ripping in full force – 50km/h, not less, but we bent over, and crawl down the slope.
At an altitude of about 5500 m the trail passes through the gap of the rocky ridge, descending from the summit. The trail goes at almost a flat plot – the pre-summit plateau, from where you can already see the top. The wind does not cease, but it does not matter already – there it is, the peak at a hand’s reach. Another half-hour “walk” and here we are at the top of Mount Elbrus!
I have heard a lot about the “high-traffic” ascend at this mountain. And here we are – all alone at the top.
Excellent! The fatigue vanished, but let’s not waste any time – let’s get to cooking mamaliga!
We light the torch, put the pot, fill it with snow, melt, and 20 minutes later we have a pot of mamaliga.
But our hopes of feeding weary travelers at the top of Europe with our Moldovan national dish were not meant to come true – there was no one but us in a radius of 3 km…
Well then, we’ll enjoy it on our own!
Wiping our hands on each other and collecting backpacks, we started descending.
When getting down to the Saddle, we made the final cleaning at the highest mountain rescue hut of Europe “Saddle 5300”, and carried out more than 12 kilograms of garbage.
Cleaning was carried out in consultation with the hut caretaker, Michael Stempkovsky.
On the way back we caught up a strange couple of “dead” climbers. He was staggering with the amplitude of the Golden Gate during a hurricane. She was walking slowly ahead. When we came, she turned to me and asked the most ridiculous question that a person could ask at an altitude of 5300 meters after 10 hours of climbing up the mountain. It took an honorable second place in my ranking:
– Do you have a smoke?
Since the height sickness had already got me quite considerably, I got locked up without finding an answer. She waited a response for like 10 seconds, sighed, and went on.
Ironically, with decreasing altitude it wasn’t getting any easier for me. Again I began stopping after every 30 steps. God damn it, we are going down! The further, the more. An hour later, when we were getting closer to the Pastukhov Rocks, my legs started going pit-a-pat.
One step, two, three – hop on my bottom. I sat a little, snoozed, stood up, made three steps – fell in the snow. I never had anything like this happening to me, not even on IronMan, nor even in New York. Legs just can not hold me at all. The height sickness is insidious – it manifests with a delay and at a sufficiently vigorous ascending, you will catch it on your way back. I realized that I need to understand the situation, so we decided to have some rest.
So, why can I not keep going ahead? What do muscles need to work? Oxygen and glycogen. I do have the oxygen since I am not suffocating. Then it has to be glycogen, carbohydrates, food … that’s right! I ate nothing for the last 10 hours!
Come on, guys, get out of the pockets all you have, we should eat. It is such a dubious pleasure to nibble raisin ice candies and iced Sneakers, but then nothing was for pleasure. I forced myself to eat all they found, and started waiting.
The sun was already getting hot, the wind was almost gone, I am just sitting on a hillside with a full belly of frozen sweets and admire the view of the Major Caucasian ridge. It’s great.
Half an hour later we were already going forward, and an hour later I was going in front of the guys. Here it is, the power of carbohydrates and partial oxygen pressure! A cap of Coke after the triathlon tradition would be so nice… It’s getting hot, the sweat is pouring, unbuttoned jackets do not protect from the sun. And here we are at the Refuge, I am shaking, tea, condensed milk, cereal, tea, sausage, dry clothes, condensed milk, did number one, number two, tea, someone’s soup, condensed milk…
After previous “jolly” night we decided to go down to the Barrels without waiting for the evening, to get a good sleep. A small trip by a ratrack, and here we are in our favorite barrel no. 8. Stretched out, we eat condensed milk with suluguni cheese and share experiences…
In the morning we took a cable car and went down to the Terskol camping. We solemnly threw garbage from the Saddle and went digging in khinkali.
In the evening, we went to dine out in a quite popular restaurant Friends, where we pompously hoisted the flag of Moldova at the most prominent place! So, if you ever find yourself in the Elbrus region – you should take a peak to the cafe Friends and say that you are from Moldova (even if you are not from Moldova) – they will lay the best table under the head of a surprised mountain goat.
By the way, this is probably the only cafe in the neighborhood, where you can count on the fact that you are being treated as a customer, rather than a misunderstanding that interferes talking on the phone :)
PS, or Part 3
It was a weird week – from the Baltic Sea to the peaks of Europe and back to Chisinau. Upon arrival, naturally, I was caught up with everything – fever, herpes and snot – all the charm of the killed immunity and lack of acclimatization. Now, reeling snot on my fist, I am lying here with my lips, shining with zovirax, and think:
– Why does my life teach me nothing, and when, finally, I’ll stop doing stupid things?
And I understand that, whatever the mistakes teach me, my heart believes in miracles…