Day 1 On Mount Elbrus

Monday 1st July 2019

As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was about to happen’,

AA Milne

After a restless night I woke up this morning early and anxious!

As Edmund Hillary once said “Its not the mountain we conquer but ourselves” and today I must begin to face my fears.

A whole lot of other fears were now on everyone’s mind as we had just been told that a party of 10 had got lost on Mt Elbrus.

Heavy clouds had surrounded them, they got confused and by the time they came off the mountain an Irish man had died!

We had heard they were all British but due to no signal I couldn’t check out this information. But the story is true! I should also state it WAS NOT with our company/guide!!!

Any challenge with which we are faced, is about taking small steps to overcome our feelings first…I’m literally taking those small steps today.

Challenges can be daunting, causing us to be afraid, lack confidence, feel negative or lazy but by managing change, facing our fears we can turn these obstacles to opportunities. Positive mindset!

Today we were being picked up at 10am from our hotel.

We were then being taken to the rental office in Pyatigorsk for any last minute pieces of equipment…this took forever as some of our group were hiring almost everything…or so it seemed!

Then we were finally off.

With the vehicle loaded we were on our transfer to the base camp called “Emmanuel Glade” at 2500m in the northern lush foothills of Elbrus.

The road we were driving across was on high grassy plateaus and these hours were not boring, as the landscapes were superb.

Within a couple of minutes we had left the city’s edge and were driving through the rolling expanse of the Caucasus foothills.

We saw deep valleys, crossed by bands of white limestone cliffs, then vast plateaus that gradually ascended to the mountains themselves.

Small clusters of buildings could be seen dotted around the valley floors, lonely communities of a couple of block homes surrounded by vegetable patches and fruit trees.

We stopped for a bite of lunch in this very rustic ‘restaurant’….the ‘restaurant’ consisted of outside tables, around 5, attached to what looked like a house, well it had a kitchen and a room or possibly two which belonged to the people serving us food.

There were 3 proper looking elderly Russian ladies dressed in full black long skirts, cardigans and headscarves and two gentlemen eating.

This ‘restaurant’ even had a handbag hanger as you entered inside and all the Russian ladies had their handbags hung here…pretty cool idea.

Before leaving I had to visit their outhouse which was certainly a room with a view!

Then we were back, crammed into our sardine tin of a car!With each minute we found the landscape growing taller as we approached Elbrus.

Then we hit the last 7km of road and we begin to get our first view of the mighty Elbrus!

Now as mentioned before we were cramped into a four by four like sardines attached to a pretty big trailor and we were about to do ‘off roading’ on a single track rocky road with massive holes in it whilst hanging to a cliff edge.

Our other vehicle was still at the airport waiting for our guide who’s plane was delayed for two hours!

We were being thrown about the car, head hitting of the sides, backs breaking…I wonder what their health and policy procedures are.

There were screams, and repeated “is this actually happening”, “everyone lean into the right”, and at points there was options of if we leave the road here we are A. Going to break every bone in our bodies but still be alive, hopefully…how this was going to be the case I’ll never know but at this stage it was a good option to have or B. Die.

If we met a car/van/bus even a cow coming our way….there was no option!We then had to do a river crossing!!

I have now done world’s most dangerous airport – Lukla in the Himalayas and now I think I may have just done worlds most dangerous road… Even Nepals road to Chitwan didn’t come close to this one!After around 4-5hrs we came to the Glade, hallelujah.

We were now in the camp place of the first Russian expedition to Elbrus in 1829. There is a stone here, bearing a memorial inscription dating back to that year!

Today I have finally been given an answer to one of my questions as to “Why am I actually attempting to climb Elbrus”!!!

With the weather staying good for us as we travelled we could clearly see Elbrus, which was about 70km to the south of us standing on the horizon.

I read numerous times that the northern and southern sides of Elbrus differ strinkingly.Standing here around 11k north of the Main Range I could clearly see the mountain jutting out in to flat green pastures bounded by dry bare peaks rising to an average height of 3500m… It is covered in snow….I mean covered!I could clearly see the silver/grey tongues of the glaciers descend into fantastic green jungles of prestine moraines adorned with red and black volcanic outcrops of incredible shapes.

To climb Elbrus from the northern side is to follow the tracks of the pioneers, to climb by the route of the first Russian ascent of the East Summit of 1829.

There are no power transmission lines, good roads, hotels or cafes here. True wilderness. It is a purer mountaineering experience – more remote and a greater need of self sufficiency.

“Take chances when you’re young so that you can tell stories when you’re old”.

I think I may have a few stories to tell when I get there”!

I don’t want to wake up one day when there is no time to do the things I’ve thought about doing…my MOTO is do it now!Tonight’s accommodation is huts!

Very basic huts as you can imagine. But we have luxury here…we have a hut outside with a proper sit down compost toilet!

We meet our Russian guide Max, who straight away ‘feels’ like he will be someone we can trust and get along with.

We are sharing our hut, which is sleeping/eating all in one with our guide, assistant guide and cook!

So 10 of us living together in very close proximity sharing every moment 24/7…it’s going to get cosy.

Some who read this might be amazed/surprised that I have entered into this given that I am a bit of a loner at times and enjoy my own company and of course that of family members…I like to shock!

Aswell as living, eating, sleeping together here we also have to ‘baby wipe shower’ ,(there are no showers here so this is the only option), get changed and everything else one may need to do.

You may think ‘what, no way’ but I tell you I am actually a pretty private person but within a couple of hours of ‘survive or don’t survive’ believe you me, you too would get on with it!

The majority of the rest of the day is spent setting up camp, packing and re-packing our gear.

Our camp is in a pretty special spot with amazing views of Elbrus…I like Basecamp 1.

After organising ourselves Max decides to do an individual, very serious kit check, were we are called one by one and he runs through his list of the equipment we should have with us…he inspects everything, and I mean everything and questions are asked!

I had my gear completely organised but by the time he had finished with me everything was all over the place I had been in a state of panic trying to produce my equipment…military life is certainly something I could not cope with and it was proven within pretty much 5 seconds of kit inspection!

We settle in and then we are served some food…rice with like shredded beef I guess…we are also given lots of vegetables and bread.

We chat for a bit then before heading to bed visit ‘the bathroom’…I honestly cannot put into words with what I was hit with when I stepped outside.

I looked upwards, and I have never in my life saw a sky so close to me, full of diamonds…I’m sure if I had reached up I could have pulled one from the sky.

I have never witnessed so many stars in all of my life, so clear and close…and there in front of me was the Milky Way as clear as day…this was a very beautiful, special moment…for me at this moment in time I had experienced something very special and spectacular.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Alice Reid says:

    Mary that was really funny as I had just given your last couple of blogs to Martin to read as he is down here for a couple of days. My iPad went ping and he said that might be Mary with her latest blog as so it was 😄 Must say this must be your most primitive trip yet ..Take it the “outdoor building ” was the toilet No doors !!😒😳. I hope your Mum doesn’t read this one as I believe she is worried enough about the trip. I think it’s fascinating as you are seeing parts of Russia that many people no nothing about (and showing it to us). I don’t think Simon Reeve visited that part of Russia. Do hou sleep on the tables as well as eat from them? I wonder if that’s where Putin goes horse riding. You may meet him on his summer holidays😄 I hope the weather keeps fine for you. Did the group that got lost ha e a Russian guide? I was wondering how things were going for you so thanks for your latest news and look forward to reading about the next stage of your journey. Jane is sending photos of her holiday ,complete opposite of your as you may guess. Take care. Love &God Bless. Aunty Alice (and Martin) . Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Coincidence or what!! This is definitely the most primitive and hardest thing I have done in my life…I cannot put into words my experiences…. pleasures and hardships…..mental torture is another way to describe feelings I have bring here….but I am overwhelmed by the beauty and magnificent of Mount Elbrus and the Russian landscape down here! Aldo the people ❤️ we have been very lucky! The outdoor building was the toilet with no door of course!!! A girl has got to do with what she has!! My mum was glad to hear we are safe for sure!! I have fallen in love with Russia for sure! We have saw many a horse rider here..who knows it could be Putin…the Russian Army was up today training here at Basecamp 1…handguns and grenade launchers in hand….loads of them…so who know!! Here we have bunk beds to sleep in….Basecamp 1 is like a 5* hotel to Basecamp 2…just wait!! Weather has been amazing….but too hot…hiking in 30degree heat at least in snow…you can imagine! Lots of love your way and tell Martin I will be in touch xxx

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  2. Helena Brogan says:

    So pleased to receive your blog after a week of silence! I understand why…you have to take your chance when you get WiFi. Sounds very exciting Mary and all very cosy!! Loved the restaurant which had a handbag hanger!! Hope you hung yours up too? That “road” looked horrendous.😱😱 your description of the night sky sounds wonderful. Pity you couldn’t have photographed it. Anyway You’re probably half way up Mount Elbrus now…..look forward to hearing about the next stage of your adventure. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey…so had no internet in the sticks!! So far so good, trip been amazing…hardest thing I have ever done in my life…not going to lie!! That restaurant was amazingly…I didn’t have a handbag but tried to hand my rucksack from it….but was glared at by the Russian ladies 😂….the road was treacherous….I was scared for my life 😂….I’m so sorry I could not capture the night sky but take my word for it…. BEAUTIFUL/BREATHTAKING….I can’t imagine ever seeing that again ❤️…lots of love xxx

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