Tuesday 2nd July 2019
‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’,
Neale Donald Walsch
After another pretty sleepless night we were out of bed at 7.15 for an 8am breakfast before leaving Basecamp 1.
Today we were hiking up to Assault Camp 2 to drop off half of our equipment before coming all the way back down again to sleep at Basecamp 1, and having to redo the same walk the next day with the rest of our equipment…yeah sounds like a good plan.
This was a whole new ballgame for us as in Nepal we did carry quite a bit of kit up but we also had porters to help with ‘extras’ such as our monstrous sleeping bags, here we have nothing but ourselves..including our monstrous sleeping bags..in high altitude, on a much more difficult terrain than Everest Base Camp…it was going to be tough!
Heading up to Assault Camp 2 would also mean we would be able to acclimatise…but it was a long long way up.
Acclimatisation is very important when dealing with altitude gain at this height as it allows us to expose our bodies to a higher altitude for a short period of time before descending back lower to recover. This strategy of “climb high, sleep low” is an important part of any climbing to high altitude.
This is Us – ‘The Magnificent Seven’
Before leaving, our guide Max was out inspecting us again…it felt quite military!
Me and my hero Max
The previous night he told us “no shorts, definitely no shorts”!
Today was roasting, it was 9am and 22 degrees, I mean sunburning roasting and Max wanted as to put full length trousers on and buffs…before I even begin my trek I’m going to die with heat exhaustion.
Even after explaining to Max that I was from Scotland and this was really hot for me…he replied “trousers” and I replied “yes sergeant, straight away sergeant”!
The rebel in me refused to wear the buff, he never noticed, and if he wanted to courtmarshal me of the mountain he could go ahead at this stage…but I did wear my full length trousers reluctantly!
I am actually happy with Max he has our best interest at heart…I like Max!
So Assault Camp 2, sits at 3800m on a high moraine bordering the lower snow fields. It should take around 5-7 hours return trip.
From here we were able to look over the multi-coloured dry range to the north and see the endless pastures stretching the horizon.
Full attention was needed at many parts of this walk as we were continually shifting slopes of scree that makes up the glacial moraine, with full, heavy rucksacks and in altitude.
You could already feel the difference in the air and the extra effort needed to keep moving forward.
The route took us above a narrow gorge and out of the high grasslands into the alpine zone, affording stunning views of the glaciers of Mt. Elbrus and the lower steppes of the Caucasus to the north.
It’s breathtaking beautiful…literally!
The weather had been very hot as we climbed and we had climbed up and up and up very steeply carrying really heavy gear in our packs for example ice axes, crampons, heavy snow boots, bottles of water to keep hydrated, sleeping bags, thermal rests, summit clothing which is full of such heavy gear, but you need to be layered and layered and layered. My summit gloves alone weighed a ton, waterproof clothing, ski goggles, sunglasses, first aid kits, hats, other types of gloves, socks for this, socks for that, babywipes and toilet paper were also included…the list is relentless but you get the picture…what we couldn’t carry today we would carry tomorrow…I couldn’t think about tomorrow, as I was dying today!
My thinking was to carry as much as I possibly could today as I would be fresher and have a better mindset as it was the first time on this route…or so I thought.
My back was killing me, my breathing was short and sharp and I was carrying a full adult elephant on my back, or so is felt in this altitude, in at least 30 degree heat…with full length trousers on!
I can’t explain what altitude does to you other than say it makes everything feel so much heavier, including your body.
For breakfast we had only ate a small bowl of porridge and 2 fried eggs with a slice of bread, a slice of cucumber and half a tomato…we had burned those calories at least four hours ago! In addition I had 2 energy bars!
And still up we went…it was relentless. For me I had to break it down into stages I could only think about getting to the top of what I could see…beyond that was too much for me to deal with. I zoned into my own little zone focussed on my breathing and simply on keeping stepping forward.
We eventually got to stop, but I felt like we should have had at least 3 stops before this as the gradient was really steep, with heavy packs we should have been continuously rehydrating…ow but no Max was having none of it…I was having this argument in my head all the way up this hill.
But anyway we stopped for maybe what 15 minutes (I know I’m not even going to go into that) and then we were off again! I took about 3 steps and my legs started to scream at me to stop, they were so heavy and shaking…I kept repeating just take a step, take another step until the feeling went, altitude was playing games with me.
I looked up, and it continued to keep going up, when was it going to end.
After carefully picking our way upwards, being careful to avoid slipping back down, we were soon onto our last incline.
The last stretch of the climb leads through the jumbled rock moraine, volcanic rock from the mountains formation, which then took us alongside the Mikelchiran Glacier before cresting a steep pitch and putting us straight in to camp.
This felt like a long drag as tiredness was very much at the forefront of my mind and body, everyone was feeling it.
We had to walk a little bit further to reach our Basecamp…scrambling over boulders and rocks and, then, hallelujah…their she was!
Perched amongst the rocky moraine alongside the Ulmalgender Glacier was our camp, sitting at the base of the broad sweeping slopes of ice and snow. The views were stunning.
We got to our quarters which was a portocabin style hut and had made it in 5 hours.
Inside there were 6 sets of metal bunk beds 3 on each side…with a small walk way….10 of us would sleep, in this, the ‘Magnificent Seven’ as we had now named ourselves, Max the head guide, Azamat the assistant guide and lovely Anna our amazing cook who is only 23 years of age, but can wizz up a meal in harsh conditions.
We will also get changed here, baby wipe shower here, everything in this confined space…our dignity was left behind at the foot of the mountain!
We dumped our gear that we had carried up and our load was lightened for heading back down. After eating a couple slices of bread with jam and butter we were on our way back down.
We followed the same way we had came for quite a bit and we were given the option of heading to see some exotic lava outcrops. Max told us this would be slightly longer but a nice view, so we went for that option. In his ‘slightly longer’ description he said 30 mins…it was way longer, as in hours!!
When we got there however the views were amazing.
The outcrops quite spectacular and it reminded me of the outcrops we had only just visited in The Cairngorms in Scotland the other week.
Then we were off again. You soon find on this hike there is no time for hanging around!
The walk back was long, but it was a fine evening and the views here are amazing.
When we got back to Basecamp we were given some soup and bread, some biscuits and some sweets, then 2 hours later we were served up some buckwheat.
Again late at night we were once again greeted by a full sky of stars…the Milky Way…it was bliss. Another gift from Mother Nature…we were being spoiled. I just stood there for ages looking upwards taking in every single second.
We actually stayed up pretty late all things considering and when it hit 12 midnight we were told by Max “it is late, bed, now” in his Russian accent…I am now creating a page of what I am calling ‘Maximisms’, he is very funny!!!
So of course we followed his orders and once again I rebelled by writing my blog when it was lights out time!