So at around 3am on Friday, bleary eyed, we got up and grabbed breakfast. Before setting off, I put my heat pads into my boots. Then we all got into the Sno-Cat and made our way to the rocks with a couple of additional guides (so three in all). Whilst there wasn’t a blizzard, it was very windy to start off with on the short 20 minute trip. Once we dismounted, final kit preparation was done and we were off. The going was slow to start off with and this is where we had our first casualty at around 5000m. Our American team member decided to turn back as the going was tough and he seemed to be visibly suffering. I take my hat off to him, because it took a lot of courage to turn back and leave the team that had built up over the last few days. Additionally, as an experienced climber, he was savvy enough to understand whilst it would be disappointing to turn back, at the same time there would have been no point in taking unnecessary risks. He made his way back to the barrels by himself whilst we carried on.
As we continued on, the effects of the lack of oxygen did play on the speed that we went forward as a team. Again no storms hampered our climb but it was very windy but we were all wrapped up enough so that we weren’t affected by this. Snow goggles were definitely the order of the day, as it was pretty cold. I had my lobster gloves on (which I was recommended against using) and my right hand did start to suffer. We were still walking along the slope of the eastern peak and to my mind, there were no security risks or issues, so I stuck my hand in my jacket to warm it up which, after 15 minutes or so, did the job. As I’ve said before, hindsight is a wonderful thing. If I get the chance to do another climb, I’ll buy mittens and not use the lobster gloves.
We carried on plodding away as a team, without any further incidents towards the summit, walking around the slope of the eastern peak, towards the saddle between both peaks. Once past the main part of the saddle, we started the climb towards the western peak. The gradient of the slope seemed to be much steeper than the initial climb from Pastukhova rocks. Just before the highest part of the slope, there is a metal cable fixed into the mountain side. This was where one of the guides up front came back to check the team members so as to make sure that everyone was okay. Whilst going past each of us, he decided almost arbitrarily who was going to be attached by rope to the cable that was fixed to the side of the mountain. I have no idea to this day how he chose the people that were attached. I wasn’t attached and I think that this was the only area where I had some concern because any mistake would have meant quite a fall (as the slope was pretty steep by this time). I suppose I could have just attached myself had I wanted to, but being the brave hero, I couldn’t be bothered. Bearing in mind that my experience in mountain climbing is very limited and looking back, I was probably pretty stupid. But anyway I’m still here to tell the story so it can’t have been all bad.
We eventually made the peak all together and I think people were physically exhausted by this stage. The thing with mountain climbing, is that going up is optional, going down is mandatory. A couple of members of the team did suffer getting back (and for a while, I carried the rucksack of one of the guys until someone else took over). The two team members ended up going down the mountain on one of the numerous snowmobiles that were zipping up and down throughout the day. Towards the end, I was faltering too due to exhaustion and uncomfortable feet. Those heatpads in my boots were more of a hindrance than a help and I don’t recollect even feeling much warmth from them.
Normally the plan with GoRussia is for an overnight in the camp before coming back down to Terskol and our hotel on the Saturday morning. However as we all got back with enough time before the last chair lift/cable car, we decided to get back to the hotel on the same day. After packing all of our kit in double quick time, we left the barrels and set off back down. It meant an extra night in the hotel with proper toilets and showers and food!
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