Day two started very pleasantly/slightly surreally with breakfast in the ballroom (yes really) of the Intourist Hotel. It was a good breakfast and we met some of the Jagged Globe group who had been on the previous trip there too, as they were just returning home that day. Not many of them had summited, but they seemed to have enjoyed the experience. It was suggested to me that I ‘fill my boots’ at the breakfast table, as apart from a lot of soup on the mountain, there wasn’t a lot else that was particularly fulfilling. I took note and ate as many croissants as I could get down 🙂
We then set off for Base Camp on Elbrus at 8.45 in two of the oldest minibuses I have ever seen:
There were 8 of us in one plus 5 in the other (the 11 of us plus Adele and Viktor our guides) and plus the drivers too. The heat was stifling, as the temperature was 38 degrees and the only air cooling you could get was by tying to hold part of one of the windows half open. It didn’t do much, but it was something.
The journey was about 100km in total, of which the first three hours were on fairly normal roads. At this point we got our first views of the twin peaks of Elbrus through the windows of the minibus. It looked monstrous from even this far out. Every picture I have seen online of Elbrus just doesn’t do it justice, as when you see it in the flesh you realise how massive and also steep it’s upper slopes are. It made me nervous already, but very excited at the same time.
Having turned off the main road the driver got out and pulled a lever on the front of the van which I think adjusted either the drive or the differential. Either way I still couldn’t believe the rutted track he started driving up. “Ridiculous” doesn’t do it justice, the van pitching from side to side like a small boat being tossed around on a stormy sea.
To make this part of the journey even more exciting the road was only just as wide as the van, and there was a precipitous drop off the left hand side, which would have meant that one slip of the wheels and we would never have been seen again, or not alive anyway. I only wish I could have taken a photo, but, I didn’t dare lose my grip from the side of the seat and the handle in front of me lest I find myself upside down.
When we eventually got across this pass, we could see base camp finally come into view. This was such a relief as it meant that we could get out of the van shortly, but the drama wasn’t over quite yet. As we approached about half a mile from base camp, with the tents in sight, it became obvious to our driver (who had got out of the van by this time and was looking a bit concerned) that the fast flowing river between us and camp was too deep for the van to get through. We would all therefore have to get out and walk.
There was a bridge about half a mile downstream where we could get over on foot (albeit somewhat precariously, as it was a rope bridge below which the torrential melt water from the glacier was gushing by). The vans then disappeared upstream somewhere where presumably they could cross more easily without the encumbrance of 8 or so people. The crossing was great fun in the end and we were able to get to the other side safely, and were met by the vans to continue our journey into base camp.
We were in camp by about 1 O’ Clock, and shown to our hut. We had expected to be in two man tents, so the hut was a nice surprise, although it meant that there would be 8 people in our hut (one for the boys one for the girls) which would make it rather warm. This meant my nice new -29 C sleeping bag was not going to get much of a work out, but better too warm than too cold when you are in the mountains.
After lunch (our first soup!) we went out on a walk for a couple of hours just to get the legs moving again. The walk was really nice, with views of an albeit very cloudy Elbrus, and we went down the valley and then up again. We came upon a load of tents a little way down towards the river, and when there, we were told by Viktor that the waters down here are alleged to have healing properties. There was a small outdoor ‘spa’ which was packed (and I mean packed) with hairy-arsed (not that I looked that closely :)) Russian men, and the only thing more surprising than this was the fact that Viktor went down and stripped off and jumped in himself.
Upon getting back to camp at about 5 or so it was time nearly for dinner, whereupon we would get our briefing from Adele for the next day. There would be a change to the proposed itinerary, and instead of spending three days here at Base Camp there would be just two. At 2,500m or so, Adele felt that we needed to move higher earlier in order to acclimatise for the later stages of the mountain.
The next camp was at 3,700m, and we would move there the day after tomorrow. In the meantime we would have to cache our mountaineering equipment tomorrow on an acclimatisation walk to about 3,500m. We were about to travel true ‘expedition-style’, which was a first for me – there are no porters or animals to help you on Elbrus – you take what you need, and carry it yourself, in as many goes as it requires to get you up the mountain.
So we had only just arrived here, and had already had an amazing adventure, seeing and experiencing so much. I couldn’t wait to get higher, and start to explore and see the upper reaches of the mountain – with good weather and good acclimatisation, we could potentially be on the summit inside the next five days………….
I think the breakfast in the ballroom and the minibuses are nice portrait of Russia… From extreme to extreme 🙂 Great read!