So a week into our trip now, and Day 7 would see our first early start and our first proper trip up the glacier after yesterday’s preparatory glacier travel session. 6 am would come around very quickly (although we slept in slightly as Adele’s alarm failed to go off and when I nudged her at 6.10 everyone was still asleep, including her :)). The good news on looking out of the hut was that we could finally see the top of the mountain!
This wasn’t the actual top of the mountain, as the summit is hidden from view at High Camp, but it was the closest we were going to see it from here that was for sure. In the above picture the rocks towards the East (left side) summit start at about 4,700m, and they would be our objective for the day.
By about 6.45 everyone had breakfasted and was starting to get kitted up for the trip. Breakfast was again the dreaded buckwheat, which was served like porridge but was pretty unpalatable. Jo in particular struggled to eat hers at alI, and I think most people including me put a brave face on but struggled with every mouthful.
We set off in the end at about 7.30, and as the bottom of the glacier was only 100m from camp we had crampons on almost straight away. The weather was again glorious as it had been most days so far. We started out on two ropes and then came off these at about 4,200m.
Most people were fine on the ascent, but some naturally found it harder than others. Dave found it tough going, partly as he lost a water bottle half way up, and partly because this was the highest he had ever been up to at altitude. He did brilliantly though throughout considering he had never been this high before. We were also strangely followed up the mountain by a Labrador, who obviously didn’t mind the altitude, and did its best to meander between us and get in our way the whole way. I guessed it must belong to one of the various Russian climbers who were camped close to us on the rocks at High Camp. I’ve never seen a dog that high before that’s for sure.
From 4,200m we stayed off ropes so that Adele and Viktor could judge which of us were capable of summitting. We had been told that the group would be likely be split on summit night (hopefully tomorrow) depending upon the weather and how everyone was feeling. The west (true) summit, although only 21m higher than the East summit, was a further three hours, and so would only be for the fittest and fastest of the group. No-one, but no-one, wanted to go to the East Peak.
As we reached the start of Lenz Rocks (4,600m) the group started fragmenting more, and also the weather turned noticeably colder. From just having one layer on, all of a sudden within 100 metres I needed three, plus gloves, hat and buff. It made me realise, as if I needed to be told, just how conditions can change on a mountain. We were also still one vertical kilometre away from what would hopefully be Sunday night/Monday morning’s destination, and I made a mental note to make sure my rucksack had as much cold weather gear in it as I had with me. This was after all the middle of the day in glorious sunshine, and we would be aiming for this part of the mountain in pre-dawn conditions, always the coldest part of the day.
We stopped at 4,800m, had a quick snack, and then soon after headed down again, our acclimatisation over for now. We could see climbers well above us at the Col at about 5,300m, and the pitch there looked really steep. I realised that this would be a really really tough summit day on a big and tough mountain. It was already harder and steeper than I had expected it to be.
Everyone had made it to 4,800m, which was great, and the next time we would (hopefully) pass this spot would hopefully be on our summit attempt. The conditions had been better than perfect, and it had been a hugely successful acclimatisation walk.
The trek back down was largely uneventful, save for very close to the bottom of the glacier when I managed to trip over my crampons and fall face first onto some hard ice. I thankfully protected my face with my hands but I otherwise couldn’t really adjust the fall as we were all still roped up at the time. I came away with one badly cut finger and a few other cuts and scrapes, but thankfully nothing worse. It would have been typical for me to hurt myself by doing something careless and clumsy in such an innocuous situation by just not looking where I am going. I made a note to myself to always have gloved hands on a glacier too.
Some of the views on the way down were breathtaking, and this part of the world is surely as beautiful as anything the Alps has to offer. We could also see from here some of the views towards the south side of Elbrus, and it looked a lot more mountainous and dramatic over there. It really made me want to come back and explore more at another date, although unbeknown to me at the time, I’d be seeing more of the south side a lot sooner than I thought.
After a restful afternoon we had a debrief from Adele about what summit day would involve, and everyone generally chilled and checked kit etc. I got my cut fingers attended to by Dennis (who as a doctor had come prepared with full medical kit) and Adele, and all was fine.
So that was us acclimatised, and we would now rest our bodies and get prepared physically and mentally by doing literally as little as possible over the next 36 hours. The next day would be a complete rest day in preparation for the summit bid commencing at midnight. We’d rest until late afternoon, then sleep until 11pm, whereupon we’d have a summit breakfast before heading out for a 16/17 hour summit attempt.
We all went to bed fairly early in nervous and excited anticipation of what lay before us. It was time, almost, to step up to the highest point in all of Europe.