Tacos, jelly and a pinch of salt

Breakfast. Pork tacos hastily palmed together by a sweaty man in a parking lot. I try not to think about it. They taste good.

We drive south in Troys van. It has A/C and chews through the miles as we head south.

We stop halfway. Not for a rest. Troy wants to show us the “gravity hill” he parks on a slope and puts the van in neutral. Nothing happens at first then. Ever so slowly we begin to lurch backwards up the hill in defiance of gravity and reason. He shows us this three times. Letting us roll back to the top of the hill. Odd.

The guesthouse “Manatees” set back from the road. It’s a large wooden structure encircled with decks. We pay for ten days and go shopping.

The shore to the East of the peninsula is slopping sands down to the waters edge. The sand is course and the water although tempting is blanketed with a thick layer of seaweed. It gives of a putrid rotting smell.

Heading south till the land runs out we find a much nicer spot to swim.

The water is a deep blue and filled with the white noise of swimmers. In one spot you can sit and small fish pick at the dead skin on your feet. I float lazily in the shallows while they dissolve me and imagine myself a whale.

A jelly stings my thigh and we walk back to the guest house. Where I wait for the sun to sit low enough on the horizon that I can run comfortably.


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The Pink Bus (or how I arrived in Belize)

The fan chops through the air slowly, clicking on every third revolution. It does little to abate the heat of this place. It is two am and I take my third cold shower of the night.

My skin is greased with sunscreen. The sheet sticks to me as I lie naked upon it. A mosquito occupies the room with us. I hear it ricocheting about my body. Scouting for skin untouched by Deet.

I wake to sunlight piercing the room. Eat breakfast in a fugue state.

Coffee kicks in and I am teleported to the middle of Chetumal bus Station. Board a recycled school bus. Canary Yellow dead to Cotton Candy Pink.

Driver wears a red t-shirt and blue baseball cap. Seats are cracked leather. Maroon. My knees jut into the seat back ahead of me. On the drivers baseball cap a single letter “M” Yellow. Try to think of the team he is referencing before deciding on Mexico. Obvious really.

We drive to the border and my hair is massaged by the breeze from the open windows. I feel cool for the first time.

At the border to Belize we get out. Exit stamp. $25. Hope you enjoyed your time in Mexico. Back on the bus. Drive. Disembark. Entry Stamp. Welcome to Belize. Thirty day visa. Have a nice day.

We drive and the bus fills. People standing and sweating together as we weave our way towards the capital (imaginatively named Belize City. See also Mexico City. See also Brazil).

The roads are dusty and in ill repair. We crawl over them. Stopping at random junctures to allow people on or off or on.

Sitting over the rear axle potholes shoot through my back. I sleep in fits and starts as the people in the bus change around me.

The little girl behind me sings Taylor Swift songs to the radio. Her hair is braided with colourful plastic clips.

Billboards advertise “Happy Cow” brand cheese. At the base of the adverts it proudly states “Made in Austria” I absentmindedly wonder what the capital city of Austria is. And what strange quirk of economics led to the cheese being so popular over here.

There are many places to take worn tires. Looks like they are sold on at a discount. Another mechanic is selling window tints, separating driver from road. Less participant more voyeur.

I do not know how long I was on the bus before we pulled into the Central Bus Station. How many thoughts blinked into existence.

He is wearing a grey polo shirt and asks if we need a taxi. Drives us through the city for $4.

Giving us his business card. “O’Neil Driver. I will get you all over Belize.”

Makes us promise to call him if we need a taxi later.

Walk to the front. Small restaurant perched right on the edge of the land. Waitress takes our order and we wait. Excited each time we hear her light footfall on the floorboards.

On the walk back to the guest house I am offered weed several times.

Not tonight I tell them.

Tonight I sleep.


Picture Unrelated.

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Every day.

When every day is the same it is up to the individual to create difference.

It has been three weeks. The position has tattooed itself to my psyche.

Fifty seven degrees fifty four minutes North, zero zero two degrees twenty six minutes West.

Three weeks. Three times seven is twenty one.

Twenty one days. Five hundred and four hours.

That is not a true representation of the time spent out here though.

Radar fix: Troup Head – One hundred fifty eight degrees by thirteen point four miles.


Thirteen is bad. Superstitions run deep out here. We skip the thirteenth page of the logbook. On the thirteenth of every month we are extra careful. This probably skews the statistics in our favor. Rendering the thirteenth safer then other dates. But we do not see it that way. The potential is too high. Don’t fuck with thirteen.

Other things not to be messed with.

The Spaniard, he died during construction (supposedly). He drifts about the ship. Kept at bay by cloves of garlic hidden in strategic places.

Whistling, calling for the wind is often not a good idea.

Garlic, from ghost prevention to calming a finicky piece of machinery. If you see garlic you leave it to serve its purpose.

Back to time. It is not constant. It ebbs and flows around you. The first week. Snap your fingers and its week two. Week three is where the drag begins. Time scratches over you. Every breath remembered.

After the fourth week you run out of conversation. You know each other. To the extent you are even able to finish each others…….

Back to week three though. The present tense. I do this. I do that.

Rumors run the ship. Chased by gossip. He’s quitting. I heard he still lives with his mum. He’s getting his Canadian passport and going to Alberta to work with his brother. When your world condenses to a ship these are the things you care about.

Cargo on Sunday. It’s always Sunday. Steak night Sunday.

Reason its always Sunday? They get paid overtime. It’s Wednesday turning to Thursday. Three more days out here.

Fifty seven degrees fifty four minutes North, zero zero two degrees twenty six minutes West.

I have memorized the position. It will have been four weeks.

I am a Zen Buddhist Monk. Connected to all around me. I feel the gentle movement of the ship. Feel as the swells pass under us. Feel as the anchor chain tenses and relaxes against it. Through the chain I feel the anchor itself. Mild steel, weight twelve point five tons. Buried into the seabed. Through it I feel the Earth.

Zoom out.


All the way out.

I can see the whole world spread out. Mercator projection. Stretching the latitudes at the poles so as to make the planet flat.

This far out you can watch the rotation. Day to night to day to night. The time ebbs and flows and we stay here. Waiting.

When every day is the same the individual creates difference.

Some people watch endless games of football. Some escape into films. Some to books.

I write.

“Every day is different.”

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Jodphur: Forts and Fevers.

This early in the morning the city is quiet and still. The only noise coming from the bus as it slips into gear and slowly drives away. The one rickshaw driver looks us over through a thin veil of cigarette smoke.

He gives us a flat rate of 300 rupees to get to the guest house. I am to tired to haggle, it’s to cold, to early and anyway, he could just leave us standing on the edge of this road.

We speed through the city. There is not the normal frantic weaving through traffic or pedestrians or cows or, whatever. The streets are narrow. This cities infrastructure did not allow it to evolve well for cars. It is an old place.

At the guest house we wake the manager and are ushered into a small room. We sleep late.

Jodphur is a beautiful city. Nicknamed is the blue city for the sky blue paint that seems to cover every building. We walk up to the fort, high above the city. Built implausibly directly into the cliff face. Looking up from the city it is, at times, hard to distinguish where the cliff ends and the fort begins. From the top of the fort the city spreads out before you. An ocean of blue set in the dry heat of central India.

Its loud up here. Tourists talking, taking photos of musicians playing strange, cruel instruments. They sound like bastard cross breeds of a flute and a kazoo. People chanting, people praying, children shouting. All of this noise. Inside the fort though, it is quiet. Locked away from the noise sits lavish furniture, jeweled weaponry, stained glass and intricate tiled floors.

Winding our way steeply down from the fort the late afternoon sun seems to tell us to rest. To stop. To eat. As if by magic a small man jumps out at us. Telling us that his mother makes the best Thali in the city for far cheaper then a restaurant.

Home cooked food sounds good. He takes us to the roof of his building and we sit drinking beer that we have to keep under the table lest anyone sees it (he does not have a liquor license).

We eat and we drink and it tastes good and by the end we are slightly drunk and six hours later we are both curled in the fetal position on the cold hard tiles of the bathroom dry retching having already thrown up everything.

For three days we stay in this room. Occasionally one of us will feel strong enough to brave the city and come back with supplies of mango juice and chocolate and fruit.

I lose 5lbs to this. I seem to sleep in twenty minute stretches. Rushing to the bathroom. The sheets are damp and sticky with sweat. I start to choose what to eat by what seems the easiest throw up.

On the fourth day this crazy fever seems to have receded. We venture from our cucoon and the city rushes around us. We move slowly through the chlastrophobic market. Then up to a hill to take photos of the fort as the sun sets behind it.


Our bus leaves early in the morning. The city is quiet and still. The only noise coming from the bus as it slips into gear and slowly drives away

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Aurangabad; Hawks, Pimps, Murals and Slums

Our hotel, a $6 a night place, rests on the border of the fabric market. In the distance you can just about make out where the buildings blur to slums. The name of the place is Dimple Hotel. The sign on the front of the building is dilapidated and now reads “Pimp Hotel” never a less fitting name.


Standing on the small balcony, I watch two birds of prey, hawks maybe, circling high above the buildings. Diving every so often with an unnerving quickness. Nothing should move that goddamn fast. I watch them through tired, bloodshot eyes. Whatever it was they dived for got away. They slowly regain altitude on a thermal up-current and continue to circle.

I turn my back on the city and peer into the room. The walls are a tired shade of pink. The paint flakes in places. A damp patch in the corner spreads like a shadow into the room. The carpets are grayed and worn. The bedsheets are threadbare with a few cigarette burns. A fan is spins lazily overhead, a futile effort to stop the oppressing heat. The whole place smells dank, although at this stage, it could just as easily be me.


I undress and try the shower. Water trickles over me. Infected with the same slowness as the rest of the room. There’s bucket on the floor. I fill it and dump it over myself. The 14 hour bus ride washes down the rusty drain.

I dry and go to reception.

“Wheres good here?”
“Well we have a park that is nice.”

He sets me off in a rickshaw.

We arrive at a park. You have to pay to get in and it doesn’t look that great so I choose to walk around it. There are many murals painted on the wall of the park. All of them topical. Most of them concerning the outcry at the many rapes that have occurred in the area.


I spend an hour wandering round. A woman in a burka pulls up in the back of a rickshaw and asks if I want to have sex. I decline and the rickshaw drives on stopping a few meters in front of me where she asks again. Again I say no and both the driver and the woman look at me strangely before driving off. I head back to the hotel, change my shirt and go out for lunch.


In the evening we head to the bus stop. Tonights bus is to Jodphur.

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Ellora Caves; Pop-Tarts, Buddhists and a Marriage.

The voice is loud. Loud and far to frantic for this early in the morning. His words smash through the bus.

“Arungabad, we are at Arungabad”

Jesus thats our stop. Cursing we throw our stuff haphazardly together and fall out of the bus into the hot rising sun.


Still reeling from sleep we are surrounded. Six men in the khaki uniform of rickshaw drivers everywhere. The air is filled with voices.

“You wan’ Rick”
“Where you going mister?”
“Hotel I take you to hotel very cheap sir best rates.”
“You want breakfast.”

“Breakfast yes. And then can you take us to Ellora.”
“Ellora very far sir, 500 Rupees.”
“Done, but first breakfast.

The breakfast is a kind of pancake made from rice called a Dosa. It’s served with this spicy potato sludge. We drink a greasy cup of coffee order some water for the road and leave.

The driver wasn’t lying about Ellora being far. We drove for about an hour. Hurtling round cows, motorbikes, buses and all the random objects that seem to litter every road in India.


Our room at the guest house is surrounded by vicious monkeys. We leave our bags and head to the Ellora caves. The Ellora caves are man made, carved over hundreds of years into the side of a great hill.

The Buddhists came first. Around one and a half thousand years ago. They created temples, monasteries and living quarters in the rock.

Then as Buddism fell out of vogue and Shaivism (the sect of Hinduism devoted to Shiva “the Destroyer/Transformer”) began to establish itself in the region the caves changed. Instead of the beautiful minimalism of the Buddhists you have the incredibly complex structures covered in intricate carvings.


Janism, their caves looked like a mashup of the first two. Combining Buddhist sensibility with Hindu extravagance.

That first day we went first to the buddhist caves. The earliest ones were just deep cuts into the rock. They went deep and were supported by wide pillars. As we moved along they got progressively more confident in their ability to make bitchin’ caves we came across a temple.

From the outside it looked like the two caves flanking it. Except it wasn’t. As we moved closer we were told to take our shoes off by a small, stocky, mustachioed man. He told us in broken English that he would show us the temple and introduced himself as Deepak.

We moved inside, feet gently kissing the cool stone floor. Deepak started chanting. Deep, hypnotic chanting. It reverberated about the temple amplifying it. When he finished he led us around the temple explaining the meanings of the various statues.


I took a photo of him. He asked for the camera wanting to take a photo of us.  He was very particular about making sure we were stood directly infront of the main statue. He told us to hold hands then said something in Hindi, backed off and took the photo.

Outside the temple he beckoned for us to share his lunch with him. We ate talking in broken English and Hindi. At one stage he pointed to me.

“Husband.” He said.
“Oh no, not husband, partner.” Sarah said.
“No. Now he’s husband.” He said smiling to himself.

Holy shit………Did a small mustachioed Buddhist just marry us in the temple. The insistence of how we posed. The short prayer. The sly smile.


We finished our lunch said goodbye and thanked Deepak for showing us the temple. Moving on through the cave complex we entered the Hindu section. The most impressive temple in the area, the Kailas Temple, was there. It is the largest monolith structure in the world (suck it Petra!) the sheer vision of the people who made it was insane. This thing is huge and intricate and made all the more impressive when you think it is a single carving!


Walking around/inside/on it people began to ask for photos with us. We would stand awkwardly surrounded by an Indian family. One guy came up to me with his small son, he wanted a photo with me and the son except I don’t think he explained this to the boy so the photo is me awkwardly holding this small boy who is trying to get away.

This got old fast and we headed back to the guest house. Our room surrounded by a gang of angry looking monkeys.

The next morning, in the room, going through the bags I find some Pop-Tarts because, lets face it, I am a 6ft five year old. We decide to share them with Deepak.

First we go and check out the final area of the Ellora caves. The section made by the Janists. These seem more complex then the other two types. The caves cut deep and branch off in small corridors winding their way to other rooms. There are bats slicing through the darkness as we inadvertently disturb their slumber.


We head back to the Buddhist caves to go and find Deepak. We find him and again he takes us to chant in the temple. We then sit outside and give him the Pop-Tarts. His face lights up as he succumbs to the sugar high. He asks if we have any more and pulls out a phone calling his wife to come and try them too. She brings normal food and we eat lunch together again. giving him the rest of the Pop-Tarts for his kids.

Deepak with his first pop tart

Deepak with his first pop tart

We then say goodbye and take a rickshaw back to Arungabad and the start of the next night bus.



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Mumbai; Dinosaurs, Horns, Khaki and Shameless Gunshot Wounds

What a goddamn hectic mess of a city. I spent just under two weeks there. Caught up in the strange energy of the place.

First thing noticed. Heat. A wet humid cloud of heat that hits you as soon as that door pops open.  You begin to sweat, the jeans and lumberjack shirt you wore in London cling and constrict about you. This is the last time you will wear them in this country.

Second. Smell. This one gets you a little later. After baggage claim and passport control. Right as you exit the terminal. Its the rancid perfume of 21 million people, all living on-top of each other. Its spices, car exhausts, rats, garbage, piss, shit and cigarettes.

Third. People. As I mentioned, 21 million. All of them appearing to have come out to greet you. The city writhes with this torrential, unrelenting energy. The place is busy, stuffed far beyond capacity.

Fourth. Noise. Right now, sitting, waiting for a bus that will float me out of this city, a car backfires, the fan above me gently hums, the sizzle of a man cooking his street food, three different languages; English, Hindi and Israeli, pans clattering, footsteps, rickshaws and my pen on paper a gentle reminder that this city is leaving an indelible mark on me. All this overlaid on the constant cacophony of car horns. Creating a bastardized, desperate white noise. Sleep comes hard.

A few days pass. You get used to the smell and the people and the heat. The only thing constantly pressing against your psyche, never once showing signs of receding is the noise. You begin to crave silence. To be able to close your eyes and just breathe.

I begin training. Running, tracing my way along Juhu Beach. A sad stretch of sand trapped between two estuaries. Cutting and weaving my way through the flotsam of debris washed up from……Where-ever.

The morning after the night before. Festival night. Juhu is the worst I have seen. Dinosauresque earth movers scalp the beach of the never-ending trash. I run through it. There is no cutting and weaving today. There is barely any sand. Just trash.

I run further. Past the boys playing cricket. Past the men selling coconuts. Past the fishermen, old and wizened. They’ve lived out their whole lives here, tending their nets and waiting to cast off towards the setting sun, where they will dance with the sea.

I run past this plethora of life, right to the edge of the universe. I then see a crow pecking at the entrails of a dead rat and it snaps me out of this strange mental trip. I turn around and begin the long run back.

The Edge

On my second day in the city I discover the simple joys of traveling in rickshaws. They are driven by barefoot men in simple khaki uniforms. Together we bounce and flow, swimming through the traffic like some maniac fish. Propelled by the high pitched whine of  a two stroke, it doesn’t give you confidence as an engine should and the whole thing feels seconds away from tearing itself apart. Still nothing beats riding in one in the mid afternoon sun. Tearing over the city. Locked in the constant movement. A light breeze stroking through.

We take a trip to the centre of Mumbai. The beggars turn to tourists, the rickshaws to new(ish) air-conditioned taxicabs. We drink cheap beer at a cafe with gunshot wounds peppered across the walls. Half cut we take a ferry. One hour across the bay and we are at an island. Home to Elephanta Caves a small, yet beautiful cave complex. It takes us three hours to get back to our small area of the city.

The city begins to wear thin.

So we decide to leave.

We book a bus out of the city. And as it breaks free from the insatiable gravity of the place, ricocheting over poorly kept roads, it is quiet. And, for the first time since arriving, I sleep.

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Speed Dial No 2: Hazy recollections of greasy food, luck and sulphur

Base camp and the sun’s rising ever higher. The vicious cold of the morning is just a memory.

It is early afternoon now. Janet; who like me opted to take a snow-mobile, is sitting next to me on the hard wooden bench and we are talking as we wait for the others.

We talk mountains.

We talk of the climb.

We talk of summiting.

And we talk of what we will do when we finally descend to Terskol. About how good it will feel to be able to shower and wash the mountain off ourselves.


The others arrive.

We quickly pack the rest of our scattered kit. Climb into a tractor and descend to the ski lifts.

No-one spoke much. There were smiles and happy faces but no conversation. A collective exhaustion. On the ski lifts we pass tourists heading up. They are dressed in jeans and skirts and shirts and all manner of clothing not suited for the mountain. I was told later that the top of the ski lifts is a popular place for tourists to visit to photograph the mountain.

We arrive in Terskol. My toe is in so much pain I can barely walk. I am afraid to take off my boots. Visions of bloodied socks and broken toes. Gingerly working the outing plastic shell of the boots off. Then the inner bootie. Then the two pairs of socks.

No blood. My toe looks buggered. It has swollen and the nail a deep crimson colour.

Andrey checked it for me. It wasn’t broken. The swelling was bruising. The crimson was blood pooled under the nail and the pain was the blood forcing my nail up.

The unanimous decision was that at some point my nail would just fall off. I did not want to deal with that right now. So bandaged it. Went to the resturant next door with Thomas and proceeded to drink.

The cheap local brew was an elixir. And the meatballs and potatoes tasted like no meal I had had before.

The afternoon faded in a drunken haze. Thomas and I went back to the hotel. Met the others and were told of the plan to go out at six for a celebratory meal together.

I was so tired. I lay down. Set three alarms for six. Closed my eyes in a sort of attempt at meditation.

The next thing I know Andrey is gently shaking my thigh. It was nine already. The others went out but he had a huge doggy bag from the restaurant for me. Greasy food of indeterminate origins.

“Eat as much as you can.” He said.

Body was still starved from the mountain I sat up in bed and ate fast.

I then fell asleep.

The next days overlapped and blurred into each other. We went on day hikes around the mountains surrounding Elbrus. Weaning ourselves off the mountain.

It tastes of Sulphur

We visited the town of Kislovodsk renowned for its natural springs. The water is said to have special healing properties but really, it just has this strange sulphuric aftertaste.

The day before we left we took a long drive out to a waterfall. It was relaxing. I tore my bandana and tied it to an observation point for luck. We stayed for a few hours then left and took a drive to another hotel out near the airport.


I spent the drive in this strange mental state. My toe was sporadicly pulsing with pain. My shoulders were bruised and aching. My fingertips were still wooden (it would take a month before the sensation finally came back). I listened to Zero 7 and drifted in and out of consciousness massaged by the ill kept roads.

And then I was on a plane.

And it sunk in.

I had done it.

I had climbed Mt. Elbrus.

The road goes ever on and on.

Elbrus Tours

The company that I am climbing Mt Elbrus with is Elbrus Tours. They are a small travel company based out of Moscow that specializes in trips to  Mt. Elbrus but also offer trips to other mountains within Russia. You should check them out!

Elbrus Tours

Elbrus Tours Facebook




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Elbrus. The Descent; A shattering realization, fever dreams and a skidoo

I am on the summit of Elbrus. Apex of Europe. The surrounding mountains dwarfed beneath her. Swallowed up in the temporary, ever-shrinking, night cast by her shadow, as the sun continues to arc ever higher in the sky.

I am in pain.

I can’t feel my hands, lips bloodied, acid vomit taste lingers, face feels raw, can barely see.

I am alive.

Fevered dreams slip into my reality and I begin to lose focus. This mountain and I. We are becoming one.

It is an addiction. And it is only at the summit that I come to the bittersweet realization that I have no more fix coming. This is it. This is as high as I can get. This is six months of work. This is traveling to Russia. This is the friends I have made along the way. This is that high. And now, Dear Reader, it is beginning to subside. Dissipating itself amongst my memories.

The Apex

I guess somewhere deep in my mind I always knew it was going to end here. This goal, climbing Elbrus, had a very definite end point. The summit. I had done that and now I found myself at this strange low point.

I had no idea what I was going to do next. Elbrus snapped her fingers and we were done. It was over.

I realized that day that I needed something bigger. Bigger then Elbrus. Bigger the the whole goddamn mountain range.

I realized that I needed to find something incomprehensibly big. Something that involves more then just myself.

And when I find that thing I am going to chip away at it. Twenty five steps at a time until it crumbles beneath me.

Elbrus was a gateway drug. And, like every drug, I am now coming out of that ecstatic high, mind convulsing in on itself as this grinding comedown washes over my senses.

Planning the descent

Back to reality and the Ukrainians and I, we begin our descent. We don’t count steps anymore. We move fast. All eager to get down. To warm up. To rest.

Pausing at the top of the saddle a group of climbers passes us on their ascent. Descending the steep western wall of the saddle was the toughest part of the whole mountain. We were very exposed. The same exposure as when we were ascending but now, climbing down, looking down, we were very aware of the height. Of the long drop into the saddle just waiting for that ill placed footfall.

Descending the Saddle

At the bottom of the saddle Natasha was waiting for me. She hugged me, congratulating me on summiting and we sat for a while. Watching the ant like people crawling up and down the saddle walls.

She gave me water and a Snickers bar. The Ukrainians sat down with us, they refused the water instead pulling out a small bottle of vodka which was passed back and forth between them.

I thanked them for climbing with me. For showing me that no matter how big your problems are they can always be overcome with sheer stubbornness to give in. We said our goodbyes and Natasha and I set off together.

We moved fast not wanting to miss the final ski lift down. Not wanting to spend another, unplanned night on Elbrus.

When you descend a mountain the best way is to throw each foot out in front of you. Land on your heel and kind of glide your weight onto the ball of your foot. This is great in theory. But try applying that continuously whilst wearing plastic hire boots (that you realize, all to late, do not really fit just right) and you begin to have a problem. My problem was my big toe. With every step it would press itself against the plastic.

Walking became agony. We stopped and I took off my crampons. Hoping the lessened weight would reduce the pain. It worked for a little while and then the pain screamed through my foot.

We made it to the point of the first acclimatization hike and I was in so much pain I could barely walk.

Each step my toe felt like it was exploding. We eventually stopped and  I took on the mentality of “Fuck this I’ve done the summit.” so we flagged down a skidoo and both climbed onto the back of it and sped back to base camp.

Goodbye Ukrainians


Elbrus Tours

The company that I am climbing Mt Elbrus with is Elbrus Tours. They are a small travel company based out of Moscow that specializes in trips to  Mt. Elbrus but also offer trips to other mountains within Russia. You should check them out!

Elbrus Tours

Elbrus Tours Facebook


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From so high we seem so small. Mt.Elbrus. The divide.

The last you heard of me a mountain was beating the shit out of me and I was making the agonizing decision about whether to turn back before deciding it would be the safest thing to do.

Only problem was. I couldn’t.

I couldn’t go down.

Couldn’t go back.

There was a very obvious internal divide.

Part of me wanted to quit. To turn around. I felt weak, incredibly thirsty, hungry and colder then I have ever been. The way I reasoned it to myself was that I didn’t come here to summit. I came here to pit myself against this mountain. There is no shame in being beaten. You’ve been climbing for six hours sans water. Its okay. You can stop.

But there was this second part of me. A part lurking deep in my psyche. This part reminded me of the training I had done. Told me of the internal strength I possessed. Told me to just breathe. Just focus on the next step.

Just one more step.

Then one more.

Rinse, repeat.

I walked a couple more steps up the mountain then stopped.

Immediately the argument started up again. The problem with climbing alone is that you can’t voice your fears or doubts to anyone else. They just bounce around your head magnifying themselves into these astronomical challenges.

I don’t know how long I was stood there. Locked in a limbo of my own creation.

Another mountaineer overtook and stopped just ahead of me.

He looked back. His face was weatherbeaten. A light stubble frosting his jaw which cut out sharply from his face. He fixed me with a steeled gaze.

“Climb.” He said in a thick accent.

“I can’t.” I gestured to my head and twirled my finger around in the international sign language of crazy “Sick, going down.”

“Come, we climb.” He said. Then using his pole he drew 25 in the snow. Jabbing at it when he had finished.

“25 steps?” I questioned.

“Da, climb.” He replied.

The Ukrainian on Elbrus

Were I to believe in God I would have called this divine intervention. And ascribed it miracle status. But I don’t, so I won’t. We were just two men thrown together on the side of a mountain.

He set off slowly. I followed.

Twenty five steps, then we stopped.

He gestured to himself and said something utterly unpronounceable in Russian. Which I took to be his name. I gestured at myself “James”. We shook hands and he gestured up the mountain. I nodded and we set off again.

Twenty five steps, then we stopped.

“Ukraine, Odessa.” He said.

“Britain, Bristol.” I replied.

And again we were moving, ever so gently up the mountain.

At the next stop we didn’t talk. Nor did we at the stop after that. We climbed in this slow, methodical style until we reached the edge of the saddle between the two peaks. On the small downhill section our count went up to forty steps before dropping back as we came up the other side. Dropping down to seventeen at the steepest section.

We passed the rest of my group at the top of the saddle. They had all summited. They asked how I was feeling. Worried about the text I had sent them earlier.

I told them I  felt okay. The sickness was just in my mind, imaginary. Amplified by the cold. Since climbing with the Ukrainian everything became easier. We were focused the twenty five steps. We didn’t look at the whole thing. It was just too big, but our twenty five steps, that was manageable.

Climbing up over the saddle the incline dropped off again. I could see the summit. It was so close. I wanted to do it in one push but refrained and we continued. 25 steps at a time. Slowly but surely gaining on the summit.

At nine thirty on July twenty first I summited Mt Elbrus. The highest mountain in Europe.

On the Summit of Elbrus

Myself, the Ukrainians friend and the Ukrainian

My attempt at a summit headstand. This was as far as I got!

Next time. The Descent!

Elbrus Tours

The company that I am climbing Mt Elbrus with is Elbrus Tours. They are a small travel company based out of Moscow that specializes in trips to  Mt. Elbrus but also offer trips to other mountains within Russia. You should check them out!

Elbrus Tours

Elbrus Tours Facebook

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