When you are going to climb a very high mountain training is everything. Its not enough to just turn up on the day and expect to be able to waltz up it.
My training began in February. Exclusively cardio every day for four months. There is however no amount of training that you can do that can prepare you for the bitch that is altitude sickness. The main reason people fail the summit.
It comes on suddenly, sweeping over you dulling your senses, each breath you take draws in less oxygen. This leads to the headaches which snowballs into nausea mutating to dizziness ending in complete exhaustion and an overwhelming sense of dread.
To combat altitude sickness the best thing you can do is climb extremely slowly. That and carry out acclimatization climbs. These are hikes up smaller mountains. Every one slightly higher then the last. You climb, stay high for an hour or so. Get used to the limited oxygen before descending to sleep.
The first of these acclimatization hikes was a three thousand nine hundred meter mountain called Mt.Terskol (located, unsurprisingly, just outside Terskol)
Our hike began at nine after a large breakfast. We ambled through Terskol. Past the stray looking dogs and the cows lazing in the middle of the road.
The road turned into a muddy track and we began to gain elevation. The rich pine forest fell into shrubby bushes which, as we climbed higher still, gave way to grassy plains eventually becoming ominous looking volcanic scree as we neared the summit
Halfway up, or thereabouts, we took a detour. Walking around the mountain instead of up it until we came upon a waterfall.
Andrey told us it was called the “Girls hair” waterfall on account of the way the water fell like hair in thin strands. It was far to inviting to resist. I stripped to my boxers and walked up the stream towards it.
The water hammered over me. It stung with cold. My whole body was numbed. The white noise of it was deafening. I stayed for a few minutes relishing in the purity of the waterfall. Feeling it wash over me as I looked on the mountainous valley spread out before me.
I dried off and we climbed on. With every meter gained in elevation the conversation flowed easier.
We summited. Then the weather turned, the air became damp and you the mountain had turned in on itself. From the vast vistas of the climb up to being able to barely see ten meters in front of you.
We began the descent and the cloud lifted. The sky began to spit hail at us. I covered as best I could but, even so, the ice still bit into my hands.
We got back down as the hail began to respite. I pulled my hood off and looked up.
Elbrus was still shrouded in clouds. Somewhere, somewhere up there was the summit. Kissing the sky.
(for those of you that have been paying attention/have OCD there are hidden clues to a song in here. First person to guess correctly wins!)
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!