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.
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.
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.
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.
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!