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.
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.
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.
Next time. The Descent!
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!