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.
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 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!