I woke to the five am sun splintering through the curtains. Casting lines of light across the room. I didn’t sleep much last night. Thoughts of the next two weeks throwing themselves round my mind.
I dressed in yesterdays clothes, Oleg and I ate a breakfast of porridge and he drove me to the train station. On the drive he plays me his motivational mix CD which he listens to before he goes to the mountains.
“It ain’t about how hard you’re hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” Rocky
It works, sitting at the train station waiting for the airport train I feel ready for this. Ready for the mountains. Ready for Elbrus.
The train journey was non de-script, as was the subsequent flight. The only thing that I found slightly strange was the custom of clapping the pilot as soon as the wheels hit the tarmac. Not when the plane is safely stopped but when the plane is still going god knows how fast bouncing off the runway. The clapping is unnerving.
Like were you not expecting to land?
Is this the pilots first time?
The airport we landed at, Mineral Vody, was a small airport. Getting out of the plane into an unexpected heat I began to sweat. The baggage claim took a long time. And then I was outside shaking hands with Andrey.
Andrey was the lead guide and a man who exuded fitness. He was stood in mirrored sunglasses holding a sign with my name on it. We walked to a small cafe and I sat and had a drink with one of the other clients, Thomas, who had arrived a few hours before. He was from Germany.
Not soon after Vladimir, a Russian from Moscow joined us. And not long after that Janet and Joy. Two sisters from the US.
We tetrised our kit into the back of the van and drove. The landscape grew around us as the van swerved around the cows, horses and military checkpoints that littered the road, until we were suddenly amongst the Caucasus mountains. The road traced through these mountains along a valley cut by a raging river.
The road then entered a dark pine forest and then we were there.
A tiny town flanked on all sides by mountains biting into the clouds. It consists of a few hotels, restaurants, local shops and a military training facility. Our hotel was simple. We unpacked, got washed quickly and ate together. Dinner was chicken soup with dumplings, good honest Russian food.
After dinner we went for a walk to explore the town. I am told that when the sky is clear you can see Elbrus looming over everything. The sky was not clear that night. And so she lay shrouded in mystery.
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!