August 1 2017 at 11:10 am I stood on the top of Elbrus, Europes highest mountain, 5642 m. This is the story of the first mountain of the 49 peaks.
First – if you know nothing about me you should read a little here. I´m not an expert at climbing mountains. I´m just a regular person with a passion. So my stories will be told from that perspective.
It all started july 24 when I met up with most of my group at the airport in Sweden to take the flight to Moscow then Mineralnye Vody where we got picked up by a car around midnight to go to Kislovodsk.
After a few hours of sleep we were picked up by two cars in the morning to go to Elbrus basecamp.
Me, Henrik and George in the back of the car. The road to basecamp took around 3 hours.
We drove through a beautiful landscape. The light was amazing (every picture is taken out of the car window without me knowing what I took a photo of btw) with the dramatic sky.
The last part of the drive to basecamp was on the worst road ever. And then we had to cross a river with the car to get to basecamp. This is what basecamp looks like. I climbed a hill to take this picture. Basecamp is located at 2500 m.
Walking in to basecamp: Our guide Christer
This is what basecamp looks like in the fog that came during the evening.
Tents where most of our group slept.
I slept in this hut to the right. That looks like this on the inside!
We packed all our stuff in and had some snacks. The first day was most getting to know everyone, get some more information about our upcoming climb and have dinner.
The next day was a acclimatization to ”mushroom rocks”. About 700 altitude m. We hiked on a path all the way. It was really nice and not hard at all.
At mushroom rocks we just stayed for an hour, doing nothing. Having some snacks, climbing the rocks, taking pictures. Then we went back down again for a late lunch and after that we played cards the whole night. There was another group with some swedish people (and one american) that hanged out with us a lot.
The next day we hiked up to high camp at 3800 m with some of our gear. It was really hot (as the day before).
After 4,5 hours and 1300 m altitude we reached high camp. We stayed for an hour, having some coffee and tea and then hiked back down again. Or actually I ran down. That made me first in the line for the shower in basecamp. Then another card game night waited. And I started to getting really bored in basecamp. In one way I loved it cause I never have time like this, not doing nothing. But in another way that made me climb the walls. And I tried to work but internet was so slow. A real contrast to my regular workaholic life.
The next day we hiked back up to high camp. But this time to stay. So we brought the rest of all the stuff we needed for X days up there. When we were going to do the summit was depending on weather so we didn´t really know for how long we were staying up there. Could be a week. After lunch we were checking out our gear for the climb.
Everyone in the group stayed in a small hut. It was cosy but no air! My bed is in the corner to the right. My sleeping bag was way too much. Marmot CWM -40 haha. But there was a chance we would do one night in a tent on the glacier and I didn´t want to get cold…
The sunsets from high camp was beautiful!
The dinner tent. In here we had all our meals. The food here was better then in basecamp. And you could always get some tea, coffee or snacks.
At every meal we got new information on what was up next. But for this day it was just taking it easy. We hiked three days in a row so an evening doing nothing (and in high camp there was no wifi) sounded pretty good.
Leif taking a picture in the sunset.
This is high camp. That metallic thing is our hut.
Sunsets was unbelivible.
The next morning when we woke up there was a storm. It was really really windy.
So since the weather was not too good we did a short tour for 2-3 hours on the glacier. Working on our crampon technique and walking around, not too high. Then in the evening we were just hanging out in the hut. Reading books. There is not really that much to do in a situation like this. I tried to work but had no computer. There was only power during 4 hours in the evening so my phone was not charged. I havn´t had reception since coming to Russia. And I don´t know if it´s the altitude but it was like my mind was only there. On the mountain. On the situation I was in. I could not think about ”reality” at all even if I tried. I could only live in the present and that was a really liberating thing.
This is the bathroom by the way!
The next day the weather was a little bit better and we decided to climb to ”Lenz Rocks” about 4500 m. It was really windy so it was a struggle. Most because I felt so strong all the other days. No problem hiking up or down but today I didn´t feel 100% and I walked with the fastest guys in our group and I was just beaten when we got up there. It took us 3,5 hour and we didn´t stop once. We were 1 h before the next group up there so we walked really fast and I was just so tired when we got up there. So while the rest of the group walked 200 more meters I stayed and waited for them at Lenz Rocks. I was so glad for my new down jacket from Rab at that moment. Then we climbed down and spent the rest of the day with books, talks, card games and sleep.
The next day was a rest day. I spent it with taking pictures of clouds and hanging out with some of the people in our and the other group.
We sat up on that bench the whole day, just hanging out.
The other group that was there at the same time (with the swedes and american we were hanging out with a lot) had fewer days then us so they were going for the summit the next night. We thought we were waiting a few more days for better weather. Cause it was still windy and was getting worse again. But then at lunch we were told we also were going for the summit the next day (or more like in the middle of the night) so then we had to start all the preparations!
We were getting dinner at 6 pm and then breakfast at 01:00 am. 01:30 am we were starting the climb to the summit!
I took care of my feet and put band aids on them to prevent blisters cause my boots were brand new. I packed all my equipment. Decided on how many layers I would have. Extra clothes to bring. Put snacks in all my pockets in all my jackets. Checked all my gear such as headlamp, Garmin watch, camera and ice ax.
Then after dinner I tried to sleep. But I couldn´t. Maybe I was too excited. But I havn´t slept good here in russia at all. Maybe it´s because you sleep with so many people. There is just so many sounds, people going to toilet in the night, turning around in their sleeping bags, snores. So when the alarm went off a few hours later I hadn´t slept at all.
Everyone in the group were really focused when we woke up and started to put all the clothes and gear on.
We had some breakfast. Everyday we got the same thing: Dry bread with cheese and sausage, no butter, porridge (that I don´t like) and snacks. I was scared to eat to little (like the day we climbed to Lenz Rocks and I got so tired) so I tried to eat 3 cheese sandwiches and drink a lot of tea. I also took some cookies.
Then it was time to leave! I carried a backpack with gore tex trousers, thin down jacket, thick down jacket, gloves, 2 L warm water with lemon and sugar in, my camera with a 24-70 lens, a LOT of snacks, sunscreen and some other small things. I was wearing a base layer from Icebreaker and over that my softshell pants from Fjällräven, a gore tex jacket from Haglöfs and thin gloves, hat, headlamp, boots. I had one walking pole, my crampons and ice ax with me too. I never used my down jackets but I was glad that I had them with me. At one point I put on one extra base layer sweater cause it was windy and got colder. Other from that my clothing was perfect. Never too warm, always a little bit cold if I stood still but great when I was hiking.
It was a clear night and the sky was full of stars. The lights you see is other climbers. The group with our friends started at 00:00 am so they had almost 2 hours head start from us. There were other too. Everyone seemed to go for the summit this day. We were climbing from the north side. That´s the more ”hardcore” route. The south side has a lift going up to 3800 m and from there you can take a vehicle up to 5200 m and climb the last 400 m. Our guide calls them ”south people that walk like zombies”. The paths come together in the end.
Crampons on! Now it´s time to do this. I was a little bit scared over not sleeping, I was really tried before we even started and I knew I only slept a few hours the night before too. We had 4 guides for the summit and our head guide divided us in to groups. There was the ”young guys group” that was going really fast. Then me and another girl was going with our other guide Xenia (I was really happy about that). Three others went with a russian guide that didn´t speak english (and our groups walked together the whole climb) and one girl that was not sure about going for the summit had her own guide. I belive they did a great job dividing us like this.
We walked in the dark for hours with only the light from our head lamps. It was so quiet and you could only hear your steps with the crampons against the ice. We had a perfect pace so I never became breathless. I enjoyed every step I took on the glacier. Even when it was steep. And we walked pretty fast, catching up and passing everyone else on the mountain. It was a magic feeling. When sunrise came we were at Lenz Rocks. It was so beautiful.
Sunrise view to the north side from Lenz Rocks.
Then we just kept walking. And climbing. The night went by. The morning came. I remember loving it all the way even if I got tired after many hours. I don´t really know what I was thinking about. I don´t have a happy place. I just live in the moment and keep on fighting. The first thought when you just climbed a steep part and look over and see a new one is maybe not ”yeeeey” but it is what it is. Something you have to do if you want to make it to the summit. And everyone was set on making it. There was no other option. But even if you can read that Elbrus in not a technical mountain, that it´s a ”walk in the park” it´s hard! 1800 altitude meter on glacier. That´s a lot. And it´s always steep. Never plain ground.
When we had a little bit of rest on the saddle (2 hours left to summit) the guys in our group came down. They were so fast! We smiled at them, hugged them, they looked proud. Over themselves and us. They continued down. We continued up. And here is where the ”south people” meet us on the path. The mountain became crowded for the first time. Before that it was just us. And all the other groups we passed on the way up (everyone else that started before us). Now we had to struggle through the steepest part before it became a little bit easier for a while. And then we saw it. The summit!
I know it´s cheesy. You read about it in books that great mountaineers often do that when they see a mountain for the first time. Or the summit. But the feeling is just overwhelmingly. You have been dreaming about it. Fighting for so long. You are tired from a long day, almost no breaks, no food, no sleep and now it´s just there. In front of you. And you know you will make it. A dream come true.
My group on the way up to the summit where I stand. Happy and proud.
We hugged. We said congratulations. We took pictures. I thanked the mountain. And after a while we started going down again.
The view from the top.
Thanks Hestra for the gloves!
The south side is the Caucasus mountains. And in the middle, the border to Georgia.
Our guide Xenia. She wanted a picture of me from the top ”cause I look like a moviestar” haha. Don´t know about that but she is a really cool girl. Climbed a lot of mountains and climb 7c. She is a hero!
The way down was great until we got back to the traverse to Lenz Rocks. Then I got so exhausted that I barley knew what I was doing. We were tied in ropes all the time on the glacier so I was never in any real danger of falling off the mountain. But no sleep, minimum of food and water during the day, climbing for 12 hours. I started to see blurry. I was so tired. Needed sleep more then anything. And I had a meltdown when I started crying cause I was so tired. A few times I just lay down on my backpack in the snow and closed my eyes for a few seconds on the rest of the way down. It took us 14 hours in total from the start to get up there and back to high camp. 14 hours when you give your all. Physically and mentally. I didn´t get any altidue sickness. I didn´t even get headache and I´m happy about that. But I learned a lot. I need to take care of myself better, eat and drink more to not be so tired. Try to get more sleep before a challenge like this. So I have energy all the way.
When we got back to high camp I was so happy. I drank water and fell asleep directly. Woke up as a new person after a few hours. We had dinner and celebrated a little (but everyone was tired). Then after a good nights sleep for the first time we packed all our things this morning and hiked down to basecamp where we spent the night. The next day we had a party and then I got lift to the airport. Someone who could not speak english came and picked me up at basecamp in the middle of the night.
This was a really great adventure and I´m so happy to have done this.
When I got back home I got restless and a few hours later I had decided to do this project. If you think that is crazy you should know that it´s normal for me. I always get a lot of crazy ideas and I don´t take too long to try to make them come true. I hope you will continue to follow this project.
Mountain no 1/49