After helping one of the team members with a first aid issue he suffered on the previous day’s summit (severe facial sunburn which had blistered), we descended from high camp down to base camp where we spent one further night. At base camp we bumped into Leszek Mikulski who had just successfully summit both peaks of Elbrus and snowboarded down each time, achieving a Guinness World Record.
It was then the walk out, back to the vehicle, which would take us on the 5-hour drive back to Pyatigorsk for one final night before flying to Moscow and then home. The walk out wasn’t fun for me. I was experiencing severe chest pain on exertion and as we progressed off the mountain and back onto the road the impact seemed to make it worse.
Upon return to Pyatigorsk we checked back into the hotel. We went out for a celebratory meal in town which was delicious; essentially all you can eat barbecued meat and vegetables. Certificates of achievement were handed out and dedications made, and the team handed out the tips to the guides. After the meal we went out into town and we ended up in a shisha bar (not my thing). I could see how the evening was progressing so I left early to return to the hotel and a bit of peace and quiet.
The next morning we had a huge breakfast at the hotel buffet which included coffee, gateaux, buckwheat, bacon, fruit, pastries, chicken drumsticks and a huge range of other bizarre breakfast items. I had 3 slices of gateaux because why not. 6 of us transferred to the airport, checked in and flew back to Moscow. Our van picked us up at the airport, dropped 2 off at the Hilton, and the 4 of us continued onto our hostel.
We wandered around Moscow that afternoon for souvenir shopping (did you know you cannot buy a postcard with Mount Elbrus on it anywhere in Moscow?!) and sightseeing and also picked a place to eat dinner. We contacted the other team members to see if they fancied joining us for one more meal before we flew home. We agreed on a time so made a reservation. After getting back to the hostel to get ready for the meal I ended up pulling a muscle in my lumbar while twisting when pulling off my jeans, which was so extremely painful I literally couldn’t stand up and it didn’t ease off when stretching. Where’s the first aid kit? Hand me the Codeine. Why couldn’t I catch a break?!
After being able to stand up and move again, we went across to the restaurant and waited for the rest of the team to arrive for our meal. And waited. And waited. The first ones were 30 minutes late. The rest were an hour and a half late. We had a delicious meal then said our goodbyes. We flew home the following morning and I stood up for the whole flight because my back causing too much pain for me to sit down, despite the maximum Codeine dose I was taking.
Overview: Sometimes it’s just not your trip. There were a number of factors at play in this which you will have grasped from my previous posts. Not summiting doesn’t bother me one bit; in fact the lessons I learnt from this were far more important to me than summiting.
The first lesson for me was only to climb big objectives with people you trust and respect in a mountain scenario. Ideally someone with the same or similar mountain/hiking background as you, and certainly someone with the same attitude to and respect for the mountains.
(NB I trust my climbing partner Bruce completely, and had this trip been the two of us and a few of the other members this would have been a different experience entirely).
The second lesson is to climb with a guide or organisation you trust and has respect in the mountain community. I will never use that company again, and should you wish to know the name of the company I used so you can avoid them, please contact me.
The third lesson is one I already knew but was reinforced on this trip. If you aren’t well and you have any doubt about your safety or well-being, don’t keep pushing on to the summit. It is definitely not worth it. Turn around and try again another day.
The fourth lesson is ‘even if you feel like shit, a smile never hurts’.
Despite a lot of negativity I have been writing about this trip, overall I am pleased I took part. Experience on the hills comes in all forms, good and bad. I loved Moscow, Elbrus offered some lovely views over the Caucasus and it was amazing that toilet paper was provided in all the toilet huts on the mountain! All that said, I don’t think I will return to Mount Elbrus. And with that we close the chapter on this adventure.