I don’t recall exactly when the diarrhoea began but I am pretty sure it was the evening after our second full day of hiking.
After a very cold night in our luxury tents, we had some lost time to recover so took an acclimatization walk up to Mushroom Rocks (3100m). I felt strong, confident and happy in my abilities until the last 20 minutes uphill when suddenly my energy plummeted and my legs felt like lead. Slowing down, I could hear “what’s going on?” whispered between two of the team behind me. I stepped to the side of the trail and invited them to pass me. Refuelling at Mushroom Rocks before the descent did the trick for my body, but distracted by what felt like quite an insensitive comment, my mind wasn’t in it. I stayed quiet and listened to certain other team members tell their colourful stories of lions and tigers and bears. Oh. My.
The following day we packed up loads to carry up to High Camp (3800m). I carried 15kg up to the hut that would be our home the next night. Despite dreadful weather forecasts we had a mostly dry day walking with snow only lasting the final 40 minutes of ascent; actually a blessing in the unexpectedly high day time temperatures. The dry spell was short lived as that evening back at base camp it was pouring with rain again which made my frequent visits to my new favourite place, the long drop, a slightly more miserable experience.
I would consider myself an amateur when it comes to mountaineering. I have a lot to learn and Elbrus was going to be a next step for me to consolidate a lot of experiences and move forwards. Elbrus is a tough peak, renowned for its unforgiving and unpredictable weather conditions. The North side, free of mechanical support such as chairlifts and snowcats, is highly glaciated and remote and a far less trodden route to the summit. There were three hypothermia fatalities 2 weeks prior to my arrival on the North side.
At the time of visiting Elbrus I deemed myself ready to take on this challenging North side having done 5 treks above 5000m, 3+ above 4000m, a glacier skills course, a mountaineering skills course, and lots of overseas and UK hiking. In our group 3 (out of 11) of us shared a similar level of experience, the rest had done one or two treks or climbs, or were mountain newbies. This is the beauty of a mixed ability group – experienced people are amazing resources, and those new to the game are like sponges and their enthusiasm and excitement for the mountains is thrilling and inspiring.
That said, a high altitude peak with potentially extreme temperatures, load carrying and highly glaciated terrain did seem a curious choice for a first mountain experience. My attitude towards the mountains is ‘enjoy the ride, progress gently, walk before you can run, take your time, let it play out’ you get the gist.
So imagine my bemusement when the least experienced group member, the same one who’d had boot issues on day 1, announced plans to climb Everest in 5 years, dismissing Kilimanjaro for being ‘far too easy’, and explaining that their progression plan to summit Everest had to fit into a two-week holiday slot per year (and be within 6 hours flying time of his country). I could feel my blood boiling (or maybe it was my rising body temperature from fighting whatever gastrointestinal problem I was suffering with). I love enthusiastic people, and I admit there was a time I wondered if Everest might one day be on the cards. This was something else entirely – naivete doesn’t cut it. Arrogance is closer. I could just see this individual as the kind who simply throws money at a climbing outfitter to guarantee they made it to the top. The kind that would be so unprepared they would be a hazard, not only to themselves but to fellow climbers and the guides. The worst part about this entire conversation was this person’s rebuttal of the suggestions and advice of the more experienced parties in the team.
I couldn’t bear to listen to any more. Time for bed, mp3 player and finding that happy place.