Well I finally had a good night’s sleep — sleeping at an angle to prevent blood from rushing to my head. I only woke up a couple times, one of which was to see the Barrel filling with light from a nearby lightning strike and the thunder directly above us. My last thought before drifting off again was ìGosh. I hope no one is going up Elbrus tonight!î
When we all woke up and went to breakfast I had a chat with Tom, the guide for the American group. He said another American group had gone up. According to Sergei, 25 had gone on that attempt. Up to this point at 2pm, I have yet to hear whether any made it back. At breakfast everyone backed out on going down to the Azau Valley. I was wavering as well, but Keli absolutely needed her chewing gum and she desperately wanted to go skiing. Since I had been the first to suggest going down, I felt I ought to follow through. Regardless, I was looking forward to doing something other than staying up at the Barrels. Vera, the cook, was going down so Sergei suggested I go with her ñ a good idea.
Having gathered a list of items, I headed off with Vera. First for a quick 20m in a snow cat (hey I just follow orders) and then I guess Vera must have convinced them to start the chairlift so down we went. I found out from Vera (communicating in English, German, Russian, sign language and a variety of gestures) that she was a geography teacher and she was going down to check on her children.
At the valley, I quickly fetched Keli’s chewing gum, changed some money, hit the shop for everything else (except mitts which they didn’t have) and I immediately headed back, despite the temptations of a cold beer! When I got to Mir Station the chairlift to the Barrels was not working. D’oh! The weather looked a little on the bad side, but considering my options I didn’t know how long the chairlift had been closed for and there was no one around to ask. So I shouldered the now heavy pack and off I set up the wet snow. Within ten minutes it started snowing, then came a wind with driving rain and I was getting soaked right through and feeling quite cold. I had been a bit stupid and worn a cotton t-shirt underneath and missing were my water resistant pants. Luckily Sergei had persuaded me to take my Gore-Tex jacket or I would have been hypothermic. Feeling cold, miserable, tired and quite dejected I continued my forced march up the mountain. Not five minutes later I look up to hear yelling. There were about fifteen guys in military outfits hurtling towards me, arms waving.
ìMilitary, Spezial Polizei!î they yelled as they caught up to me. As you can imagine my initial reaction was confused, frightened and shocked; was I about to get arrested? Then suddenly they were hugging me, shaking my hand and taking my photo. Good Lord. Keli was right, I am a freak here! Nothing hot about me folks… All this while the rain had turned to ice pellets.
After my encounter with our military friends, I continued up the mountain. Suddenly the sky cleared as I neared the top, and the sun came out and dried me up somewhat. Then I looked up at the sudden squeaking sound above me to discover that the chairlift was working again. The bastards.
Anyway, I did make it back to the top, delivered my goods and found an incredibly angry Keli. You see Sergei had promised to help Keli rent skis up here. He had said something about a shop being closed and he disappeared off to ski. Keli was mighty angry (and that is a lot of anger in a small package). As she said, the anger alone would fuel her Elbrus ascent tonight.
I talked to Tom and some of his team at lunch today (Pete, Tip and Dave) and they suggested I make up a T-shirt ìPhoto? 5 Rublesî. They also suggested I turn to porn here as I might be able to make some money in the exotic department. ìDups Does Novosibirskî does have an interesting ring to it!
Sergei says we will try to summit at 1am tonight. I’m getting excited! Now though I’m going to rest and relax. Oh and we are not alone in our Barrel. Keli went to get an apple out of her bag and discovered that the cloth bag of food had been eaten through and the apple chewed on quite extensively. Cheers to our new found companion! Don’t cross Keli’s path though, her compassion toward apple rustler only goes so far.
Keli is no longer angry with Sergei. He lent her his skis and poles and Keli had a run at the slopes. Unfortunately the slushy snow apparently made for a fairly bad run.
I just had supper and packed our bags for a 12am rise/breakfast and 1am to the Pastukhova Rocks for an attempt on the summit. It has been hailing with thunder and lightning for four or five hours and very heavy at times. I do not know yet if we will actually attempt it. Time to go to bed. If all goes well my next entry will be post summit or post-attempt.
Oh, good news: the climbers from the previous night came back with a successful summit.
Good night! Sleep tight!