”Mountaineering is suffering.”
These were the words Peter said to me as I sat on the snow on the traverse, on the morning of our summit bid. We had set off at midnight, and been moving slowly through the moonlit night up the glacier from the North high camp of Elbrus.
I had to agree with Peter: the first five hours had been easy, too easy. But as the sun came up, I started to overheat and dehydrate. Eventually, every step became laboured and I struggled in silence to keep pace with the rest of my rope team. As my energy drained, I started to get cold hands. When we stopped for an hourly break, I took a seat in the snow to take stock of myself. I needed water and food. My fingers were cold, which is not good altitude. It would have been so easy to the towel in then and there. but if come too far to turn round sir to a slump in energy. Realising I needed to sort myself out, I pulled myself together and ten minutes later I was hydrated, fed and wearing my high altitude mitts. The sun continued to rise on the horizon, pulling a a technicolour blanket up that jutted out over the distant peaks of the Caucasus range, and we pushed on.
The food and water that I had consumed gave me a second wind and I powered up the traverse from Lenz Rocks to the Saddle. There was no wind and everyone on the rope team started to overheat. At the Saddle, we paused to remove unnecessary layers and to add snow to the last of our water.
The final section was the steepest of the day, but still not technically challenging. I’m fact, after the traverse to the Saddle that had lasted over three hours, the final section took just over an hour.
In the end, of our group of thirteen, two didn’t set off on summit morning due to stomach issues (there’s a reminder for meticulous hygiene high on the hill, both when eating and preparing food). A third came down with stomach issues and was short roped back to high camp. The remaining nine of us made it up on two rope teams.
The weather on Elbrus can be bad: numerous friends of mine have had epics on summit day, and two of them were Lead Guides when the weather came in. We were lucky; we summited in t-shirt weather, after almost 2000 metres of vertical ascent on summit day. In mountaineering, my humble opinion is that the safest option is always to prepare for the worst. After all, mountaineering is suffering!