Kazbek and Elbrus – Memories from My First Mountain Expedition
The target for this year was Mont Blanc. I was planning a trip with the Polish Alpine Union. A few days before I was supposed to book a place, my friend wrote on Facebook that she was looking for people willing to trek on Kazbek and Elbrus. That is how my plans changed.
It was going to be my first mountain climbing trip of this kind. I thought about being in a tent and eating freeze-dried food. I wondered what it would be like. How would I logistically pack up all the equipment and then actually carry it with me? Of course, I hadn’t even thought about bathing, but the vision of wet wipes as the only way to personal hygiene didn’t convince me not to go either. In practice, it turned out that it wasn’t so terrible. And although I washed myself only three times in 16 days, I learned that at that altitude our body behaves completely differently.
Already packed here
Apparently, “newbies” in this environment can be recognized after they ask about physiological needs. What it looks like when we all walk tied by ropes, you’re wearing a harness, it’s cold, and all around you is a glacier and there’s no bush to hide you. Now I know it’s the least of your problems. And, in fact, nothing unites groups as effectively as human needs.
It was also my first trip in eight years. Also my first, for more than 6 days, where I did not have access to the Internet, and my phone was set to flight mode so that I could only take pictures with it. No texting, no social media, just me, the mountains, and our group. I already know it was the best thing that could have happened to me. Without stimuli, I could enjoy this wonderful experience, views, and people around me. I can’t remember the last time that I came back so rested, relaxed, and happy. Happy because I suddenly realized I had everything! Everything I need to be happy. Happy that I am surrounded by special people and everything is on time.
Georgia, Kazbek – The First Approach
I would compare Kazbek to a woman with PMS—variable, demanding, and difficult to predict.
When we arrived, it was raining fiercely! We stayed in a hotel in Kazbegi to go to our first camp “by the river” the next day. I prayed to wake up in the morning with the sun—and it happened! Morning, beautiful views, great route, conversations with new people talking about the mountains, our experience, our strength, the funny and more dangerous failures in the mountains.
After the first night in tents and a quick breakfast, we went to Meteo, which is at an altitude of 3650 m. Some of us started taking Diuramid—a drug that is supposed to prevent altitude sickness. In the morning, when you see yourself in a small handheld mirror swollen like a potato, it is a sign that you did not drink enough water the day before (at heights, drinking a lot of water is necessary, and Diuramid intensifies it). On the way to Meteo, we cross the glacier, where we follow our leader Jadzia, one after another, like little ducklings. And with 23 people we must have looked like a caterpillar.
On the way to Meteo
Around noon we reached Meteo, where we pitched our tents. A space from which the Caucasus and Georgian landscape were beautifully visible. In total, we spent 4 nights there getting acclimated, waiting for the weather, talking, and laughing almost all the time. When it rained and the wind blew hard at night, the tent was held by the stones so that it wouldn’t fly away. I covered myself with my sleeping bag and pretended not to hear it—it usually helped. I went straight to sleep.
With Asia, my tent mate
The date of the expedition also made me so happy because it was my birthday. I like to spend this day differently every year. This year was really special.
The day before, I was negotiating with one of the Georgian guides to bring us wine and bowls to Meteo for my birthday. He didn’t speak English, but he did speak Russian, so I had a chance to practice what I learned in high school and college. I have always believed that every piece of knowledge will be useful to us, and as you can see now, it turned out to be extremely useful 😉 The next day, on horseback, a total of three liters of delicious red Georgian wine was delivered to me (maybe it was the altitude, but we really enjoyed it) and a liter of chacha. The delivery wouldn’t arrive until approximately 12:00 am, so while we waited, Asia (my tent mate) and I started celebrating. Eventually, there were 8 of us in our two-person tent.
There was a lot of singing going on in our tent and everyone in the field knew it was my birthday. We had to end the party on the 16th because that night we planned to leave for our climb.
Preparations started with them speculating if the weather would be nice, what we should pack, and how to quickly gather and climb the mountain at night. The conditions did not look good at all.
For the Peak!
1:00 am: Meeting to discuss what we’re doing. Even with the wind and the rain, the group pushed us to go and try. Finally, Karol (the second leader), Jadzia, and the Georgian guides decided we should wait until 3:00 am and then try. All the bad weather conditions had to go away before we could make an attempt.
3:00 am: We’re all looking forward to it. Finally, we get started. It’s dark, but we have our headlamps. We are full of mixed emotions: stress, adrenaline, and above all, curiosity.
The weather was good, but the group was large. Quite often we needed to take breaks and make stops. After we tie on our ropes, every step takes even longer. Meanwhile, there was a sunrise and it was cold.
And I… well… I was starting to not feel so good. In general, I started to have intestinal problems, which was not comfortable at all. Finally, just before we started the climb to the glacier, Karol asked if anyone wanted to go back and I told him that I do. I wasn’t in the best shape, so I decided not to take any chances. Kasia also decided not to go on and Karol returned with us to Meteo.
I don’t know which felt worse: that I felt bad or that I was quitting. Half an hour later, Karol called on the cell phone. Jadzia, who kept walking up the mountain, said that due to the deterioration in the weather everyone was going back. On the one hand, I felt sorry for them, but on the other hand, I felt a little relieved. Kasia and I would not be the only ones who weren’t able to go.
After the unsuccessful peak climb, the team felt terrible. We packed our things and went back to Kazbegi. A sense of sorrow, anger, and failure was strong. In the evening we all went out to dinner and someone suggested that we could go to Elbrus quickly and return to Kazbek. It seemed unreal at the time, but life can be surprising!
We got up in the morning, got on the buses, and went to Russia. Along the way, we saw beautiful views of the mountains, cows on bridges, and had conversations about the climbs. In fact, you don’t talk about anything else on such trips… 😉
Unfortunately, we were going with four fewer people. For various reasons, the others had decided to forgo the rest of the trip. Right away we learned that the ascent would take place sooner than we’d thought. We arrived on Saturday and the ascent was initially planned from Monday to Tuesday. Now the crew decided that since the weather had changed we would be leaving on Sunday. I felt that all the negative emotions that had been hanging in the air suddenly fell to the ground and shattered. Everyone’s mood changed for the better.
The next morning, we rode the cable car up the mountain to 3850 meters above sea level. Shortly afterward, we had to acclimate at a new height of 4800 m at Pastukhov Rocks and then returned down the mountain.
During lunch, we were told that we had the option of entering Pastukhov Rocks with a snow truck at night in order to avoid the cold and increase the chances of ascent. After my unsuccessful climb to Kazbek, I wanted to minimize the risk of not climbing another mountain, so I immediately agreed. The group was divided into those who decided to leave right away and those who would enter with a snow truck. Our second group had approximately 2 hours extra to ascend and we could stay a little longer in the shelters.
Elbrus is a different type of mountain than Kazbek. I can now say that it is boring. You just walk uphill in the snow. At first, it’s a hard walk, but an interesting sight when you look at other groups walking in the dark with their headlamps. But it’s very cold. When we climbed, it was around -24 degrees with winds at 40 kph.
Break. We bask in the sun – I wore six layers of clothes
I was wearing six layers of cloths that I took on and off depending on whether we were in the sun or the shade. The entire peak ascent lasted approximately 6 and a half hours. There were times when I wondered what I was actually doing. What’s the point of all this, this exhaustion, is it normal? While climbing the mountain, there is really no time to do much thinking. Most of the time, going uphill, I just counted 1,2,3, or thought to myself: left foot, right foot. That made the time fly by for me. I’d rather look at the feet of the person in front of me than see how far it is to the top. You can see things in the snow on the way up, but I prefer not to write about it.
When I walk uphill, I don’t like to talk. I prefer to focus on where I am and how I should place my feet as I observe the environment.
I think I will always remember Piotr’s words: “Ok! We can’t go any higher in Europe!” The feeling is great and the views are beautiful.
We succeeded and the weather was exceptionally good for us. Now that I think about it, Elbrus wasn’t such a difficult mountain for me. The descent was hard for me though. I didn’t sleep the night before so I was tired. I had enough. Fortunately, I took every opportunity to slide down on my buttocks. At a certain point, the route is so cool that you can sit and slide down—it is a pity that we didn’t have any sleds. My pants have their own story!
The whole way down I had one goal: a hot shower in the hotel! We were all super happy and excited to get down the mountain in the cable car so we could take a bath as soon as possible. I imagined these warm streams of water on my frozen body. But life would take us by surprise once again. There was a malfunction in the entire village so there would be no hot water for the next three days! But we were surprised once again. Asia got a kettle from the hotel and several people boiled water in jetboils. And that’s how we washed in the sink instead of the shower.
In the evening, the topic of Kazbek was brought up.
We decided to split into two groups: those who want to try again and those who will return to Kazbegi and then on to Tbilisi, where they will explore the area.
I decided I was not going to let the opportunity pass by to try climbing Kazbek again. In total, there were 9 of us who decided to hire a guide and horses that will carry our things for us.
Kazbek for the Second Time
We’re back! This time the ascent to Meteo was a piece of cake. For the first time, I experienced the energy and efficiency of acclimating!
We had one day to rest and the next day at 1:00 we would leave. We began again with the same terrain and emotions. I was “protected” by an anti-diarrheal drug. It was a mistake to open an email the day before and read something quite upsetting, but fortunately, I could count on support from other members of the expedition.
With Ola on top of Kazbek
Kazbek is a very interesting mountain and we took an interesting route. On the way from Meteo, we saw a moraine, rocks falling, and a glacier with fissures. There was much more diversity, but it was also dangerous. Here we had to use ropes, because “Kazbek does not like singles”, as we read in the advertisements in Meteo.
We reached the top without even realizing it. The fog was so thick that, unfortunately, we could only Google the views from the top. Still, the satisfaction level was at the max! It was our second try, but this time we made it!
And I found partners for my next trip. Because, as it turns out, we’re passionate about climbing and we have an appetite for more climbing adventures.
Our wonderful team
What Do I Like about This Kind of Expedition?
People! No one talks about their work because we are all in diverse fields of work. The only thing that matters is the common goal—to reach the top and have an exciting time doing it. We all support each other, help each other and share what we have.
I was on my first commercial expedition and probably not my last. It is convenient to only have to think about going, eating, and sleeping, almost like a Tamagotchi.
This expedition literally showed me what you often hear. It is not the summit or the goal itself that is important, but the path that leads you there. I like to remember the time spent with others rather than just getting to the top of the mountain. We were on Kazbek for a short time. With all the wind and fog, we wanted to get off of it as soon as possible. Elbrus, it was beautiful and the weather was sunny. Goals were achieved, but the fact that we did it with such a cool group of people only increases the satisfaction. If I had a stone in my shoe for the whole trip, climbing to the top would not give me so much satisfaction.
Thank you for the photos: Ola, Mateusz, Robert. I also used a few from the Facebook profile “Adventure24”.
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