The 7 Summits Blog - Elbrus Jun '14 (1st '7 summit')

The Climb
15th June 2014
It’s 3pm on Tuesday 10th of June. I’m back in the comfort of my tent at Base Camp and decided to sum up the previous 8 days.. It’s not easy!
When I landed in Minerlanye Vody on the 2nd and after waiting for an hour at the airport, a taxi driver turned up and said he would take me to the hotel. The rest of the expedition members arrived by the evening and after Andrey, our guide had checked our equipment in the room, we all went for a meal which was a great opportunity to get to know each other.

The start
There were 2 mini buses waiting for us and our bags outside the hotel on Tuesday the 3rd. These were loaded with food and our equipment and the group was split into half.
It was a bumpy ride but eventually we got to Base Camp. It started raining and it was pretty cloudy but after lunch we got into hiking gear and walked to the mineral water place.
The following day we hiked up the Mushroom rocks and back to BC. The day after on the 5th we took some of our stuff up to High Camp and moved back to BC for the night. On Friday the 6th we all moved up with the rest of our gear. On Saturday the 7th, Andrey took us to Lenz Rocks 4600m to acclimatise and said we had a day off on 8th before the summit bid.

Higher and higher
Both acclimatisation hiked went well and I felt pretty positive. The weather was changing constantly and we had to make sure to have a goretex jacket with us all the time. I wore merino wool as a base layer and found it very comfortable on hot and cold days.
By the time we moved up to High Camp the group jelled together nicely. When we had breaks, we would drink,munch on our lunch and have a chat. We got on incredibly well and I’m so pleased I decided to climb in a group. When you feel down or happy, there’s always someone there.. the moral was always pretty good but there was some nervous excitement in the air before summit night..

Getting to the top
On Sunday the 8th we were still guessing whether we could leave at 1am.. the weather hadn’t been great and although the forecast was good for the 9th, lots of snow had fallen and it didn’t look good.
We spent the rest day eating and chilling out in the hut and before dinner Andrey broke the news.. the good one was that we had an extra guide, Natalie but the weather wasn’t looking great and he thought we had to use our preserved day for the summit. We all ate dinner and went back to our sleeping bag for a 2 hour rest, nobody could sleep. We heard Andrey getting up at 11pm and announced that we would try and summit. We had breakfast soon after and by midnight we were ready to leave the hut. He lined us up in the snow, put our crampons on and half an hour after midnight we started the ascent from High Camp.
The night was nippy but the adrenalin kept everyone awake and we started moving slowly, roped up. After a tricky loo break in the harness we continued to the small rocks and from there we unlocked our carabiners from the rope and went up to Lenz rocks 4600m individually. We made good time and stopped there for a quick break then continued climbing under the stars..

What happened after is still quite hazy; all I remember is Natalie telling us to stop and turn around, it was a glorious sunrise. First time I had a good look around and breathed the fresh mountain air in. Unfortunately we couldn’t enjoy the stunning view for long; weather closed in, wind picked up and by this our group had split. During every break Andrey told us he wouldn’t take us to the top, it was dangerous and the few people we popped into said it was impossible. We met a group of Icelandic skiers during one of our acclimatisation hike and they were going for the summit the same night. We saw them every now and then but they must have taken a different route up..
I actually really enjoyed the first part of the ascend; prepared a great ’summit’ playlist the day before and I felt strong. At about 5200 we expected Andrey to turn around as he had said before he would, we could not see anything around us. And that was roughly the time the altitude started taking a toll on me..

We were told that it would take about 8-10 hours to get to the top. Since we were pretty fast during both acclimatization and summit push to the Lens Rocks, we expected to match the "general" summit push length. One thing we didn't count on was the weather and our group had already lost 3 members. Amazingly, at 12.30pm on Monday the 9th of June, 5 out of 8 of us have made it to the top. We were told not to get out camera out and posed for one team picture then literally flew down the mountain in 3 hours!

Everybody including myself passed out after what we all agreed was one of the hardest days.. We moved back to to Base Camp this morning and couldn't believe how much the place have changed. Have we been away for that long? Looking at the newly built tents, the season is certainly about to start but it makes me incredibly proud to say we were the first team this season summitting Mt. Elbrus from the more difficult North side.

from left to right: myself, Avilash Bisht (IN), Kuntal Joisher (IN), Sarah Kingdom (ZA), Jorgen Evang (NO) and our guide Andrey Voronin (RU).
The packing..
31st May 2014
I spent the past couple of weeks training hard, getting the last bits of equipment and gear and watching every single climbing video of Mt. Elbrus North side on youtube.
Yet I know that nothing can quite prepare me for the harsh weather, altitude and the long days of pushing higher and higher on Europe's tallest mountain in the Caucasus Range.

It's been 2 years since I was at altitude in the Nepal Himalayas and although Mount Elbrus rises "only" 5,642m (18,510ft) above the sea level, it is the deadliest mountain of the 7 summits. As many as 30 people die there every year due to altitude sickness and effect of the the extreme cold, many poorly trained individuals get into trouble for these reasons.

Excitement has turned into nervousness; am I going to be able to capture the raw beauty of the mountain? Will I make it to the top and back? Are my legs going to carry me all the way? Am I mentally prepared?

I had to choose the mountaineering equipment rather carefully.. Nowadays there is a large variety of ice picks, trekking poles, clothing items available but for me weight was always going to be an issue as I'll be carrying DSLR cameras etc so I decided to pick the lightest yet toughest ones possible:
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles
Black Diamond Venom Adze Ice Axe
Grivel G12 crampons

To protect my eyes from the strong sun and snow blindness, I'm taking the Julbo Revolution Zebra googles and the Julbo Trek glacier sunglasses.

I've got a pair of Salomon trail running shoes for traveling Salomon Quest for lower altitude trekking and the Scarpa Phantom Guide for technical and icy terrain.

As per camera gear, I am taking my Nikon D800 with the 24-70mm f2.8 & 10.5mm f2.8 super wide angle lens. I'll also have the bombproof Panasonic Lumix DMC FT5 and a GOPRO Hero 3+ to take photos and videos during the expedition.

Along with the -20C Mountain Equipment Snowline down sleeping bag I'm taking a self- inflatable matt for extra cushioning and protection against the cold at night.

Most of the gear is brand new and hasn't been tested by me but I fully trust the brands and the feedback from other climbers. Look forward to reporting back with my personal feedback! ;-)

The training
18th May 2014
In 2 weeks I'll be packing (and probably panicking) for Elbrus! Here is how I prepare myself physically for the first summit:

Monday & Wednesday evening spinning classes at Kings Sport in Wimbledon. The three instructors are absolutely fantastic; Mike, Lisa and Louise. We do a lot of hills, sprints and intervals, the classes are always different, hard work but I really enjoy it. This is how I trained for the 3 week Gokyo Lakes/ Everest/Kala Patthar solo trek in 2012.

Tuesday & Friday evenings I'm normally in the Kings gym - running and hill climbing on the treadmill, weights lifting, doing abs exercises, pushing hard on the gym bike on 'Hill' mode and trying to figure out how to use the big scary machines.

I noticed my knees don't like when I run on tarmac so I prefer trail running. Luckily I live near Wimbledon Common, a fabulous place to exercise outdoors.

I sold my car about 6 months ago and bought a Carrera bike so I cycle everywhere - grocery shopping, work, meeting friends or picking up expedition gear. I swear by it. Not much fun in the rain but keeps my legs strong and I feel like I've done something on non-gym/ spinning days.

I've been making short clips during working out on my GoPro Hero 3+ camera and will be adding a training video before I'm off to the Caucasus.