Climing Mt. Elbrus

Midnights in Moscow (translated by Zhong Yanhei in Kunming)

August 25, 2007 5:00 AM, our plane arrived at the Moscow International Airport after 9hrs of flight from Beijing.

In the airport I saw many Chinese people, some of them are young people like students, some are businessmen with an accent of Wen chou. It seems that Russia still has a great appeal to Chinese people.

Considering that the flight to Min Vody needs to be taken in another aiport, I decided to go to its nearby hotel for the convienience of tomorrow. It took me 1hr to get to the aiport hotel in the suburbs of Moscow. Along the drive, I was trying to find the mood and context of the famous song "Midnights in Moscow," however, crossing among the modern skyscrapers, I failed to feel the quietness and graceness of the song described. After arriving at the hotel, it confused me that the well-decorated room even without an air-conditioner instead of a kind of electronic fan which had been put out of the market for many years in China. No time for me to think more, I fell asleep right after lying down my luggage.

The strong sunshine in the morning of Moscow waked me up the next day, sort of like the warm character of Russian people. I believe this time would be another amazing expedition experience for me.

I shall take the flight before the midday of August 25(Local time) to Min Vody and start the expedition of Mt. Elbrus. Due to the event of ‘Russian Missiles’ in Georgia in the early August, the already strained Russian-Georgian relations again tightened. Thus, Mt. Elbrus, which is situated at the junction of the two countries, became a sensitive area. Before departing, the Russian guide specially told me not to carry GPS, satellite phone, binoculars and other equipments, otherwise, it would cause unnecessary misunderstandings or even lead to their repatriation. In this way, I left these expedition tools in Beijing. Since without the satellite phone, I cannot contact the outside world in time about my trip.

Reaching the Elbrus Base Camp

August 26: After breakfast with other team-mates, we took all the necessities for climbing and started our adventure in the morning. For reaching the Barrel Hut (Elevation 3900m), we had to walk 5 minutes from hotel to the Tram starting point (Elevation 2300m), and then took the tram to its terminal (Elevation 3500m), finally with 10 plus minutes’ walk, we can arrived at the Barrel Hut, which is a large gasoline styled Mt.ain hotel in Mt. Elbrus and also the base camp of expedition. Each room of the “hotel” can accommodate about 6 people.

This internatinal Climbing Team is composed of 11 members and 3 guides including China, Ireland, Spain, US, France, Australia, Malysia, Russia and other countries. Cherishing a common hobby, friends from different areas gathered together with great enthusiasm. One of the climbers from Malysia even once climbed the Mt. Everest, Cho Oyo, K2 and other mountains which are all above 8000 meters. The tram has its accordingly capacity with large and medium-sized (about 10 ps) and small-sized (about 3 ps) seats. We had to take the large ones up to levels at 3000 meters and then transferred to small ones up to 3500 meters.

At the 3000-meter relay station, we saw the martyrs monument for the memory of the Elbrus battle in the World War. In the history of Elbrus Climb, WW II made an important mark. On August 21, 1942, under the leadership of two captains, the plotted Germany army occupied the “Alpine Hotel” which is at an altitude of about 5300 meters. It is slightly below the peak of Elbrus. The army raised a manned balloon on which stood the artillery observers holding a telescope. At that time, the German had occupied the oil-rich Baku Oilfields.

In order to recapture the Baku Oilfields, the Soviet troops had repeatedly attacked the Germans in Elbrus. However, due to their little knowledge of the mountain, the Soviet soldiers only wore thin summer coats and were short of climbing equipment. In the evening, the temperature dropped below zero, the severe cold caused drastic death and injuries among the soldiers, they failed to combat because of their ineffectiveness before the fighting. Later, the Supreme Soviet command Ministry organized a group of Mt.ain troops, all the soldiers are former Elbrus climbers, with professional climbing equipment. The 2,000-soldier troop finally regained the strategic point after hard fighting with the Germans.

More than half a century has passed and in my eyes, today’s Elbrus is still a fortress of patriotic spirit with magnificent dignity. This mountain is the product of year's of volcanic eruption which mainly are composed of andesite. Its cone shape clearly shows its glorious identity of “Son of the Volcano”. From our Barrel Hut base camp, we could admire its born “Hump” with two peaks. The higher one which is 5642 meters above the sea level takes the main peak facing westwards, the lower one at the elevation of 5595 meters sits eastwards. In 1874, the mysterious veil was opened by a visit from UK which is the first climb for the human beings to Elbrus’ main peak.

Hunreds of climbers and tourists were gathering at the base camp, however, it constitutes a great threat to the natural scenaries with large piles of trashe left by human beings. I believe this is not a correct method to conquer the Elbrus for the climber-lovers.

After short rest in the Barrel Hut, our team started our walk tour to the rock zone which sits 4200-4300 meters, and our guide shall give a brief climbing skills training in this place.

High-intensity Adaptability Training with Valiant Female Leaders

August 27, 2007: We had a high-intensity adaptability training with two valiant Russian female leaders. At the end of the training we were completely exhausted!

Today’s weather was pretty fine in the early morning, I only wore a thin coat. However, it began to snow when we reached the 4000 meters, the temperature dropped drastically to zero and below. Our two dynamic Russian female leaders were so strong that they pushed us on without a break..

At the halfway point, two Indonesian teammates couldn't continue and returned to our base camp. Along the road, I saw a team just removed down from the mountains, one of them was holding a puppy, the little dog coiled in his arm and shivered seriously. It’s true that when you get higher, the temperature becomes lower. Only till when we climbed up to the 4600 meters, our leaders asked us to stop, we finally had a chance to breathe. The snowline of Mt. Elbrus is at 3400 meters. It’s monotonously white above the line, we could only find gray rocks where little thin snow covers. Actually the slope along the road is not steep, only with long roads, it’s really a test of patience and endurance for a climbing-team.

After the 10 minutes rest our team began to return to the base camp. Around the camp, I found there are many crows looking for food among the trashe. The puppy I met during the training now became more active, jubilantly swing its little tail around the climbers. Punctually we began our supper at 6 PM. Since in this season there are more climbing-teams, each one must have their meal at fixed time. We had a rich dinner with Russian flavored soup, fried fish, potatoes, bread and cheese.

The history of climbing Mt. Elbrus can be traced back to 140 years ago, so the present facilities here are relatively better. However, due to excessive exploitation and inadequate protection measures, construction waste and climbing trashe can be seen everywhere, which poses a serious impact on the environment.

If the weather is good tomorrow, we shall start our peak-trip at 4AM in the early morning which will need about 10hrs. A big challenge, though. Everyone looks pretty good in today’s training, we have full confidence for Elbrus!

All Roads Lead to the Summit

August 28, 4AM: With 15 members, our team hit the road to the peak. Including us, there were totally ten teams to go this morning. The dawn in the mountain was dark, our headlights constituted a long shining line with our shape of the queue, slowly moving forward. Since the Elbrus situates in the airstream junction between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, the weather here is naughty and changeable. Just two hours after starting it began to snow with strong hail and thunder. Everyone picked his steps with great care to ensure the saftey of the road.

Surprisingly, we found that we climbed above the clouds when the day broke. It was snowy white everywhere, the scenary around was extremely amazing. Above the height of 5000 meters, the hilly slope became a little steep, the distance among each team was larger, some of the teammates quit in the middle because of physical exhaustion.

At midday, our procession reached the elevation of 5300 meters. We knew that might be the accident-prone area from the facial expression of our two female leaders. They started to check our equipments and encouraged the members who were lagging behind. Suddenly, I heard a scream below, then, no time for me to react, a huge snow wall rushed towards us and totally involved us in the wall. This was an avalanche! We were carried more than 60 meters within a few seconds.

Recall the shocking minutes, when I was involved in the snow, I felt a strong shock which I couldn't resist. At that time, a strong desire to stay alive sustained me to fight with the disaster. According to common practice, the reason for the death in an avalanche is lack of oxygen and too much pressure. So I struggled with full strength, trying to expose my head above the thick snow. After a few seconds, our 8 memebers were pushed to a relatively plain ground and stopped. I was the first one to get out. Some of the members were buried in the snow only with their hands exposed, some of them were totally up side down. On Everest I only though of staying alive; in this experience I actually thought of death.

The team leaders and I worked to free my teammates. Fortunately, this avalanche was moderate, and each member of our team successively escaped from the 70-centimeter snow heap. Seeing the injuries, the teams behind us decided to quit the peak trip and our injured teammates also returned. Six members of our team decided to continue our conversation with the Elbrus.

The road near the peak was very narrow and we formed a line as we approached our destination. At 15:39 PM, August 28 (Beijing time), after great suffering, we successfully stood at the peak of Mt. Elbrus -- the highest peak of Europe.

At that time, our six members embraced together, celebrating our vicotry. I showed our national flag, the Beijing Olympic flag and the other flags which I had brough on the climb.At this height of 5,642 meters, I am sure the world has witnessed our hard work and our strong belief.