Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Juho's summit day report

I woke up on Saturday, June 30th later than what I had hoped for but despite pretty strenuous day before I felt well rested and ready to go. Visibility from my tent at 4100m was not bad but couldn't see the summit unlike on the previous morning which was clear and calm. There was also a bit of wind which didn't promise good for the summit 1,5km higher. Due to worse outlook for the weather on the coming days I decided to make the ascent that morning.

The glacial spring water stream had frozen overnight and I had to dig deep to fill my water bottles. At 0644hrs I started skinning with my skis up the slope with Pastukhov Rocks some 500 vertical meters higher as my first intermediate goal in the process. After a while I sent the first status update to Barrels and hoped that somebody else in any of the many groups on the mountain was up or heading up the same time.

Up to Pastukhov Rocks the way was rather uneventful. I had to zig-zag around the Rocks at the right hand side due to steep and slippery ice while the visibility was deteriorating and the wind was picking up all the time. At the time I was around the rocks snow fall was heavy and facing the wind was really uncomfortable. I switched to down jacket, put the crampons on and left the skis before having the second breakfast and starting up the steeper part of the climb up to the Saddle.

The following 6-7 hours of the climb were pretty much the same. On a steady "25-50 steps and a break" -pace I went from one marking pole to another. The route itself was well marked and only in a case of a heavy snowfall I can imagine many of them would be completely buried. Half a dozen times I couldn't see the next pole right away and had to guess the direction with keeping the previous pole in sight and luckily I never went wrong.

As the visibility was between 50-150m all the time I could only guess how steep the ridges on each side of route outside the Saddle were. I was using either two skiing poles or one pole and the ice axe all the way up to the summit. The wind was getting worse by the hour but luckily the temperature didn't seem to drop and I had no trouble keeping frostbite at bay. No headache, no nausea and I was making steady progress. One thing that was very uncharacteristic for me was that I didn't really feel like stopping to take photos. Once I tried and camera froze about two seconds after being turned against the wind.

Eventually I made it to the top and took immediately shelter behind the rock marking the summit. Keeping my hands inside my down jacked I took out the satellite phone and gave the rest of the team an update on my status. I had planned on calling a couple of people from the roof of Europe but I really just wanted to get out of there. I was also slightly concerned about the possibility of temperature dropping but I was still in relatively good shape for the return.

Decent was pretty much the same as the ascent except naturally much faster. Finally after passing the Saddle and heading down to Pastukhov Rocks the sun came out for the first time. The snow would have been extremely good for downhill skiing but I never regretted my decision of leaving the skis as most part of the decent would have been extremely risky due to the poor visibility.

In retrospect I'm glad I took the risk and went up solo that day. I had no close calls on the way but I got a taste of what Mount Elbrus can be especially during winter. In the unlikely event that the ice would have been harder, wind higher and temperature lower the risk would have increased proportionally. This time, however, I was very happy with my fast acclimatization and I believe I was making sound decisions all the way up and down. For those more risk-averse I don't recommend going up alone, though.

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