It was a cold night without heat in the Barrel Hut #4 where I slept at the 12,300′ level on Elbrus in Russia, and I slept fitfully.
At 5:30 I stepped out to check conditions and though it was very cold and windy, the sky was clear, so I prepared to go. It was slowly dawning with a lightening sky, so I could see a bit without my headlamp as I prepared. First was breakfast, a half shake and the rest of a Clif Z-bar I’d started in the night. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012
It was slow going getting prepared, but finally I stepped out onto the glacier and began my upward plodding.
I checked my heart rate frequently with a goal to keep it around 140 for as long as possible for maximum endurance. I was doing okay with that, just very cold and the wind feeling like it was cutting right through me. All of the flowing water from all the previous days was frozen solid in midstream… — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012
Elbrus Summit Day Hypothermia
As I got higher it got colder and windier, and I ended up in all my layers, silently chanting motivational mantras to myself to inspire myself ever upward. A little over halfway to Pastukhova Rocks, I slowed to a halt, feeling the cold deep inside and in my numbing fingers.
I stared up at Pastukhova Rocks, about the halfway point, seemingly inches away, but actually over a mile and 1300′ up and away. I was indecisive. I wanted to finally finish, to get it behind me, but I was so cold. My imagination drifted back to 2009 and Liberty Ridge on Rainier where our team nearly died after a storm blew in after an epic struggle up the steep route. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012
The niggling remembrance of a guide training course I once took told me I was experiencing mild hypothermia, and that I should descend immediately. As a solo climber, the margin for error is a lot smaller – there isn’t anyone to tell you when you’re experiencing a medical emergency. I turned around in tears.
I finally began to feel a bit warmer as I got below the Diesel Hut, but couldn’t figure out how to remove a layer. I needed to use my poles a lot getting down the steep dry pitch. I began to cough bringing up gunk from deep down in my lungs, and realized that I had used up my one chance for the summit on this trip, and that I would need to eat and drink more to make it down, not worrying about saving for a second attempt. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012
Returning to the Barrels, I dried my boots, charged my Guide 10 battery pack, repacked my gear, drank and drank and drank, veg’ing in the bunk. Doing the math, I realized that in spite of my best wishes, I truly did not have a chance at the summit on the next day, since I couldn’t guarantee I’d make the last gondola of the day at 3 PM. In fact, it would be a struggle to make the last one today. I packed quickly and took off for the trail to the chairlift after checking that it was still running.
I managed to get lost on the way down to the lift, and made a few wandering wrong turns before I finally got there. It’s only a couple hundred feet down and you can see the whole path most of the way. I was almost angry that I got lost so much. .. The ride was very cold, and I wore the warmest jacket I had with.
At Mir I had a little trouble figuring out how to get on the gondola. Finally the maze of stairs made sense and I managed to get into a car, and make the transition at the mid-station. A little below the station, maybe 9000′ my whole body felt much better and relaxed. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012
I arrived at the hotel after an amazingly scary taxi ride, settled into my room, and after dinner slept like a rock.
Elbrus Summit Day Photos