Saturday, July 23, 2016

Gearing up for likely Summit Push Tomorrow!

Recap of last night and today’s acclimatization climb:

Last night was a rough night for most of the team.  For one, a 50mph wind was roaring; to be precise, “friggin' ripping” was how Randy described it.  Also, adjusting to sleeping at 13,500 isn’t easy, but that’s exactly the point of spending time at this level.  All of the climbers were struggling with altitude effects overnight. Randy said he tossed and turned; his head and stomach ached. He slept less than an hour, but the human body is very resilient and adaptable. For Randy, drinking about a liter of water overnight then waking up to coffee, breakfast, and half an Aleve was all he needed to feel refreshed and ready to go. Anders also was experiencing some milder altitude effects, but managed to sleep a couple hours.  The C boys were both feeling really strong this morning and psyched for the planned climb to 15,000 feet.

Here's the view from 13,500 feet:

The morning dawned sunny and clear, relatively mild at 32 degrees, but the still blowing 20mph at 13.5K.  Mike, their head guide, determined the team could handle this, so they donned their crampons, bundled up, wore face protection and rolled at 9am. They set off straight up the slope in what Randy called “really tough conditions”. It was a steady, steep (average 25% grade) slope.  The snow was firm, but chewed up from snowmobiles and Sno-cats, so they didn’t have to rope together. The wind gusts were up to 40mph making it feel more frigid and challenging especially for the smaller framed women.  A couple weigh less than 120, so those winds are tough to endure. Yet they all made it to 14,600 in 70 minutes. At that point, Mike decided the wind was too strong, so they descended back to the huts, as planned. 
Both Randy and Anders felt great the whole way, and notably, Randy’s bad knee isn’t bothering him at all, even on the descent.  They are ready and raring to go for the summit.

Speaking of Summit Plans:

Here's their ultimate goal, the West summit of the Elbrus:

The next three days are all possible summit days. Mike Hamill will consult with Phil Ershler, Direction of IMG and major mountaineer, consider the team and environmental conditions, and choose the timing for the summit push. There is a very strong possibility that the team will try tomorrow. (Yikes!) If so, they would get a wake up call at 1am tonight, leave at 2am to climb steep, icy slopes in very demanding conditions in the dark with headlamps.  I'm sure everyone's idea of a good time!  The goal is making it up to the summit around 9am.  It will be frigid and howling up there, so they’ll take some pictures, high five, and book it back down to the hut.  The descent back to Igor’s hut at 13,500 should take approximately 3 hours.  Once back at the hut, they may rest or decide to pack up and descend another 1000 feet back to the cable cars.  The plan would be to make it all the way back to their hotel in Terskol, so about a 15 – 18 hour day.  Of course so many things could change.  Everything is contingent on the weather, the climbers’ energy levels, any health issues or altitude problems, and, of course, whether they reached the summit.  For example, they could make it halfway up, or even close to the summit, and have to turn back because of dangerous winds.  If that happens on Day One of the three day window, they might decide to try again.   

Here’s another wrinkle: on today’s climb, everyone made it up to 14,600 but there was a clear diversity in the capabilities, endurance, and strength of the 8 team members.  Elbrus is unusual in that there is an alternative option to attempt the summit that some on the team are considering.  They can take a Sno-cat to 16,000 feet, then attempt to climb the 2500 up to the peak.  Purists might say this is “cheating” but all the climbing teams take the gondolas to 12,500 and that’s the acceptable route, so it’s all up for debate.  As you might imagine, Anders and Randy are opting to go “old school” and climb from 13,500, as are the two other male teammates.  They will climb with two of the guides, Mike and Sasha. All the women (3 in their 30’s, one 41) are considering the Sno-cat alternative.  In fact, Danielja who tried to summit last year but was unsuccessful, is definitely going on the cat with Igor, the third guide.  The other 3 women were making their decision this evening.

I imagine that is a tough call and it will be interesting to hear what they decide.  In any case, let’s all send them positive thoughts and hope they all make it up to stand on the highest point in Europe!

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