Friday, July 22, 2016

Made it up to Igor's Hut -- Home for the next few days

Randy called from 13,500 ft to report on a very successful day. I can always tell when they are starting to get into the thinner air because they sound just a little out of breath.  He and Anders both were feeling great, though, and not experiencing any problems from the higher altitude.

Here's a picture of the very crude, but adequate high hut where they will stay to further their acclimatization and position themselves for a summit attempt.

There are a couple of separate quarters with sleep platforms and a center room for eating.  Nothing fancy, but it's good protection from intense Elbrus weather.   The team divided up into smaller groups, particularly since a couple of the women had pretty bad colds and they were trying to keep everyone healthy for the challenges ahead.  A couple of the teammates were also feeling a little sick from the altitude so let's hope everyone gets some rest and wakes up tomorrow feeling better.

They are climbing with three guides, Mike Hamill (lead guide), Sasha, and Igor.  Igor is from St. Petersburg and has teamed up with IMG as a guide and trip facilitator.  Back in the Soviet days, he was one of the national champions in climbing and this is actually his private hut.   The other guide, Sasha, 29 and mother of a one-year old, has climbed Elbrus so many times, she said she stopped counting at 60.  Their very well-respected head guide Mike Hamill, a former D-1 collegiate skier and Junior Olympian, has been guiding since 1997.  He has climbed each of the 7 summits numerous times, and is friends with Anders and Randy from previous climbs.  Given the inherent risk in high altitude mountaineering, it certainly helps me to know they are in such capable hands up there.

The hike up today went really well.  They first took the cable car back up to 12,500.  Then they climbed another 1000 feet vertical in about 70 minutes to their base camp hut. Unlike yesterday's training hike, today they were carrying all the gear and clothes they need for the duration.  Randy gave special kudos to the woman who are all much smaller than he and Anders, and did a great job climbing with pretty heavy packs.  One of the major things that distinguishes experienced climbers from less experienced is how much "stuff" they bring on these trips.  Randy and Anders make a very concerted effort to bring as little as possible, but everything they need.  Less is more when you have to carry it - especially uphill!  They talk about gear and sort gear for hours and hours.  You should see our basement, kitchen table, and front hall the week before Randy leaves on one of these trips! (see Randy's gear list below) A couple of the women hadn't been quite as minimalist as the guys (nice way of say they overpacked), and actually had heavier packs than Randy and Anders.  Randy's pack is 65 litres, and he was hauling about 40 lbs today.  One of the women's pack is 110 liters, and he estimated she carried at least 60 lbs today, and yes, at altitude. Very impressive.

Randy's List -- Checking it Twice...

When I first spoke to Randy, winds at 13,500 feet were about 20 - 30mph and it was a balmy 20 degrees.  None of the other teams made any summit attempts today since winds at the top (18,500') were over 50 mph. And with temps up there around 10 degrees, the wind chill was well below zero.

To further acclimatize, the team plans to climb up to about 15,000' tomorrow and then back down to the hut.  Then the next three days are all possible summit windows, depending on the weather.  Summit day starts around midnight with the goal to be up on the summit around 7 or 8 am, then back down to the hut.  It is a very long and demanding day, and can only be attempted if the weather cooperates.

Here's the weather forecast at the summit for the next few days.  Of course things change all the time in the mountains, so the head guide will be keeping close watch to determine a summit window.

I spoke to Randy and Anders again at the end of the day, the skies had cleared and the view was spectacular.  For the first time, they could clearly see the imposing Caucasus Mountain Range and particularly the two peaks of Elbrus (below).  The sun was setting and the sky was pink and dramatic.  They both sounded excited and so very happy to be on the mountain, in their element.  Anders in particular had just about "tapped out" on the hotel mystery food, so he was relieved to be eating the food the guides cooked up on the slope.  He just loves being up in the mountains, telling me how beautiful it was, how awesome he was feeling, how psyched for what's ahead.  It's hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm.  They both were energized for the day tomorrow and ready to test themselves on a pretty significant climb to 15K.

Below a view of the twin peaks of Mt. Elbrus.

The picture below is from yesterday's snow training -- all practicing their self-arrest as described in the prior blog.  The guide posted this today on his blog.

No comments: