Friday, July 22, 2016

Training Day and Move to the Slopes

Ok, much is happening now so I'll (Judy) fill in a little bit more about their training day and the plans ahead.

Yesterday's Recap:

Wednesday night was a huge storm with intense lightening and torrential rain, but they guys slept really well in their small cot-like beds in their Terskol hotel.  The town, a border town between Russia and Georgia, sounds a bit dismal from their descriptions. It doesn't look bad in this picture below, but it seems the locals are not very friendly, alcoholism is rampant, and the food is disappointing.
The upside, I guess, is avoiding the bad weather up on the slopes for a few days vs. the usual tent experience from Day One of a climb.  They have both been high up in the mountains in intense weather, and I know that's not fun for them, or us at home!  Another mountaineering group that Anders and Randy have climbed with before, RMI, has a team climbing Elbrus a day or two ahead of their IMG group.  I've been reading RMI's blog and they've been facing that same lightening up and severe weather on the mountain.  Their guide blogged that he hadn't seen weather this bad on Elbrus since 2002.  So let's hope Mother Nature calms down before our guys head up there for their summit attempt.
Lucky for our group, the weather cleared a bit by 7 AM, so their plans for a training and another acclimatization day were on.  They had breakfast and drove over to Azau where a third gondola was recently completed to take skiers, mountaineers, and military training groups up to an altitude of 12,500.

They spent a couple hours out on the snowy slopes reviewing basic mountaineering techniques:  duck walking, cross-over steps, ice-axe proficiency.  They put on their crampons for the first time this trip (metal plates with spikes fixed to their boots for walking on ice/snow) and practiced the all important "self-arrest" move.  For those who might not be familiar, self-arrest is a movement employed in mountaineering where a climbers who has fallen and is sliding down an ice or snow-covered slope "arrests" his or her slide by using an ice-axe and a combination of boots, hands, elbows, etc.
One thing to note here:  Anders and Randy are both well-trained and experienced using these techniques. Some of their previous major expeditions, like Vinson in Antartica, required them to submit a climbing resume to prove they know their stuff.  At a place like Vinson, there is no "training day"; they just get out there and start working as a team to make their way up the massive mountain.  But, Anders and Randy love to work on these things, so they appreciated a chance to get out on the snow and work on their movements and dexterity a bit.
 According to Randy, a few of the less-experienced group were a bit tentative trying out the self-arrest move; they would sit on the snow and push off to start a gradual slide.  In contrast, Anders would tear down the slope, leap into a slide, and quickly maneuver his body and ice axe to halt his descent.  As my kids would say, "Nice Ders".....  Needless to say, he loves this stuff.

Randy and Anders' team practicing their maneuvers on a foggy day on the mountain

The weather was pretty dismal up there today: low visibility, rain, even stinging sleet at times.  So the group only stayed up there a couple hours, a pretty mellow day in terms of effort.  In fact, after they came back down to Terskol, Randy and Anders felt great, so they walked a mile to a store to buy back pack covers given all the rain in the forecast.  Back at the hotel, they sorted gear and packed up their backpacks for the next day, had another group dinner with pretty unpleasant food, and rested for their move onto the slopes.

Now...On to the Mountain!

The plan today was to move up to the mountain and leave the hotel behind, which I know the guys will not mind at all!  They were heading back to the same cable cars to get up to about 12,500.  Then they would all climb another 1000 feet to some very basic huts which will be their home for duration of the climb. Tomorrow they will climb up to 14,500 and then back again to the huts.  Then the next three days are all possible summit days. Their head guide, Mike Hammil, will be carefully checking the weather and will choose the best day to make their attempt.  Because the weather can get so nasty on Elbrus, they try to be up on the summit by around 7 or 8 AM, which means leaving the hut around midnight or 1AM with their headlamps to light their way.  It's a very long, tough day, and we'll all be pulling for them!  Here's the guys ready for their climb.

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