Sunday, July 24, 2016

Successful Summit! Anders fast and strong; Randy slower, but determined. No surprises.

"Hi Mom, We're safe, everything is good, and we summited!"

Anders just called from the huts at 13,500, having successfully endured the physically grueling climb to the top of Elbrus, at 18,500 ft, Europe's highest peak and the tenth most prominent peak in the world. While not as technically difficult as some of the other mountains he's summited, Elbrus is notorious for its brutal weather, unrelenting winds, and steep sections.  Today was definitely more demanding than Anders had anticipated.  But as usual, he was back at the huts in the first group, feeling "pretty good actually" and drinking a beer.

Phew, I (the mom) can breathe again!  Well, almost breath again because Randy is not quite back down the mountain yet, and it's currently white out conditions.  But..he should be back shortly; he's en route with an awesome guide and should show up at the huts within the hour.  More on this below.

Here's the highlights:

As I described yesterday, the 8 teammates had the option of taking a sno-cat up to 16,000 feet and start the summit attempt from there.  Two of the women opted for this route and Igor (one of the guides) went with them.

That left 6 climbers, (the 4 guys and 2 younger women) and 2 guides (Mike and Sasha).  The plan had been to leave camp at 2 am.  Anders said it took longer for the group to get going for some reason, but they set out as a group of 8, each bundled up with their headlamps and alpine gear, carrying about 20 pound packs.  Summit day they take just what they need, leaving the rest in the hut. When climbing steep slopes at altitude, a lighter pack is helpful. The wind was relentless all day, blowing at least 20 - 30 mph and higher as they ascended. It became clear early on that the climbers were moving at different speeds.  Anders and the two young guys were ahead, Randy lagging a bit behind them, and then the girls further back.  Anders' group waited for long periods of time for the rest to catch up, "massive breaks" as Anders called them.  Not that anyone minded taking a break, but it's a little challenging to stop for 45 minutes at a time after working hard and sweating, exposed to that cold, gusty weather.  It's not like there are shelters and benches.

Not surprisingly, when they approached the steepest and toughest part of the climb - in fact the only section with real exposure requiring them to rope together - the guides decided to divide the group into two.  Anders and the two younger guys went with Mike Hamill.  And Randy and the two young women went with Sasha.  On Anders fixed line, Mike was the lead and Anders the anchor.  Anders usually ends up being asked to take that position since it's prudent to have the most experienced climbers at the lead or end of the rope. And as Randy kept telling me, Anders was by far the strongest of the team.  Even before this steepest part, Randy was definitely feeling the toll of the tough day and still had much ahead to endure. Since Anders is younger and stronger, he took some of Randy's heavier equipment, like his camera and phone. One of the things about these father-son shared adventures that always strikes me is how committed Anders and Randy are to each other's success and well-being on the mountain.  In the midst of all my concern about their safety and hopes for a successful summit, I'm always just overwhelmed with this pure caring -- this synchronicity and generosity of spirit.
Anyway, back to the base of this steep climb.  In addition to some of Randy's gear, Mike asked Anders to carry extra rope and some pickets. So on this very steep, tough section, Anders was hauling about 35 pounds instead of his previous 20.  He really is strong and good at this stuff!

Both teams made it safely up this steep traverse, but at this point Anders team was much further ahead and the plan was to summit separately at their different speeds.  I will fill in more details about the actual summits later when they call back.  At this point, what I know is that it was extremely windy up there with "ok" visibility, too cold and gusty for Anders to call me from the top.  Anders was thrilled to have summited and super excited that Randy's team summited as well.  Anders team made it safely back to the huts, a total round trip of about 12 hours.  Because everyone was pretty depleted from todays efforts, the plan is to sleep in the huts tonight and recover, and head back down to what Anders calls the "sh***y" hotel in town".   He didn't mind at all staying up in the hut in his beloved mountain arena vs back to the dreary town.

So where is Randy and why isn't he back yet?  This will not be surprising to anyone who knows Randy well.  But after Randy, Sasha and the girls summited, they descended back down to about 16,000 feet and all were pretty wiped out.  They gave them the option to take the snowcat back to the huts at 13,500. Anders heard this and his reaction was, "I bet you my Dad won't do that.  Of course, Anders was right.  He knows his 13 times-Ironman stubborn Dad will persevere through almost anything to achieve a goal.  So while the girls did choose the ride down, my very determined and thankfully strong husband is still hiking down with the guide Sasha.  Anders wasn't worried about him, even though the clouds had descended and it was literally white out conditions. Sasha, the guide, is incredibly experienced having summited over 60 times.  As Anders put it, "Mom, you know Dad. He is strong and he is stubborn. He'll be here soon.  I'm really impressed with what he's pushing himself to do today. It's pretty awesome. "

So I'm impressed too, with both of them, even though a part of me thinks my strong-willed and headstrong husband is a little crazy!

Anders is so happy up in the mountains; he is in his element and he is skilled, strong, and positive. I'll feel better when I get the next call that Randy is back at the hut, but I'm optimistic it will be soon.  I'm sure he will be physically wasted, but he'll be very proud and very glad he didn't take the uber option home!

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