A day of waiting. We spent it practicing on the glacier with crampons, ice axe etc. It was windy but sunny, truly perfect conditions. Traversing the glacier, crossing crevasses, practicing with ice arrests and crevasse climbs – we had a lot of fun in the amazing scenery. During the night, one group was ready to go but the conditions were far too bad at 2 am. Therefore, they decided to hold off for one day and join all the other groups for the Sunday summit day.
The Meteo hut is covered in warnings and messages about people who have gone missing and the mantra “Get a guide and rope up” is everywhere. There are many deaths on Kazbek and going solo up this mountain, no matter how experienced is incredibly stupid.
Whilst we were there, a young Norwegian went up on his own as the rest of his group did not go due to weather. Luckily for him, he managed to get back to the hut just as dusk fell. Many of climbers there had words with him about his stupidity as there may have had to be a search party sent out for him which could potentially put other lives at risk.
That evening all the groups went to bed early having prepared all the gear for the following day and set the alarms for 12.55 .
Sunrise over Kuro ridge
On the glacier
On the glacier
Finally, the summit day has arrived. At 00:54 we all got up, assembled in the kitchen, stuffed ourselves with carbohydrates, filled the tea flasks and prepared the water bottles with isotonic. The gear was checked and double checked. ”Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” was everyone’s maxim that morning.
Finally, the moment had come at 02:16. We switched the head torches on and started to walk up and down around and around the moraines rocks. We crossed streams and crevasses and dodged the icy bits as we followed the guide’s head torch.
The trail from the hut changes every year. It is usually well away from the Khmaura wall as there is constant rockfall, especially late in the day as the ice and snow melts. The guides skill in finding their way through the dark along a track which has small cairns along the way is phenomenal. It is hard to navigate even in broad daylight on the way back.
After an hour or two we had a stop and I took the opportunity to add another layer of clothing. The group started to move before I was ready and in order to catch up, I broke my rhythm (which is important in thin air). For a few minutes, the others had to wait whilst I caught my breath and adjusted my breathing accordingly.
A lack of sleep over the previous few days and maybe not enough liquids (although I never drank so much tea in my life) may not have helped but apart from being somewhat slow on the descent, I did not have any other major breathing issues that day thankfully.
Light spreads over Ortsveri mountain
On the Mali plateau
Views from the route
Finally, we arrived at a section of the glacier at around 4100, a few kilometres away from the Meteo station just as dawn was breaking. There we put on the harness and crampons and once again double checked our equipment. The sun spread its golden glow over us all, but there was no time to admire the scenery for too long as it was very cold and we still had a long way to go.
The guide zig-zagged his way through the crevasses till finally, we arrived on the Maili plateau at around 4580m. No sign of Russian border guards here so we can proceed with no further ado. Here the track was narrow and before and behind us various groups of two, three and five could be seen, all roped up. Gradually, as we proceeded the looming summit appeared and soon we were at its base.
Now here was the tricky zig-zag up to the first small plateau. Here I had a problem with my crampon as it became loose, fortunately, the guide was able to fix it using his ice axe. At a temperature of minus ten and a significant wind chill waiting for rescue was not an option, and going down the slope with one crampon was not to be recommended either.
We drank some more tea and the final ascent followed. This was eight zig-zags up a 40-degree angle slopes - number five and seven were particularly treacherous as the track was narrow and there was only ice to stick the axe into.
After a long and difficult ascent, we finally reached the top.What relief, what joy, what ecstasy! It was a first 5000 mountain for all the group. Joy was unconfined even though we were all exhausted.Ten minutes of tea drinking photos and smiles followed. The 55% oxygen at the top was noticeable and with 40 kph winds, it was not long before we started to make the long and tricky descent.
Views from the climb
As I had foreseen, the zig zag no. 7 was the worst and great care had to be taken on this section. After a few hours, we finally reached the rock-filled moraine section, took off our crampons and harnesses. We could hear and see to our left that there was constant rockfall which was far enough away to be not too worried but also close enough to keep an eye out for a bouncing boulder or two.
Eventually, we arrived back at the Meteo station. Since this day most of the people had reached the top, it was a very happy place to be that evening. I didn’t feel that great due to being slightly dehydrated. Also, even though I had sunblock, lip gloss and sun factor fifty liberally put on over the day, I still got burnt.
The descent was for 10:00 am. We packed our gear and waited for the horses to bring the heavy equipment down. It was a long 6 days. We walked down to the glacier and put the crampons on for the final time. To avoid the river at the base of the glacier, we took down a different route. There was a famous Polish climber who descended with us and we were stopped by numerous Polish people looking for a word or photograph. Sadly, we learnt that the following day one of these young men died because of altitude sickness which totally took the gloss of our climb.
After six hours of gentle descending, we arrived at the Gergeti church and were picked up by our driver. We were then driven to a nearby village to a restaurant and had a sumptuous lunch. But beforehand naturally, I had to have a Kazbegi beer to celebrate. So, cool so sweet. After stuffing ourselves with the first non-packed fresh meal in six days it was back to the guesthouse for the long-awaited shower.
That evening there was a debrief and another supra. Since we were all stuffed, the plates were not emptied that night. The following morning, we handed back the rented gear and it was off to the battered marshrutka for the journey back to Tbilisi.
Mt. Kazbek from the Arsha pass
Tsminda Sameba church below