Monday, 28 May 2012

Mount Elbrus - Part Two

And here we go!

On to the Hoppa-Bus at 5am and hope that at Check-In the big bags are below 20kgs. Unfortunately mine won’t fit in to the over bag, that doesn’t bode well. Through passport control, security and on to the first of our flights, this one takes us to Brussels.

We have to walk through security and what feels like the entire length of the country to find our gate, B92. Only to conclude that Brussels airport has the longest, straightest, continuous line of airport gates in the known world, which as we walk across a bridge over to the gate we see that it was barely 20metres from where the bus from the plane dropped us off!

The next flight will take us to Moscow- Domodedovo. In the departure lounge we see 6 other mountaineers, also headed to Mt. Elbrus. BJ becomes disappointed as he mistakenly thought we’d have the mountain to ourselves. On the plane we start chatting to them and they seem a likeable enough bunch of guys (plus one girl), laughing and joking on the plane together. Sitting next to us on the plane is a Russian girl, who BJ chats to in FlemEnglish, who cannot hide her amusement at our banter, we end up involving her in our jokes and jibes. She thinks that we’re “pretty crazy English guys”, which suits us just fine.

We arrive at Domodedovo where we witness the Russian queuing system. It’s basically form an orderly mob then lay siege to the few immigration desks that are manned. The visa is scanned, the passport is scanned, a document is produced and thrust before me. All the while I’m very aware not to squash the small child against the gate which it is intensely trying to get through, its mother hasn’t a clue to its whereabouts. The finger belonging to the official, who is very attractive but will not engage in a smile whatsoever, stabs towards the places where I must sign. The document is torn in two and one half is tucked into the passport, thrust back at me and the light atop the gate changes from red to blue and I’m in!

Now to indulge in the hunt for the carousel that will deliver our bags. Even meeting back up with the Russian girl again doesn’t help any; she is none the wiser to where we need to be. Finally we spot the other climbers and crowd eagerly at the carousel to retrieve our bags.

BOLLOCKS!!! Mine’s one of the first out and I can see that my thermos has sprung free from the pouch on the side of my bag and gone. It’s annoying for two reasons, firstly because I wanted a hot drink for summit night and more over that flask had been with me on my adventures and subsequently carried the scars of the journeys.

So with bags on shoulders we head off in search of a cab to our hotel. As we loiter by the official taxi desk waiting to find the cost of a cab a furtive guy rushes up and offers us his “cab”. We spend 5 minutes bartering him down from 4600Rubles (£96) to 1500 (£30), with that he grabs our bags finds a trolley and takes off at a crazy pace through the airport. Each taxi employee he meets he asks the way to our hotel. Between the speed he’s moving at and his lack of local hotel knowledge we quickly figure out we could lose our bags at any moment. We chase him out of the airport and into the heat of downtown Moscow and through Bedlam! There are people, trolleys, luggage and vehicles everywhere going in every direction. We pursue our driver across this crazy scene, reminiscent of that moment in a movie just before the meteor strikes and everyone is trying to make it to safety, to his unmarked/private car. As he opens the boot we see that he has his groceries in there, which are carefully moved aside so he can fit one bag in. I jump in so that he can’t disappear with any of our kit, the second bag is fed in beside me on the back seat. BJ jumps in next to the driver and we’re off!

We fly across the busy car park and towards the barriers, where we sneak through on the taillights of an authorized Taxi. The dual carriageway is heaving on the other side heading towards the airport. Our driver has no idea of right of way, queuing or in fact our basic need to arrive alive. We’re driving half off the road along the hard shoulder, which is baked, potholed, deeply rutted mud and at least a foot lower, in order to undertake at most 5 other vehicles. We point out that there isn’t really that much need to rush and then remember his groceries baking in the boot. He continues to pop in and out of the line of traffic dodging the oncoming cars. Through the trees on the opposite side of the road I spot the hotel and attempt to convey this to the driver, he flashes a look in each direction and we hurtle into the approach road. We now have to convince the driver to drop us at the front door, which he is loathed to do probably due to him not being a licensed cab. The Ramada looks so incongruous here on this plot amongst the forest, it is so new looking we wonder if it has just this moment opened.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Mount Elbrus - Part One

The Final Arrangements Begin

So having spent what seemed like an eternity completing the online visa application I wasn’t expecting to have to re-complete the forms due to mistakes. I hasten to add not caused by either BJ or myself but because the Russian visa application forms are written in translated English which bears no resemblance to 20th/21st century English.

Because I wasn’t prepared with my login details, or BJ’s for that matter. I had to go through the whole process again, twice! If it hadn’t been for the crazy login password system where symbol one, upper case I and lower case L are all the same (???) I wouldn’t have had to start my 3rd application for having got the date wrong. So 2hrs20mins and £141 each later the visa applications are in, just hope they’re processed.

Wednesday arrives and so do the passports, complete with visa’s – WE’RE OFF TO RUSSIA!!!

Having bought another powermonkey to ensure enough power for the duration of the expedition I decide to minimise the wash kit and there is the missing monkey, bollocks! Oh well I’ve now got three of the little buggers so that should keep us going.

Manic calls between BJ & I to check and recheck the kit list and how to cut down on weight. Convinced that we’ve got the optimum balance between necessary and desirable we agree that enough is enough and will meet on Friday at the airport hotel for the final meal.

PKG the faithful girlfriend and calming influence takes me to Heathrow. All along the way she soothes my worries and woes as only she can. I’m so lucky to be blessed with her, but I couldn’t leave for one of my trips without her ritual delivery of me and my kit (quite often several hours early).

Monday, 14 May 2012

Three Peaks Challenge

The Third of Parts - The Ritual Begins

What a sleep. I’m feeling quite relaxed, but not ready for the shower controls, not the time for experimentation. WIDE AWAKE NOW!!!!!!!! Jeeeez that water’s cold.

The 3P ritual starts – pick up the minibus – take the seats out – discover the cigarette lighter doesn’t work – rig it up – blow fuse in base station radio – swear – load up more hand radios – load bus and set about the midget gems – 6hrs later rock up in Glasgow.

A huge feast, plenty of banter and then to bed.

Part of Four

So having met the clients we head North and up to the Ben. Weather’s perfect and the general mood is good, with a little apprehension, all healthy though. The team’s great from the start, instant bonding, a lot of innuendos, girls are worse than guys.

Despite a couple of injuries brought to the hills, the spread across the hill is pretty good. The heat isn’t helping but everyone is in premium spirits.

Grim determination has brought the guys out at 3:45am and off up Scarfell Pike. The weather, again, is exceptional. The views are magnificent, although the temperature on the summit comes as a shock to some of the team. I meanwhile decide to rest my knees after ragging them on the Ben under the big bag. The trip is now just one week away so I’m taking no chances with injuries.

The team returned with just 2 members that are not going on to tackle Snowdon. I can’t believe the tenacity with which these two approached this challenge. One could hardly get themselves off a hill in training because of their knees, while the other could hardly stand on top of a hill because of vertigo. For the sake of my knees I stripped my pack down to a 3L bladder backpack and the top of my pack turned into a bumbag. One of the team suffered hugely from fatigue but wasn’t going to be beaten. With the smallest of encouragement, we went for the last summit and finished just shy of 24hrs, not a bad result.

My joints ache and I know I’ve given it some but I’m not broken under the weight of the big bag.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Mt Elbrus - The North Face and Beyond!

The South Face of Mt Elbrus has re-opened and the Expedition Wise team will be heading there at the end of July to tackle the awesome summit. Over the next few weeks we will be blogging an account of a previous attempt on the North Face, to whet your appetite!

Part 1 – The old man takes to the hills

So the countdown begins.
The on-off-on Elbrus Expedition is back on, although slightly changed. Because of the troubles between Chechnya and Georgia we’ve been prevented from crossing the border. So we decided that the only way to climb this mountain is by the North Face!
The rest of the clients booked on the original trip to the south side all dropped out, so that left just BJ and me. All very exciting but with just 26 days left to get everything together, that little voice in the back of my head suggests that it’s quite a big ask.
But hey! That’s just adding to the adventure!! Isn’t it? Isn’t it? Must be.
The fun really starts with the Visa application, I was expecting the system to be detailed but not the Spanish Inquisition (or maybe that should read Russian Inquisition). If you’re going to apply for a visa then set aside the better part of a day and have a flask of coffee/tea/something stronger close to hand, you’ll need it.

Part II – Getting outdoors

So a very rushed “shake down” on an Expedition Wise – High Altitude Training weekend trying out the new Osprey Argon 85L sack with a good load aboard. I haven’t humped a big sack for years. Treks with porters and yaks has made me soft! Hence a simple bimble on Snowdon is now an exercise in load hauling.
With my mountain kit spread between two places the first challenge is to find enough kit to fill the pack.
Running close to the wind I had to dash the mile or so to the station to catch the first of many trains to North Wales. Arriving hot and sweaty for a train packed with commuters, I fitted right in. After a fight with a ticket machine at the tube station I discovered I’d “lost” my outbound ticket, great start. This discovery cost me not only financially, I missed the train too! After pleading my case at the ticket desk and with the aid of the East European angel sitting before me I’m off to Dublin!? HaHa
Cock-up list list so far :-

Lack of the actual high altitude/big mountain kit to haul
Walkman on worktop still charging
Loss of outbound ticket
- On return home looks like the powermonkey is still at Pen-Y-Pas

Off Again!

What with work in between haven’t had enough time to breathe. This time the ticket is SuperGlued to the forehead, taking no chances and not repaying this time!

I haven’t had time to eat properly for two days,always a good basis to start a 3 Peaks challenge on.

Note to self – must start weighing the beast, it must be well over 20kgs. The need to consolidate kit and amend for the trip is essential.

A well co-ordinated departure from work with Pete at the wheel put me in place for the 1st leg of a multi train journey tonight. A slick transition finds me gnawing at a couple of pasties on Euston station – got déjà vu, feels like I’ve been here before!

An hour on a concourse can feel like a life time. Although this time it’s eased by the appearance from through the curtain of rain of the obligatory station drunk complete with pink plastic flamingo tucked deftly under his arm, a moment of self reproach, and why not? The “Mr Benn shopkeeper” appearance of the Buddhist monk gave me a jolt back into focus.

Why worry about what hasn’t happened and allow it to cloud the mind with negative energy. Better to concentrate on what is happening and the space to fill with the moment. This week started with an insidious grey creeping spiders web, which I’m struggling to free my mind from, it’s tendrils reaching out from the past and distracting the “future’s” path.

A small shouting child and the loudest most self-important and more crucially an unfunny Frenchman share my carriage and disturb both thought and my intended sleep. The setting sun’s rays permeate the leaden sky illuminating my page. As it sets it takes the woes, worries and problems with it, cleaning the slate ready for tomorrow. Tiredness is when; each day’s memories and actions makes it feel like two. Into the arms of Morpheus.

An ignominious arrival at BJ’s place, it’s an oxymoron to live somewhere called “Rock House” and be in bed by 9:30pm, surely? A cup of tea and a quick clean and bed.