A Day of Acclimating (and being a rebel)

Today we met for breakfast at 8. We had another meal that I couldn’t manage to fit all of in my stomach. It consisted of crepes, porridge (icky), and eggs. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but there was a very large quantity of them on each of our plates! The fifth member of our group finally arrived. He had been in Moscow for the past 3 days, and he missed his flight yesterday since he underestimated the speediness of the Moscow train system. This guy was also from Germany. One interesting thing I learned from the Germans today was that they learn multiple languages in school. Between the ages of 7 and 12, they learn English, French, Russian, and possibly some others. The Germans I met knew German (obviously), English, French, Russian, Spanish, and Latin. And since they learned it at a young age, they retained much of it. I’m jealous!

Today was an easy day. The goal was to do an acclimatization hike up Mount Cheget. When you climb at high altitudes, you need to prepare your body for the decreased oxygen in the air. I remember reading once that if you picked someone up at sea level and dropped them off at 18,000 feet (the height of the Elbrus summit), you would pass out in 5 seconds. As you hike higher and the air thins out, your body naturally responds by bumping up its red blood cell and hemoglobin production so it can transport more oxygen. However, this takes time. A general principle in mountaineering is “hike high, sleep low.” By hiking high, you stimulate your body to start acclimating, and by sleeping low, you are safe from the dangers of high altitude (mainly pulmonary and cerebral edema, which can kill you).

I felt like we cheated today because we took a chair lift up at the start of our hike. The reason was because there was no point in wasting our energy at low altitudes. If we’re not in shape by now, we’re not going to get in shape by hiking extra today. They only thing we’ll do is tire ourselves out and put unnecessary stress on our knees. Normally we’d take a second chairlift up as well and hike to the summit of Cheget, but we didn’t do that today. Apparently a month ago, the country of Georgia restricted foreign visitors from going to the summit of Cheget, which is technically in Georgia. Therefore, we avoided the second set of lifts so we could get some hiking in at a high altitude. At the border there was a sign that said, “STOP!” and something along the lines of how you can’t continue unless you have a pass. Oh yeah, there were armed guards there too.

This is our guide, Roman. He is picking up our tickets to the ski lift. We used the lift on the bottom right of the map, and then hiked from there.

Getting tickets for the chairlift up Mount Cheget.

This is a view from our hike, taking a water break and enjoying the view. This is Don from Seattle.

Enjoying the view while hiking up Mount Cheget in Russia.

The border. Do not pass! (We actually did pass it to get up on some rocks)

Sign on the border of Georgia and Russia on Mount Cheget.
Hiking on the border of Russia and Georgia on Mount Cheget.

Once we made it to the border, we relaxed at our high point for the day (10,100 feet) for about an hour. Even though we weren’t exerting ourselves, our bodies were still acclimating. My pulse ox today was 94%, so it’s already starting to go down (normal is 98-99%).

This is a photo of me with Elbrus in the background. The peak to the left is the summit.

View of Mount Elbrus from Mount Cheget.
Garmin Fenix GPS watch altimeter
View on Mount Cheget
View from Mount Cheget

 The weather was beautiful the whole time, and we had great views of Elbrus and other mountains. It was amazing to see how much the glaciers have retreated out here. I’m glad I could see them before they get even smaller!

Eventually we made our way back to the hotel so we could rent any gear we needed/forgot. Roman is lending me a pair of glove liners, so all I needed now was a pair of goggles and a thermos. I have a balaclava to keep my face covered up in the cold/wind, but even if just a small part of my face is exposed, I could be very uncomfortable and possibly get frostbite. I need a thermos because my water will freeze in my regular Nalgenes.

I hate the cold. Why am I doing this?

Anyway, I ended up renting the stuff I needed for 1000 rubles ($27) for the five days. It would have been cheaper to bring them from home, but I didn’t really have any other options at this point.

We also got some lunch at a local cafe which you can see here. It was actually pretty good, but I couldn’t eat all that chicken…

Russian food

As we were walking back to our hotel, Roman started walking towards this locked gate. I didn’t understand what he was doing because there was no path that went left or right. That’s because we were crawling THROUGH the gate. Look at me, I’m such a rebel!

Walking around town near Mount Cheget

We had the rest of the afternoon free to relax and walk around town.

Cute town near Mount Cheget in Russia
River near Mount Cheget in Russia

Tomorrow we are going to the Barrel Huts which is our base camp for the trip at 12,500 feet. Then we will do another acclimatization hike up to the Pastuckhov rocks at 14,000 feet. The forecast is predicting snowstorms on our two days we have reserved for the summit attempt. Cross your fingers that the weather stays clear! At least I have lots of warm clothes :).

Below is a map of the route we will be taking up Elbrus.

Map of route up Mount Elbrus

And with that said, I’m off to bed! See you in a few days!

Next in Sarah’s Elbrus Journal: Day 1 on the Mountain