Mount Elbrus Day 5 – Going Down

Today we had breakfast at Base Camp and then started to get ready to descend down into the valley. The chairlift didn’t start running until 10am, so I walked around camp for a little bit. I went over to the old barrels and noticed there were lots of flags up. I went over to one of the barrels, and there was a guy there who turned out to be the race director for a race up Elbrus that they do twice a year. The record for getting from the bottom of the lifts to the summit is 3.5 hours. That is insane!

Roster for the 2014 International Elbrus Race
2014 International Elbrus Race. These people are crazy!

There weren’t a lot of people signed up for this year’s race. The race director thinks this is because of the political situation in Russia. As I was leaving, he told me to wait. He started rummaging through a box and gave me one of the bibs from the race!

The race director gave me one of his extra bibs from the Elbrus Race. Maybe one day I'll do it!

The weather was awful today – snowy, cold, windy, and little visibility. Notice a theme yet? Our assistant guide, Uri, was sitting / freezing on the saddle today keeping track of the racers. He later told us that they had to cut the race short because of the weather.

My percent oxygen at base camp is improving!

Once 10am came around, we walked over to the chairlift, only to learn that it was broken. We could either descend down ourselves with our extra bags or pay for a “cargo car.” We opted to walk, which only took us about thirty minutes. We got snowed on, so all our gear got wet.  Luckily the gondolas were working, and we were down to the base in no time.

Billboard at the barrel huts
Waiting to load our packs up onto the chairlift

We had some free time once we made it back to the hotel. I immediately jumped in the shower which was so awesome. Then, I laid out all my wet stuff and started drying them with my hair dryer. My backpacks were soaking wet. One of them got packed in my suitcase, and the other was my carry on, so I needed them dry. After doing that, I took a stroll to the local wool market and bought myself some socks and mittens for something like $5.

I have never been more excited for a nice warm bed!

 We had dinner and a party at 8 at a local cafe. When I went down to the lobby, Roman was clearly drunk already, and he could not stop laughing at me when he saw my silly sun burn on my forehead. Glaciers can give you some awful sunburn when they reflect the light, and I had a small area of skin exposed between my goggles and hat that was in the sun all day. After getting laughed at, we went to dinner. The plates were all set up for us, and of course there was a shot glass next to our regular water glass. And OF COURSE there was a bottle of vodka waiting for us on the table. When in Russia…

Dinner and vodka shot glasses. You know you're in Russia when...

We had dinner and made it through the bottle of vodka between the six of us, and as I turned my head, I saw that Roman bought another bottle. Oh my gosh, the last time I had a drink was in April, and now I’m out drinking vodka with some Russians. I did manage to fill my shot glass with water for many of the toasts, so I was doing all right! Roman was hilarious. He said all his toasts in Russian and even asked if we could speak to him in Russian since he forgot how to speak English.

Getting drunk on vodka in Russia
This was about the time where everyone started singing in their native languages because speaking in English was too hard!

After we got through the second bottle, Tilo bought a third one! Soon after, we got invited to go bowling, and of course we said yes. This resulted in us all piling into a white van, driving down a crazy dirt road for 10 minutes, and then ending up at this luxurious hotel in the middle of the woods. WEIRD! I sure hope they bring me home, because I don’t know where I am! Anyway, this hotel sure enough had three bowling lanes in it, and we paid 1000 rubles ($27) between all of us for an hour. And don’t worry, Russian bowling alleys allow bottles of vodka. And lots of shot glasses. What a riot.

Nice hotel in the middle of nowhere in Russia
Bowling alley in a Russian hotel!

Bowling was fun. Roman definitely had the most trouble. Anytime he went up to attempt to pick up a bowling ball, we would all scurry away because he frequently dropped it or threw it somewhere unexpected. Tilo said they went out drinking before dinner even started, and when they left there were 3-4 empty bottles.

Vodka and bowling. A recipe for disaster.

I actually did really well bowling (for me). I was very consistent, and I scored 97, which gave me second place! None of us broke 100, and there were eight of us playing. What fun.

Making sure Roman doesn't kill someone accidentally with his bowling ball

Eventually we all piled back into a white truck and got a ride back to the hotel. I still had to pack which was not fun, and then I got two hours of sleep before waking up and doing our 4 hour drive to the airport. We got there early for somebody else’s flight, so I had to sit around for 6 hours. Then I had a 2.5 hour flight to Moscow where I had a 15 hour overnight layover. I stayed in the airport’s “capsule hotel” which was pretty neat. I basically had my own little cubby of a room with a bed and small bathroom. I was able to take a shower and lie down, which is way better than sleeping in a terminal. It’s neat because you can pay by the hour. That was the best layover ever.

My capsule hotel room in Moscow Airport. This was worth every cent!

I woke up that morning for my 10 hour flight to JFK, then a 3 hour layover, then a 1 hour flight to Boston, and finally a 4 hour drive back home. Home never sounded so nice. And boy does Maine feel warm!

Click here to read my Elbrus Gear Guide, where I talk about the equipment I used on my trip (both good and bad).