The eager expedition team met me in Nalchik and after a dinner and a couple of beers in a local restaurant with our local agent Lyana and local legend guide Vladimir.
The next morning we loaded into the 4x4s and in the pouring rain headed across country to our base camp hut and after some impressive driving arrived to find a vehicle stuck in the river crossing to camp and a very fast river with a very sketchy bridge that we needed to cross to the camp. Luckily the hand rail was bomber and were able to secure ourselves across with our harnesses and rope.
Day 3 we started our acclimatisation and first sunny walk up to the high camp (our moraine portacabin) at 3800m ferrying some of the high altitude kit we would need for the following days and getting our first glimpse of the task ahead, returning to the base camp for another night.
The second half of the move to the high camp happened the following day and settled into our cosy and very scenic cabin on the edge of the glacier and some sunny relaxation after the efforts of the day.
Our next task was to make the most of the weather and get up high early, now into our double boots, crampons and roped up it starts to feel real from today getting onto the snow. We climb about 1000m to the site of a helicopter crash on Lenz rocks (just over half of the climb we need to do on summit day!). Returning to the cabin for some amazing chicken soup and to relax for the afternoon.
Our rest day was spent with a leisurely start followed by refreshing some of the snow skills from safe movement to use of the axe for self belay and stopping slides with and without an axe and even chopped a few steps as the team were getting right into it. Too into it as it happened, and had to make a hasty retreat for lunch, priorities!
Summit day began the previous day! Few slept after dinner and we were all a bit hazy when the 22.40 alarm went off! A bit of gearing up and an 11pm breakfast saw us walking away about midnight. Roped from the start again in two rope teams. After 4hrs of climbing on the dark in fairly windy and spin drifty conditions around 4600m Eric had had enough of the misery, despite having been strong to that point, and descended with the additional guide Azamat who was hired for the summit day as extra insurance given the exceptional difficulty of this route.
The rest continued following Vladimir carefully as he carefully picked a route through the currently hidden cravasses of the direct route to the saddle from 4800m. Adrian, a super fit guy, but who adjusts to altitude slowly was struggling for breath by this point and our pace markedly slowed.
At 4900m The summit is still hours away and with a closing weather window it was looking increasingly unlikely, especially as the the 50kph headwind was creating very difficult conditions by moving a lot of snow around creating lots soft slab drifts and the -20°C wind chill wasn't helping. But we pressed on to the saddle.
I am on the verge of abandoning our attempt due to the ramped up weather in the saddle, after a chat with Vladimir we decide that the weather was near the limit but not over it. And we carry on the steep section at this point meeting other teams from the south side around the fixed lines. And with renewed speed we clear the difficulties quickly emerging onto the summit plateau, but there is still a way to go to the top.
After a quick pic of Arrabella, Andrew, Sam and Adrian on the top of the West peak of Europe's highest mountain, we high tail it back down to the saddle as quick as we were able, before the weather got any worse, so there was little time for the niceties of food and water! Bodies on empty we were forced to press on and do a further rising traverse to avoid the cravassed section of earlier to the top of Lenz rocks at 5250m.
Out of the worst of the weather and main objective danger we are able to stop and recharge briefly for the long descent back to 3800m. With 15hrs on the clock, and almost 2000m of ascent under our belts it's fair to say that sleep came quick this afternoon!
Not needing our additional summit days with the help of some porter assistance we headed down to the base camp for the next night and some vodka; when in Rome!
Our adventure was not yet over however as the bridge from camp still needed to be crossed once more and time was not kind to it now having about half of the bridge remaining so out with the harnesses for one last blast. Before the excitement of the 4x4 climb out of the valley sent pulses soaring once more. This time it was dry but now you could see the drops! And off we went for a spectacular scenic journey to Nalchik once more a couple of beers and tour of the city with Lyana and an amazing grilled meat platter before hopping on to Moscow and beyond.
Paul McCaffrey was the expedition leader on this Adventure Peaks organised trip 23/07/19