“I don’t have a name, I just have a dream, and my dream is not about achieving something, but about doing something which makes me happy; makes me feel connected to the universe and that ensures I live my life fully.”
Climbing Mount Elbrus was always a goal of mine as is a part of my life dream to climb the seven summits of the world. Having recently completed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and Everest Basecamp in Nepal as part of my work as a certified mountain guide for Adventurati Outdoor, it was a natural progression for me to climb Mount Elbrus in Russia.
What is your mountain?
When you are up there climbing, when you are in the midst of the journey, you find a hidden sense of elevation; a sense of moving slightly beyond what you are. In that time your brain is working at its hardest due to the physical and mental challenge, and you are at your most determined and focused. Climbing the mountain is the focus of your mind and you are very much living every moment in the present.
Every mountain is an incredibly different experience in terms of challenge and experience. You cannot compare one to another; they are all unique and extraordinary in their own way. Some mountains are not particularly high, but very different in terms of technicality, the skills required to climb it and the challenges it poses you.
The key to any high altitude climb is to be as hydrated as possible at all times. The most important of all is having the right mindset for a climb. In my honest opinion, if we had to put a percentage on it, high altitude mountains are 65% mental challenge and 35% physical challenge. This assuming that you are fit for the challenge and have trained well to prepare your mind and body for the challenges that lay ahead. I do a lot of stair climbing with heavy weights and a training mask to simulate the conditions of a tough mountain climb as close as possible. This is a key part of my training.
On the mountains, there are so many factors beyond your control, so don’t waste your time trying to fight it but rather accept and adapt to change. Personally, I find the best way to stay positive and on top of my mental game is by letting go of all expectations and simply living in the moment and drinking in my surroundings, it’s like a form of meditation.
My climbing partner Eby and I have a philosophy that laughter is indeed the best medicine for any challenge! We climb the mountains with the intention of enjoying our time and making unforgettable memories.
If we happen to summit then great; if not, the mountain will always be there for us to return for another attempt. Laugh, dance and entertain yourself on the trail or at high camps. Music lifts my spirit and I always have it with me on every climb. It fills your soul with positive energy and it is contagious, reaching out to everyone around you.
Elbrus might be the biggest peak in Europe but to us, it is just another pile of rock and snow at least that is the way we mentally perceived it during our climb to mentally subdue the enormity of the reality of the mountain.
What happens when wind picks up on a mountain that stands in complete solitude? You will question yourself and your mortality. ‘Do I really want to go through with this?’ Or ‘Should I head back?’ The mountain will always challenge you in unexpected ways. You will have to prove you have been tested tough every time and adapt to unforeseen circumstances. Mount Elbrus is a brutal and demanding climb, not because of the terrain itself but mostly, if not entirely, due to its bipolar weather change. On a normal day winds can vary from 30kmh to 100kmh with temperatures as low as -20C on summit night. Winds at that speed are strong enough to whip you off your feet. That is why it is important to be fitted with the right gear that will keep you warm so you can focus on achieving your goal. I have only good experience and trust in that regards Columbia gear.
The best way to learn is through experiences, 10 days on Mount Elbrus was the ultimate learning experience, like an intensive course. The bipolar mountain weather can drastically alter the levels and intensity of a climber’s altitude sickness. During one of our acclimatization climbs from high camp to higher Pastukhov rocks, we got hit with a thunderstorm. It went from scattered clouds to the black sky in less than an hour. Shortly after it began to snow and we could see lightning in the distance and hear the roaring thunder. I was not prepared for a sudden and extreme headache that these conditions brought about. At the time, I could not understand why it was so sudden and not gradual. Nonetheless, I continued to climb assuming this was the effect of a normal altitude sickness feeling and I should handle it as I always do on high altitude climbs. I stayed calm and was trying to stay positive, hydrated and focused on being present in that moment. Our local guide, on the other hand, was not so comfortable. She asked us to head back to high camp, keep all our electronics packed away and drag our trekking poles low. I did not understand her behavior until we made it back safely. Turns out thunderstorms generate a lot of electric fields in the atmosphere, which worsens the effect of altitude sickness. Also being within a dense electric field you are highly vulnerable and exposed to being struck by lightning that is why it is important to put away your electronics and keep your trekking poles down. Better safe than sorry. I learnt a lot that day.
Every mountain has its own beauty, but being situated in the heart of the Corcases mountain range, Elbrus is indeed one of the most breathtaking mountains I have ever seen and had the privilege to climb. With every mountain, I learn something new and experience a deeper connection with our majestic planet. ■
Words + Photos by: Fadi Hachicho