You spend what feels like a life time preparing to stand on the greatest summits on the planet.. standing there one hand proudly filled with the Irish flag the other grasping proudest of all the Donegal flag that’s equally been part of this incredible journey played out on mountaineerings worlds stage.
Leading up to the climb I’d been filled with a mixed bag of emotions filled to the brim with excitement of chasing the next greatest mountain in the seven summits ,hope that the weather gods would stay positive & belief that wth the smallest opportunity i could do it successfully.
For days leading up to summit day Mt Elbrus standing at 5642mts was extremely angry filled with snow storms ,cutting winds and chilling freezing tempatures al as low as -20*.. daily from my final stike camp of 3800mtrs i had to endure the elements as climbing as high as i physically could to benfit acclimatisation ” that is allowing my body develop more red blood cells in order to carry more deprived oxygen to my major organs to survive and avoid the deadly faital hypoxic effects.”
Day after day the winds battered me and with visability zero, i couldn’t see my finger. Checking the forecast ,fueled with boardom, for the slightest glimmer of a summit window became a nightly ritual, my food intake was low, coupled with broken sleep it looked hopeless. With other mountaineers abandoning the climb due to travel arrangement & doubts that it just wasn’t going to happen, either out of stubborness or through previous climb experiences ,i decided to hang in there if only for a slight chance, after all the shear hard work in preparation and commitment from so may others family friends & sponsors… i just wasn’t to give up ..not just yet.
And then it arrived a tiny ember of hope a glimmer that it’s possibly on that next great seven summit. It only takes a tiny ember to start a great fire …im off.
To cut straight to the chase myself and fellow Russian mountaineering guide and alround good guy Vasiliy hatched a plan to have a go at 1am on the morning of 22nd June. Gearing up from 11pm the energy was buzzing inside the wait was finally over and the battle commensed…stepping out the weather still agressive was due to drop & ease,we climbed on higher and higher by now 4am the winds dropped but the cold was unreal cutting to the bone, layered in the latest technical down clothing i could still feel it, terribly knumbing from my fingers to my toes. Pushing and pushing higher and higher dawn was breaking bringing with it the welcomed heat from the rising sun. To busy focused on the next corner next ridge or saddle ,unraveling behind me was the greatest view as the low laying clouds below Mother Nature creating this magical carpet & god like mountains on the catasis range punching through this sun lit parallel universe preforming as if on a stage ,what a privilege to witness at high altitude. The view genuinely floored me sitting down in awe Mother Nature reminded me that the climb was the real journey and the summit mearly the bonus, what an inspirational light bulb moment….with not a word spoken, her actions spoke volumes.
Climbing together higher and higher the altitude was very prevalent reducing my pace slow to slower. Still in total control i was feeling strong with a slight headache which I controlled with simply disprin extra helping to thin the now thumping heart flowing blood. At this stage of the climb i was still fully committed nutritionally fuelling fully fat adpted and it was a huge success as my performance aided in the fact that i wasn’t having to gorge on a load of refined sugars or processed foods instead relaying on the simple natural fats stored & powerfully working in harmony at altitude, what a successful mountaineering breakthrough for me personally installing deeper trust in my endurance fueling stratagty. In fact I never ate in the whole climb nada nothing zinch & it was so powerful.
Rounding the corner to the saddle at 5200mtrs with the east & western summits to my left & right the winds picked up and with the sun now in the shade of the east summit the sun zero tempatures returned coupled with a tired body the cold soon gripped my core.. stopping sheltered I pulled out a thermos filled with hot coffee, if nothing else it was physiologically a feel good factor at at that high in those cercumstances you’d grab all the straws available.
By now it’s 6am and in consult with Vasiliy we’re about an hour below the summit, and with clear sky’s ahead and tempatures improving i knew barring something horrific happening it was on and god almighty would have to come down himself and stop me. My self belief was so powerful & those desperate physiological head wrecking days of storms and doubting atempts were now thankfully a distant memory…Ice axe in self arrest mode if quickly required was firmly gripped in my left hand due to a steep 20* gradient of approx 500meters of this final step section & with a pritty fateful drop to my right was all that separated us from the summit.
Not today .. Rounding the final sloping corner there it was the highest point in Europe and my next summit of the seven summits . The feeling was incredible, standing on what was no bigger than our avg sitting room floor space, looking out on what now below mirrored a magical carpet of the clouds below. The sense of pride was palatable, reinforced as i brought out my summit Irish and donegal flags that draped all my summit success throughout the world thus far. The pride for my community my family and of course myself for hanging in when it wasn’t stacking up when all the signposts pointed the other direction… yes I’d done it ,the views were spectular clear skies verually zero winds, I could see the Black Sea the Georgian boarder and the vast plains of Russia below … I’m standing 5.642mtrs on the highest mountain in Europe.
Realising as trained mountaineers that on top were only half way and getting down tends to be the toughest if not the most faital due to exhaustion, hunger and lack of focus. Yip i stumbled serveral times reminding myself to stay focused honest and commited to a successful concludion to the climb. Now. With the summit to my back my eyes were captavated on the magical humbling views, Mother Nature was at her best displaying her elegant beauty seamlessly as i descended. Ten hours round trip returning to safety at 3800mtrs and to a welcoming bowl of rice & eggs the permanent smile on my face said it all … job done the text sent to sharon & my dad.
Packed the final parts of my kit bag and it was down to the base of the mountain to an awaiting large Russian tank like antique Volvo car and whisked to a welcomed warm hotel room in the middle of god knows where.. hot shower & a warm bed… yes please.
I’ll look back on this climb and smile because it was LIFE and i decided to live it…