Friday July 23 – Azau Hut 2970m – Diesel Hut 4257m
After a great night in the Azau Hut we had a huge breakfast of eggs, bread, cheese, and salami. We then packed up and hit the trail at 9:30am. Hitting the trail is walking to the gondola for a 10 minute ride to Mir Station at 3470m.
When we got to the gondola we met Tatiana our cook. She brought with her a number of boxes containing all our expedition food for the time we will spend at the Diesel Hut. We helped her carry the boxes of food from the first gondola that we had ridden up the day before to the next gondola that would take us higher.
There was one group at the gondola when we arrived and they took the first car up. As we stood there waiting I was watching the next car descend to the station to take us up. Suddenly a huge, and not good, noise erupted from the control room. At the same time the cables above my head started to wine and shake violently. The cable had stopped suddenly and when I looked at the gondola it was rocking violently. The cables snapped back and forth and I ran to get out of the way fearing they may snap and cut me in half.
After about 30 seconds everything calmed down and all seemed alright except the fact that the gondola was no longer moving. Oksana’s cell phone rang. It was another guide who was in the car that had left before us. He said that everyone was ok, but that everyone had been thrown down when the car stopped suddenly. I would not have wanted to be in that car. Good for us they were there first.
As the car sat unmoving for 10 minutes we began to fear that we may need to walk up to the next station. We then learned that the stoppage was due to a power failure. After about 30 minutes the power came back on and the car began to slowly move back towards us. The operator ran it up and down a few times and then had one of his staff get in for a trial run to make sure no lines had broken or gotten crossed in the sudden stop. Eventually it was deemed safe and we boarded for the 20 minute ride up to the next station.
Once at Mir we unloaded and walked over and got in line for the single person chair lift. This is a very old and rickety appearing contraption. We loaded food boxes and big bags onto the chairs and then one-by-one we boarded with our back packs in our laps. I pulled a small safety bar across my lap, but it would not go all the way or latch because my back pack was in the way. I felt it was safe enough, but it would never be allowed in North America. It was a fun ride and others were coming down from a summit climb or a night at the huts. They too were laden with their packs as they descended.
This single chair took us to the Barrel Huts at 3800m. We unloaded all our food and carried it over to a waiting snow cat. We loaded our food boxes and big packs onto the cat and hoisted our small packs for the walk up to the Diesel Hut. Oksana and Tatiana would accompany our stuff to the hut as we walked.
In our small packs we carried warm clothing, gore-tex top and bottom, gloves, hat, water and a little food. At the time of departure the weather was beautiful with a bright sunny sky, warm temperatures, and no wind, but we must be prepared for any sudden change in the weather.
The walk to the Diesel Hut today was a little faster than yesterday taking about one hour and fifteen minutes. Upon arrival we entered the hut and climbed the stairs to the second floor. Oksana had secured two private rooms for us and four people will sleep in each. There is a bed platform with a thin and very dirty foam mattress on it. For anyone like me that suffers from mold and dust allergies, this is not the most pleasant pace to sleep.
Once we unpacked, Al, Paul and I sat outside in the sun for a while talking. From our vantage point we could clearly see the two peaks of Elbrus and the tracks of climbers on the route. Peering closer we could see small dots of climbers making their way down from hopefully a successful summit.
It was then lunch time (about 1:30pm). I was still full from the 8 egg breakfast I was served and most everyone else was also pretty full from breakfast. So far there does not seem to be any concern of losing weight on this trip. The food has been excellent and mostly plentiful.
Tatiana had cooked up a small feast of spaghetti, cheese, salami, Russian boiled hot dogs (not very appealing), tomatoes, cucumbers and two big bowels full of cookies and other sweets. It was delicious, but I was soon ready to explode.
During lunch the weather changed into a driving sleet storm. Tatiana needed more water and a group of us volunteered to go get it. She handed us about 20 five liter bottles and we dawned our gore-tex and headed out for water. Ryan and Oksana led the way uphill to a small pool of glacial melt water about ten minutes above our camp. Water was scooped with a cup into the waiting jugs and we made our way back to the hut.
There are several other huts up here besides the Diesel Hut. I am not really sure what they all are, but most were occupied. The hut that we are staying in got its name when the original hut caught fire and burned to the ground about 13 years ago. Our hut was once the generator hut and stored all the diesel fuel to run the generator to power the main hut. Once the main hut burned down the generator and fuel storage containers were removed and it was re-modeled into a climbers hut with sleeping and eating areas for about 50 climbers.
A new hut has been started to replace the destroyed one, but it is only in the initial stages of construction (after 13 years). There is a huge poster that has an artists rendering of what the new hut will look like. The stats indicate it will be quite big and will accommodate up to 250 climbers. At first it seemed odd that it was taking so long to build the new hut, but we were reminded by some locals that many of the officials are corrupt and much of the money slated for the re-build has gone into someone else’s pocked. Therefore, the construction continues in dribs and drabs. The poster indicates a completion date of 2010, but at this rate my guess is it will take at least another five if not more years to complete.
Outside this hut and all around is the accumulated garbage of many years and most likely even decades. Engines, generators, steel cable, wood, huge pieces of metal and endless bags of garbage and empty beer and liquor bottles are everywhere. It is really quite disgusting. Speaking with Oksana we learned that the National Park believes the garbage is the responsibility of the guiding services and the climbers since they use the mountain and the guide services believe it is the responsibility of the National Park since they pay a fee to use the mountain. Nobody will take ownership of the problem and the garbage continues to pile up. To us the solution seems pretty simple. Snow cats run up and down the mountain all day long and could easily haul the garbage away piece by piece. Staff would be necessary to help or even volunteers, but Oksana says there is no movement towards this. Some of the guiding companies are trying to start a clean up, but it has not caught hold as if yet. Hopefully it does one day soon. This is a very beautiful place and it is a shame to have it cluttered and degraded with so much garbage.
After our water trip we headed out to hike up the hill and gain some additional altitude for further acclimatization. The sleet had turned to snow and the clouds had dropped reducing visibility. We put on our gore-tex, cinched on our hoods and headed out into the storm. It was still quite warm and it was fun to walk in the snow. One of our team members from Brazil had never seen snow before and he was loving it. We climbed for about an hour and hit a high point at about 4300m. We sat on the rocks for a short break and watched the snow blow by.
The walk down was fun as we plunged and slid our way back to the hut arriving back about 4:30pm.
Dinner was at 7pm. Tatiana mad us mushroom soup followed with rice and chicken. S always the table also had a big supply of tomatoes, cucumbers, sweets, orange and lemon slices, and tea, coffee and other drinks. Another good meal.
Tomorrow we plan to take another acclimatization climb to Pstukhova Rocks at 4690m. We will also spend some time on our crampons as a refresher for those with experience and for training for the two members of our team who have never had crampons on before.
It is snowing quite heavily right now so it should be a beautiful day with lots of fresh snow. It is now 8pm and there is not much left to do but kill tie before bed. This down-time can sometimes seem long, but it is important for acclimatization and to be well rested for the next days activities.