Tuesday July 27 – Descent to Cheget
After a decent sleep I woke just before 7am. I think I should have slept better considering the lack of sleep I was working on and the amount of energy I had expended, but I found it difficult to sleep last night. Todd and I played cards until 9:30 and then I crawled into my sleeping bag. Most of the other people had left the second floor for an open room on the main floor so it was once again quiet for sleeping. I listened to music until around 11:00 and then turned it off feeling that it was time for sleep even though I did not yet feel sleepy. Eventually sleep overtook me and I slept off and on until just before 7am when I woke with no hope of going back to sleep.
I got up and went outside to get some fresh air. It was a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky. The wind was a little stronger than the day before, but it was warm and sunny. It looked like a perfect summit day, but ultimately I think our summit day was better. We did not have the same views the climbers would have today, but we did not need to deal with the heat and sun radiation that the climbers would today.
Breakfast was at 8am. None of us were very hungry. I think we were all waiting to eat until we got back to the town of Cheget. Tatiana had made porridge, but there were no takers. She seemed a little miffed that her efforts to make breakfast were not appreciated, but I’m sure she understood where our thoughts were at.
After packing up all our gear we went outside at 9am to meet the snow cat that would take us and our gear to the chair lift at the barrel huts. A little late we heard the snow cat rumbling up the hill only to pass us by and keep going higher. After about 10 minutes we heard the cat coming down hill towards us and we all picked up our bags in anticipation. The cat pulled up and as we began to walk towards it the driver held up his hand to say no. He was not there for us, only Tatiana. We were confused and did not understand why we could not ride the empty cat down, but it was not for us. Oksana called her boss and he checked on where our cat was. Apparently the driver was late and was still on the chair lift making his way to the barrel hut where he would get his cat to come and get us.
While we were waiting for our ride, Humberto decided to play in the snow. He is from Brazil and had never seen snow before. We all watched wondering what he was going to do. After a few moments it became clear that he was going to build a snowman. He carefully crafted the first snow ball for the body and then a second snow ball to for the head. He placed small rocks for the eyes and mouth and small sticks for the arms. For the final touch he took the baseball cap from his head and placed it on the snowman. He stood back and admired his work and then sat beside the snowman, took out his camera and took a self portrait of himself with his first ever snowman.
At that point we heard the faint sound of a snow cat headed up hill. Hoping it was ours we all watched carefully as it crested the hill in front of the hut and cheered as it made the turn towards us. Slowly the cat rumbled towards us and at the last moment made a swift turn and decapitated and then crushed Humberto’s snowman. It was sad and funny at the same time, but we had little time to mourn the loss of the snowman, it was time for us to go.
We threw our bags onto the cat and climbed board. I sat in the cab with the driver as the others sat in the open air. Oksana had her snowboard and chose to ride it down instead of joining us in the cat. That would have been my choice as well if I were given the option.
As we were descending we passed a local ski team out for their morning training runs. They had a slalom course set up and were all dressed in their skin suits and all had Fischer skis (they were obviously at a high level and sponsored). After each run they would pile into a waiting snow cat and make their way up for their next run. It was fun to watch them and I was envious of their chance to ski on this beautiful mountain and on this beautiful day.
Without event we made it to the Barrel Huts and climbed down from the snow cat. We grabbed our bags and walked over to the chair lift for the ride down. With our bags on our laps we rode the chair down to the next level where we rode two separate gondolas to the valley floor. All in all it took us about one hour to descend to the valley floor once our snow cat arrived. Everything had gone smoothly.
As we waited for our van to arrive to take us back to Cheget Ryan bought beer and pop for everyone. It was wonderful to drink the cold and tasty liquid. Even though it had only been a few days since we left the valley floor, they had been full and tiring days and the cold drinks were our reward. We threw our bags into the back of the van and hopped in for the short ride to our hotel.
After checking in it was shower time. Something that is wonderful about Russian showers is that the water pressure is very high and they have never herd of low flow shower heads. With a little environmental guilt I enjoyed my shower immensely.
Now that we were clean it was time to eat. We wandered into town and had great BBQ chicken shish kabobs and potato pancakes and of course more beer. The climb was over and now all we had to do was to wait a couple of days to take our flight back to Moscow. Even though we had finished the climb early we could not go back to Moscow early. Firstly, it is much cooler and nicer in some ways in Cheget than in Moscow, and secondly it is very difficult to change internal flight dates in Russia. It is best just to bide our time in Cheget for a few days.
At the end of the day we all gathered for a celebration dinner. We had pizza and Champagne and for desert we ordered a birthday cake for Oksana. She was surprised and I think she enjoyed her time with our team.