I didn't feel nervous heading to bed the night before our summit attempt but sleep eluded me. I think I only slept one hour at most. Despite not sleeping, I felt great waking up just before three in the morning. After a quick breakfast we headed out and our quest for the summit began. Hiking before sunrise is always an interesting experience. There is no view to distract you from the monotony of the hike. It really becomes a battle between you and your mind. Seeing the sun begin to illuminate the world around me was a relief. As the sun began hitting the massive peaks of Elbrus I witnessed something that I have never seen in my life and something I will never forget, the atmospheric shadow cast by Elbrus. It's extremely hard to describe the phenomenon. Basically, you can see the shadow of Elbrus in the distance but it's not cast upon the surrounding ground, it seems to be hovering just in the distance. Hopefully, the picture below gives you an idea of this spectacular sight.
As the sun kept climbing into the sky, the exhaustion from not sleeping the night before began setting in. Physically I was feeling strong, but I almost felt like I was falling asleep while walking. At our first break, I ate some snacks, drank a bunch of water, and started feeling more energetic. I really enjoyed the first part of the climb. Since the trail between 4500m and 5000m was a constant incline I felt like we were always making progress to the summit. At this point it seemed like our team was doing well but that would quickly change
Once we reached the saddle at about 5100m, I could see the effects of altitude on many of our climbers and the next section to the summit was very steep! Our guides had us take an extended break here and rest up before our final summit push. It's hard to tell from pictures how steep this last section was, but by watching other teams climb, it looked intense! I was excited to see how I would do on this section. As we started out, I got into a great rhythm and felt incredibly strong. We were making great progress and even started catching other teams. I was slightly oblivious to what was going on behind me and when I stopped to shed a layer because I was getting hot, I realized some members of our team weren't doing well. One of the many symptoms of high altitude sickness is nausea and as I looked back at our team, many had succumbed to their nausea and actually vomited. At this point, I didn't think our entire team was going to summit since we were only a third of the way up the steep section.
We slowly kept pushing forward but now my mind was very aware of our surroundings which now included some large and ominous clouds working their way up the mountain. The trail continued to be steep and narrow but I felt very comfortable climbing. Near the top of this last face, the trail loses its vertical difficulty and traverses across a very steep and rocky section. A fixed rope (a rope put in place by guides that stays the entire season) was placed here because the fall risk is fairly high, especially if you're tired and trip on rocks. Also, falling on the rocks here would be catastrophic. I navigated this section smoothly and as we turned the corner I realized we were so close to the summit! We waited here for the rest of our climbers so we could summit as a group. We climbed a small hill and the summit came into view. After 8 hours of climbing, seeing the summit and knowing I was going to make it was overwhelming. I thought of all the people that have helped get me to these summits and how I never would've made it without them. Our guide greeted us with a proud hug as we officially reached the highest point in Europe. As I pulled out my Save One Life banner and took the celebratory photo at the summit, I couldn't believe I had just climbed my third of the Seven Summits! As we sat on the summit the clouds closed in on us. We couldn't see far into the distance from the summit but that in no way diminished our enthusiasm. About 20 minutes after we summited our final team members crept their way on top. Although not everyone felt amazing on the summit, we all made it!
Snow started falling so we had to leave. After going through the tricky rock section my climbing friend Vibs and I descended the steepest section with one of our team members that was utterly exhausted. We did our best to encourage him and tell him he was doing a great job. Our guide came and said he would stay by our team members' side and help him down. The falling snow made the mountain incredibly peaceful and enjoyable. We hiked with a few more of our exhausted members and gave them encouragement down the steep section down to the saddle. Once there, we rested briefly and split up into two groups. One guide took a few of the faster climbers down while the rest of the guides took our tired members down. Those of us in the first group still took about 3 hours down. The last few steps into the camp were an amazing feeling! I had safely made it up and down Mt. Elbrus!