Tag Archives: mountains

The walks and wanders between April 1 – May 14, 2018. Or – where have I ended up?

The long introduction

I want to write this down so I would have it. But already I do not have the correct form or the correct style. I will write this only for myself, not keeping my 10 readers in mind, yes, only for me.

It is for those days when I feel like I’m stuck, like I can’t get out enough or when I do not get out enough but it is all for a chosen good.

It is Monday, 14th of May. Since the beginning of April, I have been out. I really have. Here is proof:

Hiking the South West Coast Path in Cornwall, England: 09–12.04

A surprise trip to Paris: 13–15.04

A London LOOP walk – 18.04

Hiking the Eden Valley Trail from Hever to Leigh in Kent, England: 19.04

Spring travels in Alsace: 25.04–02.05

A hike in Schwarzwald, Germany: 28.04

A day out to Hara Gulf, Estonia: 06.05

Family trip to Istanbul: 09-13.05

Wanders in the Pääsküla wetlands reserve: 14.05

Isle of Skye visit with friend: 24-27.05

In April, I walked 244.16 km. From May 1 to midnight of May 14th, I walked 140.02 km. So the last 1.5 months have brought me more than 380 km worth of proper wanders.

I wanted to do this in sections. Write down bits from each walk but it all became a burden. There are too many lists and rules I have made for myself that perhaps are slowly starting to lose their meaning. Other things have taken their place. And although I love, love, love writing about my hikes and walks, and keeping my analogue hiking diaries and tracking some distances, it is this blog that has started to feel like a burden. Perhaps it is because I have made it a rule to update it at least once a month. Or perhaps it is because I am writing a travel book (and have my book deal to prove it!), so I already have a lot of real travel writing happening as well. But mostly it is because the format is just not suitable. To write long-form, readable, witty and perspective articles takes weeks of time, and since my blog is not in my TOP 20 priorities, I will not take the time to keep it. But I still, somehow… like it. It is clumsy and dirty and gets away with fever lies.

I think this is just me trying to apologise to myself for cutting down on some extra stuff that I have made myself do. But the cutting down is good. And it is mostly because something happened last month.

The month of magical thinking

One day, when traveling in Alsace, we asked an old lady in a mountain cheese farm (mmm, Munster) why her dog only had one eye. “Aaah, the cat”, she said. And then she cut us more cheese.

And took us to see her cows. And a young cowling (yes, this word, what about it) licked my hand and her tongue was long and soft and lasso-like in its purple splendour.

“Spring is a vigilant time,” the old cheese woman said. “The wild boars and deer come to eat my rose buds. One day, I would like to take revenge on the village people down there, I don’t like them. I would like to catch a wild boar and take it down to their village so it would eat all their rose buds instead.”

And off we drove, our hands full of packages of delicious delicious cheese, with the cheese cutting grandmother waving at us, and the husky having gone into hiding.

Later, in the same day, I understood that the last time I felt inspiration was 4 years ago. In 2014. Around the time we were in Greece. Somewhere in the early summer. The second thing I understood was that inspiration physically feels like a very concentrated form of LSD. But not just a random drug trip but like a trip with a very clear goal that sucks you into it. Hence the concentration.

I was standing in front of a twirling metal OVERT (Open) sign next to an old winery on Monday, April the 30th, and that’s when I felt it, and that’s when I understood it. That very moment I also understood that I have not had more than 2 weeks off (in a row) for at least 14 years. And this is not normal. So I decided to take entire the September off and not put ANYTHING into my calendar. I have an entire summer to work towards it, so I think that it doable. But since these past weeks have shaped so many ideas already, I am beginning to feel like I don’t even need the month off. But I do. The main goal of that month is to discover what type of new ideas have I been nurturing over all those years. And what are the fresh thoughts that will come. I want to feel what my brain comes up with when it is not under a constant (yet ever so pleasurable) pleasure (yes!) to meet the deadlines for copywriting, house renovating, book publishing, travel writing, mountain training, etc., etc.

And I learned that there was a French Tour de France cyclist who always waited for others on top of a mountain because he was afraid to go down alone.

Out of France

On May 3rd I flew to Tallinn through Helsinki. I was asked to speak at a conference, and I did. The conference focused on the performative aspects of space, and had speakers from different disciplines and backgrounds: architects, mathematicians, sound designers, actors, etc. I talked about journey design for various user journeys, and how to create journeys and advetures in different fields and for different purposes. And flying over Finland is a happy thing on a sunny day because all the lakes reflect black the clouds like artistic graves with mirrors in them. There is another type of peace in the Finnish airspace, almost eerie. Something that makes you dream on ancient places.

And as soon as the conference was done, my friend took me to an ex Soviet submarine demagnetizing station. Submarines become magnetised when traveling around, I did not know that. So every now and then they need to be taken out of the water in order for them not to turn into mine magnets. There were lots of abandoned buildings in those forests (but there are loads of those left in Estonia, all from the Soviet days), lots of bird song and lots of moss. I asked my friend to stop the car on our way back. And to wait for me. I ran into the forest and listened to the raven and to the cuckoo and to some little fellas whose names I have no knowledge of. And the sun shone on the blueberry leaves and the moss invited me to stay. I can’t remember the last time I slept in a forest. Mountains, camps, swamps, etc. – yes. But not the forests. But this time the forest was calling my name.

Other strange things happened during this trip. Currently I feel like bringing an adventure journey I have been developing for 12 months to Estonia, and start from there. I feel like working with directors and actors, and in such a pure form, I have never ever felt it. And this feels funny. And light.

I flew back to London today – Monday, 14th of May. It was an evening flight, so I had the morning to myself. I took the cab (yes, I know, the environment) to my childhood bus stop and started walking. Soon I was standing by the first spring that I ever discovered. The water was still bubbling and it felt good. (Gods, I’m getting old.) The next place that I reached were some hills that felt like huge mountains when I was growing up. There were a couple I never dared to ski down from. And I walked up and down all of them today. “I can’t believe how small I have been”, was all I could think of. I really have been that small. But it was not a nostalgic visit. It was a courtesy one. I don’t know exactly how my plans will work out, but I do have my mind set on a dream mountain that stands 6000 m tall. My schedule-based training starts tomorrow. So there was an inner purpose to this visit that I had not been aware of.

I looked around in the wetlands that I took possession of as a kid, calling them my kingdom, dragging all my friends into forests and swamps until their parents started telling them off for being friends with me. I did not go on any of my old trails. My kingdom was given a nature deserve status about five years ago, so now it feels all different. There are wooden board walks and signs in the ground. But back in the day you had to know. And I still know where the rest of it is, constantly changing, constantly growing. Luckily, the board walks only spread out in one specific direction. All the rest is still out there, someone else’s kingdom, someone else’s peat coloured days with the May cuckoos singing their time in the pine forest background. And that makes me happy.

Advertisements

A glimpse into the vastness of the Tien Shan mountain system, Uzbekistan

So… It happened! Nic and I traveled to Uzbekistan with Adventure Clinic (#Seikluskliinik), and slept on windless mountain plateaus, escaped poisonous snakes, walked in wolf paw prints, woke up to donkeys braying in the night, trekked in the mountains for 5 days, wandered in the great cities of the Silk Road touched by Tamerlane and Genghis Khan, snuck into crumbling mosques, witnessed wild date trees shedding their sun-yellow leaves, saw colours that I did not think possible, and ate tomatoes that were inherently life-affirming. Not to mention the plov. Yup! Kind of exactly as amazing as it sounds!

IMG_20171017_212434_719

There were tiles that were more turquoise than the dreams I carry under my heart, and some giant birch trees growing together with the cypress trees. There was a young mountain guide who should have listened to an older one; there were moments when we had no gear for the night with the sun starting to set and no one having a real idea as to were our donkeys were. There were men up in high walnut trees gathering their early autumn treasures, and horses transported in the blue, open kamaz trucks. I felt nostalgy for the first time in my life (which means I am getting old) – for can openers and cars no one in my family ever had.

There was the 5-day-trek in the Ugam-Chatkal National Park, with Greater Chimgan often in the view. It was also the mountain that our older guide used for navigation to get us into our camp before the nightfall. We (almost) touched 3000 m in altitude, and did touch some petroglyphs on our way down. (Or was it up? Sometimes you can’t tell these things very well on the long road.)

We slept, but rather rough, for the mattresses being thin. But there were mattresses and dinner tents and vodka and local wine and fresh water and no rain. And there was peace. It always finds you in the mountains despite whether you are tired, travelling with strangers, or just very far away in your own small thoughts. It always finds you. And that for me, is a reason enough for getting out of my comfort zone.

PS. It does help to not immediately fly home. It helps when you see the cities of the Silk Road coming up on the road in front you, almost making you feel like you are entering Middle-Earth because the layer of legends is so vast and heavy.  It helps to see symbols of strength, love, and patience. Step by step, we shall go through this dark season.

IMG_20171016_073630_525

 

5 summer memories of the Polish High Tatra mountains

Growing up in Estonia during the Soviet Union and in the time that followed its demise, one would hear three mountain ranges mentioned the most: the Caucasus mountains of Georgia, the High Tatras of Poland/Slovakia and the Pamirs of Central Asia. These were the places the mountaineers could travel the easiest (= at all), and the places with the most glamorous stories. Well, the latter probably depends on your style.

Last summer I went on my first summit expedition to the Caucasus mountains. And last week, I could finally do my first ground testing in the High Tatras of Poland. With some meters of Slovakia included. 🙂

I had no specific expectations of the High Tatras. All I wanted was a ground that slanted upwards, some sun and deeply sigh-worthy views. I got them all. But also more.

  • The mountain lakes

Whenever in the mountains that have lakes, I tend not to fully notice them.  I know, I’m just not a poet. They are beautiful, by all means. But usually form such an integral part of the scenery that my brain does not fully differentiate them from the rest of the space. Not so in the National Park of High Tatras. In here the lakes stand out. They are cold and clear and dark and ominous, and pull you to their shore.

IMG_20170808_213155_285

  • Mountain architecture

I don’t mean the shape of the mountains. I mean the actual human built houses of the Zakopane region. Fair enough. At first everything looked like a well-planted butaforie. But seeing how the architecture had traveled from the past to the present, and how its angles chime to the outlines of the mountainscapes on the horizon, the Zakopane style started making a lot of sense. Apparently, the style is most visible in architecture but it is also recognisable in furniture, something that I did not have a chance to witness during my trip.

20170802_145144

  • The mixed feel of the Alps and the English Lake District region

The first day in the mountains reminded me a lot of the Alps. Relatively speaking, the High Tatras are also young mountains, so they have retained their youthful craginess, pointedness and steepness. It is hard to explain but walking in the mountain valleys or trekking up the mountain paths really conveys the feeling of the landscape being young. (I think this sense and feel is officially called “the lay of the land”.) The High Tatras are actually surprisingly small for their name (and when compared with the altitudes of the Alps) but still give you the sense of a proper ascent when needed.

IMG_20170804_101834_748

The Lakes feeling came from being able to see houses from the ridge. So far, the hills of the Lakes and the High Tatra mountains have been the only summits whence I could catually spot houses and towns. This plays with my head a bit just because I’m not used to having the border of civilisation so close to my climbing routes. A tricky feeling but you can always look away. 🙂

  • Missing Orla Perc

Somehow, the time in mountains was over quicker than I could think. This meant that I could not trek the Orla Perc trail, one the most interesting and awe-inspiring trails on the Polish side of the mountains. Without knowing what I was looking at, I was actually drooling over the beginning of the trail one day but the time was too late in the day for going forward. The stories and the pictures of this trail are actually so sweet that I would consider returning to the Tatras just for that and for some other trails.

  • Somersaults for the imagination

Although the High Tatras reminded me of many places and mountainscapes, they were also very new to my eye in their entirety. This does not mean, however, that I stopped the game of “This could be…”. I think the words Alaska and Arctic Sweden came to my mind most often.

IMG_20170731_003954_875

Why you don’t always need the sun to be happy

March 2017: A Different Time in Scotland

I travelled back to Scotland in the middle of March. The aim was to gather more technical winter mountaineering skills with the help of Rob Johnson Expedition Guide. Luckily, when I contacted him near the end of 2016, the group had just one space left. I was set to go!

IMG_20170312_104343_493

What I absolutely had not planned on, was developing either a monster migraine or an uncanny sinus infection a couple of weeks before the start of the winter skills & mountaineering course. In my case, getting the train up to Fort William from London could have easily been taken for a road trip to Damascus, only with a difference that instead of a ruggedly holy calling I was starting to have doubts whether I could climb at all.

About that pain

There will be no cliffhanger in the middle of this story. Sorry! 🙂 All went well, albeit laboriously. The prescription drugs I was taking at the time lowered my walking heartbeat to 50 bpm. Even a single set of stairs became an accomplishment of sorts, not to mention a mountain. True story! The ascent of Stob Ban ended up the hardest walking experience of my life. I actually had to rest my head on my axe after every ten meters.

But when there’s a will (and the love for the mountains, and a truly patient mountain guide and one other patient climber), there’s always a way. I did end up:

  • climbing/scrambling the quartzite North Buttress of Stob Ban in the Grey Corries (a borderline route between grade II and III, if my memory is not jig dancing);

 

  • climbing my first Grade I winter gully in the Cairngorms (Jacob’s Ladder). A very gracious gully for learning, I have to say.
17155600_425622444458968_6844339454153943862_n
The last meters of Jacob’s Ladder. (Photo either by Rob or Rachel.)

I also spent one of my climbing days in bed with vertigo, holding on to my mattress and ignoring the fiercely orange flashes the smoke alarm in my room was producing. I mean, you go out with many things, but you don’t go climbing with a vertigo.

So, this time it was a a slightly mixed bunch of feelings. And definitely the only time in my life I have felt less than flawlessly happy in the mountains. But still, I aaaaalmost got there, of course.

20170315_181159
After the last climbing day, feeling properly vague in the head but so devastatingly happy I spent these days in Scotland.

This year, man!

The beginning of 2017 has not been particularly lucky. Having been almost professionally lucky (and healthy) so far, it has been tremendously hard for me to accept the physical daily pain. I’m definitely better equipped to deal with years of high level mental strain (positive and the other shade) than even a week of physical discomfort. Not kidding.

IMG_20170314_222552_799
Fort William at the end of winter 2017.

When I can’t move, all my versions of the future lose their grounding and their zest. It’s as if someone has changed my light switch for a capriciously functioning dimmer. There are bursts of normality, but mostly I inhabit a space filled with thick, gooey air. In here, I need to refocus my eyes and my itinerary with every step I take.

I have no idea how people with chronical pain deal with it. Where do you find your projections of peace? Can everything be trainable?

Why you don’t always need the sun to be happy?

So, where on Earth is the only place to find peace when you are officially burnt out, over worked, over stressed and physically crumbling? In the Scottish Highlands, of course.

 

In here, you do not need the sun to be happy:

  • The light and warmth often hide some of the smells eminating from the soil. Although warmth gives free reign to blossoms and such, it also takes the soil away from underneath your feet. You kind of stop noticing it. But sometimes you need to feel the ground the most.
  • The sun is always about the present. The murky weather fixes your thoughts on possibilities instead.
  • The grey weather gives you time to think. The sun is an action call. (In other words, the wolf-coloured weather makes for a great travel planner.)
  • You notice more shades in colours in the hands of a dubious climate.
IMG_20170316_150616_446
View from the top of Jacob’s Ladder, Cairngorms.
  • As long as a snowstorm or a gale is not visiting the same place as you, you can still go forwards with your most loved activities.
  • The dramatic (and the grand) scenes mostly welcome the traveller in the non-sunny landscapes.
IMG_20170323_192052_192
On top of Jacob’s Ladder. Last day of climbing, Cairngorms. (Photo by Rachel.)
  • The murkiness makes you feel as being part of a story. You feel yourself and your itinerary in a specifically intense manner when hitting the road in proper dreary weather.
  • The sunlessness makes you notice more allurement around you. It does.
  • A tough weather brings strangers together.
  • The gloom makes you move. The sun habitually traps you into the moment. (By no means a wicked trap, though!)
  • The overcast weather works wonders for the imagination.
  • A weather with an epic temper makes you feel like being on a journey the legends are made of.
20170313_100824
The Mamores Ridge.

And what else forms the core of a human heart than all of the above?!

Arctic tundras and canal shores of Venice. Going after unstructured experiences.

A hunt for unstructured experiences is the easiest way to summarise my year of 2016. Yes, I did doctoral research on the topic but the theme was definitely prominent also in other areas of my life (in art, mountaineering training, etc.).

For a while now, I shall probably be posting about different ways to go after that specific type of experience. I will give my best to try to approach it from all angles, large or small, crooked or right angled, and see what makes it longed for, for me and for a lot of people of my time.

This post will focus on two very straightforward ways of achieving a completely fresh spatial experience without throwing yourself off a train without a map. It will focus on ways for designing surprises that work, for yourself.

1. Give someone permission to take you on a trip without telling you the destination.

Lessons learned from the Arctic Norway and Finnish Lapland in September 2016.

Let another person pack your clothes, choose the date and not tell you where you will be going. Destination awareness can be left for the check-in desk, train station or the boat mooring spot.

In September, I had a fabulous chance to experience that type of once again. It is definitely one of my most favourite modes of travelling. Of course, it is romantic to the core, but it also frees you from the philosophical task number 1: to know where you’re going.

And this is where the surprise design kicks in. If all you know is the return date, every following detail starts acting as a structural element of your adventure:

– not knowing when you have to wake up;

– not knowing whether there are plans for the next day;

– not knowing what is in the neighbourhood, near or far;

– not knowing what to take with you;

– not knowing which means of transport to use;

– not having to worry about reaching a place at a certain time;

– not knowing when and where you’ll be eating;

– not knowing which direction you’re going;

– not knowing what to expect.

Unstructuralism achieved!

2. Change the time and scope of your wanderings

Lessons learned on Venice canal shores in November 2016.

It is worth it. If you suddenly find yourself attracted to a city that is an object of admiration to the entire world … don’t go exploring it at the heels of it.

I am talking about these destinations that do not even have an off season, to use holiday parlance.

So, how to find your city inside everyone else’s?

img_20161116_095102
Night in San Marco, Venice. November 2016.

If possible, arrive very early or very late. This makes your first impression more personal.

Then, schedule your first longer wander outside the tourist hours. Yes, you are on a holiday (I only use the word “holiday” for city trips; outside of it, the concept does not even work), so setting the alarm for 3.30 AM may feel like the first signs of madness, but the sleepiness will lift as soon as you enter the empty maze that every new city is.

Imagination works better when left alone in an empty space. It is also easier to get a feel for a place that is uniquely meaningful only for you.

What else helps? Making a game of spotting a certain elements (like a weathered pattern on a wall) in every new street or square. This way you will end up looking into little side streets and courtyards more often.

Visiting cemeteries always helps. When a city is crowded, her cemeteries are usually less packed (well, depending how you’re counting). Cemeteries let you in on the spirit of the place (no pun intended) without having to fight the crowds.

For extra ideas, it is worth reading Microadventures by Alastair Humphreys or taking a an official city guide book and reversing everything that can be reversed.

Also, on the topic: “The rational flâneur is someone who, unlike a tourist, makes a decision at every step to revise his schedule, so he can imbibe things based on new information, what Nero was trying to practice in his travels, often guided by his sense of smell. The flâneur is not a prisoner of a plan. Tourism, actual or figurative, is imbued with the teleological illusion; it assumes completeness of vision and gets one locked into a hard-to-revise program, while the flâneur continuously – and, what is crucial, rationally – modifies his targets as he acquires information.” (From Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleeb)

 

 

Memoirs of the Mount Kazbek summit day. How I finally climbed a 5000+ m mountain in Georgia. Part 2 of 2.

Thursday, August 11. The summit day – reaching 5033 m in one piece!

The alarm went off at 1 a.m. I unzipped the tent door and looked outside. There was not a cloud in the sky. Only the craziest number of stars I had ever seen.

“Fuck!” I thought with bone piercing joy and a good amount of intimidation. It was actually going to happen.

After a quick pee and some sugary black tea, we geared up, checked our headlamps and left camp at 2 a.m.

I tried not to think about what lied on that part of the rubble path which the rays from my  head lamp did not reach. Hint: sheer drops onto a glacier. (And no, I have no photos of this part of the journey.)

*

After 45 minutes of walking, we stopped for a change of clothes. Most of us had put on one layer too much and were feeling quite hot during the dark hours of the day when thousands of meters above the sea level. I was wearing a long top and fleece under my jacket, so I took the fleece away.

During that short break, I looked to where we had come from. I saw another group starting up that same path. Obviously, you don’t see a group of people in the distance but a slowly moving row of light dots in pitch darkness. In high altitude, people get turned into mythical glowworms slithering their way up. I then noticed another glowworm that was at least 45 minutes ahead of us. Under the star-studded sky, all the far-away mountaineers looked like stars on earth.

Our guide led us on well-chosen moraine paths on the dark glacier. During the first two hours,the terrain changed from scree to white snow, and also involved finding our way through a proper labyrinth. I have absolutely no idea what I would have done here alone, in the middle of the night! That aside, navigating strange labyrinths in darkness is video game level awesome.

Since the crevasses are constantly changing (because the glacier changes), the labyrinth’s paths also change with every year. This labyrinth of rocks has a great number of passes, but a lot of them are cut off by a crevasse, so navigating this part of the jouney in darkness without a guide would have been sheer madness.

20160811_091738
Time for another well-deserved break on the ascent.

It is amazing how quickly the sun comes up, although you actually trek hours in complete darkness. When it started getting light, we roped up for a white glacier crossing (at 4220 m). All went well and smoothly during this part of the journey. It was a beautiful time, nearing the plateau of Kazbek Pass. Silent, easy and at ease.

20160811_091212.jpg
Getting higher and higher.

At the plateau edge (at 4600 m) we took another break while Sirxan was tentatively inspecting the cloud circling the summit. For me, it meant putting my fleece back on without exposing two arms to the cold at once. This was a stupid place to change. I should have put on more clothes earlier. (What if the weather had quickly turned?) Next time I won’t walk in fear, no!

Speaking of pros and cons of the gear and clothing, I did discover a negative side to my otherwise absolutely wonderful Berghaus rucksack (Expedition Lite 80) – carrying a 1 L water bottle in its side pocket is only possible up to a certain angle. When the ground gets steeper, the bottle starts falling out of the pocket. It slips out, jumps over your shoulder (kind of) and slides down the climbed path. When it happened for the second time, my team member caught it and placed in the snow to wait for my return. (Luckily, people had enough water and warmth of heart 🙂 to share their water with me during the rest of the ascent.)

We reached the saddle (at 4844 m) after a steep, zig-zagging climb. This is where we dropped the rope and our bags. There was 150 m to go. The main summit was in a cloud.

*

And this is how the final push started. The steepest part of the climb. 150 m to go, at up to a 45 degree angle (a bit icy at times). This is why we had come here.

The only thought I had during the summit push, was that I would not be anywhere else at this moment. Not anywhere else, not doing anything else. It does not matter that I could not take more than 10 steps without having to rest; it does not matter that I could not even see how long I had to keep going.

And then it just happened. Thanks to Sirxan and Emil (our two Azerbaijani mountain guides), and the near-perfect weather conditions, we summited Mount Kazbek at 9.30 a.m. that morning.

20160811_104122
Our mountain guide Sirxan from Vertical Travel Azerbaijan on the summit of Mount Kazbek.

There was an Iranian group already on the top, sharing their cheers, jubilations and chocolate with us. There was also (Russian) cellular reception. (And I do love sending texts to my loved ones from the mountain tops. Sending texts to loved ones from mountain tops will be the name of my first indie album.)

This was it. It was actually happening! After having convincing myself to lift one of my legs in front and above the other for endless minutes in that white oblivion, I was feeling that kind of physical happiness that completely takes over the mind. Or vice versa. There’s no way to tell. And I don’t want to know.

I just hope there will be more moments like these in my future.

There just has to be.

Aaaand….. It was now time to face the other way.

But. Descending to the col was difficult. I had never descended in crampons on such a steep angle. It took me dozens of meters to even start trusting my feet. So, I first went down side first at least for one third of the journey. Not only side first, but also smashing my boot noses and crampons’ hooks into the icy snow. You know. Just in case. (* facepalm *) (But how do you learn?!)

Upon finally reaching the col again, the cloud lifted from around the summit. At this moment everyone saw where where we had just been. “I would never have gone up there, had I seen this view before!” got shouted by many of us. Climbing in the cloud, it had felt like a 20-35 m way up. It was higher, much, much higher. All the 150 m of it.

We roped up again and started our long descent back to base camp. It took me a while to start walking at a normal pace. Although the angle was steep, it was nothing like those final 150 m had been.  Something in me (well, the fear!) wanted to go much slower than the group was going, but changing the pace was not an option. It was also not necessary. Eventually, I did start trusting my legs (well, the crampons!) a bit more, and by the end of the white glacier I had long ago stopped thinking about the pace at all.

For a while, everything continued to be white. Except for a heap of colourful gummy bears glistening in the snow.

Notes to self:

– obtain a longer ice axe (my current one is definitely better for ice climbing than alpine mountaineering)

– definitely go to that winter training in Scotland in winter 2016/2017

– find out whether there’s an official rule to the tightness of the rope during a rather easy glacier crossing. Some people said the connecting rope should be hanging loosely on the snow, just loosely enough so it would touch the surface (but not really tangle behind); some, that it should be hanging in the air.

*

We got back to the base camp by 3.38pm. The weather was sunny all the time. The  Caucasian sheep dogs greeted us on our way. We already knew them.

The time to reflect (with passion!) had arrived. The trip organisers said it was the most difficult ascent of their lives. Our team members who had summited Elbrus and/or Island Peak in Nepal also placed the ascent of Mount Kazbek as their most strenuous to date. For me, it was the descent, that was really difficult. Both of my big toes had really started to hurt (from the excessive and absolutely unnecessary smashing back near the col).

And what is also only Level 2 fun? Running from falling rocks when your toes are spitting fire. Not. Fun. At. All. At. The. Time.

There’s Khmaura Wall between 4150 m and 4200 m: a steep moraine wall which’s purpose on Earth is to throw rocks at you. You need to pass quite close to it when climbing up or down Mount Kazbek (that’s the only way, otherwise you have to go too close to the crevasses). And soon as the sun is out, the rocks do start falling. So, in the afternoon there is a high risk at getting hit by falling rocks. Hence the running.

And this is just one of the reasons why Alpine start is always preferred on Mount Kazbek.

20160811_142053
Remnants of past rock falls.

*

Things to note:

– the first and second time I used the toilet today were: 1:40 a.m. and then 5.30 p.m. Definitely the longest I’ve ever gone without peeing.

– for the first time ever, my underwear top had salty sweat stains on it (it was all white in parts).

– the rolled cherry tobacco cigarette tasted quite amazingly good after dinner.

– one my the socks was bloody.

– it is possible to fall asleep when getting used to the sound of the (very distant) rock avalanche.

It was our last evening at base camp. I was a little worried about the glacier tomorrow (the same we had come up on during Tuesday’s climb. It felt quite steep.) But worries never get you anywhere, so I stopped.

My sleep that night was sweet and deep. This was our third night at this altitude. Turning sides when asleep did not make me breathless any more.

20160811_175956
Relaxing view from the base camp.

Friday, August 12. From base camp at 3600 m to 2100 m.

allaminek
All cramponed up for the glacier. (Photo stolen from Siim.)

This is what I remember from the day:

– my toes really hurt

– the way up had been quicker

– the glacier was not steep at all (apart from the mountain guides, we were all on crampons, still)

liustiku-aarel
Ready to cross the glacier again. (Photo stolen from Siim.)
20160812_113415.jpg
Another group going up where we just descended from.

– blister plasters do let you walk even if semolina-like puss is oozing from underneath them

– the lower we got, the more I started craving for the ripe Georgian tomatoes and peaches

– the closer we got the church, the more trekkers we saw (more than one person asking us whether the glacier was reachable within 20 minutes)

– my toes really, really hurt (bruising under toenails, blisters, hurt skin).

20160812_124902.jpg
Our large friend who later escorted all the wild horses off our camp site.

It took a small forever to reach the Gergeti Trinity Church again. We set up camp and got greeted by cows and wild horses at our camp. The latter were specially interested in chewing through our sweaty clothing. Luckily, the faithful sheep dogs were not far away. The horses were soon escorted off our camp ground.

We gave some food to the dogs. They licked our hands and gave us their paws as a thank you. (I am NOT making this up.) We dreamt of washing ourselves in two days (first time in a week), and got our hands on some Kindzmarauli, fresh cucumbers and peaches. Raki and Allan made the best soup of the entire trip (with everything in it). All the food we ate that evening was extremely delicious.

Raki says he had spotted a raw plum at 4800 m on the previous day. “How do you know it was raw?” I inquired.

“Tasted it.”

20160812_203446.jpg
Good night.

Couple of next days to follow.

The next morning we packed up our gear and descended to Kazbegi village (at 1700 m). My blisters were healing quickly, the toes obviously still hurt. Both of my ankles also looked a bit elephant-y.

Finally, we got our bags transported to a hostel. The door to the trunk of that car did not close (and we did not fit in), but the bags did get a lift. The fact that there was not water in the hostel for hours did not even count as a setback!

The next couple of days were spent walking around the Uplistsikhe cave city – a once-upon-a-time hub of Caucasian pagan worship and a legendary stop on the Silk Road; getting properly cleansed in a hammam in Tbilisi, counting 243 trucks in a Russian border queue, and spotting Georgian police ladies putting on make-up and smoking in the ladies toilet of the Tbilisi airport. And eating more of those peaches.

Things I learnt from the Kazbek summit expedition:

– In Georgia, large dogs often follow you ❤ ❤

– On the summit day with an Alpine start, do not eat before heading out (only drink tea)

– Drink water when you stop (otherwise minerals get lost immediately)

– Keep your toe nails as short as possible

– Use the resting step during ascent

– Breathe deeply with your belly every now and then

– Take magnesium powder/tablets with you

– Take some mineral tablets with you to mix into water at higher altitudes

– Adventure Clinic is probably the best travel agency in Estonia.

Tuesday, October 25.

It looks like the nail on my left big toe is actually loose.

Technically, I still made it to the top in one piece, even if a bit of me falls off because of that within 2016 after all.

*

Mount Kazbek 2016 summit expedition was organised and led by the Estonian adventure travel company Adventure Clinic with the help from Vertical Travel Azerbaijan.

Words will do no justice!