I arrived in London at 11.15 am on Thursday 15th August on an overnight transatlantic flight from Miami. I had left my desk as Head of Business Support Unit for the Canadian Red Cross in Haiti 22 hours before and travelled straight to the airport in Port-au-Prince. As usual, it had been a last-minute rush to tie up some loose ends at work and make sure my team were prepped to cover for me for the next 10 days. I had only arrived back from our Roraima training trip a few weeks before so life had been hectic – I was looking forward to pushing myself on this trip but was also concerned because Dave had recently been injured and because Caro had only been above 5,000m once before, on Pico de Orizaba in December 2012.
We’re extremely fortunate to have some fantastic and very generous kit sponsors; Aquapac had already delivered some kit to my office in Canada earlier in the year and Caro and I had tested that kit on Roraima in July. Earlier this week, our main clothing sponsor Montane had confirmed a delivery of clothing and accessories to Dave’s sister in London and I was heading to meet him and check and pack the kit. In addition, Lyon Equipment had sent La Sportiva Spantik boots for Caro and some Petzl climbing hardware, as well as Exped DownMats. Nite Watches had recently promoted me to Ambassador status and had accepted Dave and Caro and Unite contributors. They had sent out three beautiful new watches for us to pick up.
We had also been fortunate to get some decent media coverage after officially launching the expedition, including:
The Bellshill Speaker
Caro also secured coverage in various sports news outlets in Venezuela. She was also interviewed live on VEN FM:
After arriving at Heathrow and before I met up with Dave, I also had a short list of additional kit to pick up. Some of it I had already ordered from Snow+Rock in Covent Garden (Black Diamond Guide gloves for Caro, hand and foot warmers, trekking pole snow baskets, spare Nalgene), but there were other items that needed, such as a Shewee (Caro), ice axe leash (Caro) and some energy bars/gels. I also had a prescription for Diamox (acetazolamide – a diuretic that can help prevent Acute Mountain Sickness) and Dexamethasone (a powerful steroid used to treat cerebral oedema) from Adventure Medical Consulting and I needed to pick these up from a pharmacy.
Earlier in the week in Haiti I had gone through the kit list with a fine tooth-comb 3 or 4 times in the days before departure. I like to take a scientific approach to my packing:
At Heathrow Arrivals I tried to use the public showers, but found they were closed. I then tried to use the Air Canada lounge, but was rebuffed as I had not flown that day on Air Canada. Dejected, I dropped my bags at the Excess Baggage Co. desk (£9.00 per 24hrs) and headed to Covent Garden on the Picadilly Line. For the next 70 minutes I caught up with UK friends by phone and text. Working in Haiti, I don’t get much chance to speak regularly to friends and family back home, so I always take the opportunity when I’m out of Haiti to reach out.
My first stop was Snow+Rock, where I was able to use my British Mountaineering Council membership to get 20% off my order. Unfortunately they didn’t have many mountaineering items in stock as it was out of season, so I struck out to find Cotswold and Ellis Brigham, who both have stores nearby. Luckily, between these 3 stores I was able to find everything we needed, although I did get some funny looks when I bought this:
Despite visiting a few pharmacies, I wasn’t able to get hold of the Diamox or Dexamethasone – so we would have to climb without pharmaceutical aids. Diamox does have side effects that I would rather avoid, such as numbness/tingling in extremities and polyuria (peeing more). I’m not sure it has actually helped me on past expeditions, but the placebo effect is strong.
I headed out to Tooting Bec to connect with Dave. His sister Janet had very kindly agreed to act as our expedition postbox, despite being very heavily pregnant. By the time I got to her house, Dave had already packed the new kit into respective bags for the three of us, which saved a lot of time. Although he had removed all of the tags to avoid any questions at Russian Customs, he did keep one aside:
I was highly amused (but slightly thrilled) to see my mug on the Montane clothing labels. The photo was taken as I ascended to the summit ridge of Puncak Trikora in the New Guinea highlands during my 2010 solo Australasia 3 Peaks Glacier Expedition.
Now we had all of our kit packed, it seemed appropriate to hit the pub for a few beers with Dave, his sister Janet and her husband Olly. Poor Olly had received box after box of sweet mountaineering kit on our behalf but couldn’t play with any of it – I still feel sorry for him.
Our Elbrus Kit List:
|LONG-SLEEVE BIONIC ZIP NECK|
|BIONIC LONG JOHN|
|TERRA THERMO STRETCH PANTS|
|DIRECT ASCENT JACKET|
There were a number of items of kit that they also placed on forward order for us for the South America 3 Peaks Expedition, and we will pick these up later this year. These include the Alpine Endurance Event Jacket, Black Ice Jacket, Astro Ascent Event Pants
and Prism Pants. We’re extraordinarily grateful for this support.
I also had the opportunity to try on my new Nite Hawk T100
The Hawk T100 has a carbon fibre reinforced polycarbonate case and bezel and is super lightweight at only 64 grams. Despite this, it feels robust and the silicon strap is superbly comfortable. I’m extremely proud to be a Nite Ambassador and to wear this watch.
After a couple of quiet beers Dave and I hauled our gear into a taxi and headed to Heathrow. We were flying Aeroflot and were pleasantly surprised to find the excess charges to be less than $70 for an extra bag. As we waited to check in we struck up a conversation with an English guy. Turns out he had fallen head over heels in love with a Russian girl two weeks before while on holiday in Egypt. She had convinced him to fly to Russia to meet her family. This guy told us that we were nuts for going climbing in Russia. Dave and I agreed that he was in a lot more physical danger than we were. I didn’t feel confident that his kneecaps would last very much longer…….
It was a short, comfortable 4-hour flight to Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO). Due to the time difference, we arrived at 05:30. Caro had flown in the day before to Domodedovo Airport, but had transferred to a hotel near SVO. We picked up our baggage, changed some USD to Roubles and made our way through to the domestic transfer terminal. We were very pleasantly surprised by how clean and modern the airport was, and by how little bureaucracy we faced. We checked in to our flight to Mineralnye Vody and the check-in clerk told me that Caro had already checked in. We passed security and met Caro at the gate – I was glad that she had managed to travel so far from home alone with no issues – she had even managed to get out to Red Square the previous night and met some friends who were there for the athletics World Championships.
We boarded the flight to MinVody and tried to prepare ourselves for the challenges to come.