“I don’t like Mondays”
So the head games begin. I wake up this morning and two toes hurt, one finger hurts, there’s a spot of sunburn throbbing away at the back of my neck and if I concentrate really hard, I think I can detect some stiffness in my shoulders.
What’s really wrong with me is that I pushed a bit hard yesterday, I didn’t sleep as well as I should last night, and this morning I’m tired. That’s when altitude kicks your butt. Being tired let’s the doubt in, and small niggling worries become an avalanche of broken dreams. I need to put the lid back on Pandora’s Box and stop the mental checklist. Relax the mind, work the body, accept help when it’s offered, appreciate this beautiful country, realise how lucky I am to be here and get through this day.
You really get to know yourself on a mountain – and you really get to know your team when you have a bad day. Our acclimatizing walk this morning was up a gorge. We had no set height to reach; we simply had to walk towards the sky for 3 hours, turn around and come back. We started with a short bus journey to Elbrus Village and then began a short scramble up towards a trail, high above the river.
Phyll, the only other gal in the group, was right beside me, offering encouragement and telling stories to keep my mind diverted. Each breath was an effort so I didn’t have much to say in return, but I thanked her later. She’s a little Star!
When we got up to the path following the gorge towards the glacier, I noticed the group standing and waiting and then realised what was up. Pat was putting me up front with Artem our Russian guide and making me set the pace. Anyone who’s ever walked with a group knows what this feels like. To be called up the front, is to be the slow one – for me it feels like the walk of shame. On the upside, you’re walking to a steady rhythm just hard enough to be out of breath and it’s a great workout. But you also feel embarrassed and stressed and worried that you’re letting everyone down. I knew I had to shake the negative thoughts away and concentrate only on the job in hand ‘one foot in front of the other’.
For 3 hours I focused on keeping up and keeping going. I concentrated on the scenery and in not being scared at the narrow, crumbling ledges. When I really felt I would have to stop, I pretended I was a little child, out exploring and wanting to see where the river went.
The gorge is beautiful, roaring down below us, its bed cut deep into the hillside. The meadows we are passing through are full of alpine flowers and herbs that fill the air with scent and small black butterflies as we brush by.
Finally we cut through a pine wood and into open meadow, nearly tripping over a herd of chocolate brown cows and a bull all lying down in the purple flowered grass, basking in the midday sun. They paid little attention as we strolled by, until 3 horses up in the distance spotted the visitors and came galloping down towards us; scattering the cows, before losing interest with us and turning to jump and nip and play with each other. The cows lay down again, we passed by, and order was restored.
A little while later we settled on a sunny bank under the spot the glacier used to be. You can still see the gritty deposits, marking the extent of global warming, and its effect on these once icy foothills. Now the snow and ice is confined to the high peaks above the valley.
We had our lunch and stretched out among the flowers to rest, before turning back down the mountain. The hilly climb was even scarier on the way down, and Joe, who’s a Rambler when not rambling in Russia, was really helpful, guiding me down and giving me tips on foot-placement on the slippy, crumbling clay. At one point we were forced to push further into the bank as three local horsemen rode past on the skinny ledge. I gasped with amazement as I watched their narrow legs pick their way along the tiny crumbling trail.
We were now running ahead of storm clouds that had been gathering while we ate our lunch. Again, our hike ended with rumblings of thunder, before the heavens opened and we were drenched. I had waterproofs in my rucksack but I didn’t put them on. This rain was warm and I relished it. Darting down the last of the trail and laughing under the raindrops, I realised that despite the doubts of this morning, today was a really good day.