An Excursion to the Sky
Elbrus. Photo from vk.com/club39153981
In July, students from the HSE Extreme Sports Club planted the university’s flag at the top of Mount Elbrus, one of the world’s highest peaks. Garry Rutberg, one of the club’s leaders, and Alexandra Oleinikova, an HSE alumna and the club’s guide, tell us about the complicated nature of the mountain, ways of fighting hypoxia, and what it’s like to walk amongst the clouds.
Life, Mountains, and Love
Garry Rutberg: Our HSE Tour Club has existed at the university for 16 years as part of the Extreme Sports division, and the club is devoted to pedestrian, mountain, and water tourism. It has around 14 teams that are different by skill level and tourism type. We try to make the climb to the top of Elbrus for everyone, but this is one of the most difficult mountains and truly tests your endurance.
We've climbed Elbrus three times. The first was in honour of HSE's 20th anniversary. It's always about testing yourself and showing your love for the mountains and fresh air. Overall, there's something for everyone. I've been on Elbrus four times. It's like a disease – after your first time in the mountains, you want to go back again and again.
In the history of the HSE Tour Club, we have already celebrated 18 weddings. This is because, despite the extreme nature of what we do, everyone gets really close while participating on our projects. These are natural emotions that people feel together and want to share afterwards as well. A lot has happened in the Club; people overcome obstacles without being able to explain how. Everything depends on a person’s motivation.
Which Approach to Take
Alexandra Oleinikova: Elbrus is a difficult endeavour for many reasons. Everest, for example, is much easier to climb because its weather conditions are more predictable. At 6,000 meters above sea level, people live quietly and raise livestock. As concerns climbing difficulty, Elbrus is equivalent to the 7,000-meter mountains. People typically climb Elbrus from the South, but the North is the more difficult and interesting side. It’s for advanced climbers, but we took beginners up this time. The mountain has two peaks – a western one and an eastern one. We went to the West. This was the coolest event of the year for our club, not only in a technical sense, but in an emotional one as well.
Together is Better
Alexandra: Our team consisted of HSE students and alumni. Everyone had a specific level of physical preparation since we needed to cover 20 kilometres by foot each day. You are constantly breathing heavily, and some people start hallucinating from the monotonous landscape and fatigue. The main thing is not to panic, and you have to stick together and keep a team atmosphere. This is why everyone stayed motivated while climbing to the top. This isn’t easy. At a certain point, your body refuses to listen to you and do anything. The main thing is for no one to give up, and when you all reach the top, it’s incredible!
The Climb Down
Garry: As strange as it may seem, coming down is the most difficult part. For those set on reaching the top, they only think about the peak, but forget about the difficulties of climbing down. It's a purely psychological factor – you do something and you're ready to relax, but that wasn't the case here. Most of the worst moments take place on the way down. Your body automatically relaxes, but this isn’t an HSE exam that you can relax after. Here it’s important to not lose your concentration subconsciously, not make a technical error, and not panic because no one will come for you and give you a warm blanket after you take an amazing selfie. When selecting people for the group, we reserve the right to tell a person ‘no’ if we see that he or she won’t be able to handle it or will undermine the work of the team. We hold meetings for this prior to climbing, but fortunately everyone goes and is able to manage. This is because the Extreme Sports Club has a serious system for working with members and beginners. This system was tried and tested over the years, and it has been used over the club’s 16-year history.
Elbrus in the Summer. Photo from vk.com/club39153981
Garry: Under extreme conditions, new opportunities open up for a person. Science has not yet investigated this field of metaphysics. A lot has happened in the Club; people overcome obstacles without being able to explain how. Everything depends on a person’s motivation. You can set yourself on conquering the peak, but then the journey doesn’t mean anything. Others want to take the journey, contemplate everything, discover something new inside themselves. These are feelings that give you not only a physical experience, but a deep, internal one as well. They also allow for self-actualization and self-understanding.
Garry: In the mountains, everything’s measured not in kilometres, but in time. We left at two in the morning in order to reach the top. The Extreme Sports Club has a tradition, or maybe a superstition, that when climbing to the top – well, when climbing at all – you are not allowed to say the word ‘weather.’ It changes so suddenly that a storm could complicate things in a matter of minutes. The climbers didn’t get so lucky on the day of the climb. Everyone was met by a cyclone during a storm at 5,562 meters, and you couldn’t even see your own hands out in front of you. Blizzards, fog, and clouds. (It’s really dangerous being in the clouds because lightning might strike.) But HSE’s flag still made it to the top. Andrei Schekotov, a third-year student in HSE’s MIEM, carried HSE’s flag, weighing 4 kilograms, and planted it at the top of the mountain.
I still can't answer the question of why I'm learning about mountains and climbing. I think it's just what I'm good at.
Garry: The next peak we plan to accomplish is on another continent. But we need to tackle it not in summer, as with Elbrus, but in winter - in December. We are now planning a trip to Ergaki, a nature park in the Urals, where people who've trained on rock-climbing walls, will cover vertical surfaces.
In September we'll go to a wake-club in Turkey and near Antalya, where they will close the wake club specially for us, provide equipment, and international class instructors will provide training, while the entertainment programme will include diving and tours of nearby castles, arranged by Sasha.
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