Sometimes you get curious about activities that you normally don’t do. Being curious is important, without it you can easily get stuck at home. Living out your curiousness is even more important.
A new challenge
We (Monika and Anniken) have spent our lives in the mountains, climbing and free falling, but have never really focused on riding down on the snow. Anniken always said; why bother skiing when you can fly instead? It wasn’t until after she quit base-jumping that she discovered snowboarding. Though still a novice to the sport, she needed a challenge. Mt Elbrus(5642m), Europe’s highest mountain, seemed like the perfect place to start her snowboarding career, and Monika, who is always up for testing out other skills than her climbing ones, was just as keen to go.
Crampons for snowboard boots?
Being the first real snowboard trip there were a lot of questions about what gear to bring. Can you fit crampons to snowboard boots? Monika uses ski crampons going up, what does Anniken use for her approach skis? What will the conditions be like? What gear will we use for what condition? There was no way of knowing until we got to the mountain.
Our hotel room looked like something had exploded. Two girls who love their gear were eagerly comparing and discussing, trying to make the perfect pack out for the mountain; light, but still covering the basic needs. Anniken had brought some approach skis to take her up the mountain that would fold into the backpack for the ride down. Extra weight, but good in powder conditions. She was jealous of Monika’s new super light bindings, who in return was jealous of her warm Ulvetanna down mittens. We were ready to go and try our gear, not to mention our skills.
On the top of Europe
We both have experience from high mountains up to 7000 meters, and have never really suffered in the altitude. The key to success is proper acclimatization, and constant deep breathing. We were sure Elbrus was going to be a piece of cake. Our first day on the mountain was great. We enjoyed sunshine, then a thunderstorm, but were able to ride down from 4200 meters in perfect conditions. We had fresh powder in the morning and slush in the afternoon. We were happy, and we slept like babies at 3800 meters. The second day we went higher (4650m), and had an equally nice ride down. But at night the symptoms of high altitude started bothering us; headache and nausea. And we slowly remembered why we have never been too excited about mountaineering. Elbrus seems like an easy mountain, but the truth is that it is very exposed to hard weather and constantly changing conditions. The air pressure goes up and down several times a day. It is also still an active volcano letting out fumes, which mixing with the thin air makes for a tougher ascent.
According to our plan we were now ready for the summit. The day before our summit attempt was as clear as it can get. Did that mean we had spent the good weather, or would it stay? We started to move up the mountain at 3am the following morning. A good view of the stars kept our spirits high. But after a warm sunny day comes hard snow. Without ski crampons, Anniken, who was sliding for each step, quickly left her approach skis and continued on foot up the mountain. We were moving slow because Monika, who was still on skis, had to zig zag on the steep slope. The night was turning to day and although some clouds were moving in, the view was still nice. At least for a while. Getting to 5100m we were now in total fog. With the snow still being hard as rock we decided to leave snowboard and skis there, and continue with a lighter pack. The wind started picking up and brought snow with it. But we were still determined to try for the summit, although the conditions were deteriorating.
The rest of the ascent was spent in total fog, the sun came through just a few times, but not enough to warm the air. It was cold. Even the hair sticking out from our hoods was frozen. We were thankful for the warm clothes we were wearing.
Balancing up a steep slope with no point of reference (read: fog) is difficult. Especially if you add the thin air into the equation. The last 300 meters before the summit we were both walking like drunk and almost falling down because we laughed so hard at ourselves. The altitude and the fog were giving us a hard time.
Relieved to get to the summit, we only had time for a quick photo before heading down. The wind was still picking up, and we had a long descent ahead of us. Going down to the skis and snowboard was tough. Anniken was feeling nauseas and it just got worse with the effort of moving. But when we finally clipped on the bindings and started riding down, the fun and the adrenaline pushed away all the nausea, headache and tiredness. We were finally two girls in our element; action.
More into action
Although the ski/snowboard descent was done in total fog it was still the best part of the whole trip. Having said that out loud we both realized that we are more into action than mountaineering. The latter is slow. It requires a lot of patience for acclimatization and waiting for good conditions. Not to mention feeling sick due to the lack of oxygen. Even on a relatively low mountain like Elbrus, we got bored of the long walks up. They are slow because of the altitude. The mountain and the riding down is still a thing we really enjoy though, but maybe in the future we will focus on lower altitude, meaning less work and more fun. Monika is also urging Anniken to start rock climbing. Something has to fill the space after base jumping, and sitting in a tent acclimatizing is not on the top of that list.
Thank you to Berghaus for supporting this trip!