The Realities of Life on the Mountain

You’re on a mountain for several days, living in a hut with up to 20 other people or sleeping in tents and sharing time and space with a group of like-minded people to summit a high mountain. It’s a fantastic experience in team dynamics and finding out a little about yourself but it can also be frustrating. The smallest things can assume the biggest proportions! Generally, people possess social skills to manage it all very well, but occasionally not. In a very few cases, one person can really dominate a group to its detriment. Diplomacy and tact are necessary tools on a mountain trip!  

There are no showers on the mountain sadly, but you can wash in water from a bowl. You will feel rather dirty after just a few days, the dust is everywhere and you may also get a bit sunburned and wind burnt. Make-up is not an option, and nor are hair dryers, and even shaving is rather fraught with difficulty. Thank heavens for the joy of standing on the summit because by the time you come back down there will be only thought on your mind – visiting a shower.

elbrus south accommodation - Barrels..jpg

Sometimes close quarters can wear on people who are used to having some privacy. Try to be kind and give people space when they need it, yourself included.

There is no getting away from the fact that the toilets are basic. ‘Long drops’ describe it adequately but does not do justice to the smell and the occasional ‘surprise’ waiting for you, courtesy of the last person who missed. That and having to balance over a small hole in a state of undress, holding a loo roll and keeping a keen ear for a sudden unwanted visitor (did I mention there’s no door?). 

Our Staff Have Your Best Interest in Mind

We’re very proud of our staff and you will find them very attentive and courteous, but occasionally they may not understand you or make a mistake. Do be patient with them. English is not their first language and they sometimes find it hard to pick up on our western idiosyncrasies and habits. It is very unlikely that the mistake will have been deliberate.

It goes without saying that for many people climbing a big mountain is the biggest challenge they will have tackled, and thankfully the summit provides ample reward for the effort. But it is hard. Summit day is unrelenting in terms of cold, altitude, mental pressure, emotional stress and physical effort. Some people revel in it, some people have to dig deep. For everyone, it is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, made all the more poignant because you climb through the night. Dawn will not come too soon, and with it comes a lifting of the spirit. There is no point in saying it’s an easy stroll but when you do get to the top all that hardship seems to dissipate and for the 30 minutes you are on the summit of Europe, the world is right and you could be on top of a hundred Everests. 

Tanzania_Mount Kilimanjaro Mawenzi Peak

Climbing a trekking peak, like Kilimanjaro, is still a significant effort. Remember to save energy for the descent. 

Coming down is as hard as going up. On the one hand, it is easier to descend than to ascend, but the knees are now ready to go home and just rest quietly on a cushion by the fire for about a day, so it seems unfair to remind you that the summit is only halfway! And after the sheer unadulterated atavistic joy at summiting, coming down seems like a chore. Hang in there though; the shower and ceramic toilet is now only 24 hours away.

The Realities of High-Altitude Climbing

On bigger climbs, the steaks seem much higher. More time has been taken to train for the summit. Often times, the higher the peak, the less of a chance of reaching the summit and the more time is spent waiting for a good window. Physiologically this has a huge effect on not only the individual but the group mentality as well. We encourage everyone to keep that in mind and bring up problems in a diplomatic way to be solved as a group. For bigger climbs, it is important to understand group dynamics and be patient. Our staff are well-trained and have your safety and best interest in mind. At times, this may mean there will be no attempt to summit for various reasons. 

Aconcagua_Tents at camp 3.JPG

Existing for many days at high camps, such as this one on Aconcagua, takes its toll both mentally and physically.

How to File a Complaint

Should you be unhappy with some aspect of your trip to Elbrus and Russia then please take your point up directly with Sasha Lebedev as soon as it occurs, rather than waiting until you get home when there is nothing that can be done. Russian Adventures is equally as responsible for your welfare as AA UK, and Sasha is well experienced and qualified to assist with most issues and enquiries.

Some people feel embarrassed about ‘complaining to the locals’ but it is the only way they can learn and improve. There are significant cultural ‘gaps’ that exist between a paying Western client and a Russian tour operator or local guide, and we do work hard to ensure that these gaps are accepted as part of the holiday, and treated with equanimity and respect. This is within reason, since we have high standards ourselves, and there can be no compromise for safety when on a high mountain. Sometimes the guides find it hard to understand people, and we do ask that you are patient. 

We would also like to ask for your feedback after the trip, which is a standard procedure for tour companies, and this will also give you a chance to give us your thoughts about the trip.