Hi, If you missed part 1 you can read it HERE, or just scroll down and you should come across it.
Now where did I leave off, Ohh yeh, day 3. Early next morning we arranged transport easily enough in another 4wd UAZ jeep, trouble was it was a little more expensive than I hoped. The driver reasoned that with the nearest fuel station being over 35km away, we would also need to pay for those miles as well, as our 20km trip would leave him short of fuel. Hmm not quite sure how we fell for that one, but they had us by the short and curlies and it wasn’t extortionate. Anyway he picked us up at 10:00 and an hrs ride up the forestry track we were as close to trail as we good get. After friendly goodbyes and payment we set off up the remainder of the steep track to emerge out of the forest very close to a newly refurbished tour base for camping, we didn’t look in as we didn’t have time, instead we had our lunch on some logs at the bottom of the escarpment we were to climb up to the Mykopski pass. We already climbed up 200m through the forest, but there was still another 500m till we reached the pass on top of the escarpment and onto the Plato. Luckily its a good footpath, if a little steep, that winds its way up the only obvious section of the cliff towards its North western end, its just a matter of taking your time and stopping often to take in the views.
In a little under 2 hrs of climbing we were at the pass and onto the plateau. Now that the weather was sunny after the rains of the previous few weeks, the summer flowers were just coming into bloom making for great scenery as we walked along the path to our campsite for the night by lake Psenodah. By late afternoon we had reached the lake and I was quite surprised at its size, it had shrank by a good 50% since I was there 2 year ago. The lake is fed by the snowmelt from the surrounding mountains and has no visible outlet, rather instead it percolates through the Limestone bedrock and comes out only God knows where. There having been a less than average snowfall this winter it was hardly surprising that the lake was low, still it was a little disappointing. We made our camp in almost the same place as last time with great views of the snow clad mountains and the pass Fisht-Oushtenovski, our route for tomorrow morning. The plan was now firmly back on track, we where camping in the place I had originally visioned (and advertised) the weather was good and we had time to relax and have a wash in what was still a very cold lake. Later that evening a we cooked the supper and as the temperatures dropped we got out our sleeping bags and watched the sun go down from the shores of the lake, before retiring to the tent and a good nights sleep.
Although there had been some high cloud coming in through the afternoon when I left the tent around midnight for the toilet the sky was clear and there was a frost on the tent (we were at 1950m after all) giving no hint to the rain that was to come.
Around 04:00 I was awoken by the sound of rain hitting the tent, gradually it was getting heavier and heavier until by dawn it looked like it had set in. However its sudden onset suggested it was nothing more than a cold front and will maybe pass in a few hours, so I just told the other 2 to have a lay in and we will see what happens mid morning, no point in getting wet for the sake of breakfast. Sure enough by 08:30 it had virtually stopped and clear sky was creeping in from the NW, so out came the pots and pans and down went the porridge. Now as with the weather in the UK when the sun comes out after rain its not long before its followed by heavy showers, so I tried to install a bit urgency into the packing operations, unfortunately the lay in had made us a bit lethargic and it was well after 10:00 before we hit the trail. Already I could see the Clouds building on the peaks and I knew we only had a few hours before we would be getting wet. Not wanting to get caught on the pass in wind, cloud and rain I was again trying to quicken the pace, but it wasn’t working, I guess there were to many pictures to take, being the first morning that we could see further than the next tree, I can’t blame them for making the most of it. So by the time we hit the pass and the war memorial we were enveloped by cloud, which rather spoilt the view of the other side and our destination for the day the MTC Campsite below the mountain Fisht. We didn’t hang around to long before descending down the south side, 10 minutes after we left the pass the rain started, gradually increasing in intensity and turning the path to mud as we descended the 2hrs to the campsite. Last time I was here they had some small shacks you could rent which gave you more space than a tent, these had now been replaced by a row of family sized campsite tents. As we were going to be here for a few days and not wanting to put the tent up in the rain i asked Vitaly to enquire about the opportunity to stay in these large tents. As we were chilling and drying in one of the marque’s they use for meal times vitaly came back with the proprietor and we examined his tents. They were spacious, on a concrete stand and had matrices to lay on and at £3.00 a night were a steal. So we pulled out our gear, picked our matrice, I got out the Vodka I’d been saving and we settled in.
The main objective of the whole trek had always been an ascent of the mountain Fisht. Fisht only resemblance with its neighbour Oushten however is in altitude, Fisht being only 50 m higher. However Fisht is a much more serious climb with much of the last 400m of ascent on snow and ice and requiring ropes for the inexperienced, definitely a peak you need good weather for. With rain still falling after supper and I suspected it to continue somewhat tomorrow, I decided the next day would be a rest day. It was also a good opportunity to do some training in the winter skills that would be needed by both off them on the ascent. Waking up the next morning there was still some light rain so we were in no hurry to get up. A late breakfast and the skies began to clear so we ready ourselves with a few bits of equipment and a pack lunch and headed back up the path toward the pass we came over yesterday. On the way down the day before I had spotted some good steep patches of snow that would make ideal places to teach Ice axe and crampon work as well as self arrest and movement skills. Both took to it quite well in the training mode, but its always different when you’re faced with the real thing. It brought it home to me that both Mike and Vitaly didn’t really know what they were in for when Mike asked “are these the type of patches we will have to cross on the ascent”, not having the heart to tell him they would be more than 10 times the height and twice as steep I just said “no Mke they’ll be a bit bigger” Now we have no contact with outside world when in the mountains, so weather forecasting is a matter of your own knowledge. Although it had rained later that afternoon there had been no real force behind it and with the skies now clearing toward evening I suspected a summit attempt would be on for tomorrow. I gave instruction after supper to prepare as if we were going in the morning, I would stick my head out the tent around midnight and it the skies were clear it would be a 05:00 Rise with a 06:00 start. Sure enough as I looked up at midnight the stars were winking at me, and although we cannot see the peak from the camp I knew it would be on.
Waking up the next morning in the dark we cooked our porridge and readied ourselves. As dawn came I could just make out some cloud racing up the windward side of the peak, but although windy, it looked doable. So at 05:45 as dawn broke we set off up the trail. We had put our waterproofs on for the initial walk up the path passed the dew laden grasses and yellow lilies. An hour later we had passed the long grass and were coming onto the more rockier terrain, so we stopped by a patch of snow and took off the waterproofs before the morning sun cooked us. At this point we were joined by a father and young daughter team, by the look of her she was around 14 and full of life and smiles, anyway they were faster than us old fogies and soon left us behind. We were a little ahead of schedule anyway so we stopped and took some photos in the early morning sun.
From here it gets a bit more hands on with some short section of scrambling, once past them you come to where the glacier melt water disappears between the rocks and down into the earth. here is normally your last chance of running water before you reach the snow fields that lead to the glacier coming off the West side of the peak, however the lack of winter snow once again upset things, guess we would have to do with what we brought with us. A further hours walking and scrambling brings you to the huge rock and mini peak in itself where the snow really starts. Here Mike and Vitaly cramponed up and got out the Ices axes, I continued on using just the Axe as I knew there would be more rock to cross up ahead before we reached the glacier. After climbing up the snow slope on the left side of the rock we were looking down on the glacier proper, I was somewhat surprised by how much lower it seemed from the last time I was here and how much more rock was showing on the approach up to the ridge. As we looked across to the route ahead we could see the father and daughter on the glacier taking the more direct route. My plan was to use as much of the rocky outcrops as possible before committing to the glacier proper and the steep snow climb, so we skirted up and around to the right to approach the face from the west.
Buy the time we had past the rocks and were on the glacier proper, cloud had descended below the ridge and was fast approaching. It was not long before our route was obscured buy the cloud, still I knew it was directly up ahead and if we were to stray I would know by the slope aspect. As we neared the steep section we could hear the communications of the father and daughter not far ahead, obviously they were at the rope sections and were shouting instructions in the cloud. We caught sight of them just in time to see the girl on the end off the rope lose her footing and disappear into a bergstrand. I knew she was alright because although she was out off sight the rope was still tight, and sure enough she soon climbed out as is nothing had happened. I think it was only when my 2 partners saw me getting the rope out that it dawned on them they would have to do the same route as the girl. Yes they asked the stupid question “are we going up there” and yes I probably said “no we’re going to take the elevator” As I tied in Vital and Mike they certainly had very serious expressions and their face and were not so chatty as before. I explained to them it would be no problem, I would go up first, make and anchor and they were to follow, nothing could happen. Sure enough it was a fairly straight forward 3 or 4 pitches to the ridge with the steepest section no more than 55 degrees. It did however take forever, I suppose this was their first experience of real climbing and for sure they very nervous, luckily the cloud was now all around us obscuring the drop. By the time we reached the wide ridge we were behind schedule, still the weather was holding, in fact there was now no sign of the mornings wind. With now only a rocky ridge between us and the summit we took off the crampons and started the scramble to the top. With big drops either side of the narrower sections just below the summit we were again slowed somewhat, but by 1pm we were on the top. We were now an hour behind schedule, but if anything the weather was improving so I wasn’t worried. We spent a good half hour on the top, leaving a note for future summiteers and taking the obligatory photo’s and all the time the weather was improving, by the time we started back down we had a clear view of the descent. Now I thought the views were great but I hadn’t appreciated that Vitaly and Mike now have a clear view of what they had to go down and weren’t happy. Going back down those 4 rope pitches were mind numbingly slow, I think by the end of the last pitch I was getting impatient with them, at the rate they were going it would be dark by the time we were back, it was no time to be so high this late, luckily with had the weather gods on our side. Finally we got off the ropes and walked off the Glacier and onto the rocks. Here Vital and I swapped rucksacks, Vitaly taking the heavier one off me that I’d had for the ascent. We walked and scrambled down the best we could but our tired legs couldn’t quicken the pace. Anyway when you’re tired it best to take your time, its just too easy to make mistakes on the way down. By the time we got back to the campsite it was after 7pm, it had taken nearly 14hrs but we had achieved it and done it safely. So on went the supper, out came the vodka and we had a merry end to the night, tomorrow was for sure a rest day.
The final installment should appear tomorrow where you can read of the next few days and our journey home.