Where do I start.
I just came off the mountain and I am resting in a small city called Osh in Kyrgyzstan. I pulled the plug 2 days ago (August 18) at Camp 2 (5300m) and decided to follow my gut and not to continue climbing Lenin Peak (7134m), one of the famous Snow Leopards. Why? It was not an easy decision.
Two days before leaving Montreal August 3rd for Russia to first climb Mount Elbrus, I heard from my teammate Mayk Schega from Germany that he had to cancel out of our planned climb together of Lenin Peak for medical purposes. I was to meet him right after Elbrus in Bishkek and we were to go to the Pamirs together. My 1st inclination was also to cancel. It was Mayk’s idea and planning that started this expedition. After checking with our Russian agency TopTravel I found out it was too late to cancel since payments had been made and all the wheels were in motion. With personal reservations I decided I would ‘go for it’ and play it by ear.
First, I was bumped off my flight from Moscow to Bishkek August 12th. However, the next day I did get there. Another short flight to Osh and a 6 hour drive to Lenin Base Camp and wow I was there. Stunningly beautiful snow-covered mountain range. I met my Russian guide Sergey Filatov and next day we were off hiking in to ABC (Advanced Base Camp) 4300m.
Before leaving home and after receiving the bad news that Mayk had cancelled, Rosanna had expressed grave reservations for me going to Lenin Peak. She had not been overly concerned on my other climbs, even Everest, however this time she did not want me to go.
Lying in my tent the first morning at ABC I heard that unmistakably crack – avalanche. Poking my nose and camera out the tent door, I saw it coming down right over our route to Camp 2. Over the years I have heard hundreds of them, yet they still raise the hair on the back of my neck. That day we did an acclimatization hike up a nearby steep slope for another 400m.
Six-thirty next morning we left camp and crossed over onto Lenin Glacier to the foot where 1000 vertical meters of solid glacier climbing begins. We put on our crampons, shedded layers and climbed. I realized that the whole route above that point to where Camp 2 is crammed onto the rocks and crevassed ice hugging a steep rock wall was avalanche prone. Although distracted with the focus of climbing and the sweat from muscle pain in low oxygen and hard breathing, avalanche was never too distant in my thoughts. One hour after arriving at Camp 2 another avalanche came down over the route we had just crossed.
Nothing was working in my mind on this climb. I have never experienced this before while climbing. My heart was not into it. I was not having fun . My gut told me to stop. I don’t like quitting but I believe in listening to your ‘gut’. Your gut tells the truth without bias.
It was really not easy to make this decision. I labored over it for hours. I went into Sergey’s tent at dinner and tried to explain to him my decision. He speaks very little English. He knew I was climbing strong. Why? I think he eventually understood. Although relieved, it was really really hard doing this. It is not my character.
The next day we climbed down. It was a strange learning experience for me but it was the right decision.