Page 41 - SA Mountain Issue 64
P. 41

                                 al doing a bit of slot-hopping. Photo matthew holt
Dawn didn’t bring any sunshine, though the dull light did reveal all sorts out on the slopes, including sponsored teams in matching Gore-tex suits emblazoned with logos; guided groups cheerfully cramponing their ropes; an elderly couple with long wooden-shafted ice axes that belonged in an Alpine museum; a soloing Russian in camo-gear and another in a furry Cossack hat; and the dog.
tent, but the clouds did obligingly lift so we could admire the views, while Petr contemplatively sucked on his pipe and the Cossack offered round schnapps.
 strapped on crampons, a camp dog brushed nonchalantly past.
As we made our way down, the wind dropped, causing the day to warm up, along with the glacier. Al, who had represented Great Britain at hurdles, went in front, athletically hurdling the open crevasses – in one case so enthusiastically he landed in the next slot. The most alarming part of the descent, however, was passing beneath the Khmaura Wall, where huge boulders were unleashed from the melting cliffs high up on our left, to come cannoning down, shattering as they bounced, with the debris rolling to a stop just 50 metres from our feet. The hut almost seemed welcoming.
The route wound behind the peak, half- encircling it and crossing into Russia. The weather got worse here, with a kni ng wind that occasionally stopped us dead in our tracks and took the temperature down to minus 20 °C, prompting even Petr to put on some  eece gloves.
We hiked out the next day, cheerily greeting climbers toiling up the glacier – though we were less smug when we got lost and spent an hour blundering through a maze of crevasses, regretting having sent our ropes and crampons down separately with the horses.
Eventually we reached a col, from where a 200-metre slope of 45° ice led up to the summit. Signalling this was the crux, the camp dog was lying here, paws crossed. We reached the top at 10.30 am, along with Timur, Al, the Grants, and the Cossack, who tied onto our rope for the  nal pitch. Tellingly, I could see no sign of Abraham’s
Safely down at Kazbegi, Mrs Nazi served us a celebratory feast on the terrace, Petr demonstrated how to open wine bottles with just a shoe and a wall, and then we headed out to Cafe 5047 to celebrate further with chacha, a local liquor distilled from grape sludge.
The following morning, before heading back to Tbilisi, I cast a last glance at Mount Kazbek. To my eyes, it still didn’t look like Prometheus hunched over, but my liver did feel like an eagle was tearing it out.
  Summit poseurs. Photo mandy ramSden
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