In Support of Non Profit GLAM4GOOD
Every time I step foot into the mountains, I’m reminded of why I climb. Sure, there are plenty of reasons related to people, but every mountain holds something unique. Each mountain has taught me something different and shared a new lesson or experience with me…they all have their own personalities and challenges it seems. I am eternally grateful for every time the mountains humble me.
Going into climbing the highest point in Europe, better known as Mt. Elbrus, located in Russia – I had an entirely different mindset than going into any of the other mountains I’ve climbed before. I’d been told countless times by now, that I had my Seven Summits “all out of order;” that I should’ve started with the easier ones like Elbrus. Maybe I was simply desensitized to the idea of climbing this peak after just getting pummeled on Denali, but to be honest, I did very little research on Elbrus before going into it.
September 3rd, 2018: I hopped on a flight from Indianapolis to JFK, then JFK to Moscow, and then Moscow to Mineralnye Vody. By random stroke of luck (or just good fortune), Chris from Myrmidon Expeditions had his flights rearranged and he would now be on my flight into MRV. Naturally, sitting at baggage claim for over an hour, we discovered my bags didn’t make it to the final destination. As you can imagine after 24 hours of travel, all I wanted was a shower and clean clothes. We hopped in a van and traveled to the tiny ski town known as Cheget, near the base of the mountain.
I had a total misconception as to what Russia, its culture, and people would be like. Pulling into Cheget, I was fascinated. It was like taking a step back in time… Things were very industrial, but slow paced. We settled into a hotel and I let my jet lag set in and kick my butt. After a solid nights rest, we hit the ground running. It was time to acclimate.
For the next few days we would climb high and sleep low. To be quite frank, these climbs piss me off; I have yet to have an issue with altitude (and I’m sure that statement will come back to bite me at some point), so these climbs frustrate me, as it seems counterintuitive and counterproductive. One of the things climbing has taught me, or forced me to work on is patience. While climbing with a team, while I would love to be the baseline, it is not all about me and how I am performing. There are other people with me so I need to be aware of how they’re feeling as well.
September 5th: The first acclimatization hike was…interesting. Considering I didn’t have the right gear, footwear, and most importantly my SideStix (my lifeline), I spent more time complaining than getting my heart rate up. The high point of this day though, was my first shower in three days and surprisingly, my bags turning up in my room at the hotel. I never thought I would be so excited to see a snowboard bag full of legs and an oversized Eddie Bauer bag heavy enough to break my back.
September 6th: I was introduced to our local guide, Alexsei. At the start, he was a bit standoffish – maybe trying to figure me out, as I was he. What I appreciated about him the most was his genuine curiosity of my prosthetic. He wanted to know how it worked, how I engaged it, and how I fixed it or swapped out my feet. His enthusiasm for what we were about to do on was refreshing. As we set out to 14,200 feet to acclimate, he began asking questions. Naturally, we got to the part about how I got hurt. When he found out I was in the military and hurt overseas, he was extremely concerned and asked with tears in his eyes, why I joined – he was under the impression I had to join because I needed money…I explained to him that it was because I wanted to help and protect people. You could see him warm up to the idea, but he was far from convinced that the Marine Corps was a place for me.
Chris and Aleksei remained shocked at how I excelled as we climbed and that boosted my confidence. On the mountain, a gentleman who runs a nonprofit for Parkinson’s awareness called out recognizing me from social media. These are the moments that I live for. The outdoors community and all of its overlap, has always been so supportive.
September 7th: Now that Aleksei had gotten a feel for Chris and I, he left us to do our own (and final) acclimatization hike. That meant we loaded up the snowboards and my leg so that we could play around. It was overcast and the weather rolled in quickly – which actually worked in our favor because it kept most of the people at bay. Needless to say, it was a shit show. Trying to change my legs with dumping snow, howling winds, and freezing temperatures was not ideal.
More over, trying to get off of my heel side with my large pack on was nearly impossible. I am not sure if I laughed or cursed more. It felt good to be in another country snowboarding, Hell, it felt good to be snowboarding in September!
September 8th: A rest day. Hallelujah! If I had to climb high one more time just to turn around, I was going to lose my mind. Everest is going to be a real treat for me it seems. Since I can’t sit still to save my life, Chris and I reviewed some technical climbing skills and repacked my bag for the summit push at least eight times. I had planned to be asleep around 5 PM, then 7 PM came, then 9 PM. And before I knew it, my alarm was going off at 11 PM for me to get ready to climb.
September 9th: At dinner the night before, one of the other teams asked what time we would be leaving. I cracked a half assed smile and said, “Midnight,” as I thought to myself, “I am slower, I will always have to leave earlier than most; I will always have to work harder than most.” They made me aware that they would be waking up at 3 AM. Maybe I was jealous, but I didn’t say anything in response.
I can still feel the snow as it landed on my face. I can still hear myself cussing the Allen screws of my ankle while trying to change out my prosthetic foot. I can still feel my heart racing as thoughts flooded my mind. At this point, I was just ready. For three hours it was just a long slog until I made it to a feature that I recognized. It was cold, the ground was chewed up, and my footing was every bit as important as my breathing.
Then, I heard a rumble and I was backlit. A fucking snowcat – a fucking snowcat carrying people up to the traverse – carrying people that would skip climbing 3000 feet of vertical gain. I was pissed. I smelled exhaust when I was supposed to be breathing clean, crisp air. I looked up as the snowcat passed me, and who did I see? The other team that had asked me what time I would be leaving. It lit a fire under my ass. I put my head down lower and stepped further.
Shortly after another snowcat passed and the masses just stared at me confused as to why the woman with one leg still chose to hike up to the traverse rather than catch a ride. This is just another fine example of why I do what I do – to show what we are capable of if we choose to commit – when we don’t cut corners. The last 900 feet of gain, I beat myself up. I was moving slow and the steep grade made everything ache. I am not one to be able to side hill or capitalize on switchbacks due to my lack of knee and inability to make quick height adjustments to the prosthetic. So, I go straight up.
When we made it to the start of the long traverse, I was relieved. It was already a small victory. I would now be able to at least use different muscle groups. People passed me from behind, and stared. Something I am used to by now. Some offer words of encouragement or high fives, others just stare. It keeps me entertained at least.
The sunrise was unreal, unlike anything I had ever seen and my hands were grateful that the sun’s rays decided to warm them. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, but it was predicted to be short lived. We had a 15-hour weather window until the next storm rolled in. I am not sure what I even think about any more as I move; sometimes I am blank, other times it seems as though I am solving the worlds problems. We crept around the side of the Eastern summit, and into the saddle. My back was obliterated from overcompensating to maneuver the traverse. I threw my pack down and reminded myself why I do this.
We had been moving now for nine hours. After a short break, we decided to tackle the final push. It was steep, and it was miserable. We attached on to the fixed lines (my saving grace, as I am the QUEEN of ascending) with a Tibloc and we short roped me for good reason. Now, we were cruising. Moving slowly to keep my breathing under control, it was one false summit after the next. The closer we got, the further it looked.
The Home Stretch. I came off of the fixed lines and unattached myself from Aleksei. Without my pack and just my stix, I moved towards the summit with the wind almost making me take flight. I was almost in a daze because we were so close. The entire way up, I trash talked myself saying that this would be my third climbing failure of 2018 (to join Cotopaxi and Denali) – but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This was it. I was going to break my streak.
I stood on top of Mt. Elbrus at 18,510 with the memorial dog tag of the Fallen Marine, Corporal M. Dutcher. It took some time for it to sink in. For a moment, all of the pain my body felt subsided. Then, I cried and looked to Chris as I said, “I can’t believe we pulled this off.” For more than 6000 feet of vertical gain over 10 hours, through thrashing winds, and -9 degree temperatures, we pushed and we summited. We sat on top of the highest point in Europe for 10 or 15 minutes reflecting, hugging, and congratulating another team as they approached. The heavy clouds rolled in and the predicted storm was well on its way.
We started the descent. We had been out there for so long, that we were only one of three teams left on the mountain. I am slow, but I am proud. I am too stubborn or maybe too stupid, to quit. For five hours and a ton of bitching on my end, we worked our way to the end of the traverse. The hard part was over. Even though my muscles wanted to give out, I was still riding my high.
We ran out of time to make it all the way down the mountain that day (which I was deeply saddened by, I felt like I deserved a beer after that), but rest was needed and tomorrow held plenty of time.
September 10th: We had planned three more days just in case we couldn’t pull things off. Luckily, we got it done because the forecast for the remaining days was far from promising for a summit. After returning to town, the first thing I did was take a shower, then it was time to relax. The next few days were full of playing tourist and I must admit how shocked I was to find out how much the Russian people love Americans. When they heard my accent, the first thing they wanted to do was hug. Then, as the Russians do, they wanted to buy us drinks.
Everywhere I have been has offered something to me. The people always influence my perspective and encourage me to reflect on our differences and how beautiful they are. I am forever appreciative of the opportunities to experience these different areas and cultures. It has been an awakening on so many levels. I joined the Marine Corps to serve people, but now, I can honestly say I live my life for other people. Just like all of the other climbs, Russia and Mt. Elbrus stole another piece of my heart.
For more short stories related climb, please check out my social media pages.
Facebook: Kirstie Ennis
Regardless of your goal, Wilderness Athlete has the right products to fuel your path! Whether it’s pace setting high performance, rock solid foundational health, fuel for the hunt, or fat burning metabolism you are after, they can dial you in with the right products for the journey.
–Brute Force Pre Workout/Brute Strength Post Workout: To train, I spend “time in the saddle” as they say, but training for the mountains also takes place in the gym. My strength and conditioning is absolutely crucial to my success with endurance while I climb. I have tried plenty of pre workouts over the years even before mountaineering and hunting. What I love the most about this pre workout is that it doesn’t give you the dreaded jitters or tingling sensations. This pre workout gives me the extra boost I need to go the extra mile in the gym.
Taking care of your body after an intense training session is just as important as the training itself. The Brute Force post workout not only tastes great, but this protein packed compound has exactly what you need for your muscles to repair and grow.
-Altitude Advantage: Altitude is nothing to take lightly. It is suggested usually to only increase 1,000 feet of elevation per day. However, in mountaineering, and often times in mountain hunting, that is simply just not possible – we have to MOVE. I start taking Altitude Advantage five days before any expedition and definitely notice a difference on the ascent. All the way up to 18,510 feet, I did not suffer from headaches, nausea, shortness of breath (with the exception of exertion), or extreme fatigue from altitude.
-Hydrate and Recover: The packets come in so clutch! As we carry weight for weeks on end, we are constantly looking to strip goods and lighten the load – the size of the packets is convenient for a small pouch or even a pocket for quick access on short breaks. The magic is in the name. At altitude, it is easy to become dehydrated quickly as your body works so hard, but it is also easy to not want to drink for a variety of reasons (namely, having to take your harness off while on a rope team to pee or because icy water doesn’t sound like a good idea in the cold). The flavor and benefits is enough to keep you opening your Nalgene even when you don’t want to be.
-Energy and Focus: I started my mornings with these little convenient packets (the same as the H&R come in). Waking up at such high altitudes, it is easy to start in a haze. The mental clarity that comes from drinking this product is my favorite. I have to be on my “A” game in order to make appropriate calls in extreme conditions, and in some cases emergencies. Throughout the day, especially the ones that morale and motivation were low, I would sip this for an extra boost.
-ReBar: Metabolism increases at altitude because everything is working harder, with that being said, altitude sucks your energy. It is important to hydrate, but also to fuel our bodies. It becomes difficult to eat because simply nothing sounds good and the effort of preparing something isn’t worth it. Not the case here, the taste of these bars kept me eating and the simplicity of packing kept them close to me in the top of my pack. The protein and carbs found in this bar are a must for energy on the mountain.
Oxigen water is formulated to deliver 100x more oxygen to your system than regular water. It’s refreshing, pure and scientifically proven to speed recovery and improve focus so you can power through anything the day throws your way. Or for a quick, convenient boost try Oxigen shots. Supercharged with even more oxygen they’ll get you back on track in a flash without the anxious rush or any bumpy crashes.
-Oxigen Shots: The higher we go, the less oxygen there is. Altitude sickness is the biggest threat to summiting for most people. The less oxygen you have in your body, the harder it is to eat and drink, and most importantly (and obviously) breathe. The oxygen shots are a quick way to get the extra boost you need in order to continue moving up the mountain and putting one foot in front of the other.
-1496 Laptop Protector Case: I transport a ton of gear for my expeditions. In order to be able to share my message and the progress of my climbing, I carry a variety of technology. Whether you’re traveling a short distance or internationally and need extra security for your valuables, this laptop case has exceeded all of my expectations.
-iM250 Case: I used this case to protect all my electronics and ultimately my life lines on my climb. Everything from chargers to my Garmin Inreach (GPS/comms) to satellite phones. However, during travel, it was used to protect my crampon foot. My crampon foot is what makes my “magic” possible and I couldn’t have been more excited to open the case upon my return and see my foot exactly in the condition I left it in.
-2760 LED Head Lamp: On this climb, my headlamp was vital. With stepping off on our summit push at midnight and climbing through darkness to sunrise, this headlamp kept everything extremely well lit. I was impressed with the range and the coverage of the light. Headlamps are usuall quite uncomfortable when you have to wear them for hours on end, but I did not have to take this one off once!
-Pelican Bottle (18 oz. thermos): Hot drinks are the one thing that everyone looks forward to especially in the mornings and evenings on the mountain; not only does it warm you up, but hot cocoa or warm Tang is always a morale booster. I am blown away by the quality of these thermoses; it kept my hot water hot even while being exposed to the extreme cold throughout the day or night.
-MPB20 Backpack: I did not use this while on the mountain, but use it on a daily basis. This is my travel necessity everywhere I go – whether it’s a road trip or I am in an airport. It also sits high enough so that the weight doesn’t rest on the top of my prosthetic.
Burton Evergreen Synthetic Down Hooded Vest: Down goods are a must at high altitude especially while moving. As we generated heat moving up, often times you could just catch me in a t shirt and my down hooded vest. I loved this vest as well because of the fit. With a lot of other down hooded products on the market, I have found them to be short and wide, this one fit long enough to stay contained under my harness, out of the way, and off access to the tools I needed.
Women’s Burton [ak]® Turbine Fleece Half Zip Pullover: This is a must and a go to. So stinking warm – definitely a high altitude layer.
Burton Cora Neck Warmer: It kept my face extremely warm and fit well under my helmet when pulled up. I appreciated the material of this especially as my face became weathered and extremely worn by the sun and high winds.
Burton [ak]® Oven Mitt: Another item that was too warm to wear below 14,000 feet, however on the descent and on days with poor weather these kept my hands safe and comfortable. The morning of my summit push, my hands froze until I put these mitts on. The rest of my team suffered with their hands and toes, however I never once had an issue.
Burton Powerstretch® Glove Liner: I wore these liners nearly every day. The close fit allows for warmth, but more importantly maneuverability. Being able to handle ropes, gear, and climbing devices is important to progress, but more importantly for safety.
Women’s Burton Day Trader Snowboard and Step On Bindings: I was beyond excited to be able to snowboard in another country, and even more so to be snowboarding in September! Being that changing legs in extreme conditions is such a lengthy and frustrating process, I am always looking for ways to make the transition easier. The Step On binding technology makes my life so much easier with an easy transition. This technology allows me to able to change gear quickly and without running the risk of getting to cold or having to expose my hands to the elements (or put my bum in the snow)!