One Day

My name now officially appears on the Manaslu expedition webpage. With just one day left till the start of the expedition, I am beginning to seriously worry and to question my decision to try my hand at climbing an 8000+ metre peak. The only reassurance I find in the whirlpool of doubts now surging in me is the knowledge that it’s too late to turn back. I am reminded of my first skydive several years ago: the training is over and I know that, falling through the sky, I will be left with whatever little I remember – it should be enough; the small airplane rises higher and higher, and the throbbing in my chest becomes unbearable: I find pleasure in feeling fear overflow me, certain as I am that in just a few minutes I will be stepping right over it and into cold morning air; it is my turn to jump and I do not hesitate for one instant; it is only when I’m already hanging off the strings of my parachute that I begin to doubt, and question, and fear again.

My mountaineering training is over, too: as I climb, I will employ whatever few skills I have; I will have at my disposal as much strength as I have managed to accumulate in my broken mess of a body over the past couple of months, and no more; I will most probably be the weakest climber on the team, and will have to deal with it with the help of the remnants of my confidence. Am I ready? No. Yet, in all probability, I will never be better prepared than I am now – or want to do it more than I do now.

The expedition will take 35-55 days to complete. It will bring together 11 climbers from the UK, US, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Colombia and Russia, who will be assisted by 8 climbing Sherpas and 6 cooks. The team will climb without supplementary oxygen – oxygen will only be used for medical purposes.

I have now got together all the necessary gear, of which I particularly adore the Marmot 8000 Metre down suit, the La Sportiva Olympus Mons mountaineering boots and the -40 degree Mountain Hardwear down sleeping bag. Just looking at those pieces of personal equipment reminds me how cold and tough the conditions are going to be up there. In total, over five tons of gear will travel to Manaslu base camp with the team to help us deal with those conditions. The team will have access to telephone and internet on the mountain but I have decided not to ‘stay connected’ unless it’s absolutely necessary: I want to focus entirely on the wonderful books I am taking with me, the people I will be surrounded by and, of course, The Mountain. I will, however, keep a journal and, once back in Kathmandu, I plan to publish some of the content in this blog.

Good luck and my best wishes to all of you who have been following my adventures in writing and mountaineering. I hope to be back here soon with more poems and stories for my readers.

Love,

Mila

Never Return

Lay me down on a bed of blue ice,

Cover me with a blanket of snow;

I know I will never return

Home,

You can now call me your own

/

Sing to me in the voice of a storm,

Look at me with the bright eyes of stars;

I know I will never return

Home –

My wounds will not turn to scars;

/

Wash my sweat and blood off your face,

The face which is now also mine;

I know I will never return

Home;

But I’ve been gone all my life:

/

It was you I’d been reaching for

It was me whom you chose to keep;

I know I will never return

Home –

The rocks below are too steep

The Night

I am entangled in the silence of the night

And, come the day, I hear it my speech;

I am abandoned at the mercy of scarce lights

Which try and fail to keep the dark at bay;

/

I know the end of all that now begins:

The night has told me that each word repeats itself

And change is an illusion, which they teach

To us, who hide from nights between the sheets;

/

And sleeping through the quiet, through the dark

We only open our eyes when dawn sweeps clear

The sky, and fills the air with sounds of life,

More fleeting than the silence of the night

Blog Update II

Many of my readers seem to have enjoyed my little mountaineering stories, which, in fact, had more to do with mountaineers – with me, the people I met at Bezengi and our interactions – than mountaineering as a sport. After all, I am more of a writer (hopefully) and student of human characters and moods than a sportswoman.

As my readers might remember from the previous Blog Update about the Caucasus trip, I was at Bezengi mountaineering camp for a reason, which was to get the fitness and training to climb a mountain elsewhere. I can now reveal that ‘elsewhere’ is the Himalayas in Nepal and that the mountain is called Manaslu. It is the 8th highest mountain in the world and, statistically, the 4th deadliest of the 14 ‘eight-thousanders’ (mountains of over 8000 metres/ 26,247 feet in altitude). To my knowledge, no Russian woman has ever successfully climbed it before. I would appreciate it if my readers could let me know if they’d like to read about that adventure of mine, too.

The Manaslu expedition, however, is not the sole purpose of my upcoming trip to Kathmandu: I hope to stay in the capital of Nepal after the climbing is over and take a few courses in Buddhist Studies and Himalayan languages – Tibetan and Nepali – at the local university. I have yet to make quite a few arrangements if my plan is to work and, therefore, expect to be busy in the course of the next ten days or so; I fear, I won’t have much time to write. Bear with me and, yet again, wish me luck as I will require a lot of it!

The Departure

The climb on Mount Brno left me completely drained: my knees reminded me of the heavy load I’d had to carry every time I had to bend or stretch them; my shoulders had bruises and blisters on them where the backpack straps had cut into the skin. Yet, I’d passed the test and was allowed to continue: climb 3 mountains in 4-5 days to get my certificate. As I met the team of three men I would be joining and talked to them, I sighed – I already knew I wasn’t comingwith them but wanted to keep deceiving myself, pretending I could make it. I packed, made several calls and paid an obligatory visit to the doctor…

‘On your fifth instructor already, are you Mila?’ the doc inquired judgementally, examining the names on the team list. I nodded, smiling.

‘I’ve never met anyone like that before,’ she added, looking at me with an expression of the deepest disapproval.

‘Mila,’ the other camp doctor called me when I left the first one’s office. I’d become good friends with him: whenever he had a moment to spare he would call me into his office for a chat about philosophy, or travel, or ‘difficult’ people, or Russian versus Western mountaineering, etc. ‘Well?’ he asked, grinning at me, ‘So you’ve managed to climb Brno?’ I told him about the climb briefly and the man, touched, embraced me, saying: ‘I’ve never met anyone like that before,’ You will understand why I had to laugh :).

Back in my room I tried on the backpack – it wasn’t particularly heavy, and I knew I could carry it comfortably to Teplii Ugol once again. However, I still had this strange feeling – I knew I wasn’t going there.

Later that evening I wandered out of my room for a cup of coffee only to find the bartender, Tonya, looking sick and distressed: someone had stolen the revenue from the day before – a sum equal to her two months’ salary, which she would have to replay.

‘There are three large groups coming down from the mountains tonight. I don’t know how I’ll manage on my own,’ she said grimly. I volunteered to help, hoping to cheer her up in the process – after all, her coffee and stories had made me smile many a time during my stay at Bezengi.

I swept the floors, cleaned the tables, washed the dishes, served food and repeatedly answered one and the same question: ‘What on Earth are you doing?’ Tonya was looking better by the end of the night, which made me truly happy, and I’d had a good time, too.

I went to sleep late and woke up at around 3 am with a fever. My knees, too, were swollen and hurting badly, but the sudden illness neither surprised nor upset me.  I lay in bed till morning, when I let the instructor, the team and the director know I was sick and not going anywhere: some people looked relieved to hear the news, others – upset, while I was actually happy: happy that something had stopped me before I would hurt myself even more. It was time to leave – my body and even my stubborn mind were telling me so.

My team left for Teplii Ugol, where they would climb their first mountain the next day, while I would be getting on the bus to Nalchik. When I left my room in the morning, I was surprised to see tens of people gathered around the old blue bus – I’d never before seen that many come out to say good-bye to those departing from the camp. To my astonishment, it was me they came to say good-bye to. The director, Tonya and all the kitchen staff were there, as were some of the mountaineers I’d only talked to a couple of times. They smiled and hugged me, wishing me well, asking me to promise that I would return next summer, while some were even trying to persuade me to stay. I was beyond surprised that they all seemed sincerely to… like me. Were they just happy I was leaving at the long last? Not those people, not with those smiles – one couldn’t doubt them.

As I was smiling to myself on the bus, halfway to Nalchik, somebody’s phone rang and the news came in that two girls from St. Petersburg, my home town, had had an accident near Teplii Ugol: one was fine but the other had broken both her legs. She would only be evacuated to the hospital two days later, one of her legs requiring partial amputation. It’s a silly, selfish thought, but I feel it would have been me had I stayed and pushed on stubbornly, in spite of my body’s signals and my mind’s intuition. I am deeply sorry for the girl and wish her to recover soon and completely; I wish her strength and luck.

As for me, I hope to have interesting news for my readers soon. I know, I know, I should be writing poetry and not… this – whatever this was :).