Climbing Mount Brno

I’d already started planning my return trip to St. Petersburg when a knock on the door interrupted me. At the door was the director of the mountaineering camp, Ali, whom I’d told of my troubles with the instructor at Teplii Ugol. He came, he said, to suggest I give it another try, differently this time: I would have another instructor accompany me on a climb on Mt Brno (4110 metres) and, based on how I perform and my wish to continue with the course, I would either stay and do so or leave. I accepted the generous offer, appreciating the director’s flexibility and understanding, and later that day he introduced me to the instructor I would climb Brno with – a young woman from Ukraine named Zoya. We examined each other with mixed feelings and made arrangements to leave for Mt Brno base camp (called ‘Kursantskie Stoyanki’) the next day. I would carry almost all the heavy mountaineering gear and all the food for two days and nights, and our tent – my back and knees started hurting at the sole thought of that. Having fetched the food and the gear, I started stuffing my backpack with it; all our group gear fit but there was hardly any space left for my own things, so I took the bare minimum: my own gear, a light sleeping bag and a down jacket. Lifting the pack onto my back, I knew I would have a long, difficult walk – I’d never carried a backpack that heavy before.

With dark clouds from Georgia headed for Bezengi, the morning of our departure for Brno base camp was looking grim; it was starting to rain. In spite of the weather conditions, Zoya and I left the main camp just after 10 am. Under the weight of the pack I moved slowly up the mountain, ever mindful of the fact that ‘the walk’ would take at least 6 hours. Zoya was far ahead of me at all times – more often than not, I couldn’t even see her – but she waited for me at certain spots along the way, where we would stop and rest before continuing uphill. The sun soon came out and the weather cleared, making the trekking hot and even more difficult – I couldn’t tell you how any times the thought of giving up and turning back crossed my mind. At last, at about 4:30 pm, Zoya and I arrived at Brno base camp, situated by a murky mountain lake. We had crazy amounts of tea before making dinner and, after chatting for a while, went to sleep for a few hours. At 3:30 am we were up again, had some tea with sandwiches for breakfast and left for the peak just after 4 am. An hour later we hit the ice-climbing part of the route to the summit: I led, while Zoya followed. After another hour we took our crampons off and left all our ice-climbing gear behind to continue up the mountain. We found ourselves on the summit of Brno before 8 am, surprised, as we hadn’t thought we’d get there before 10 – the time by which we were already back at base camp, having tea. We were ready to leave for the Bezengi main camp at around 1 pm. As I always find walking down harder than ascending, I took my time and only got to the camp and the shower – oh, bliss! – by 4.30 pm. The camp staff were surprised to see ‘the princess’, as I hear I’m called (and I bet it’s the nicest of my local nicknames), happily back, and all congratulated me kindly. Phew…

Now it’s up to the director to decide whether or not I can continue with the course – I’m too exhausted to think for myself. All I know is that I if I can go back to the mountains, I will, my bruised shoulders, bleeding blisters and swollen knees notwithstanding.

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