Chris Imray is a vascular and renal transplant surgeon at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust. He is climbing the highest peak on each of the 7 continents for the Circulation Foundation because vascular disease is a major threat to life and limb.
He recently climbed Elbrus in Russia. His thoughts are below:
Dimitri – our Russian guide- was setting a steady pace as our crampons crunched into the 40-degree snow slope. The sun was just beginning to rise and there was a golden glow in the East, but it was bitterly cold at -20 Centigrade. This was the start of our summit day on Elbrus in Russia.
Most of us reached Elbrus’s highest point by about 10 in the morning and took a few obligatory photos in near perfect conditions. Whilst waiting for the last of our group to join us, it became apparent that he was moving very slowly and staggering slightly but only 25m metres from the summit. Something wasn’t right, so we dropped down to see what was going on. He seemed a little confused and his balance was not right. Alternative explanations included mild hypothermia or, in the context of the recent significant gain in altitude, early High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACE). I made a decision that I would not normally advocate, deciding to put him on a short rope and get him up to the summit. Five minutes, a few photos, fluids and some medication and then a rapid supervised descent. As we dropped down to 3,850m, he recovered rapidly and had no long-term ill effects.
The summit of Elbrus at 5642m stands ~800m higher than Mont Blanc and is the highest point on the European tectonic plate. The mountain is a glacially topped extinct volcano paired with a slightly lower sister peak (5500m) giving a distinctively shaped silhouette. Although climbing it in summer had some appeal on grounds of temperature, ski touring the peak in spring seemed a much more attractive approach.
For me, Elbrus is the sixth mountain in of the Seven Summits- the highest peak on each of the seven continents, and the challenge I started on my honeymoon 30 years ago. I have one more mountain to climb (Mount Vinson 4892m in Antarctica) if I am to complete the Seven Summits.