Love and Loathing in Ala-Archa

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A slight yearning for the gone winter and the mountains away from which we all feel missed. Anna Aleksandronets shares her mood.

By Anna Aleksandronets
Photos: Courtesy of Author

Nowhere you do hear the word “Crimea” as often as in winter Archa.

Good climbers have a bad memory.

Oleg Ivanov

I’d really like to start this story with the New Year news. They were sad. You’ll believe all sorts of superstitions that leap year isn’t good. At first I was ruined, when decided to clear up the relationship, and lost a friend. In a few days my grandmother died after a long illness. No one ever taught me what to do when my loved ones die. Sometimes I passed out, digesting in silence what happened. But this lingering emotional kissel shouldn’t last forever. “We have to do something,” – I decided.

I chose training. I had a fictional rival in my head, who really had a very real prototype. So to rub this opponent’s nose, I threw myself into sports. I renewed the “apprentice-trainer” relationship with Valeriy Yurievich Marchuk. A strict Valera prescribes me a daily training “painkillers” course: it’s better to let the muscles hurt than the soul…

A “near-Ueli-Steck” plan settled in my head: to run to the Teacher peak and/or Komsomolets, because I wanted something new. Is it the sixth time I’ve been to Ala-Archa and I need to open the season depressive again? Basta! I’ll try to run to the “opener”.

The training plan was so nicely worked out! Valeriy Yurievich phlegmatically assured that I`m not ready for Archa, but in a year with enough discipline I`ll be fine!

And in general, we should thank the sponsors of these training camps: Valeriy Yurievich, who is responsible for my unstoppable heart and Theraflu – for fighting with the mountain sickness. I have not drank so much paracetamol yet!

I got so involved in the training process that I even signed up for a group training session on bouldering under the guidance of crazy Yura Morozov and visited my favourite “Plato” climbing gym. I had no idea that it would be so cool and I’ll forget that I hate all those artificial short and hard moves in the dusty halls. It turned out that with Jura’s guidance you can enjoy unraveling routes, practice  every move a dozen times and get high from the fact that everything worked out!

– I’m going to tell Jura that I climbed this route!

– Yes, the most important thing in the training process is to brag to the coach!

The fact that guys like me work nearby added me strength: they puff, think, suffer and smile.

But I had to go to Ala-Archa later, because the training camp manager kicked me out of the groupe: I love to tell people the truth, and they sometimes do not like it. So he didn’t like to hear that it’s not nice to deceive friends and dilute them with money (although I used less censoring words in his address).

Since I was deprived of my partner, with whom I wanted to go to Izyskatel (3Б route), I decided to come a week later, when my steady partner Oleg Ivanov finished working as an instructor. We have signed a plan for 15 days, but once again I made sure: tell God about your plans and he will laugh in your face.

So our chain “Uchitel peak – Akimov’s route – River on Baichechekey – Lowe route at Svobodnaya Korea – and something for a snack” fell apart. By the way, I call this chain ala-archin set, and my friend Kolya, almost local here, ala-archin Groundhog Day. Well, really, it’s the same every year. If you haven’t made at least part of the Ala-Archa set, you haven’t been here!

In Bishkek I finally met my beloved Oleg, with whom I was united by Archa, and also met the Doctor, aka Vadim Tkachenko: the best x-ray technician among climbers, the best climber among x-ray technologists. I realized that we would become friends after he treated us with a stack of Jagermeister at dinner.

Yeah, the way to my heart lies through a cold stack of a Jagermeister.

And in this beautiful company, after the second “eating” day in Bishkek, I went to the Nauka hut. I know Aksai “around the world” well to every stone, turn and blade. Just beat the trail, listen to music and remind yourself favorite moments from the Ala-Archa past. That’s how we briskly got to the Ratsek hut, where I couldn’t leave, because with one acquaintance you’ll chat, as soon as you see a new one, which one you can’t pass by! Here is Max Ten, and running to the “talking” stone Oleg Dolzhenko too, my summer rope mate, who I have not seen for years, here and varmints Uzbeks: Urlik and Pasha!

– Anya, the first two questions that Urlik asked me: “Do you speak Kyrgyz?” and “Where is Anya?”

Somewhere in the Light House Ratmir is sleeping, master of mountaineering sports, who got seek, and whom I was recommended to wake up. But I decide that I can always get sick in Archa, and I walk around the sleeping instructor, the last time we met he tried to pass me a rotavirus infection.

And so word for word, hug for hug, and it begins to get dark. Kolya has tried to stop us from going to the Nauka hut at night, but we did not listen to him…

I was the only one who knew the way, but just half an hour later I passed out: mountain sickness forced me to go very slowly, and I dreamed of dying right here right now! The Doctor was far away behind. After he told me that he tried to follow us, the athletes, to run, and then bail, sat on a rock, drank some tea and eaten, and began to “watch cartoons” with his imagination: see flashlight in the dark where nobody was and mistake a rock for the mountain hut…

Only my rope mate remained “alive”, he actually became the leader of this “funeral procession”, beating the trail and looking for the way.

The group of tired people got to the hut, I collapsed into my sleeping bag. In the future, this my condition Oleg will call “Moominmamma” or “play Snufkin”.

Everyone’s morning started in a different way. The Doctor would pull his head out of his sleeping bag and phlegmatically pronounce it:

– F*ck…

I didn’t understand: whether he was enjoying a beautiful frosty morning, or curses everything around…

Our morning began with a traditional phrase:

– Doctor, give me the drugs!

The drugs were Rehydron, Aspirin, Theraflu.

We didn’t find anything smarter than to climb 3Б route first. Everyone already has climbed something, except me. For two days the Doctor’s been given me painkillers, because even my eyes were hurt in the morning. In the evening, I was taking Theraflu, that Oleg was bringing directly to my sleeping bag. I used to think of myself as at least Masters of Sport candidate, at most International master of sports. In reality I’ve been “looked like a jerky cod in the last stage of tuberculosis”. But where didn’t mine go? Two-day races, swamp forcing, diving in winter river – I’m a hard nut!

Start at 6:00. I’m walking up snow slope, which is taking a sharp rise… I want to leave my stomach under the bergschrund somewhere. Morning, obviously, shouldn’t start like this!

Oleg was leadin the whole route, because I couldn’t even put the ice fifi well. The first rope was phenomenal! I place the fifi on ice, I load it, it turns sideways and slips down. Never before have I cursed so much! Oleg is a golden partner, he just endured situation silently, wondering what was going on, because I refused to talk.

By sunrise I began to regain consciousness, though my stomach was still bouncing. At least my ice fifi were standing well in the ice now… By 12:00 we were on top.

Hoping to wait for the Doctor and Oleg, we sat for 1.5 hours behind the rock, knocking our teeth freezing and eating “l-l-lunch”. We had a small talk with the rope team that had caught up with us. I was looking at Lowe route: the condition of the route was “pleasing”… I swallowed a big clod of uncertainty, fear with the thought that soon I will have to work THERE!

The weather was beginning to change for the worse, and we hadn’t enough patience to wait for our guys who were still butting the route. We started to absail.

Since in the morning I forgot Oleg’s favorite Swiss knife in the sausage, we were going down on other people’s expenses, which (parts of ropes and slings) my partner picked up during the descent…

– They must have been fresh, only yesterday we were counting on them.

Here is finally the berg, which this year has expanded so that you can see the other side of the world. My partner thought it was a real “through the looking glass” and the White Rabbit and Alice were about to jump out! We decided not to wait for a show like that, we ran downhill.

We made scrambled eggs for dinner and waited for the guys returning. Exhausted Doctor and no less exhausted Oleg returned only at midnight.

Heroes! I would have said goodbye to mountaineering on the same day if I were them, and they didn’t!

The next day we decided to celebrate Feast! We bake something like pancakes or flapjacks and escort the two midnight climbers downhill. The wind is howling outside, inside it smells with fresh baked goods.

International Women’s day, I’m on the route. Morning meets us with incredible beauty! It’s -28 °C outside, extremely cold, but the scenery covers all the weather drawbacks! Ice meditation.

We’re climbing briskly, now changing while leading. Oleg is glad that it takes us 40 minutes to climb 60 meters. Although I’m going to improve the result next year!

On the last ropes (7-8) we start to “deflate” a little – we act fully in harmony with my partner: when I feel bad, it coincides with his condition!

We have a rest in the “bowl” of the Korona peak, or in “Caries”, as Oleg loves to call it, watching people climb the Izyskatel slopes, take sunbathing (me, for example, burned totally, still tearing the skin off my nose). We got lazy to absail down the same way as we went up, and make diagonally absails, so Oleg generates a brilliant plan: walk a little and go down the next more direct route. The day before the team was going down our oblique route and returned by midnight…

I had a hard time going down, oddly enough… though we spent 25-30 minutes per absail pitch and worked together as team: Oleg the leader, me taking all equipment after. I was swimming in some sour thoughts, waking up from the fact that it is time to take apart the station and it would be nice not to miss the protection and not to fly to the berg…

The most difficult part of the route is those 400 meters to the hut. I fall immediately into my sleeping bag, I refuse to talk to my rope mate. He is dissatisfied with the fact that I turned on the Snufkin, and eating two portions (for himself and that disgruntled girl in the sleeping bag) lagman, which was prepared for us by neighbors.

Sacred day of rest, when you can be a seal and lie on the mat to heat the body. Around the hut are scattered smelly belongings, wet sleeping bags. An alpine jackdaw comes to us insistently, Oleg yells at her that we are still alive and let her puke out someone else’s eyes!

We make mash soup with breadcrumbs and pancakes. And have Bloody Mary today in menu. That’s the kind of mountaineering that the “Alga sports degeneration department” appreciates!

On the day of rest, I find again and again the answer to my favorite question: “What am I doing in this fridge?”

There’s no other place where you DON’T think as well as in the mountains. Probably, the air temperature of -28 °C freezes over all mental processes. There are practically no cares here, except to go to the toilet without shortness of breath, to eat something and not to kill yourself on the ice wall.

And also the company! I’m watching my rope mate, and I’m sobbing with tenderness inside! Who’s gonna bring me a compote in bed? Who’s gonna go outside and pack up the ice and make dinner? Who will humorously tolerate my mood swings? Only the redheaded Oleg Ivanov!

“Intelligence” has informed us that on March 10 Ilyushenko’s route to Baichechekey is free. For us it was a matter of principle, because “Snot” is very narrow, stones and lenses can just nail if more than one team is on the route … We’ve already received once, without even starting on the route, from the team that went one pitch up.

Oleg briskly dashes towards the route, I swear and hate everything! I’m leaving my guts on a nasty takeoff under Baicha. Besides, I notice the flashlights downhill, I pray they go somewhere else… But no, they’re already shining in the back and it’s clear we have competitors.

We are discussing with Oleg what to do: either to go down and climb another day, or to make arrangements with these uninvited guests… I recognize Oleg Dolzhenko among them…

– Hello, you should have taken this route yesterday!!! – I resent it.

I’m trying – in my rude manner – to find out what to do and how to be with the head of the newly arrived branch – Ratmir. The instructor is bulletproof, “smiling and waving” and asking: “Are you always this b*tch in the morning?”

Ratmir told everyone to work together. As a result, there were 8 people crowded on the route! Kitty, it’s a record!

I confess, I hate it when Masters of sport look at my back, I wanted to go underground,” I buzzed into my partner’s ear. And I told Ratmir next time I’d go to a mountain area where he wouldn’t be! Otherwise he took the fashion to follow me along the routes. And I left to beat trail towards the route (just there was no door to slam: the nearest one was in an hour of walking).

We lead in turns again. I realized that the crux is my part already on the first pitch! I whimper to Oleg, that he should climb the crux, he was the one who dreamed of “Snot”, so he should enjoy the zest of the route – almost 90 degree wall 20 m height! He called me a “Michurinsk sheep” and asked me not to show off (it’s okay, it’s our manner to communicate!). Oleg is not going to take all the gear from me just because I am scared:

– The president of the RMF is afraid, the Master of sports candidate Kozhukhov is afraid… Go climb!

Okay. Dolzhenko is working on the left, he’s waving his tools so that icy waterfall fall of from under it, at the same time he manages to make jokes about Oleg and me climbing on ice fifies. Ha-ha, I’ve seen those jokers! I personally climb with gear I like! I’m trying more or less to enjoy myself here.

Oleg is satisfied with my speed. He says having Master of sports behind my back speeds me up. He plans to make a cardboard version of Ratmir and carry it on the routes.

Of course, there were minor injuries! My rope mate sent an ice cube right in the face of Eugeniy, so now he is with the swollen nose. Dolzhenko answered with a shell to Oleg’s leg, I took revenge for my partner and the piece of ice hit right between Dolzhenko’s legs!

– I just whispered curses in Belarusian,” I explained to Dolzhenko later.

Okay, I enjoyed the crux! It’s comfortable to climb it on the fifi! So I “weeded” this place and rode on. And on that day my luckiness knew no limits! Apart from six people on the route, walking, I had the privilege of ploughing through the Baychechechekay bowl in search of place for protection!

I was very scared because of the large amount of snow. I was looking for some icy islands by the rocks to use ice screws… and I hinged slings on frozen rocks (“sucking insurance”, as my partner says).

– Oh, how do climb snow with ice fifi!? There’s no way without tools!

– Panda style! – We’re answer in duo. Left fist in the snow, right fist in the snow!

We had to go simultaneously in the bowl, because there were no place to ice screws… I finally got to the normal ice, took my partner and sent him to work as a leader! One pitch and we’re on top!

There’s a mobile connection, so Oleg has a video conference with Natasha. We hear the sensational news from the plain and feel the desire to jump from the mountain…

We’re waiting for the other guys to take a picture with the flag of our favorite “Plato” climbing gym on top.

– Do you want a sledge? – Dolzhenko asked me, when I run to meet him from the “bowl”.

And I also did not remember how to go down from this sinful mountain, so I also waited for the group: whether to turn right or left…

A descent by nasty loose terrain, every step is given in the head! I reached the hut on my elbows. And fell asleep like a Snufkin.

We never decided in advance what to do after Baichechekey. The plans ranged from “go down to Bishkek” to “go to Lowe!” Lowe’s route was supposed to be the nail of the program, but every time I climbed the next summit, I was twisted at the sight of this route: the infinity of vertical snow deep in the waist and the same amount of ice. Our calculations said that we would climb this route from hut to hut in 30 hours. And this is the night, cold, suicide, self-loathing… And the most important thing why I wanted to climb this route, that was clinging to me so much – to see what is behind the “shovel” of Svobodnaya Korea in the daytime! Not this time: our speed wouldn’t let us do it…

I said in unprintable words that I was thinking about the Lowe thing, even though it has laid down perfectly for the three days that we had left… We decided to go down and stop by and practice a little in the grotto. But we didn’t finish even this plan: there was such a strong wind that blew us down to Bishkek.

A long-awaited shower, clean clothes.

– I just realized that I hadn’t taken off the buff for a week!

The game “What haven’t you take off for seven days?”

This camp was a little weird for me. А little experimental. A little aggressive. And reflexion kept me from climbing normally!

But Oleg is damn pleased with our climbing on Baichecheckey and glad that we successfully worked together! The main thing is that my friend is happy!

Looking at Semyonov-Tienshanskiy peak, I couldn’t stop thinking about quitting mountaineering, the winter one was so precise! But in Bishkek, having some rest, my partner began to generate plans for the new year. I think I said “yes”. Oleg thought of something more fun than ala-archin set! And it will be genius to meet each other in the same place and at the same time and crush the ice!

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