Caucasus Climbing: Ushba part 2

During the first try we learned we weren’t fit enough for a fast ascent. Instead, we decided to have the slow approach. In practical terms this was a four day approach plan with a fast summit day. The key was to be as fit as possible for the summit day.

We reasoned a slow approach would consider both: a good acclimatization and plenty of rest. The good acclimatization would be four overnight camps with a steady altitude rise. Starting from 1700m the next stops would be at 2300m, 3100m, 3900m and 4200m. With this kind of scheme the daily work would be short and the rest plenty. Most of the hiking would be done before the afternoon sun, too, which would be a big bonus. During the afternoon the glacier snow tends to turn soft and hiking takes much more effort.

Ushba 2nd try – July 20th to 23rd, 2013

As the plan was heavy anyways we figured we would take a permit for eight days and packed food accordingly. Teppo said this was “the heaviest he has ever packed for a climbing route” and we both agreed it was a good plan. After having packed everything we measured our backpacks on the scale. We had only 17kg of gear and food each. It was not that bad!

The plan executed smoothly. On Saturday we hiked up the trail to the edge of the glacier and enjoyed mostly blue skies. We camped there for the night.

As we woke up to Sunday the sky was clear and we had perfect freeze-thaw conditions until noon. The hiking was as easy as ever and we hiked up until the rock rognon before noon. The evening was pretty and we weren’t tired at all.

The next morning we noticed the snow was soft and it had been cloudy during the night. As this section was more broken and with more crevasses we didn’t fancy hiking up the glacier proper. Instead, we took a short detour up the snow ramp on the left side of the glacier. In the ramp there was a risk of falling but not into a crevasse. During the day we hiked up until the Russian border and the edge of Ushba icefall. In the evening of Monday it was very windy and cloudy but we had good hope for the weather.

The Tuesday morning was very windy and it looked like it was going to rain soon. We discussed briefly about the options but best decision was evident. Glacier was getting softer and softer and it didn’t look like we would have the blue skies promised. Thus, we decided to hike back down.

Getting down the glacier was interesting and we jumped quite a few crevasses. Once we got down to the rock rognon we knew we were safe. At the same moment it started raining. It rained every now and then for the rest of the descent and we were completely soaked before reaching Becho.

We walked directly to Shalva’s place and asked if he could drive us to Mestia. He replied yes but wanted to offer us food and chacha first. Initially our morale was not too high since we were soaked and our dry clothes were at Mestia. But few moments later the food was on the table and we were very grateful for his Svanetian hospitably. The chacha, which is a Georgian grappa, warmed us quite a bit, too.

Back in Mestia we spend the next day drying our gear and went to visit Idris Khergiani, a local climber. We also booked tickets to Batumi which is a beach resort by the Black Sea. The Ushba scored us 2-0 this trip but we learned a lot.

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