Climbing in Russia, Part 2

The steward, I guess you could call him that, was cutting these big blocks of ice cream with a very long knife. Then I watched him hand a slice to an unsuspecting passenger with the long knife still in his hand. My heart jumped as the knife just about poked out the passengers’ eye. I quickly passed on the ice cream. Too dangerous! Nobody wears seat belts and they don’t even bother to “remain seated until the plane comes to a full and complete stop”. I noticed that all of the seats fold forward. Not too handy is you have to evacuate the plane quickly.

We landed a couple hours later in Mineral N Vody. You exit the plane through the middle down a flight of stairs. Really strange coming out of the plane and walking under the wings. People were out there to greet some of the passengers and there was even a dog running around. Another guide met us there and loaded us on another small bus. Our small group of 14 climbers has around 15 to 20 guides, etc along with us. It’s like a small army. We drove for 5 hours to get to our small chalet in Tegenekly that the cosmonauts and high-ranking communist party members used to vacation in.

Slept good and started hiking up the nearby Yusengy valley. Breakfast time and surprise something really different. After the salad, we had spaghetti in warm milk colored liquid. It was pretty good and had tons of sugar. We left around 11am and hiked for about two hours. This is very beautiful country. There were sheep being driven up the valley to a wide meadow by hearders. We ate lunch in this meadow and took lots of photos. The Betcho Pass is located in the nearby mountains and is the site of a huge battle between the Russians and Germans in WWII. Today over the pass is trouble again but this time in Georgia. We hear from the Russians the battles are intensifying.

A bus takes us to Mt. Cheget. We drove to the ski lift and stood around while the operators decided what price to charge. Finally after much delay we lined up at the most ancient lift I’ve ever seen. The lift chairs fit only one person and look pretty scary. They don’t even slow down or hold the chair when it comes around. Wouldn’t be too bad if I didn’t have a daypack with ski poles. We all put our packs on backwards and held on tight. On the way up I saw an old man cutting long grass with a scythe and I couldn’t help but think of the grim reaper. We hiked to the top the just to get altitude, we came to several false summits and finally to the top of the non-technical summit at around 11,500. We took lots of pictures of the wonderful mountains surrounding the valley including Mt. Elbrus. A little ways down we ran into one of the Russian guides who gave us holy hell for running up the mountain without a guide.

We had a little time before the bus came so we did the American thing … shopping. There is a tiny little wool market near the empty ski resort and it has the best buys in Russia. Lots of hand made sweaters, hats, socks etc. A big, old Russian women came down and latched onto me. She was really funny the way she was steering me away from the other merchant ladies and right into her corner of the world. I really liked a sweater that another lady had and tried to tell her that. She pulled some wool off of a sweater, grabbed a match and lit it then stuck it right under my nose. I think to prove it was real good wool.

I just nodded and said, “Yup, it’s real all right”. I told the lady I wanted a smaller size and then she whips out another and starts to deal.

A couple other sweater ladies came over and together in English they said, “How much?” while they looked at me. I laughed and said, “Hey that’s what I’m supposed to say not you. ” Finally the sweater I wanted appeared and I put up 4 fingers. The lady held out for 5.

The sweater is beautiful and in the states would bring around $100 minimum I should export these things. The bus came and I made a note to get back to the market when I had a little more money.

Lunch was served and of course it was more of the same except for the soup, which was very good. We’re leaving for the mountain tomorrow and the trams and lifts may not be running so I’m packing light.

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