Thunder on the Mountain


Rousing myself out of bed, I stood up and walked over to the window. Many clouds blotted the sky, but I was still just able to make out the sun peering over the horizon. It was 7:00 in the morning and I was about to do something I never ever could have imagined. I had arrived in town just yesterday to a clear sky and warm sun. But yesterday was irrelevant because today was my day to climb Mount Kazbek.

The few people I had mentioned this to already thought I was completely nuts, as I didn't have any mountain climbing experience or equipment, and my shoes were cheap slip-ons that I'd bought at a Russian thrift shop. I dismissed this negativity. Even if the peak was unachievable, I was determined to reach, at least, the mountain’s glacier and nothing, come hell or high water, was going to stop me.

After a quick breakfast and three hefty cups of coffee, I left the guesthouse and set out for the mountain with a fourth coffee in hand. The forecast had called for a chance of rain, but the mostly clear sky seemed to suggest it would hold off for the time being. Nonetheless, I had a full day ahead, so I needed to make every second count.

Like a spider powered by chemically induced adrenaline, I climbed up the steepest face of the mountain, ignoring the gradual walking paths laid out for the standard hiker. Those are nice for someone on a stroll, but not for me. I wanted to pierce the clouds, stand in the June snow and tower over the green planet below!

After a little while of slopes practically staring me in the face and trees so green they would make Ireland blush, I reached an old stone church that had stood on the mountain for centuries. I felt a desire to stop and marvel at the architecture, but I resisted. The sky was turning darker as more clouds appeared overhead, adding to my ever-present sense of urgency. Quickly, I snapped a few pictures and continued my ascent.

Soon, I was above the tree line. The landscape opened, revealing the mountain and all its glory. I'm coming for you, I thought to myself as my nose started to drip from my excessive caffeine intake. The air seemed fresh, the grass vibrant and untouched. I was a man in wild nature, and I wanted more. I wanted it all. I wanted to face the wildest elements Kazbek had to offer.

After four hours, I began to see snow. First, there were just a few patches, but soon there was snow and rock everywhere. The grass had called it quits by this point and refused to keep growing, and civilization below was no longer visible. I was unstoppable…I thought.

As I arrogantly took a picture of myself in the snow, I heard something off in the distance: thunder. Quickly, the sky began to darken, and the winds grew stronger. The temperature plummeted and the previously mild air now sent a terrible chill down my spine. The thunder grew louder and louder.

I was torn. my caffeine fueled heart wanted to keep going and romantically challenge the elements. ‘Maybe it will pass quickly,’ it insisted. My brain, on the other hand, was adamant I head down instantly, noticing I was entirely alone on a large mountain several hours from civilization in a country where I could not speak the language.

The two vital organs battled valiantly. Romanticized ideals fought tooth and nail with logical intellect. Then the rain started. Thrown by the wind, stinging droplets pelted me from all directions and my previously comfortable clothes now soggily clung to my body. The brain won. I needed to get off the mountain. Fast.

I turned and ran down with all the speed my legs could muster. The snowy, rocky ground had turned into a dirt soup, causing me to slip and fall face-first. I got up. My light blue shorts were now unrecognizable, caked in mud. Could this be the end? With every flash seemingly right on top of me, I thought the next one could be it and some unfortunate hiker would come across my sizzling corpse a few days later. No. I couldn’t think like that. I had to focus and use everything I had to get down. Again, I fell.

Soon I was back in the trees. I couldn’t tell if it had been ten minutes or two hours since I turned, but that no longer mattered: I was getting closer and I needed to persist. The storm, still ever present, hung overhead and spouted water and electricity. I continued, and soon saw the church. More importantly, I saw a car. There’s a dirt road that goes from the village to the church, and for some odd reason, somebody had made the journey in these conditions. I ran over to the car and knocked on the window, which lowered to reveal a man of about 40 with graying stubble. In broken Russian, I explained my situation hoping he would understand. He paused.

“I do not have and space in the car.” He replied. “But maybe… here?”

He opened the trunk for me to get in. I had a choice: either get in the trunk of this unknown man’s car, or continue running down the mountain in the freezing cold rain for another hour. I chose the car. I wasn’t bothered by the small space, nor by the fact I didn’t get as high as planned. I was out of the storm and had not been struck by lightning. That was enough for me.

Billy Martinsky

07 December 2017 19:22