||The bulk of day seven was spent in moving up onto Elbrus itself to a middle-camp - a process which was greatly simplified thanks to a combination of trams and chairlifts. We hauled all our gear and several days of food and supplies up a well-worn tram (think ‘rickety’ again!), and from there we queued ourselves up at an ancient single-chair chairlift just beyond the tram station. There were a number of other climbing groups travelling up the mountain -- some hiking the whole way along a series of dusty, volcanic-rock strewn access roads, but most opting for the mechanized travel. The chairlift took us to the camp at 11,000’, known as the “Barrels”. The Barrels are exactly that series of old industrial (petroleum, I think) storage cylinders, 40’ long and 12’ in diameter. They had been retrofitted with windows , doors, bunks and even a couple electrical outlets, each of them comfortably sleeping 6 people. We split the group up between three of them and went to stow our gear. I shouldered my pack and headed to Barrel #8, and found the last thing that I expected on my bunk…a cat!! A young cat at that, barely past kitten stage. She was stretched out in that boneless manner that only a totally relaxed cat can (you cat owners know what I’m talking about). I gently set down my pack and she opened her eyes and meowed at me, lazily stretching and getting up to investigate the newcomer. After a thorough investigation of me and my pack, she jumped over to the adjoining bunks to check out the other new residents. We weren’t sure what to make of this unexpected inspection! Turns out that this feline’s name was “Heroine” (don’t remember the Russian equivalent) and she was the official camp mouser, keeping the pest population under control. Heroine was the 3rd generation of mousers at the Barrels, and the locals said it was good luck if she visited your bunk, so I took that as a good sign!
After settling in, we had lunch in the cook shack (they rotated climbing groups in and out every 45 minutes or so), and then the plan was to head out for a short hike across the glacier. We donned crampons, harnesses and helmets for an acclimatization hike at 11,000’ ~ 11,500’ over a section of crevasse-riddled glacier and a moderately steep climb up a short 300’ headwall. No one actually fell into the numerous open crevasses, but there were a few anxious steps as a few of us unexpectedly punched through hitherto solid paths.
The late afternoon was free for everyone to relax or explore off-ice. A few of us were conscripted for water-gathering duty, filling bottles from a nearby glacier runoff stream (the camp cook spent a lot of time boiling it all for our use). Following dinner, a bunch of us gathered in our Barrel to pass the time playing poker (playing not for money, but toothpicks…necessity is the mother of invention, right?). The beds were surprisingly comfortable, which probably owed more to the physical exhaustion of the day than the plywood-and-rubber-mat construction.