Herald JournalHerald Journal, Oct. 20, 2003

Winsted man climbs the highest point in Europe

By Troy Feltmann

Garrett Ehrke, 26, of Winsted is now done with step two of his goal of climbing the highest summits on each continent.

Ehrke climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest summit in Africa, last December.

Ehrke left July 20 to climb Mount Elbrus, Europe's highest point located in Russia. The Elbrus region is a big tourist attraction for mountain climbers, skiers, and snow boarders.

Ehrke flew from Minneapolis to Cincinatti to Paris.

"I made connection in Paris by minutes. With all the confusion, the airlines lost my luggage, but the Alpine Ascents group got it back for me quickly," Ehrke said.

The first night Ehrke stayed in St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg celebrated its tricentennial early this summer.

"Europe was in the middle of a heat wave. It was hot. A lot of the buildings are old and don't have air conditioning," Ehrke said.

The group caught an overnight train to Moscow.

"That was my first experience on a train. We had to sleep four people to a cabin," Ehrke said.

"We had breakfast in Moscow and took a plane to a small town named Mineralnye Vody. We finally arrived at Mt. Elbrus after a two hour bus ride."

Ehrke's group consisted of 13 people. Eight were women and five were men with ages ranging from age 13 to 65. One American guide and five Russian guides were included in the group.

On the first day of hiking, the group took a chairlift to 9,000 feet. The climbers went up to 11,300 feet to acclimatize their bodies to the altitude.

That evening they went back to the lodge and had barbeque and beer.

"The Russians like to eat a lot of lamb," Ehrke said.

The next day Ehrke hiked from the base of the mountain down into a valley up to 10,300 feet.

"This day I made a mistake. A girl and I got ahead of the guides. I felt great. The girl stopped to get something out of her pack. I kept going," Ehrke said.

"When I got back to the group, the guide told me that I will be getting sick soon," Ehrke said.

At 7,000, Ehrke got altitude sickness.

Most people who get altitude sickness are men under 30. They are too strong and healthy. They don't give their bodies enough time to acclimatize to the thinner air, he explained.

"I'm glad I learned my lesson on an easier mountain. I will not pass the guide again," Ehrke said.

Ehrke experienced nausea, diarrhea, no appetite, and high pulse rate.

"My resting pulse rate was 100 beats per minute. In Winsted, it would be 65 to 70 beats per minute," Ehrke said.

That day the group went on an acclimatizing hike to 15,000 feet Ehrke stayed back to rest. Twenty four hours later Ehrke felt better.

The next day Ehrke took a tram to the barrels where they stayed. The barrels are big fuel barrels that were converted into living quarters.

"The barrels were nice. They were warm and had electricity. In Africa, we had to stay in tents," Ehrke said.

The day the group was ready to make the summit, the climbers woke up at 2 a.m. to find white-out conditions.

"It ended up snowing a foot. The climb was cancelled. It was great for me because it gave me another day to get better," Ehrke said.

The group tried it again the next day.

"We got up at 2 a.m. and the snow cats picked us up at 4 a.m.," Ehrke said.

The snow cats, which are snow machines with treads, took the group to 15,000 feet, where they climbed to 18,510 feet.

"It took us eight hours to climb 3,500 feet. In Winsted, you could do that in under two hours. Altitude makes a big difference," Ehrke said.

"When climbing, the key is to keep your energy level up. I eat a lot of Snickers and Crunch bars," Ehrke said.

Ehrke and his group climbed the east summit, down into the saddle, and up to the west summit. The group spent a half hour on the summit.

Eleven of the 13 made it to the summit.

"You can't spend a lot of time on the summit because your brain is swelling. I had a headache the whole time I was up there," Ehrke said.

The group got down at 4 p.m. They spent the night on the mountain. The next day they took a bus to the celebration lodge.

"This was a fancier lodge. I ate a lot of lamb kabobs," Ehrke said.

Ehrke then spent five days in Moscow.

"The city is doing well. The country is doing better since the fall of communism. The city was dark and blah. Now it is well lit," Ehrke said.

There are nice night clubs, beautiful malls, food and goods on the shelves, and good sight seeing. It is an expensive city," Ehrke said.

While in Moscow, Ehrke ate at McDonald's.

"It wasn't bad. McDonald's tastes the same in Russia as in America," Ehrke said.

Ehrke also watched ballet for the first time.

"It was a good experience. It was not my thing. The dancers are very athletic," Ehrke said.

Next, Ehrke will be leaving Sunday, Jan. 4, 2004 for a 25-day trip to climb Mount Aconcgua in Argentina, South America.

Questions for Ehrke may be e-mailed to gehrke@hotmail.com or check out www.alpineascents.com.

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