Conquering Mount Elbrus: A Journey of Grit and Friendship

Ghana's Michael Amankwa (Don Milla) conquers Mount Elbrus

I had prayed for a good night’s sleep before our summit attempt today, but sleep eluded me. We were supposed to start at 3am, but the team was ready by 2:30am. We stood in the freezing cold, waiting for the Russian-speaking team. We had split into two groups: English-speaking and Russian-speaking. Finally, they arrived with a snowcat that could hold 12 passengers. On its way to our previous day’s hike destination, it broke down. Our lead guide, Andrey, had to arrange another way.

At about 4:26am, we began our summit push. We could see other climbers in the distance from their headlamps. The weather was cold, the air was fresh, and we witnessed the sunrise along with a full moon. I quickly felt very tired and lethargic, possibly due to altitude sickness, fatigue, or the effects of Diamox medicine. The terrain was different from previous hikes; the mountain was mostly ice this time. The steep slopes were intimidating; a wrong step could lead to death or severe injury.

Michael Amankwa, aka Don Milla

We kept climbing, and it got tougher. Breathing through my nose became impossible, so I had to breathe through my mouth. The mountain views were beautiful, but I had to focus all my attention on each step. Fear gripped me as I realized how high we were and the lurking dangers, but there was no turning back.

At about the halfway mark, one of the Russian ladies had to turn back, and one of the guides took her down. This was a problem because if another member quit, we would be left with just one guide. Luckily, the weather was great, apart from occasional snow winds. At about 85% into the climb, I saw a climber who was clearly unwell, on oxygen and supported by harnesses and two people. We had little time to rest, which made us very tired. Different climbing techniques had to be used along the way, including using an ice axe and trekking pole, and bypassing slower climbers.

Michael (middle) with new friends – Akin from Nigeria (left) and Nancy from Kenya (right)

At about 90%, Akin was out of energy and looked defeated. He said, “Michael, I don’t know how much my body can carry me.” I felt sad because this climb meant a lot to him. He couldn’t summit Kilimanjaro in 2023 because his climbing partner fell sick. Another unsuccessful attempt would be crushing. Andrey sprang into action, gave him some energy gel, made him walk behind him, and kept encouraging him. I also offered words of encouragement. I was equally in bad shape, with a severe headache and feeling unwell. Nancy, however, held her own. She is a very strong woman and was determined to summit.

We finally made it to the summit. I didn’t take out my phone or GoPro to capture any footage; I had to focus on the climb. We took a few photos and started our way down. Descent is more dangerous than ascent because most people are very tired and less mentally alert. My fever had worsened, and I was truly in bad shape. I recalled a few strategies from my Kilimanjaro climb in 2022, which helped me reach our drop-off point. I could barely stand or talk. This climb was tougher than Kilimanjaro, even though Kilimanjaro is higher. The experience was priceless and gave me insight into the more challenging climbs ahead: Mount Everest, Mount Denali, and Mount Aconcagua.

My mum sent me a WhatsApp message, telling me to quit if I felt challenged and expressing her inability to sleep, worrying about her only son. It’s a tough position, but the show must go on.

We are safely back at Camp 2. Tomorrow we head to the hotel in town, and later in the week, we all depart to our various destinations. So, friends, three total strangers – Akin from Nigeria, Nancy from Kenya, and Michael from Ghana – came together to pull off a massive adventure. As you read this, expand your world, seek like-minded people, and get out into nature to explore. You will be amazed at the friendships you will form and the memories you will create.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone who supported this expedition in cash and kind. To my numerous fans on social media, thank you. God made it possible, and you made it worthwhile.

Thank you, my friends.

Love always,

Michael Aka – Misha (My Russian name given to me by our friends here)


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