Caucasian Viertolot

2008

It took us 36 hours to get from Warsaw to Kabardino-Balkar Republic in Caucasus. Though tired and hang-over we couldn’t resist going skiing right away. It was a beautiful sunny day with fresh pack of snow. Without much thought and preparation we jumped on the slopes of Cheget. We wanted to hit a sole easy run, so we didn’t even take our avalanche system, nor cameras. By the time we got to the top the weather changed dramatically. It was pounding so hard, it was difficult to find a piste. We got lost and eventually ended up on a steep face overlooking Terskol – the village we stayed in.

From there it went abruptly fast… Kostek hit an easy-looking drop, I went after him. The rest – there were six of us – were getting ready, when the snow pillow from the drop crashed down loosing up the snow me and Kostek were standing on. Miraculously I grabbed a tree and managed to stay afloat. Kostek was carried away by the avalanche… Deep in my heart I was hoping he escaped the snow somehow.

It took me about an hour to ski down the mountain. I started to stare at the immense slope (some 700 vertical meters) looking for Kostek. There was no chance for me to spot him. I headed to look for help, when I heard a faint voice… The avalanche took Kostek down the whole Devil’s Face, as the locals call it, what we found out later. He was barely alive. After some time the rest joined and some of them went to look for help. It took 2, maybe 4 hours before the rescue came. It took another 4, before we made it to a makeshift ambulance. The streets were pure ice, so we drove for another 2-3 hours to a hospital in Nalchik.

By that time Kostek was not responding anymore…

It was close to midnight (the accident was at about 11am). The hospital seemed abandoned. Suddenly a guy in a tall white hat jumped out from a corner and took Kostek to an xray room, that looked like an old garage. We were terrified… Then they took him for an operation and we lost Kostek from our sight. We were taken care of by patients of the hospital. They let us sleep on some beds, that were free and shared their food with us.

We had to wait until morning to find out, if Kostek made it… Apparently the guy in white hat ended up being one of the best surgeons of the Republic. He saved Kostek’s life.

Kostek remained in the hospital for another two weeks, while we tried to explore the daily life of Kabardino-Balkaria and the fresh powder of Caucasus. Although our spirits were terribly shaken, we still wanted to get to know the spot. Me and Gnali had the chance to go for a heli-skiing trip. There was army with rifles everywhere, as we were on the border with Georgia. Skiing wise it was nothing groundbreaking, but scenery wise it was breathtaking.

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It took Kostek half a year to start walking again, as his pelvis was crushed into pieces. A year later Kostek skied down one of the most difficult couloirs in Tatras.

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It feels impossible to put the photos of the trip in different order, than a chronological one. Although it may seem off. Just as the whole trip was.