Mount Kaaf

  • 27 Oct - 02 Nov, 2018
  • Nadeem Alam
  • Fiction

Vladimir Anatoly was a famous Russian mountaineer. He was the first person to have scaled all top ten summits in the world. He was now looking to do something different and more challenging. Anatoly arranged his 30th birthday party in his penthouse, which was in a posh locality near Red Square. He invited all his friends and few celebrities of Moscow to the party. Before cutting the cake, Anatoly made an announcement that amazed everyone. People knew that Anatoly is a stubborn person and that he would not listen to anyone so few of his friends appreciated him and the others felt sorry for him. Most women in the party were stunned with Anatoli’s plan. Next morning, headline in every newspaper in Russia read as:

“Vladimir Anatoly plans to scale Mount Kaaf in search of mythical creature - fairy.”

Some newspapers called it a crazy idea and some termed it as the last journey of Anatoly.

Mount Kaaf is located in the northwestern part of Russia closer to the border of Finland. It is part of northern hemisphere and remains covered in snow throughout the year. For three months of the year, Sun does not rise in this area and temperature plunges to – 30 degrees Celsius. For remaining nine months, Sun comes up a little bit and then moves along the horizon for few hours of the day and then sets. This area is thus non-inhabitable. Due to its difficult terrain and adverse temperature, there are various fairy tales attributed to this area.

Anatoly’s mother belonged to a small town Murmansk, which is about 50km from the base of Mount Kaaf. Anatoly’s father Boris Primakov was a legendary mountain climber who was better known as the Cliff Hanger. About three decades ago, he had gone on a similar mission to Mount Kaaf but instead of finding any fairy, he returned with a bride Anastasia from Murmansk. Anastasia was a gorgeous woman and she was nonetheless bestowed with the fairy status by Russian media. A movie was also made on her life, which was admired all around the world. When Anatoly was a child, he asked her mother:

“Mom, do the fairies really live in Kaaf?”

Before Anastasia could reply, Boris picked him up in his arms and said:

“Can’t you see son, your mother is a real fairy. But hey, don’t tell it to anyone. It’s our family secret.”

Anatoly promised his parents not to reveal this secret to anyone. Next day, he told everyone in his class that he is the son of a fairy. His class fellows laughed at him and called him a liar. Anatoly then stood on the table in his class and declared loudly that just like his father, he will also go to Kaaf and bring back a fairy.

Twenty five years later, before proceeding on his journey to Mount Kaaf, Anatoly went to see his parents who were now living in the outskirts of Moscow, away from all the commotions of the metropolis. Anatoly sat down with his parents and had a quiet dinner. Before leaving, he asked for their opinion on his reckless and insane mission, as the media called it. His mother Anastasia hugged his son, kissed him on the forehead and then prayed for his success. His father held him tight for a while and then said:

“Son, I do not know whether fairies really exist on Mount Kaaf or not because I did not go there. I found my fairy in Murmansk and I returned home with her. My advice to you is to follow your heart. Do not get discouraged by what people say or think. You should do what you think is right and believe in yourself.”

After meeting his parents, Anatoly returned to Moscow with more determination and with boosted morale. If he had any doubt about his absurd journey, it was cleared by his parents. Now he was more focused and ready than ever before. However, he knew in his heart that it would be a strenuous and gruelling journey therefore he made an appointment with his attorney and sorted out various details. He then booked a room for three months in the only hotel of Murmansk and got his seat reserved in a flight to Murmansk. He had no problem in getting the room booked or getting a seat in the flight because no one usually travels to Murmansk during this period. Weather of Murmansk gets very rough during these three months. People of the area migrate to south and the towns around Kaaf get deserted. It is a common belief that this is the actual time when fairies descend from Mount Kaaf.

Flight to Murmansk was a link flight and had one stop before proceeding to its final destination. The small aeroplane took off from Moscow at 8 am with 65 passengers onboard. Its midway stop was St. Petersburg where it landed after about two hours of smooth flight. The airplane resumed its journey towards north after refuelling with only one passenger onboard and it was Anatoly. After a continuous 4 hours of bumpy ride, it finally landed in Murmansk at 3 p.m. Anatoly was amazed to notice that the flight back to St. Petersburg was fully booked. All the passengers present at the small airport boarded the plane in a hurry. The plane was refuelled and took off while Anatoly was still at Murmansk airport getting his baggage cleared that contained his personal clothing, mountaineering gear and other technical gadgets. The airport had very limited staff and their top priority was sending the flight back. Anatoly was hence, asked to wait. The flight took off exactly after an hour of its arrival and then Anatoly was given all the attention which he so craved ever since he landed. He was soon cleared but the airport staff was curious of his arrival to such a place during this time of the year. When Anatoly told them about his intent to scale Mount Kaaf, they were flustered.

Anatoly got out the airport and found the parking lot empty. There was no cab or any vehicle in site, which could take him to the town. He left his baggage in the parking area and went inside to ask for help. He had seen a pickup truck near the tarmac. He went inside and requested for help. The airport in charge at that time was Alexander who initially showed little reluctance but then seeing no other option agreed to give Anatoly a ride to the town.

Murmansk was only 20-minute drive from the airport. Alexander dropped Anatoly in front of the hotel and went back to the airport without wasting any time. Anatoly collected his stuff and looked around. He was standing in middle of the main road in front of his hotel and the area all around him presented a look of a ghost town. Yellow light of the sun was creating a hallucination of a dream world but there was nobody here to appreciate it. The temperature was very low but Anatoly was dressed appropriately. The only building lit in the town was his hotel. He walked inside dragging his baggage with him. An old man appeared from a door behind the reception desk shook hands with him delightedly recognising his only customer. The old man walked Anatoly to his room and helped him with his baggage. He then left Anatoly and returned after ten minutes with a cup of coffee, which Anatoly desperately needed. Anatoly then slept like a baby till he was shaken awake by the old man in the morning. Anatoly was surprised when the old man handed him keys of the hotel and left in the last bus leaving from town early that morning. Anatoly then went to the kitchen and found all sort of rations, which he could need in next three months. He cooked himself a breakfast and then went outside to have a look around.

In next three days, Anatoly had completed his survey of the town. It consisted of about hundred houses, 15 shops, a bus stop, a powerhouse and a hotel with a small airport. The airport served as a major travelling hub for various other small towns around this area. Anatoly also discovered that there were only five people in the town at that time including him. There were two people at the airport, Andre was at the powerhouse and then there was one Victor who had come to Murmansk half a century ago looking for fairies just like him but never left. People say that Victor did meet one fairy who spent one night with him. She went before morning promising him to come back but she never returned. Victor is still waiting for her. His obsession had turned him insane. People also say that Victor had actually met some local girl who took advantage of him when he was totally drunk. She took all his money and left the town. Victor’s story was told to Anatoly by Andre, who also advised Anatoly to leave the town as soon as possible.

In third week of December, Anatoly packed his gear, loaded it on a sledge and marched off to Mount Kaaf. He had a GPS and a satellite phone with him. Sun had set two weeks ago and would not rise till late February.

Temperature was already touching – 20 degrees Celsius. Anatoly had a strong light in his helmet with sufficient batteries to last for one month. He was in constant communication with his friend and manager Eddy who would also send him weather report of Mount Kaaf every eight hours. Passage to the base camp of Mount Kaaf was not very difficult. An experienced climber like Anatoly took just four days to reach there. He settled down at base camp, pitched his tent and then separated his heavy and light gear. He was to take bare minimum things for climbing up the mountain and leave his heavy stuff at the base camp. He thought of taking some rest before the tough task ahead and went to sleep.

Anatoly woke up with the sound of loud thunder. Lightening had struck some nearby location. He also felt strong wind blowing outside. Weather report sent by Eddy did not show any activity in this area. The wind was however getting faster and within half an hour, it turned into a storm. His tent was now fluttering outrageously and Anatoly started changing into full gear to face the worsening situation. His satellite phone was not working due to adverse weather condition. Storm continued for next eight hours and there was nothing that Anatoly could do during this time. He sat tight in his small tent waiting for the storm to end. He was a little worried about his luggage, which was placed outside. As the storm stopped, he got out of his tent. He had to crawl his way up as the storm was accompanied with heavy snow, which had buried half of his tent. He switched on his helmet light and looked around but could not find his sledge or his luggage. He dug the place where he had tied his sledge and found it but all his stuff was gone. He still had his full gear with him but the most important things like oxygen tank and the bag containing batteries was nowhere to be found. His satellite phone was still not functioning. Its battery had also turned weak and there was no spare battery.

Anatoly was a brave man but going ahead without oxygen and light was suicidal. Therefore, he decided to go back to Murmansk, get his gear replenished from his spare baggage and then return after few days. His GPS was still working so he was satisfied that despite the after effects of snowstorm, he would be able to navigate his way back. Anatoly gathered all his leftover things, tied them on the sledge and started his journey back. Only few hours into his journey, he spotted a small snow dump ahead of him. Sky was now clear. While detouring around the snow dump, he saw something moving.

to be continued...