Jess Curtis, 15, became a young ambassador for AVUK after her brother James, 18, who is deaf, completed our early intervention programme. She is hoping to climb the seven highest peaks in the world and started with Russia's Mount Elbrus. Here she tells her inspiring tale...

In the summer holidays I set off on my first big expedition. This was to climb Mount Elbrus, located in Russia. Elbrus is one of the seven summits, which are the highest peaks on each continent. Around 416 people around the world have summited all seven, including Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Everest and Elbrus.

My dad and I took a flight to Moscow, continuing on to a small town called Terskol in the Caucasian mountain range - the natural border between southern Russia, and Georgia. That night we met the other hikers in our group.

The group consisted of some inspiring people, one of which had climbed five of the seven summits including Everest. I was the youngest, as well as one of the two females in a ten person group. That night it started to become real - they all looked so strong and confident and this was one of the many moments I needed to remind myself that just because I'm a 15-year-old girl on her first major expedition, it doesn't mean I can't do this.

The next morning we set off on an acclimatisation hike. Acclimatisation is the process where an individual adjusts to a change in their environment. For us, the change in environment was the altitude, specifically the amount of oxygen contained in the air. At the summit of Elbrus, the oxygens levels fall from around 21% to 8% which makes breathing very difficult.

Our first acclimitisation hike was around four hours of steep uphill. We climbed around 1,000 metres to the top of Mount Cheget, on the Georgia border.

Around half way I was really struggling, I didn’t want to show that I found this challenge so difficult to the group. I felt dizzy, my hands were shaking, I felt light headed and the push I needed for every step suddenly required energy which wasn’t inside of me. Although the physical side was challenging, what I would soon realise I needed the most of this trip, was mental strength.

I was telling myself I could give up and just go back, I was saying it was ok if I stopped, noone in London would care. But then I stopped all of those thoughts and said to myself - I know I can do this, I’ve prepared myself for this, and with all the support I’ve been given from my friends and family I’m not going to let anyone down, especially not myself.

….I completed Mount Tcheget, which looking back was not even a taste of the challenge that was awaiting us.

Once down we needed to get given our equipment for the Elbrus climb. We were each given an ice axe, crampons, a harness, and lots of ropes.

The next morning we all moved to our base camp situated at a refuge at 4,000m which was our new home for the next week. We took 3 cable cars up to Garabashi Station at 3,850 metres. As we stepped off the final cable car it was absolutely freezing, snow everywhere and we all started to get a feel of how we were going to be living for the next week. 

After settling into our hut and a quick lunch it was time to get stuck into climbing Mount Elbrus. Under blue skies and normal weather, we strapped on our mountaineering boots, crampons and harnesses, grabbed our ice axes and stepped out onto the slopes of Mount Elbrus. The hike we did was relatively short but we were getting used to the crampons, the different texture of walking on snow compared to rock, and the thin air. This was the first time I genuinely believed I wouldn’t be able to do this summit as the boots were heavy, like ski boots, the snow was a big difference to the rocks I am used to climbing on, and it was steep. Instead of worrying, I kept using this as motivation, it made this all seem so much more exciting.

The next morning, I was excited for the day ahead. Although my hands were shaking from tiredness and I didn’t feel well we had the final acclimatisation hike.

As we started off I felt weak, I was so slow, felt heavy, had had two hours sleep and felt sick. I tried so hard, I pushed 10 metres up then stopped to get some breath. Kept trying and trying to the point the guide decided I should just go back down as I wasn’t well. I felt so ill and cried to myself as we went down as I felt so defeated. The chances of me summiting Mount Elbrus went from 90% down to 30%.

That night I flipped a switch, I wrote myself a note saying to push as hard as I could, motivating me for the next time I felt so down, I had little things such as bracelets from my friends which made me think they are rooting for me to do this and reminded me of why I wanted to do this. Because it what I love. I decided that night that rain or shine, however hard I was finding it I needed to make it up to the summit. The next day was the rest day, but lucky I was allowed to retry the hike to the rocks. I pushed and pushed, having had some more sleep, and although it was snowing and thundering, we made it to the rocks.

The next day was a training day, we learnt how to use the ice axes when sliding down a slope and climbing on a ledge.

The next day was summit day. I was so excited and nervous that I found it difficult to sleep but that didn’t matter because by midnight we were starting to wake up for the big day.. 

It was minus 20 degrees, with the fastest wind and snow flying right into your face. Even with all my kit on, I was still shivering and my dad managed to get frostbite on his finger - he still can’t feel the end of it.

At 3am the snowcat left with 15 of us to take us up to the starting point. As it was pitch black I was very scared, so I asked the guide if we could use the fixed ropes. This meant my harness was attached to his, so whenever I slipped, he could pull me right back up. Each step we took felt like it was making no progress, as we were in the dark so we couldn’t see where we were.

We were walking at about half a kilometre an hour.  And we were stopping every five steps. The sun slowly rose, it was supposedly about four hours until we reached the summit. We had a small break, drank some nice warm tea and set off on one of the steepest parts so far.

We even got given the opportunity to go down now, as we could say we practically reached the summit. But we carried on. Even though this part was not steep, my legs gave way and I fell to the ground a couple of times.

Finally, we made it to the summit of Mount Elbrus.

It felt magical, we were far on top of the clouds and all we could see was white and blue and smiling people. The message I took from this trip was that you can get anywhere if you really want to, and in the end all the obstacles that you think are trying to make it more difficult for you, realistically help you and motivate you.