- Melissa Arnot
- Alex Barber
- Gabriel Barral
- Bridget Belliveau
- Jake Beren
- Zeb Blais
- Katrina Bloemsma
- Katie Bono
- Nick Brown
- Adam Butterfield
- Anne Gilbert Chase
- Lance Colley
- Sean Collon
- Leon Davis
- Elias de Andres Martos
- Cody Doolan
- Paul Edgren
- Mark Falender
- Leah Fisher
- Eric Frank
- Steve Gately
- Josh Gautreau
- Thomas Greene
- Casey Grom
- Dave Hahn
- Walter Hailes
- Tim Hardin
- Mike Haugen
- Bryan Hendrick
- Andy Hildebrand
- Mike Hinckley
- Joe Horiskey
- Nick Hunt
- Tyler Jones
- J.J. Justman
- Levi Kepsel
- Mike King
- Adam Knoff
- Katy Laveck
- Ben Liken
- Josh Maggard
- Paul Maier
- Linden Mallory
- Lindsay Mann
- Andres Marin
- Jeff Martin
- Robert Montague
- Erik Nelson
- Chase Nelson
- Billy Nugent
- Brent Okita
- Logan Randolph
- Tyler Reid
- Dave Reynolds
- Kel Rossiter
- Geoff Schellens
- Shaun Sears
- Garrett Stevens
- Jason Thompson
- Mike Tomlinson
- Mark Tucker
- Mike Uchal
- Pete Van Deventer
- Alex Van Steen
- Ed Viesturs
- Maile Wade
- Mike Walter
- Seth Waterfall
- Solveig Waterfall
- Peter Whittaker
- Win Whittaker
- Bryson Williams
- Dan Windham
- Robby Young
Posts for Elbrus Southside from 08/2010
Early morning in the Caucasus found us loading our duffels into the back of our van and heading from the base of Mt. Elbrus towards Mineralnye Vody. The three hour drive brought us out of the mountains and into the broad sweeping farmlands to the north, the craggy hillsides gradually replaced by fields of wheat and expanses of sunflowers. The road was a bustle of activity, with the markets in little towns we passed brimming with people, their cars parked number to bumper along the edge of the road. And like our drive to the mountain a week ago, the cows once again idled lazily in the lanes like moving road blocks, causing traffic to swerve around them.
Check In at the Mineralnye Vody Airport is a true mad house, hundreds of people jamming towards two check in counters. The concept of a line is a forgotten thing as people jostle their bags for position in the stiflingly hot air of the cavernous room. Once again, thanks to some “creative route finding” we got our bags checked and escaped to the “calm” of the waiting area - which thanks to air conditioning, made the wait much more bearable.
After an uneventful two hour flight we emerged from the plane in Moscow. The reports of stifling heat and thick smoke led us to have some trepidation about arriving, but we found the skies relatively clear and the temperatures quite reasonable. After collecting our bags we raced unto the city, past decaying communist era housing blocks and shiny car dealerships. In the oncoming lanes cars packed the expressway as Muscovites sought to escape the city foe the weekend, but the driving for us was quick and easy.
Passing the Kremlin and crossing just over the Moscow River we arrived at our hotel. After dropping our bags in our rooms we strolled back across the Moscow River and alongside the walls of the Kremlin to Red Square. The perfect summer evening brought locals out in force and the pedestrian walks were crowded with people lounging on benches and chatting casually.
The entrance to Red Square is always stunning, with the onion shaped domes of St. Basils Cathedral standing on the horizon, the giant expanse of cobblestones flanked by the red brick walls of the Kremlin and the ornately decorated facade of the GUM, the former State Department Store turned high end shopping mall. We strolled across the Square, examining the boxy marble mausoleum where Lenin still resides, beneath the colorful domes of St. Basil’s, and passing over the painted lines drawn across the Square to direct the military vehicles during state parades. It is a special experience to spend time in a place that remains both fascinating and elusive in our collective history and we were awed by it.
After eating dinner we walked back across the river and through parks packed with young Muscovites socializing amongst the trees and fountains. We found it interesting that the play sword fighting seems to be a popular activity right now amongst the younger generation, as does Iron Maiden t-shirts and black eyeliner - certainly a change of pace from the rural mountain towns of the Caucasus where we have been spending our time recently.
With the sun setting and night arriving we returned to our hotel. Tomorrow we return home and end our trip here. It has been a fantastic adventure and a wonderful climb.
The thunder rolled and the rain came down in sheets all night again, but the morning broke clear once more. Enjoying our extra day here in Azau, we had a leisurely breakfast and a slow start to the morning. Taking advantage of the good weather we walked back down the valley to the village of Cheget, taking a meandering trail through the woods alongside the river. Swollen by the warm mornings and the afternoon rains of the past week, the river was a raging torrent, brown with the glacial sediment it carries. Underneath its surface the current could be heard moving large rocks, creating faint echoes of thunder which would cause us to glance up at the clear blue skies in surprise before remembering the noise came from the water and not from above. It was a welcome change to walk through the pine forests with all of the smells and sounds that a forest brings, very different from the glacial slopes we have been traveling on above.
Upon reaching Cheget we clambered aboard the brightly colored chairlift that leaves from the edge of town and rode up to the midway station of the ski area. There we found a nice table at a cafe with views looking across the valley at Elbrus, it’s twin summits shrouded by clouds. With the sun shining on us we, just kicked back, playing a very tight game of Scrabble and relaxing after the climb. Bill emerged the victor by only the slimmest of margins. Back in Cheget we had a last meal of shashlik (kabobs) and then made our way back to Azau where we’ve spent the remainder of the afternoon unpacking our packs and repacking our bags for our trip to Moscow tomorrow.
We have an early departure from Azau in the morning in order to catch our midday flight from Mineralnye Vody. We should arrive in Moscow by late afternoon with enough time to stroll through Red Square before evening. We will check in tomorrow with our final dispatch.
With the wind and rain pelting the Barrels last night we slept soundly, warm and dry inside our sleeping bags. The skies were again clear in the morning and we enjoyed a cup of coffee admiring the views of the Elbrus coated in a fresh layer of snow.
Before returning to the valley we stopped at a small museum housed in the tram terminal at the top of the ski area. Dedicated to the fighting that took place in this area during WWII, it was strange to look out on the slopes above, now crawling with vacationers and climbers from all corners of the world, and imagine the battlefield it once was as the Russians fought to protect the oil reserves further to the south from advancing German troops.
After returning to the hot showers and flip flops that awaited us in Azau. Freshly showered and reveling in the feel of cotton, we found our way to an amusing little restaurant nearby in the village of Terskol. Before we could eat, we first grabbed fishing poles and threw in our hooks. Sara once again proved her boundless skills and landed the first fish. Twenty minutes later we sat down to a delicious meal of fresh fish and salads, a change of pace from the Cliff Bars we’ve been eating on the trail.
The rest of the afternoon was spent browsing the stalls of local women selling woolen shawls, hats, and other souvenirs from the area. We ended the day with a celebration dinner in a local cafe alongside a group of Irish climbers bent on proving their drinking prowess to the Russian hosts.
Since we didn’t use our weather day on the mountain we are going to explore more of the Baksan Valley tomorrow, relaxing and enjoying some down time before departing for Moscow on Friday.
Our luck with good weather persisted this morning and when we woke up for our summit bid perfectly clear night skies greeted us. After pulling on our boots and gobbling down breakfast we grabbed our packs and climbing gear and headed out.
It was a gorgeous night with the stars speckling the sky. Being in the heart of the main climbing season on Elbrus dozens of other climbers were attempting their summit bid as well and their headlamps danced up and down the route, reflecting the stars above. We climbed strongly, picking our way up the broad snow slopes below the East Summit, and by dawn we were approaching 17,000’. Just before sunrise, in what seems almost cliche in retrospect, a barrage of shooting stars streaked over the mountain’s shoulder, eventually obscured by the rising sun.
It was crisp climbing in the darkness and we kept our breaks short to keep from getting cold. The sun finally found us leaving the saddle between the East and West Summits at close to 18,000’. We warmed up quickly in the morning sun as we climbed the steep slopes to gain the plateau of the Western Summit and we were quickly shedding our coats and thick gloves. Around 9 am we ascended the final snow ridge to Elbrus’ summit and suddenly there was no more left to climb.
Standing atop Europe’s highest point, the views were nothing short of spectacular. To our south stood the chain of the Caucasus, the peaks looking a bit less imposing when viewed from above. Behind them we could peer into Georgia while looking north into Russia the rolling alpine pasture land of the Caucasus foothills stretched to the horizon. A light haze layer - most likely from the wildfires raging far to the east - hung just below us, giving the sky striking layers of different hues of blue. There was hardly a breath of wind on the summit, by far the best weather I have experienced up there.
After celebrating on the summit we turned our sights back to where we had started and began the descent. We made remarkably quick work of the 6,000’ descent and by midday we were back at the Barrels, with tired legs but feeling quite content.
True to its pattern, the clouds built by midafternoon and as we rested in our bunks rain spattered the metal barrels, making the sleeping bags all the more alluring. We are tired but thrilled with the climb this morning, we couldn’t have hoped for a better day. It was a fantastic climb and we feel very fortunate to have gotten so lucky on a mountain notorious for its fickle and uncertain weather.
We are staying here at the Barrels tonight before descending to Azau tomorrow for hot showers and to celebrate our climb.
The morning again broke perfectly clear, only a faint trace of wind and blowing snow visible on the summit of Elbrus. After a leisurely breakfast we decided a little adventure and relaxation was in order so we headed back down to the top of the tram where we hopped a ride back down to Azau. Taking a couple of hours at lower altitude we enjoyed a quick shower, the chance to shoot a quick email home, and a fantastic order of french fries. It was a spontaneous little side trip and a welcome treat before the climb.
Returning to the mountain we went on a short hike to stretch our legs and then spent the rest of the afternoon preparing our gear for the morning and resting. Tomorrow we will wake up early for our summit bid, planning on returning to the Barrels by midafternoon.
The weather remains unchanged and the group is feeling strong and excited for our climb tomorrow. We will check in after the climb and let you know how it goes.
We slept well in the Barrels last night, the paneled walls providing a surprising amount of insulation from the cold mountain night. The morning again dawned clear and after breakfast we headed out on our final acclimatization hike. The fact that our bodies are already growing stronger at this altitude was evidenced by our pace this morning as we made it to our high point of yesterday a bit faster and with far less effort.
We continued upwards, donning our crampons and picking our way across the rushing rivulets of surface water beginning to run down the glacier as temperatures warmed. By midday we reached our goal, an outcropping of rock at 15,300’ or so. Above us stood the east summit of Elbrus towering another 3,000’ higher. Below us stretched the massive rolling glaciers of the mountain, enveloping all sides of the mountain like an apron. It was a beautiful view and we were pleased to be up there.
Retracing our steps, we descended back to the Barrels in time for an afternoon lunch before relaxing for the rest of the day. The weather once again turned unsettled in the afternoon, occasionally spitting rain and hail on us. A fairly consistent trend has emerged while we have been here - clear skies in the morning followed by light afternoon precipitation. It appears as though it will continue for the rest of the week, boding well for our planned summit bid the day after tomorrow - keep your fingers crossed!
A light hike and some rest is planned for tomorrow.
Thunderstorms rolled into the Baksan Valley last night as we ate dinner, temporarily cutting the power, but again the morning broke clear, with a few scattered clouds dispersed across the sky. We packed up our bags and left our hotel, climbing onto the first tram of the morning with all of our gear for the mountain. Two tram rides and another rickety single seat chairlift later we reached the toe of the glacier.
Perched along a fin of rock jutting uphill into the glacier sits the Garabashi Huts, also known as the Barrel Huts. Consisting of several massive fuel barrels retrofitted into bunk rooms and painted in the colors of the Russian flag, the collection is a bit odd looking compared to the alpine huts most of us are used to. But when the winds start to blow nothing could be more inviting up here.
After setting in we headed out for a small acclimatization hike, climbing up the glacier a ways, getting ourselves back in the habit of walking on snow and giving our bodies good exposure to still higher elevations. Above us Elbrus’ twin summits danced in and out of the clouds whirling around them.
Returning to the huts for lunch, we watched the clouds descend down the mountain, growing ever darker and occasionally spitting rain on us as the afternoon progressed. But by early evening they once again dispersed and the skies have cleared, giving us gorgeous views across the Caucasus into Georgia, the peaks illuminated in evening light.
Tomorrow we will head out on a more substantial acclimatization hike before returning to rest at the Barrels. We will check in tomorrow night.
We reached the small village of Azau last night as daylight shrank from the mountains, their presence only hinted at by the dark forms obscuring the stars around us. Thankful to put an end to the traveling for a bit we dumped our bags in our rooms, grabbed a quick bite to eat in the restaurant, and collapsed into our beds.
Upon waking this morning we immediately caught glimpses of the mountains, the craggy summits of the Caucasus visible through the skylights of our rooms. With the morning sun quickly burning away the cool mountain morning we set off on a day hike, walking down the valley to the village of Cheget. The rural areas of Russia are a contrast in times, old homes of concrete slabs and rusting corrugated roofs sit along the road, gardens sprouting in the front while livestock grazes on the hillsides behind, while a store next door advertises rentals for the latest ski gear from Western companies. This was even more pointed yesterday as we drove past old Soviet factories used to build tractors and parts for their space program, long since abandoned and now occupied by grazing cows that walk the roads, causing the Mercedes and vans of climbers coming from the airport to weave between the wandering bovine.
Yet overlooking the continually changing landscape stand the stunning summits of the Caucasus. Upon reaching Cheget, we hopped on an old single seat chairlift, each chair painted in bright colors to hide the age, and quickly emerged from treeline. To the south lay the jagged heart of the Caucasus, the knife edge ridgelines cutting through the sky and delineating the Russian/Georgian border, to the north loomed the glacier capped twin summits of Mt. Elbrus, the mountain we traveled so far to climb. At 10,000’ the air was thin and we walked slowly along narrow trails weaving through slopes, exposing our bodies to the new altitudes, which will benefit us tonight when we return to 7,000’ to sleep. With that exposure to higher elevations our bodies will work harder to prepare for the increased effort needed at high altitudes.
Returning to Cheget for lunch we dined on “Shashlik” - chicken kabobs roasted on the open fire burning on the patio, before returning to our lodgings in Azau to sort our gear for tomorrow and get some rest. Tomorrow we leave the valley and ascend to the toe of the glacier on the south side of Elbrus. We plan on spending some time in the afternoon to climb a portion of the glacier before returning to our hut for the evening.
The team is doing well and pleased to be here in the mountains. We are looking forward to pulling out our climbing gear and heading onto Elbrus.
We are checking in from Azau at the base of Elbrus after settling in at our hotel. All is well, and we’re adjusting to the time zone changes. Our plan is to do a short hike tomorrow to prepare for the climb. The trail begins at 7,000’ on a gravel road then travels through forest and a high alpine environment before turning into a climbers trail. We continue through a rocky area which requires some scrambling and complete our hike at 11,500’. We’ll then work our way back to Azau where we’ll spend the rest of the afternoon organizing our gear for our climb.
One of St. Petersburg’s many names is the City of White Nights, recognizing the few hours of darkness that descend on the city during the summer months. Perhaps it was the daylight or perhaps the change in time zones but it was a fitful night’s sleep, deep rest intermixed with periods of wakefulness as the body struggled to adjust to a new sleep cycle. Thankfully, a good cup of coffee at breakfast chased the dregs of sleep away and we headed out to visit the city.
Just down the canal from our hotel stands St Isaac’s Cathedral, one of the largest in Europe. We climbed the 207 steps up it’s spiral staircase to the Colonnade, a walkway offering the best panoramic views of the city - to the port to the west, across the maze of roofs and streets to the south, and to the spires of the Admiralty and the Peter and Paul Fortress standing along the Neva to the north.
The beautiful morning made for nice walking along some of the city’s 80 canals on our way to the Church of Spilled Blood, an ornately decorated onion domed church built upon the very cobblestones upon which Tsar Alexander II, the defeater of Napoleon, was killed. Wandering through the gardens and side streets, we made our way to the Hermitage, a collection of over 3 million pieces of artwork housed in 5 buildings that as former palaces of the Tsar’s are works of art in themselves. Thanks to some “creative route-finding” we managed to avoid the throngs of visitors milling outside the entrance and were quickly walking amongst the grand ball rooms featuring an exhibition of dozens and dozens of Picassos. Hours, days, even weeks could be spent visiting the Hermitage (and only 5% of it’s collection can be displayed), so we focused on seeing the highlights for us.
By late afternoon our days of traveling and site seeing began to catch up with us and we returned to the hotel for some rest. With evening drawing on and feeling a bit rejuvenated, we ended our day on the water, taking a boat through the city’s canals and rivers, watching the sun set over the Neva river.
Tomorrow we leave St. Petersburg and trade the shores of the North Sea for the hills of the Caucasus, flying to the town of Mineralnye Vody on our way to Elbrus. We will check in tomorrow when we reach the foot of the mountain.