Posts for Elbrus Northside

Elbrus Northside Team descends to Base Camp

Posted by: | September 06, 2010
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Elbrus Northside
Elevation: 7,200'

It was a beautiful night at Camp 1 last night, without a light for miles the stars were simply stunning, covering the dark sky so thoroughly the whole expanse seemed to glow. Beneath it all, we slept soundly - tired from the day of climbing. When we awoke we had a leisurely breakfast, enjoying the morning sun and watching the clouds form, dissolve, and reform on the summit far above. Despite the pleasant weather at Camp 1, the weather up high looked unsettled again with clouds racing over the summit. We commented again on how fortunate we were to sneak in a successful summit.

Packing up all of our gear, we shouldered hefty packs and began our descent to Base Camp. It took a few minutes to get the legs loosened up but once we navigated back down through the scree and boulder fields we were again moving well. Taking a slightly more easterly trail on the descent from that which we came up, we visited a series of rock formations known as the Mushroom Rocks - towers of eroded rocks sporting broad flat tops, very reminiscent of landscapes found in the American West. Continuing on, we rejoined our original trail and descended back into a carpet of green and yellow as the alpine grasses and small shrubs are turning colors with the approach of fall.

At last, with tired feet we arrived at Base Camp, happy to drop the packs. Several of the Russian soldiers, temporarily stationed here since the helicopter crash up on the mountain, came over to congratulate us and convinced a few of the more courageous team members to take a dunk with them in the springs next to camp, which they informed us bubbles up at a scalding 2 degrees Celsius (~36F).

We are planning to return to Kislovodsk tomorrow, a day earlier than anticipated, to seek out some hot showers, clean clothes, and fresh food. Although the climb of Elbrus is behind us, a long journey still awaits us as we make our way back out of the Caucasus and to St. Petersburg on the shores of the Gulf of Finland. We are eager to set off on the next leg of our adventure.

Elbrus Northside Team Summits!

Posted by: | September 05, 2010
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Elbrus Northside
Elevation: 18,510'

The winds continued to blow through high camp last night, not breaking until early morning. With the winds gradually dying down we got up at 6:00 to make our summit push. Leaving camp we still were experiencing sporadic gusts but they were becoming less frequent and weakening. From our high camp we started a long gradual traverse on the glacier, cutting below the East Summit and eventually gaining the saddle between Elbrus’ twin summits. The days of wind had scoured the slopes, leaving a firm surface of snow that made for smooth sailing - we rarely encountered drifts of new snow to break trail through and we made excellent time.

By midday we reached the Saddle at ~17,500’. The winds were stronger here as they were funneled between the two peaks so we took only a short break before tackling the final push up the steeper slopes to the Western Summit. About halfway up the slope we joined the main route from the South Side, falling into stride on the substantial trail kicked in by the climbers coming from that side. The Western Summit is a broad plateau with the high point on the far side from where we gain it. When we reached the plateau the winds really picked up, making the final steps to the summit especially tough. But by 1:00pm the entire group stood on the summit of Mt. Elbrus, the highest point in Europe. Below us Russia stretched out to the north while to the south the jagged peaks of the Caucasus marked the border with Georgia.

We spent just about ten minutes on the summit, snapping photos and exchanging high fives before the winds chased us away. We later estimated the wind chill to be about -15F up there. Needless to say, it was cold. We turned our sights back towards camp, making a quick descent off of the summit. We stopped at about 15,800’ on our descent at a little plateau amongst the rocks where about two weeks ago a Russian military helicopter crashed trying to land during a training routine. It was bizzare to stand next to this hulking mass of metal, electronics, and hydraulics all twisted and lying on its side in such an environment of rock, ice, and snow.

Back at high camp we took a short break before packing our gear and continuing our descent to Camp 1 where we are more protected and conditions are far more hospitable. It has been a long but exciting day. We are all tired and ready for a good night’s sleep, but still energized by our climb today. After such an unstable weather pattern we feel very lucky to have made the summit - thanks to everyone who kept their fingers crossed for us! Tomorrow we will descend back to Base Camp and are hoping to check out some of the nearby hot springs.

Elbrus Northside Team at High Camp, preparing for Summit Bid.

Posted by: | September 04, 2010
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Elbrus Northside
Elevation: 15,200'

We awoke to clear skies and calm winds around camp this morning. The thick cloud cap that had become a fixture over the summit the past few days dissapated over night and we watched the final traces of it blow away as we ate breakfast. We could see that moderate winds still persisted high on the mountain but otherwise conditions looked ideal for our move to Camp 2.

We packed up camp and set off back up the glacier, having no difficulties navigating the crevasses despite the heavy packs. The winds continued to rise a bit as we climbed higher, but never were they unmanageable. By midafternoon we reached the clustering of rocks at ~15,000’ below Elbrus’ east summit known as Lenz Rocks. There we established Camp 2, our high camp. It was difficult work to clear the tent sites and move rocks around and we were breathing hard at this altitude. Moderate yet considerate winds continued to blow making setting up each tent a full team activity. But soon we had camp established and were able to crawl into the tents and escape the winds. The team climbed very strongly today, putting in an impressive effort to reach and establish high camp in these squirrely conditions. Spirits remain high and we are all excited to be in position to make a go for the top.

We are hoping to make a summit bid tomorrow if the winds drop off as they are forecasted to do but right now they are still quite considerable so we will have to wait to see what the morning brings. Keep your fingers crossed that they die down!

Elbrus Northside Team waits at Camp 1 for weather

Posted by: | September 03, 2010
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Elbrus Northside
Elevation: 12,300'

The winds picked up again after dinner yesterday and continued to blow all night, not letting up until the early hours of the morning today. When we emerged from the tents they had died to a whisper around camp but they continued to rage higher up on the mountain. We could see gusts of wind carrying giant waves of spindrifted snow through the rocks at Camp 2 from down below as we ate breakfast. With the weather still poor up high we opted not to push up to Camp 2 today to cache gear, choosing instead to climb part of the way, focusing on reviewing climbing skills and acclimatizing a bit.

Thankfully the winds seemed to stay above 14,000’ today, making for great climbing conditions below. We left camp and set out onto the glacier, gradually ascending the lower slopes to a bench at ~12,600’. After so many days of travel and approach on the lower mountain, it felt great to at last be using our climbing gear on Elbrus. Above the bench the pitch steepens a bit and a sizable system of crevasses cuts across the slope, forcing us to carefully pick our way amongst them to gain the smoother slopes above. At ~13,500’ we reached a false plateau where the winds from above began to hit us. With our training and acclimatization accomplished for the day, we headed back down our route to camp.

Returning to camp by midafternoon, we spent a leisurely couple of hours lounging amid the rocks soaking in the sun. After 36 hours of intense winds and precipitation it felt nice to sit outside in short sleeves.

We have just wrapped up dinner and are finishing sorting our gear for tomorrow. If our improving weather pattern holds we will move to Camp 2 tomorrow and be in position for a summit bid.

Elbrus Northside Team at Camp 1

Posted by: | September 02, 2010
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Elbrus Northside
Elevation: 12,300'

Around midnight last night the winds began to pick up here at Camp 1. Sweeping down off of the mountain’s scoured glaciers, they would come barreling through camp, howling as they relentlessly shook the tents. Needless to say, sleep was intermittent as the tents shook and flapped throughout the night. Although the winds had yet to abate by morning it was clear and the sun soon found us, warming us quickly.

Because of the wind we dragged our feet a bit during breakfast before departing, escaping the gusts by retreating to a nearby hut used by our outfitter where we could enjoy our hot drinks with a little more protection. Thankfully, the deterioration in the weather didn’t affect us much since we descended back below camp to our cache where the morraine deflected most of the winds coming down off of the mountain.

We made a quick descent to our cache carrying only light packs, reloading them with all of the gear we stashed there on Tuesday. Our improving acclimatization and growing comfort with the trail was evidenced by how efficiently we climbed back up to Camp 1 through the loose rock and scree, everyone clearly showing their strength as we made good time through the difficult terrain. Back at camp the winds had lessened but continued to blow as clouds began to settle in. As we traded stories over lunch a wet groppel began to come down, lightly at first and then in sheets, covering the rocks around us in an uneven dusting of white. We retreated back to the tents in the afternoon to relax and rest and escape the weather outside.

The groppel has since stopped and the storm seems to be lessening at the moment. As we head off for dinner the occasional sun beam breaks through the clouds and illuminates the tent walls. Our plan tomorrow is to make an acclimatization climb towards Camp 2, hopefully leaving another small cache up there in preparation for our summit bid. We will check in tomorrow and let you know if the weather cooperates.

Elbrus Northside Team moves to Camp 1

Posted by: | September 01, 2010
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Elbrus Northside
Elevation: 12,300'

A patchwork of clouds hung over the Caucasus this morning, diffusing the sunlight and hiding the morning sun. The almost sullen atmosphere didn’t hold us back and we eagerly broke camp and hit the trail. The clouds kept the temperatures cool and we made great time, reaching our previous day’s highpoint where we cached our gear by midday.

The final 800’ of climbing above the cache took us off of the well worn climber’s trail below and into the continually shifting slopes of scree - small, loose rock - that makes up the glacial morraine. It is full attention walking as each step must be chosen with care to avoid slipping back down in the loose rock and we carefully picked our way upwards, soon gaining the plateau where Camp 1 resides.

Perched amongst the rocky morraine alongside the Ullmalgender Glacier, Camp 1 sits at the base of the broad sweeping slopes of ice and snow that rise up to form Elbrus’ twin summits and offers stunning views of the entire north side of the mountain. Off in the other direction we can gaze out across the rolling green plateaus, occasionally cut by the small dirt road that we drove along to reach the mountain. The sun had been gradually fighting its way back throughout the morning and by the time we reached camp it was another clear afternoon, interrupted every so often by gusts of wind sweeping down off of the mountain. After a solid day of climbing we set up camp and then crawled into the tents to relax for a bit before dinner.

The team climbed strongly today, making it to camp in just over six and a half hours. We are tired but happy to be here at the glacier’s edge. Tomorrow we will descend back to our cache to retrieve our gear in the morning and then spend some time in the afternoon brushing up on our glacier travel skills.

Elbrus Northside Team caches gear near Camp 1

Posted by: | August 31, 2010
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Elbrus Northside
Elevation: 7,200'

A calm and warm night gaveway to another gorgeous morning here at Base Camp. After breakfast we shouldered our packs and set out. The first stretch of walking brought us through a series of steep valleys and rolls just above Elbrus Base Camp that are blanketed in lush green grass and wildflowers. Picking our way amongst the giant protrusions of volcanic rock from the mountain’s formation we made our way higher, leaving the vegetation behind and entering the alpine zone of rock and dirt.

By midday we reached our goal for the day - a flat plateau at just over 11,000’ below the morraine leading to Camp 1. There we unloaded our packs and cached our gear amongst the rocks. This strategy of caching our gear higher on the mountain and then descending back to camp serves a twofold purpose: it allows us to move a portion of our gear ahead of us, making packs lighter tomorrow when we move camp, and also gives us a jumpstart on acclimatization by exposing our bodies to a higher altitude before descending back lower to recover. This strategy of “climb high, sleep low” is an important part of any climbing expedition to high altitudes and will greatly benefit us tomorrow when we move to Camp 1.

After caching our gear and resting for a bit in the sun, we retraced our steps back to Base Camp, reaching our tents just before a small sprinkling of afternoon rain swept through the valley. Thankfully the rain blew through and the evening is beautiful. We have just wrapped up dinner and are getting ready to turn in for the night. The setting sun has lit up Elbrus’ west side in a pink alpenglow as well as the small clouds hanging near the summit. It is a gorgeous night to be out in the mountains.

We will check in tomorrow after moving up to Camp 1.

Elbrus Northside Team arrives in the Caucasus

Posted by: | August 30, 2010
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Elbrus Northside
Elevation: Kislovodsk, Russia

The rain continued to spit down on Moscow last night, although not enough to deter a few Muscovites from singing in the street outside our hotel on their way back from the bars. We left the hotel before dawn, watching daylight break over a damp and sleepy city on our way to the airport. Soon, without much trouble despite our loaded bags that far exceeded the 20 kg./passenger limit, we were checked in and boarding the aircraft. Perhaps it was due to the dreary weather but the boarding process was smooth and orderly - a far cry from the normal mad jostling of bodies that typically occurs as every Russian vies for the right to be first on the plane.

Departing Moscow we quickly broke free of the grey cloud cover and the blue skies above stayed with us all the way to Mineralnye Vody - our gateway to the Caucasus. As we approached the runway Elbrus’ twin summits were shining clearly in the distance, breaking the horizon and dwarfing the hills around.

Again, all of our bags successfully navigated the Russian baggage check system and arrived with us so we were soon on the road, driving through rolling hills of wheat fields and recently harvested sunflowers to the city of Kislovodsk. A small city by most standards, Kislovodsk is a famous destination known for its natural mineral springs and it remains a popular retreat for many of Russia’s well-to-do. Its main streets have recently been repaved and sidewalks widened, we are told partly in the regional preparations for the 2014 Winter Games, although Sochi remains several hours drive from here. We checked into our small hotel located across the street from the town’s busy farmer’s market that runs from sun up to sun down every day of the week. Taking the rest of the afternoon to explore our immediate neighborhood, pick up some groceries from the nearby store, and resort our gear again, we are at last ready to depart for the mountain tomorrow. There are still several hours of navigating the twisting dirt roads deep into the Caucasus Steppe to reach Elbrus. Assuming the good weather holds and the road are in passable condition we should reach Base Camp by early tomorrow afternoon.

The team is eager to complete our last leg of the long journey to Elbrus and we are looking forward to beginning the climb. Everyone is in good spirits and passes on their best to folks at home. We will check in tomorrow after setting up our Base Camp on the north side of Elbrus!

Elbrus Northside Team reaches Base Camp

Posted by: | August 30, 2010
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Elbrus Northside
Elevation: 7,200'

Another early morning saw us loading our gear and climbing into the backs of a couple of grey Russian four wheel drive vans and heading south out of Kislovodsk. Within a couple of minutes we left the city’s edge and were driving through the rolling expanse of the Caucasus foothills. Intercut by deep valleys and crossed by bands of white limestone cliffs, the vast plateaus that gradually ascend to the mountains themselves are a glimpse back in time from the hustle of Moscow. Small clusterings of buildings can be found at the valley floors, lonely communities of a couple of cinder block homes surrounded by vegetable patches and fruit trees. Above, shepherds wander the plateaus keeping a careful watch over their flock’s of sheep.

It was another beautiful day and above this landscape, growing ever taller as we approached, stood Elbrus. By late morning we reached the valley where Base Camp sits, alongside a couple of shepherd’s huts near the edge of the vegetation. We unloaded our gear and carried all of our supplies the final couple hundred of meters across the creek and into camp. The majority of the day was spent setting up camp and repacking our gear into portable loads for the mountain. In the afternoon we went for a short hike above Base Camp, enjoying the opportunity to stretch our legs after so many days of travel. At ~8,400’, the air felt cool and refreshing especially after Moscow’s subway stations the other day.

Everyone is absolutely jazzed to be here, we are feeling strong and excited about the climb ahead. Tomorrow we will carry a portion of gear to our cache just below Camp 1. We will check in tomorrow after returning to Base Camp.

Elbrus Northside Team Visits Moscow

Posted by: | August 29, 2010
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Elbrus Northside
Elevation: Moscow, Russia

After sleeping soundly last night we were greeted to grey skies hanging low over Moscow this morning. Despite international attention for the heat suffocating Moscow this summer, we found ourselves walking down the street buttoning up our jackets against the chill. Leaving the hotel we walked a few minutes to the north, crossing the broad sweeping bridge over the Moscow River and directly into Alexander’s Gardens - a long park that runs along the Kremlin Wall. It was a quiet morning in Moscow with few people in the Gardens. We reached the end of the Gardens and crossed underneath Resurrection Gate into Red Square. The giant expanse of cobblestones between the Kremlin and the former Soviet State Department Store turned high-end shopping center is arresting, the place of so many momentous events in recent history. Today large scaffolding was erected on the Square in preparation for an upcoming holiday, the modern metal tubing standing awkwardly amongst the old stone buildings surrounding. Due to an event celebrating the recent discovery of an unknown fresco above an entrance to the Kremlin visitation to Lenin’s tomb was closed so instead we crossed to the Bolshoy Theater where renovations were recently completed before stopping for coffee on Tverskaya Prospekt, Moscow’s Broadway.

We met our Russian guide, an energetic and knowledgeable local named Nina, around 10:30 and as the ominous skies began to spit rain we dove underground into Moscow’s famous subways. We spent the better part of two hours bouncing from one station to the next, admiring the stunning murals, frescos, stained glass panels, mosaics, and statues that decorate the stations. It is truly incredible to see the work, attention to detail, and pride that went into these stations and they are an under recognized gem of Moscow.

Emerging into the downpour that developed as we zipped across the city far below it’s streets, we crossed underneath the imposing red walls of the Kremlin and into the seat of Russian and Soviet power. A living history of the city itself, with buildings of every era, the Kremlin is a sprawling compound of office buildings and churches, each laced with bits of history. We spent several hours in the Kremlin admiring the churches and watching the Saturday parade of soldiers and cavalry before retreating to a nearby underground shopping complex to escape the rain and cold.

With the day drawing to a close and with tired feet to show for our hours spent visiting about Moscow, we returned to our hotel to catch some rest and get our gear ready for the morning.

We have an early departure tomorrow to make our morning flight south to Mineralnye Vody, our gateway to Elbrus and the Caucasus. We will spend tomorrow night in the town of Kislovodsk before reaching Base Camp the following day. We will check in tomorrow night from the south of Russia.

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Recent Images From Elbrus Northside

  • Throne Room in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg. Photo: Seth Waterfall
  • St. Petersburg Canal Tour. Photo: Seth Waterfall
  • St. Issac Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Photo: Seth Waterfall
  • Final stretch back to Mt. Elbrus Basecamp. Photo: RMI Collection
  • Mt. Elbrus from the northside route. Photo: RMI Collection
  • An RMI team approaching Lentz Rocks. Photo: RMI Collection
  • Looking up toward the summit of Mt. Elbrus from below Camp 1.  Photo: Jeff Martin
  • The view from Camp 1(12,500ft) on Mt. Elbrus, Russia.  Photo: RMI Collection
  • An RMI Team en route to the North Side Base Camp on Mt. Elbrus.  Photo: RMI Collection
  • Mt. Elbrus has two large summit domes and the Saddle separates the East Summit from the West Summit. Photo: RMI Collection
  • The Elbrus team enjoying some pizza in Kisklovodsk. Photo: Seth Waterfall
  • The Team Touring Moscow  Photo: Seth Waterfall
  • Mt. Elbrus as seen on approach to Northside Base Camp.  Photo: RMI Collection
  • RMI Guide J.J. Justman enjoys dessert in Kislovodsk, Russia after climbing Mt. Elbrus.
  • Sun lighting the path to the Mt. Elbrus summit.
  • Spectacular views on summit day.
  • RMI Guides Seth Waterfall & JJ Justman with our local Russian Guide on the summit of Mt. Elbrus.
  • Approaching Lenz Rock (High Camp).
  • View from High Camp.
  • The view from Elbrus Northside Camp 1.
  • Looking up toward Mt. Elbrus summit en route to Camp One. Photo: Jeff Martin
  • View of the Caucasus Mountains.  Photo: RMI Collection
  • Mt. Elbrus - East and West Summits.  Photo: RMI Collection
  • View of Mt. Elbrus on the approach to North side Base Camp.  Photo: RMI Collection
  • Base Camp in the lush valley on approach to the North side of Mt. Elbrus.  Photo: RMI Collection
  • On the road to Elbrus Northside Basecamp. Photo: Linden Mallory