Elbrus Northside Team Summits!
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.
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