Entries from Elbrus Northside
August 19, 2016
Our Elbrus Northside trip concluded in one of my favorite towns to visit in Europe, St. Petersburg. Finally sleeping in to a leisurely hour, we met our tour guide and bus at 10 am and departed on a circuitous path through the history filled city to see the sites. St. Petersburg is home to some of the more stunning cathedrals in Russia, and those were a primary focus of the tour, passing by the Church of our Savior on the Spilled Blood, St. Nicholas’ Cathedral (a cathedral dedicated to the Saint of travel and maritime navigation, which is of huge significance in a city founded to be the maritime capitol of Russia, and the home of it’s navy), and St. Issac’s Cathedral. The massive scale of St. Issac’s is something to behold, and on one side, its huge columns still bare the scars left from mortar and artillery shells fired at the city during its 600-day siege in World War II. We also passed the warship that fired the symbolic first shot that began the Bolshevik takeover of Russia’s government, and found ourselves finally at the Hermitage.
The Hermitage is comprised of the former winter palace of the Romanov dynasty, as well as several buildings that were added on later by different emperors and empresses, and is home to an art collection in excess of 2.7 million pieces. Our guide spent an hour taking us through the buildings, pointing out some highlights, a Michelangelo, two paintings by DaVinci, and several by Rembrandt. After the hour, our tour guide released us to wander through the stunning rooms ourselves at our own pace. That evening we regrouped for a canal boat tour, beginning on the river Nevski, which runs through the heart of St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, the days of recent rain (many of which we had experienced!), had swollen the rivers and canals, so that the boat was unable to make its way through the usual circuit of canals that run through the heart of the city, as the passages under the bridges were too low, but we still were able to see the summer gardens and several more palaces from the unique perspective of the canal.
That led us to our final dinner as a group. The Jerome presented the perfect destination, and when the chef came out to show us the special — a beautifully marbled cut of local prime rib weighing almost a kg, everyone was sold. Delicious local beef, and several bottles of Spanish Rioja provided the perfect ending celebration to a really special trip that everyone enjoyed. We were sad to part ways the following morning, some of us very early, for flights back to the US. This was a special group of climbers to work with, and JM and I would like to thank everyone for their hard work and incredible perseverance and positive attitudes. We look forward to running into everyone in the mountains again soon, and thanks to all who followed along on our adventure!
August 15, 2016
The last two days have flown by quickly, mostly involving automobiles, planes, airports, lots of bags, and a little walking. We had to wake early yesterday after our summit push to start the walk to Mt. Elbrus’ Base Camp, and the forecast called for rain, and our drivers were worried about getting the vans back across the river before the water levels rose. So we awoke at 5 to the sound of rain and quickly packed our bags, but pleasantly the rain subsided, and we had a nice, but very heavy walk back to the pastures where our adventure started. As we descended, the loose scree of the moraine have way to wide alluvial plains again, then the moss covered rocky hills and chasms of the lower mountain. We had only been at camp 1 for about a week, but the verdant green plant life, flowers, and birds of the lower elevations were still welcome sensory stimulation!
As we arrived at Base Camp, so did the vans, so we repacked hurriedly and climbed into another offroad sprinter van for the bouncy and at times thrilling drive back to Kislovodsk. Some took the afternoon to explore town, others supported and dried gear, and then we meet for our final Caucasian dinner, which we deemed Meat Fest. Three and a half 1 kilogram platters of delicious bbq lamb, beef, chicken, and pork had everyone holding their stomachs, gasping for air, but still trying to finish every morsel. Our national pride was on the line as Dave pointed out.
Today we once again did the great shuffle, catching an early shuttle to the airport, and then a flight to Moscow and on to St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg is very cosmopolitan, and has the feel of old Europe, with cafes, bars, and restaurants at every turn. We found the Craft Brew Cafe and knew it would suit our needs. We just returned from another delicious meal, where different types of dried meats, chantrelles (which are in season!) and a delicious take on Bourchte were all featured heavily. Tomorrow we’ve got a busy day touring this beautiful city, and everybody is excited.
RMI Guides Pete Van Deventer, JM Gorum, and team
August 13, 2016
What a spectacular day of climbing here in Russia! We got up just as that big orange ball of fire was cresting the horizon, but distant, low clouds to the East turned it blood red, as it set the Caucasus on fire. The excitement of a summit morning was palpable as everyone moved about with a little extra pep putting the final preparations on their packing jobs, and them we were underway.
The skies were crystal clear for nearly all of our ascent, and a 10mph downhill breeze kept things pretty chilly, as well as filled in any trace of a trail, though there was a group of 12 just 30min ahead of us. Three stretches of climbing brought us to the saddle between the East and West summits. There, we joined the Southside route for the final push to the West Summit. Five and a half hours after leaving camp, we were standing on the top of Europe, snapping photos, sharing congratulations, and enjoying the achievement. The wind was still chilly, and cranking steadily, so after 20 min or so, we were ready to beat feet back down. Our timing couldn’t have been better; as we left clouds started to flow over the summit, and descended as we did. We got back to our high camp, packed things up, and kept rolling down to our camp 1 at 12,300, where we are now, enjoying kebab and mulled wine from our outfitter Yuri.
Tomorrow we’ll wake early to descend to base camp and meet our vans to return to Kislovodsk and civilization. From there, our Russian adventure will continue in St. Petersburg! For now, we’ll relish in our success and look forward to showers and beds tomorrow.
RMI Guides Pete Van Deventer, JM Gorum, and team
On The Map
August 12, 2016
We have settled in to high camp at Lenz Rocks after a beautiful day of climbing. Warm sun, and a cloudless sky at breakfast let us dally a bit longer than had been our want, and then we set to packing up camp, paring down our gear to the essentials, and getting ready to climb to 15,000’. The climbing is very smooth, mostly walking straight up a broad shoulder of the glacier, and everyone performed well. The scale here is pretty large, and difficult to get a grasp on, and it was quickly apparent that it was better to focus on one’s steps than looking up, as things took much longer to approach than it seemed like they should.
With camp built, we’re headed to bed early in anticipation of an earlyish start for the summit tomorrow. With any luck, we’ll be calling in from the summit tomorrow!
On The Map
Congratulations all on reaching the summit! Wonderful news.
Posted by: Gayle Hitton on 8/13/2016 at 6:06 pm
August 11, 2016
Rain and wet snow pounding on the tent this morning told us all we needed to know about the wisdom of moving uphill today. With folks recovering from our united GI distress, another day to rest up and be ready for the move was in order. The clouds gave us a break finally, and most of the day was very pleasant, though the moving snow and lenticulars told a different story above. By this evening everyone was excited to be feeling good again, and we are well prepped for a move to our high camp at Lenz Rocks tomorrow.
We’ll be in touch soon,
Go Go Pete + crew…GI distress ~ Hmm: Sounds familar!
Posted by: Walter Glover on 8/12/2016 at 5:49 am
August 10, 2016
Sometimes you get thrown a total curveball, which was the case with our Mt. Elbrus expedition today. Apparently there has been a stomach bug simmering in the group, and it reached its boiling point last night. With most of the team suffering and feeling less than 100%, it was an easy decision to stay put and rest and recover today. That ended up lining up well with the forecast, as the next couple of days look better than today or tonight. So with that positive note, we’ll get a good night’s sleep so that we wake up ready to get back to work.
On The Map
August 9, 2016
Our first clue that things had changed was that it was COLD this morning. Still cozied in our sleeping bags, we peeked out of the tent, and couldn’t find a cloud in the sky anywhere. Psyched to have a break from the rain, we layered up and headed out to fire up breakfast and get our train rolling uphill.
The climbing above Camp 1 follows a broad glacial shoulder almost straight up to Lenz Rocks above us. As fast as we can tell, most Russian climbers don’t believe in switchbacks. There is a wide trail punched into the snow, but it goes straight up. We made some switchbacks of our own, cruising up to our next camp in style, where we deposited a load of food and a bit of fuel, before returning. The downhill trail couldn’t be any better for making good time, and quickly we were back at our tents at 12,300’. The rain even stayed away for us to have a nice dinner outside together, and take some night shots of the moon rising over Elbrus’ twin summits.
If all goes well, we’ll pack up camp tomorrow to move to Lenz for the night and start our summit bid. The next couple of days should be busy!
Best from way up here,
On The Map
August 8, 2016
It rained last night. Then it fired off a couple blinding flashes of lightning with a throaty growl of thunder that rolled on and on for what seemed like minutes. Then it rained some more.
We did the only logical thing we could think of this morning and put on the brightest clothing we all could find and crawled out to eat a breakfast of champions: cocoa puff and coffee.
The rain eventually diminished and we grabbed empty packs and returned to our cache to be reunited with the rest of our gear. An afternoon of rest and staying dry led to dinner, which showed promise with a brief glimpse of the sun. But it was not to be; within 30 seconds of putting out the dinner call, the hail began, which became rain once again.
Despite the 110% humidity, spirits are high, and we keep looking upwards at our next step, the glacier climbing towards Lenz Rocks and eventually the summit. We shared our current reading endeavors, learning about the reality of fish farming, and the Russian stereotypes portrayed by Dostoyevsky. Tomorrow we will try for an acclimatization hike and small carry to Lenz, with an eye towards making that move the day after to start our summit push. We’ll see if that lines up with the weather’s ideas.
Best from a soggy camp one,
August 7, 2016
We’re tucked in to our nice new abode at 12,300’, at the foot of the glacier on the North side of Mt. Elbrus. The smooth roll continued today, as the deluge of rain that we listened to all night broke early this morning, letting us rise to cloudy skies that increasingly became blue. We packed up our camp, sorted through the final odds and ends that were going to come with us or stay in base camp, then shouldered packs and headed uphill again, this time for good. The terrain rolled by as clouds intermittently protected us from the sun, and after 5 hours of hard work, we reached our new digs. It took some time to level the gravel in this glacial moraine to yield tent platforms, but pretty soon we had a comfortable new home that will serve well for the next few days. Tomorrow we’ll retrieve our cache from just below, and spend some time reviewing our climbing skills.
The rain was kind enough to hold off long enough for us to enjoy a group dinner outside, but now it has returned. We’re going to head towards bed, thankful for dry tents and warm sleeping bags. We’ll check in tomorrow.
Thanks for following,
RMI Guides Pete Van Deventer and JM Gorum and team
On The Map
August 7, 2016
We had a wonderful day today. After waking to sunny skies overhead, we crawled out of our tents at a leisurely hour and enjoyed a nice breakfast in base camp. A few cows made it into the fenced in area of base camp overnight, and were apparently enjoying their breakfast as much as we enjoyed ours. After packing up and shoring up camp against our new bovine friends, we started working our way uphill towards Camp One.
The walk was quite pleasant, as we had a nice breeze, good company, and pleasant vistas all around. Mt. Elbrus was visible to us all day, and as we got closer, we were able to get a good view of the route, and climbers descending it. It looks to be in great shape, and everyone is excited. After about three hours we found a good spot to cache our gear, and divided it up into duffel bags. We descended with nearly empty packs, taking a detour to Mushroom Rocks. An interesting group of rock formations that look like, well, mushrooms. Very weird.
Upon arrival back at camp, snacking and napping commenced and continued until dinner time. We ate a fine meal of spaghetti and watched distant thunderstorms roll by. Tomorrow we will move to Camp One. Everyone is feeling good, and excited to get going uphill. You’ll hear from us again tomorrow.
RMI Guides JM Gorum and Pete Van Deventer