Entries By mike uchal
Our Elbrus Northside
team has returned to the U.S. and had a bit of time to work through the jet lag of jumping nine hours back in time on the return trip home. Our time in St. Petersburg was spectacular. The city has the feel of Old Europe, and is often compared to Venice because of the numerous canals and rivers that crisscross the city. Founded by Peter the Great, and the capitol of the Russian Empire for nearly 200 years, St. Petersburg is still considered the cultural capitol of Russia. We arrived mid afternoon with enough time to take a stroll around the city, before a delicious dinner at the Jerome, a perennial favorite restaurant year after year. The following day we took the city by storm, following our tour guide Olga as we walked as many of architectural and public space sites as we could fit in. From St. Issacs Cathedral with it's colorful mosaics, massive pillars, and scars on the facade left over from the 900+ day siege of St. Petersburg during WWII, to the luxurious Summer Gardens of the Romanovs, St. Petersburg displays the wealth, opulence, culture, and liveliness of the Tsar era. We spent the afternoon wandering through the massive winter palace of the Romanovs, now home to the Hermitage Museum. We spent the evening on a delightful canal tour by boat, and our last dinner in Russia. St. Petersburg averages only 60 days of sunlight each year, but our impression was far different - blue skies, comfortable temps, nice breezes on the canal, it was everything that summer should be and a nice refresh after our time on the mountain.
International climbing trips at their best are about far more than just the mountain or the climbing. The cultural and historical sites we saw, the insight into their history that we gained, and the people we met along the way are just as important. We had a number of interactions with teams of Russian climbers in camp, eager to understand how and why we had come so far to climb their humble mountain. The stories we read in the news, on either side of the ocean, can paint the other's countries as adversaries and opponents, but everyone we met was overwhelmingly friendly. As one climber in a hut one evening put it, "The people you meet in the mountains - they are good people." That was true of the climbers we met, and most certainly true of our team as well. Watching everyone work through the tough days, have their great days, and come together in difficult moments - such as setting up tents at 15,000' in a blustery 35 mph wind - is one of the joys of guiding and climbing, and it was such a pleasure to work with this team. Thanks so much to them, to our local outfitter, to Sasha, our local guide, translator, and fixer of all, and thanks to everyone who followed along. We’ll be back at it next year!
RMI Guides Pete Van Deventer
and Mike Uchal
Thursday, August 15, 2019 - 8:32 PM PT
We are out of the mountains! It took a little extra time to make it happen. One of the vans apparently broke down on the way to get us, necessitating a return to Kislovodsk for another vehicle, and a few hour delay. The WAS van eventually showed up at base camp and unloaded its inhabitants and gear, and we proceeded to pack the back full with duffels. The river had risen, so rather than be in the van for the crossing, we walked across the nearby fields, crossed the river on a small bridge, and met the van on the far side. The four wheel drive road is always exciting as we sway back and forth with the ruts, and was made even more so by the uncanny resemblance of our vehicle to a clown car with everyone inside.
Though we arrived late to Kislovodsk, we got a delicious dinner at a Georgian restaurant on the central pedestrian mall. Tomorrow we transition back to big city mode, making our way to St. Petersburg.
RMI Guides Pete Van Deventer, Mike Uchal, and team hurry up and wait
The mountain time is coming to a close. We managed to get everything stuffed into, tied to the side, or strapped under our packs and split freedom the moraine camp this morning. Loads were heavy, but we were moving with gravity, and we made it to base camp nice and quickly. It's only been a week up high, but after a week if rocks and glacier, the green of plants down low looks like it was done in technicolor. Base camp comes with perks: pizzas, caucasian pies, and cold fantas, cokes, and beers. We took the afternoon to sort gear back into duffels to be better set up for our coming flights, soak feet in the mineral springs, and enjoy a last bit of the mountain. The vans will be here in the morning for us and before we know it, we'll be back in town.
The trip is not over though. Still to come, adventures in Kislovodsk and St. Petersburg.
RMI Guides Pete
, Mike, and team we're psyched to be done with boots
We had a PERFECT summit day today. Last night's winds had calmed by morning and we got started just before 8 am. We climbed along Lenz Rocks before banking to the west and beginning the traverse across a large bowl towards the saddle between the East and West summits. The sky was brilliant blue all day without a cloud in the sky. We intersected the route to the West summit and all of the Southside climbers midway up the final pitch. The timing couldn't have been better as all of them were already descending and we had the summit entirely to ourselves, something of a rarity on Elbrus
. The views over the surrounding Caucasus and the verdant green hills back towards Kislovodsk were stunning, and we spent about 30 minutes on top taking them in.
Marc and Mike decided to take an extra jaunt to tag the East summit as well, while the rest of the team descended back to our camp at Lenz. We took a brief break, then packed our camp to descend further to the relative comforts of the Moraine Camp at 12,000'. With ramen to recharge us, we're headed to bed after a long, full day. We'll continue to base camp in the morning, more than likely spend the night there, then return to Kislovodsk the following day. But now, to bed.
RMI Guides Pete Van Deventer
, Mike Uchal
, and team
On The Map
Things looked pretty perfect this morning, so we loaded up our packs and started climbing. Lenz Rocks
is a somewhat exposed camp and there aren't so many tent sites, so we were happy to be some of the first out of camp with full-looking backpacks intending to stay up high tonight. The breeze mainly kept things pleasantly cool as we worked our way up the glacier, intensifying only just as we reached Lenz. It took the whole team working together to keep a handle on tents as we got them set up. Now, we are comfortably moved into our abodes, resting for the summit push tomorrow. The winds are supposed to continue to diminish overnight, so things are shaping up nicely.
RMI Guides Pete Van Deventer
, Mike Uchal
, and team "can we leave this break yet?"
On The Map
Sunday, August 11, 2019, 10:36 PM PST
Our hope was that the forecast was overly aggressive in its wind prediction, but early in the morning, long before the sun rose, wind started to buffet our huts. As the morning wore on, the wind in camp wasn't much more than a touch unpleasant, but the evidence of its strength up higher rated in the plumes if snow ripping across the glacier above. It wasn't a difficult decision to stay in camp today in the comfort of our huts and try again tomorrow, when the forecast has the winds dropping to a manageable level. We passed the time with a lot of reading, napping, and some light core strength.
Hopefully we see the forecasted change tomorrow!
Pete Van Deventer, Mike Uchal, and team "we have collectively read an entire library"
On The Map
We got our first day of glacier climbing in, and finally used all of the gear that we've been carting through airports and carrying up trails. Our main goal was to move our tents up to our high camp at Lenz Rocks
and get some acclimatization time in too. We accomplished both. We roped up and climbed 2.5 hours of warm, sunny, and sometimes in the clouds glacier. Just below Lenz Rocks, we found the wind, the telltales of which we'd been watching for awhile. It wasn't any match for us though, and another half hour of climbing got us to our cache site.
The trip down is direct and fast. What took four hours to get up took maybe an hour to get down as we opened our strides up and rolled out of the wind back into the furnace.
We're hoping conditions look good in the morning to make our move and prepare to head for the summit.
Pete and Mike, and team "why are the hut doors all made for people who are 5 feet tall?"
After two days of carrying big packs and moving from near sea level in Moscow, to 8,000' at Base Camp, to 12,000' at Camp 1, it was a fine day to rest
and let our bodies catch up to the altitude. We had a leisurely rolling breakfast and coffee session outside the dining hut in the sun, watching climbers on the route above, some still ascending, some descending from their midnight departures. Some of us found nooks to tuck into and devour our books, while others stood around and chatted. Caffeine consumption was a theme for most.
We did a short climbing refresher on the toe of the glacier in the afternoon, double checked that our climbing equipment and skills were ready for a carry to 15,000' tomorrow, and then returned to camp to nap and wait for dinner. The most exciting part of the day was saved for just before bed when Pamela spotted a red fox cruising through camp. Everyone pulled out to catch a glimpse, though the fox was quick to slide behind some rocks, out of sight. Our plan tomorrow is to make a small cache of gear at our next camp, Lenz Rocks, in preparation for a move and summit in short order.
Pete Van Deventer and Mike Uchal, and Team "we saw a red fox and it wasn't the clothing brand"
It was a perfect morning to move up to Camp 1! Bright, sunny skies greeted us as we crawled out of the tents, so we'r spent some time organizing what we would take up high and what we would leave. It's easy to think about a few days in camp 1 and start filling our backpacks with luxury items, but everything that comes up must go down. We cooked up a "very American breakfast" of fresh eggs, Tillamook cheddar, loaded into tortillas, and grabbed our packs to start the journey back up the tall that we familiarized ourselves with yesterday. Somehow, having seen it once, each stretch felt easier than yesterday, we walked a bit lighter, and before we knew it, we were pulling into camp.
The pattern from the last several afternoons changed today, and though clouds built at times, they dispersed and we stayed warm and most importantly, dry. We're looking at a bit of a training day tomorrow, but mostly a day to rest and acclimate after a few big days and a big jump in altitude.
RMI Guides Pete and Mike, and Team "all we've learned is the Russian word for hose"
We awoke the first time this morning to the entrancing beats of Zivert, from songs of an intrepid hiker's boombox, at 4:30 am. A bit confused and groggy we fell asleep again, waking to bright sunshine at a much more reasonable hour, all wondering if we had imagined the 4:30 episode. After a breakfast spread and fresh artisan drip coffee seemed better than Starbucks by Abby, we packed up our packs with loads of food and climbing gear that we won't need until above Camp 1 and headed uphill to make our first steps towards the summit, get dinner off our weight up to the next camp, and accomplish some acclimatization as well.
Our sunshine lasted for about an hour and a half of walking, and by late morning, clouds had built above us and much of the mountain. It was cooler, and the occasional snowflake sifted down as we continued our upward progress. After just under five hours, we walked into Camp 1
, on the terminal moraine of the glacier. We made a quick cache, then turned and headed down, hoping to drop underneath the clouds. We managed to just around Mushroom Rocks, some unique formations that have been sculpted by wind, rain, snow, and time to resemble giant rock mushrooms. After pausing for photos and snacks, it was all ahead to base camp, impressed to have the weight off our backs and be able to move. We rounded out the evening with naps and a hearty pasta dinner. Our plan tomorrow, assuming the weather cooperates, is to move up to the huts at Camp 1.
Pete Van Deventer, Mike Uchal, and team
On The Map