Here is some random video and pictures from our summit day. We will be creating a video and publishing it here in the coming weeks...
We arrive home late tonight (Tuesday) - we both fly through Istanbul, but are coming into Canada on different flights (and different airlines), so we just said a short goodbye at Ataturk airport a couple of minutes ago.
How do we sum up our adventure? We have experienced so much in the past two weeks that it's actually overwhelming.
We both agree that our trip was the most exotic, unexpected and inspiring of climbs, even if it wasn't the highest, toughest, or most technical of our adventures (It still was tough, though).
Russia is a beautiful, diverse country with a rich history and a bright future. We were surprised at almost every turn with the modern infrastructure and friendly people we encountered. It definitely has some interesting quirks, but we both agree we will be back to visit again.
The Caucusus have to be one of the most beautiful mountain ranges on earth - from rugged mountains heading south into Georgia, to the green, rolling northern slopes, I couldn't have imagined a more beautiful setting for a climb. We were lucky that we chose the traverse to see both sides of the mountain - only a dozen or so groups do this every year, and despite its difficulty, the traverse was more than worth the extra effort.
As for the climb itself, our operator, 7 Summits Club did a great job. Our lodging and food were top notch - it is obvious that they are well connected and respected on the mountain.
Our guide, Vladimir, was knowledgeable and helpful. Most importantly, he kept us safe. Thanks, Vlad.
Most seasoned mountaineers would tell you that Mount Elbrus isn't particularly difficult, when compared to some of the other seven summits. There are higher mountains, more technical mountains, less crowded mountains.
However, underestimating the difficulty of the mountain is foolhardy and can be fatal. It has been estimated that Elbrus kills more people every year than any other of the seven summits.
The rapid altitude gain, the weather, and the very long summit day with some steep snow slopes all contribute to making Elbrus a challenging climb. More than 60% of climbers who attempt the mountain do not make it (the previous 2 days to our summit, no one had made it to the top due to weather). In fact, two hours after we summited, people were being turned around on the saddle due to a storm.
As we reflected on our two weeks over dinner last night, we both agreed that our journey to Southern Russia rekindled the desire to seek out new places and plan new adventures, whether they be climbing mountains or just exploring a place we have always dreamed of seeing.
In the end, that's really what a summit is - a place (physical or otherwise) you arrive at in your life after a lot of hard work and struggle. A place you can hold your head up, smile and say "I did it!"
Well, we did it!
After taking a pounding over the past week, our feet (and other body parts) have been taking a rest so that we may get back to our everyday lives.
Toes seem to be the biggest issue - David's big toe has been battered the worst, while Adam's already sketchy toes have become even more damaged.
Other maladies include sore necks, shoulders, quads, hamstrings and calves...
Somebody call a maseusse!
After reaching high camp on the North Side of Elbrus (approx. 12,800 feet) and taking off our boots, we all slept virtually non-stop until 7:00 am the next morning.
We were exhausted - the beds were so hard they must have been used by the KGB as torture devices, but we all slept fitfully nonetheless.
We had to walk out 11 kms on the main trail to Base Camp (no chairlifts or cable cars on this side of the mountain) to get our taxi to Kislovodsk, where we would spend the evening.
Sounds easy, right? Not so. We were left with our assistant guide, who had never done the traverse, and who promptly got us completely lost in a large rock field.
Thankfully, after about 40 minutes of wandering and climbing, Adam, who always seems to have a better sense of direction than our guides, climbed a far away ridge and found the trail a good distance to the North.
This turned what should have been a 3 hour hike into a 4.5 hour march. Queue the Gilligan's Island theme (lyrics to follow).
We finally made it to Base Camp,which is in beautiful spot in a farmers field, at 1:30 pm - take a look at the video above.
End of story, right? Wrong. David and Adam (well, mostly David) decided that they wanted to carry less weight, so a porter was hired to take some of the heavy gear to Basecamp.
When the gear did not arrive and it was time to leave, we managed to convince one of our drivers to stay and wait with us for the bag while the rest of the team and the guide left for Kislovodsk.
One hour turned to two, which turned to three, which turned to four. By this time we had gone through lunch, tea and a bottle of Red Wine, as well as striking up a conversation with a striking young woman, Lisa, who was heading back to her home in Donetsk, Ukraine - yes, THAT Donetsk. It turned out Lisa would take the ride back to Kislovodsk with us.
Finally, the bag arrived after 6 pm, and our driver took us on one of the scariest, most beautiful 4x4 rides you will ever experience. The scenery up, over and across the valleys to Kislovodsk is probably the thing I will remember most about this trip.
We made it to our hotel at 8:00 pm, showered, went out for a celebration dinner at 8:30, got back to the hotel at midnite, and by 1:00 am were heading out to the airport for our transit home.
Tomorrow we will introduce you to some of our more interesting injuries as we make our way home... Anne, time to call in the specialists to look after those mangled toes and misaligned body parts!
We are back in civilization getting ready to leave Mother Russia - what an experience!
We left our shelter (13,000 feet) at 4:00 am by way of snowcat with 5 of our closest Russian friends - minus Little John who was sleeping oblivious to our preparations.
By 5:00 am we were dropped off at 15,600 feet and we started our 10.5 hour climb up a steady snow slope. After 2 hours we reached the saddle, which is the "cleavage" between the two summits.
From here, things turned harder. The wind was blowing up to 40 kph, and teams were very slow climbing the steep slopes. An hour later we reached the fixed ropes, where there was no ice and a 40 degree slope. It made for a precarious traverse in the blown snow over a 400 ft drop.
After a lot a of hard work (as well as lots of encouragement from Adam), we reached the summit plateau. 25 minutes later, we were at the top of Europe! We could see above the clouds at Asia and Europe - an amazing feeling.
We posed for the obligatory summit pictures with our Russian comrades (they made it as well), and I (David)hit 6 golf balls off the summit with a 6 iron - this also caused some cause for excitement for the few gathered. Several other teams reached the summit soon after us - flopping onto the 30 square feet and falling on their backs in exhaustion.
After the summit, we headed back down to the fixed lines where the traffic had increased. Vladimir, our guide, moved quickly forward and another guide advised us to traverse above the lines - unattached. About half way across, the guide (only 15 feet from David) lost her footing in the snow and fell 200 ft below us, arresting her fall with an ice axe before a larger slope. Needless to say, it left us shaken.
We down climbed to the safety of the fixed rope, clipped in and proceeded down the mountain.
From here, things became more clear, yet just as difficult. We crossed over onto the North side of the mountain and climbed through glacier fields for the next 4.5 hours all the way down to 12,800 feet.
We finally pulled into our lodging on the North side around 2:30 pm (more on this tomorrow) exhausted and elated at reaching our goal.
Thanks to everyone for your well wishes- we will blog further in the next couple of days on our hike out of Elbrus (some of the most stunning scenery and interesting stories of our whole trip) - but now we must keep moving towards the infamous Mineralnye Vody Airport and our three day journey home.
At 1:15 am CST, Elbrus was topped by the flatlanders. Return route to be determined but what a view .... More to follow when we can breathe again.
We are putting the final touches on packing and getting our gear together. The atmosphere in the shelter has changed from frivolity to seriousness and focus.
I was joking with Adam that we should be playing Eye of the Tiger from my iPhone playlist, but he thought the song might have come from the Rocky movie where Rocky beats up on the Russian dude, Ivan Drago. I think that was a different movie, but we didn't want to start an international incident on our summit night.
Anyway, we are turning in for a short night of rest and have to be up for a 3:00 breakfast. Our snowcat comes at 4:00 am (7:00 pm Steinbach time) and we must be ready with crampons on...
You can follow us on the Spot locator all the way up to the summit (hopefully).
Wish us luck!
Sergei and Leonid
(Our new Russian names - you pick who is who)
Can you identify this sound? Maybe a lion poised for the kill, or a giant agitated hippo? Close, but it is our bunk mate two bunks away who I will be nominating for loudest snorer to the Guinness Book of World Records.
We have never encountered someone who snores with such force. As a result, sleep has been very hard to come by at night - the shelter actually shakes when he snores !
We have named him the freight train, although he bears a remarkable resemblance to Little John from Robin Hood lore. We have a tough time being angry at him, though, as he shared some cognac with us yesterday.
All in all, our Russian bunk mates have been lots of fun.
We received a lot of snow and wind overnight, so attempting the climb today would have been foolhardy. Instead, we descended to the valley floor to eat kebabs and boost our red blood cells for our final push tomorrow.
Our altitude gain has been by far the most aggressive of any mountain we have climbed, so the rest day was most welcome.
As we were returning up the mountain, Adam realized he really, REALLY needed to use the bathroom, but we were halfway up the gondola. So, we stopped at the next station, and where did he go? The world's worst bathroom. I'm not just saying that- Outdoor magazine rated this toilet the worst in the world! Just Google "worst bathroom world Elbrus" and click on the first entry and you will see what I mean.
Adam couldn't get himself to go all the way in and he had to hobble around doubled over for another 20 minutes before he found something that wasn't quite as squalid...
After this traumatic episode, Adam and I convinced two snowmobile drivers to drive us up to our shelter, which was another hair raising experience. This marked the 7th different type of transportation on this trip, which has to be some sort of record.
Now for the actual summit plan - the idea is for us to set off around 4:00 am for an hour long ride by snowcat - if the weather stays as forecasted, we hope to arrive at the summit somewhere between 9:30 am to 10:00 am (12:30-1:00 am Steinbach time). From the summit, we head over to the other side of the mountain down to about 13,000 feet - a long day.
The weather still doesn't look great, so there could be many variations on this theme - we just have to be patient and flexible.
Here's hoping for some light wind and snow - it is windy but absolutely breathtaking right now!
It all broke loose at lunch after the acclimatization hike today-our fellow Russian climbers staged a sit in about the weather and differences in the program they were sold.
After about twenty minutes of yelling and histrionics, two of the guides walked out and we were left wondering whether we had witnessed our first Russian General Strike. It was great to be part of a century old Russian tradition, and see in person what we had only read in textbooks.
After leaving the tense atmosphere of the dining hall, we found out what was happening - there is a blizzard warning tomorrow, so we won't be attempting the summit on Wednesday. Instead, we will leave early Thursday morning and go for the summit then.
By the way, the weather has turned nasty all the way down the mountain, so it is nice to be in a warm shelter not a tent (although I do miss Jimmy's pink sleeping bag and the warmth it provided).
We will be in touch on our rest day tomorrow; there is so much tension and excitement in our shelter we will have more great stories!
We have just returned from climbing up snow and ice to 4700 m or 15600 ft - to just above Pashtukov rocks. What started out as a gentle climb turned into quite the day. The weather turned quite bad at about 14000 ft and the wind ripped at faces. What was initially rain turned to ice pellets which were coming in sideways at 50 kph. A bunch of climbers were descending as we headed up - they had aborted their summit attempts to go back to safety. In fact we met four climbers who came off the glacier to the right of our route - they had become lost in the bad conditions and only just made it back to the main route. Visibility had been reduced to about 40 ft as we reached the top of the rocks, and we decided to call it quits and head back down.
It was quite amazing to be inside of a ping pong ball for a few hours. It is better to back at Leaprus in our cosy bunks though! You can see the video below.
We are currently meant to be going for the summit tonight but the weather does not look good. We will see how it evolves over the next 4-6 hours and make our decision then.
press previous below more earlier blogs
After an acclimizatization hike to Cheget peak yesterday (11,500 feet) we rode some old Soviet machinery to our camp at 13,000 feet on Mount Elbrus - 2 creaky gondolas and a death defying single chairlift put us at Basecamp, also known as the Barrels.
The barrels are used by the common folk who climb Elbrus. They are warm, but not exactly a high standard of quality (see previous post).
From this point we got our first snowcat ride up to our shelter- Adam managed to find the worst spot on the back of the cat and was promptly crushed. Sorry Emily, if you were even considering having child number 4, our cat ride has put that decision to rest.
We made it to the shelter, which is spectacular - our two nights here will be the best accommodation we have ever had on any mountain. Great shelter, wifi and even a living room with floor to ceiling windows!
Our bunk mates are 8 middle aged Russian men - nice guys with a great sense of humour.
We had some lunch and are now getting ready for an acclimatization hike in the rain. Tomorrow another hike - our summit day had been moved to Wednesday, so stay tuned!
We were met by Vladimir and our two climbing mates introduced below. We dumped our bags in the van and started what was meant to be a four ride south to the border of Georgia. One thing that is apparent from our travels is that the trip to the mountain is often the most dangerous aspect of the entire climb. Kilimanjaro - crazy driver, Denali - flight through 'one shot pass', Aconcagua - the Argentinean equivalent of Mario Andretti on mountain roads, and with Elbrus we had the fastest driver south of Moscow. He had his van doing light speed whilst threading between oncoming trucks and passing various vehicles, cows, donkeys and other farm yard animals. All the time this was happening, the radio played an eclectic range of Muzak interspersed with Dolly Parton and Kenny G. David had mentioned that he may in fact have tasted his spleen about half way. Almost to Terskol, the rain came down heavily and caused a bunch of flash floods. Curiously, our driver increased his speed which seemed inexplicable. Perhaps we needed to get past some area that was either going to be washed out and subject to a landslide (see Aconcagua blog) - but we will never know. We arrived at our hotel and the driver was met by locals and everyone shook his hand and slapped his back - I presume this was because he just broke the land speed record from MV to Terskol by doing the 4 hour trip in 02:59:34.
We are safely tucked into our new accommodation and have completed the obligatory bonding ritual with teammates. Now off to the mountain for some acclimatization. This is what we came for.
We met our team in Mineralnye Vody today. Lisa and Mattias live in Switzerland and have a lot of climbing experience. They are also a lot of fun, as you can see.
Our guide Vladimir, happened to be the guide on the only other team to summit Aconcagua the day that Adam did last year - talk about a coincidence!
In any event, we have a great team and are looking forward to our time on Elbrus !
One of the great side benefits of mountain climbing is the cultural experience in 'off-the-beaten path' destinations. Language is often one of the more challenging aspects of this, and in Russia, is perhaps a degree harder than other places we have been - the Russian alphabet is different, and proper pronunciation requires the speaker (at least to me) to have had a few shots of vodka (voktee). Needless to say, there is always some fun to be had trying out a new language, and the inevitable missteps along the way. David clandestinely studied Russian for three months before departing. Me - I crammed for two hours on the flight from Germany to Moscow and downloaded an 'app' on my phone.
And so it begins ...,
Sitting down in a traditional Ukrainian restaurant we started the first test drive of our versions of Russian. Hmm - there were perogies, vereniki, amongst other dishes easily recognized in many homes in Steinbach. This was easier than it looked - decode the Cyrillic alphabet and voila. It is interesting to note how many languages you revert to in some settings though - after ordering food using the internationally accepted pointing method, when asked whether we would like some voktee, we responded with an emphatic "Si". To not leave our new found mastery of Russian under-utilized, I took care of bill discussion - it was my time to shine with all the cramming done on the flight. моя бритая обезьяна будет платить - which we now understand translates to ' my shaved monkey will pay". Our very patient guide just about spat her food across the table laughing. Hmmm - we need to work this phrase into more conversations.
Please and thank you, and other standard phrases were coming more easily on our third day. We headed off to the airport to fly south to Mineralyne Vody ( see earlier blog for amusing reports on this airport). At the airport we came to our next challenge - we needed to get some items from a pharmacy.
The first item was ibuprofen - we use this for altitude sickness . Yep - my app beat three months of studying straight out of the gate - take that Rosetta Stone. David asked in Russian for the ibuprofen and the older lady behind the counter promptly dropped two options in front of us - 200 mg and 400mg. Bingo - 400mg would do the trick nicely thanks!
The next item was a little more vexing to all concerned. Clearly, convenient 'branding' of certain (ahem) afflictions in the west haven't been fully adopted in east just yet. I dropped the phrase 'cold sore ' into my trusty translator and showed the written translation to our kindly lady behind the counter. "герпес" looks pretty innocent until you hear it announced out loud to the growing line of people at the counter - in Russian it comes out like GERPIES which is remarkably like the less acceptable English equivalent. Some people who were previously pushing into line instinctively took a few steps back following the announcement. To ensure I wasn't confused, she said it again as she dropped four options in front of me. So, discretion still ranks below efficiency in modern Russia - I will remember this in the future. Luckily the lady beside me tapped me on the shoulder to provide her recommendation on choice. Now all I need to do to escape this crowd is pay and melt back into the terminal. Not so fast though - the calculator came out and indicated 420 rubles. No problem, and I handed her a 500 ruble note. Still , there was a problem which my storekeeper points out. More pantomime and lots of hand gestures - I am pretty sure she hasn't mentioned the G word again. David and I still don't know what the issue is. Growing more frustrated she then reverted to the standard approach when a foreigner has difficulty understanding what you are saying - just say it much louder - shout if you must.
Hmmm..still don't know what we are missing here. We are at an impasse ....
Then to the relief of all concerned, a kind stranger gave me 20 rubles in coins and pointed at the lady.
Smiles all round, she now had the correct change, I had my gerpes, and 100 rubles in my pocket. SUCCESS.
I expected there should be applause after breaching this massive hurdle but alas it would be a private success (unlike my герпес). It's not every day you get to enjoy the roller coaster ride of language and pharmaceutical products!
We spent our final day in Moscow touring Soviet constructed sites - from the massive All Russian Exhibition Centre with its 66 pavilions to the Space Museum to the Muzeon Sculpture Park, where statues of Communist leaders have been relocated.
Our final eveningwas spent enjoying an Italian dinner overlooking Red Square. We have had an amazing three days here but are ready for our climb.
We leave tomorrow, if we can get out of the downtown - there is a massive jam festival (think berries) going on around Moscow, with the culmination being a jam concert in front in Lubyanka Square (the former home of the KGB) and all streets are blocked!!