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.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
- Mark Twain