Every climbing trip has common elements that motivate us to tackle the next mountain - for me it is the stunning scenery, the camaraderie, and the chance to push yourself past what you think are your limits. However, it is the differences and quirks that make each individual mountain trip truly memorable. Funny thing, but the scenery often takes a back seat to some seemingly minute detail when you are focused on fighting your way up the mountain.
One of the most unique aspects of our Elbrus climb will be the inter-modal methods of travel to get to the summit. While the traditional way up a mountain is one foot in front of the other, Elbrus provides a different (and somewhat easier) take on mountaineering.
From the base of the Baksan Valley, we will take a series of chair lifts to our base camp (shown as st. Gara-Bashi on the above picture) at 3800 metres / 12,500 feet. These chair lifts are used year round - in winter by skiiers, and in summer by mountaineers. As you can see by the picture of the Baksan Valley above, there is an extensive system of chairlifts and cable cars up to many of the lower peaks.
Our gear will be loaded precariously on the single chair lifts and shuttled to the next station. We have utilized human power, mules and vehicles on previous climbs, but this will be a new mode of transport. We will follow behind on the same lift, saving energy, enjoying the view, and hanging on for dear life!
While transporting gear to Base Camp by other means is not unusual, getting mechanical help going further up the hill is. From our Base Camp, we have decided to take a snow cat (or series of snow cats) up to Pastukhov Rocks at 4700 metres / 15,500 feet. The snow cat is essentially a ski slope groomer modified to cram a dozen or more climbers in the rear and then climb the steep slopes of the mountain, often lurching and sliding back down the hill.
This experience has been called the scariest part of the climb, as the snow cats are proceeding up the hill in total darkness! There is also some question as to the capability and sobriety of the snow cat operators (this is Russia, after all!).
From this point, our climb becomes more conventional, and we must take ourselves up to the summit and descend the Northern side on foot.
“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