Picking a guiding company is the first, and most important, step in our climbing preparations. There are a wide range of operators that offer varying levels of service, support and experience, so choosing wisely is vital to having a rewarding, and most importantly, safe trip.
Safety is always the first priority for us - with a little bit of internet research, word of mouth from other climbers, and from observing guiding standards on our previous mountain travels, it is fairly simple to weed out some of the marginal operators. However, there are still many organizations out there that appear to run safe, solid trips.
Many of the larger commercial operators offer climbs around the world with one of their established guides coordinating logistics and partnering with a local company. This ensures a consistent level of quality and service, much like a big hotel chain such as Hilton or Sheraton.
For us, the journey is every bit as important as the summit, so we look for a company with roots in the region offering small groups, as well as a chance to interact with surrounding communities and cultures. Many climbers just want to climb the mountain and leave, but for us, learning and experiencing even a little of the place we are visiting is just as important as the challenge the mountain presents.
We were really lucky on our last trip to Aconcagua to not only spend some quality time in Mendoza (watching soccer and drinking wine), but also to climb nearby Cerro Vallecitos, which gave us the opportunity to interact with local climbers. Our assistant guide, Rodrigo, was a gem who seemed to know everything and everybody on both mountains. Simply put, having a good guiding team is the most important factor in determining how memorable your time on the mountain will be.
This trip we chose 7 Summits Club, a Russian operator headed by well known climber Alex Abramov. 7 Summits Club runs more than a dozen climbs on Elbrus every season, have a permanent presence on the mountain, and also offer some other intriguing climbs to far flung parts of the world.
Mr. Abramov is known for more than just his climbing - he is infamous for "driving" a Land Rover to the top of Elbrus, as well as hosting interesting theme parties at Everest Base Camp. As you can see from these two stories (HERE and HERE), that joie de vivre has continued on Elbrus the past few years. Here's hoping for a safe and fun journey!