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!
“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