On the summit of Mount Elbrus!

We got up at 0200 and after some food and last minute equipment check, we started off at 0300 with a snow cat ride from the Garabashi Botschki at 3800m to Pastukhova Rocks at 4640m.

From Pastukhova Rocks the team split into small groups for the hike to the West Summit of Mount Elbrus, standing at 5642m, which I reached at 1030 with Delanii and Dan.

After catching our breath and taking some summit photos, we started our hike down.

On the decent, we decided to use some large garbage bags to slide down the safe parts of the mountain to reach the Pastukhova Rocks, where we hitched a ride from a snow cat back to the Garabashi Botschki. At 1500, after a 12 hour round trip, we were finally able to take our boots off, eat and get some well deserved sleep!

 

Resting ahead of summit push

With both guides down in the village, the team took the opportunity to sleep in and have a late breakfast. In the late morning, we were all happy to see Rob returning to the Garabashi Botschki with our teammate that had been hit by AMS yesterday.

However, due to the AMS, the teammate would not be joining us to the summit bid tonight and Rob also decided that another climber was also out of the summit bid due to his fitness level, which meant that he kept holding the team up.

AMS strikes!

Today we had another acclimatization day with a hike to Pastukhova Rocks at 4800m. Rob, Neil, Dave and Wilf decided to hike all the way up to the rocks while Gennadi, Dan, Tim, MJ, me and Delanii took a snowcat to Prius Hut and hiked from there.

At approx 4700m, Delanii and a teammate started showing mild signs of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), so Rob told them to stop, rest, rehydrate and eat, while the rest of the team carried on.

After enjoying a rest and some food at Pastukhova Rocks, we headed down and reconnected with Delanii and the other climber. On the way down the group split up again and after a while Delanii and I came across the teammate walking erratically. We quickly recognised that the AMS was getting worse and decided to walk him quickly off the mountain

At the barrels Rob concluded that our teammate had a bad case of AMS and decided to evacuate him off the mountain to the village at 2300m, while the rest of the team stayed put. Later, Gennadi decided to go and see his friends and left us to our vices at the base camp.

Sleeping next to “world’s nastiest outhouse”

Our day started with a move to the Garabashi Botschki, which is a base camp area at 3800m made of giant barrels, from which we would make our actual climb of Mount Elbrus.

Unfortunately, we had booked hut accommodation next to what Outside magazine labelled as “world’s nastiest outhouse” in 1993. The original outhouse had been half-destroyed, but the replacement, a blue plastic box perched off a rock face, with nothing but emptiness underneath it, didn’t feel like a great improvement!

In the afternoon, we made an acclimatisation climb to the Prius Hut at 4100m and reviewed crevasse rescue techniques under Rob’s instruction before returning to the hut, where we’re joined by Liza, a Russian cook who’s going to make sure we stay well-fed while at the base camp.

Should I have been saving my strength?

The fifth day of acclimatisation started with a hike up to Kumrichi Peak at 3900m.

After lunch back at the camp, we packed everything up and hiked over the VCSP pass and headed down. Half-way down the mountain, we passed a military unit specialised in mountain warfare, resting on a very steep meadow, only for them to literally run past us 15 mins later.

Due to the steep terrain, our group got split into several smaller groups. Once I got down, I dropped my pack and headed back up to help some of the slower moving climbers with their loads. Later I wondered if I should have been saving my strength?

Rolling stones gather no moss…but can kill you!

The fourth day of acclimatisation meant continuing the hike up the VCSP pass with full packs. Due to the rock fall last night we all put helmets on and used ropes in places to haul ourselves up steep terrain with loose boulders.

During a rest-stop someone kicked off a sizable boulder that flew past the team and smashed into a pair of trekking poles, almost snapping them in half. It made us think carefully about where to place the tents going forward!

Thunder turns out to be rock fall!

Third day of acclimatisation with full packs was a hike up the VCSP pass to about 3600m. However, the high terrorist alert again forced us to change plans, which meant starting our hike from a valley at 1600m.

Heading to the trail, Gennadi pointed out a small bridge, where Russian military had recently shot two people, so we were all happy to get onto the mountain, which felt safer than driving amongst the military posts on high alert.

There was no trekking route and we needed to for example build a bridge to cross a river, so progress was slow and we eventually decided to make camp at approx. 3400m.

During the night it rained and we heard what sounded like thunder, but it turned out to be massive rock fall not too far from where we had camped.

Terror alert!

For the second day of acclimatisation Rob and Gennadi had planned a hike to approx. 3000m. However, we soon discovered we couldn’t take the planned route or the backup plan, despite having all the necessary paperwork from the FSB, because the local military was on high terrorist alert!

We then drove a few miles further down the road to find another trail entrance, but again stopped by the military. As it was getting close to noon we decided to go back to the same place as yesterday for another light hike. Views of Mount Elbrus still looked amazing!

Training on the glacier

To prepare the team for climbing Mount Elbrus successfully, Rob and Gennadi planned several acclimatization days during which our bodies would be used to the thinner air of high altitude.

The first day of acclimatisation was a light hike with day packs on Mount Elbrus, including a lunch with a beautiful view of both the West and East summits of the mountain.

After lunch, we headed towards a glacier for ice crampon training. Half-way into the training, Delanii lost her footing and slid down the glacier, screaming. I had to chase after her and managed to catch one of her trekking poles to stop the slide after about 50-75m. Delanii was a bit shaken but suffered nothing worse than a few scratches.

Heading for trouble

After an early wake-up, we took an Aeroflot flight from Moscow’s domestic Sheremetyevo Airport towards the Caucasus Mountain Range.

We landed in Mineralnye Vodi (“mineral waters”), which despite the nice name, is located in a troubled region of Russia. Approx. 170km east of Mineralnye Vodi is Chechnya, but we headed the same distance south through the Baksan Valley to the base of Mount Elbrus, which sits very close to Russia’s troubled border with Abkhazia and Georgia.

It was raining pretty hard and close to the city of Terskol, we almost got into a car accident: an oncoming car started skidding on the slippery mountain road and to avoid us, the driver steered into the bank next to the road, which caused the car to flip onto its roof and then landing back on the road the right way up. The four passengers inside were all about 70 years old and while shaken, fortunately no-one was hurt despite the driver’s door window being crushed by a big rock.

We finally arrived at our destination, a small village outside of Terskol at roughly 2300m altitude, after spending almost four hours to cover the 170km distance. We were greeted by our local guide Gennadi, who spent several years fighting in Chechnya as part of Russia’s military and was now the town’s local hero as a competitive snowboarder.