Russia-Elbrus Valley
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<Moscow>        <Mt Elbrus>

After a 3 hour plane ride from Moscow to Mineralyevody then a 4 hour bus ride, we were in the Elbrus Valley at the Dacha located in the Kabardino-Balkin Republic. A cool looking place nestled in one of the many valleys of the Caucasus mountains. The Valley is around 7000ft so the plan was to hangout here for a couple days doing day hikes before heading up the mountain. The first day we hiked up a valley through climbers camps and towards a glacier but got stopped in the road by the military at a border patrol. Given the fact that we were less than 60 miles from Georgia, these were kinda expected. Anyway, we found out that there were some Chechnyians the next valley over with the military chasing them as they tried to get through the valley we were in and over to Georgia! Well, we weren't going any further. One of the guards promptly ripped the film out of someone's camera who took a picture in their direction. Instead, we hiked up a glacial moraine of one of the side valleys to the headwall of the Kashkatash glacier around 9000ft. There were some young groups of climbing practicing their skills on the glacier farther up. All around there were high glaciated peaks in the distance and we even got a brief glimpse of Elbrus itself in the far distance! Along the road we hiked up there was an huge piece of artillery of some type, they said it was for avalanches, but who knows?! We even met one of the locals on a horse who called himself "The Ice Cowboy". 
That night we discovered the joy of Russian vodka and partied with the locals. After finding out the vodka shots were only $0.30, myself, Rich and Bob did a few. There was a group of locals in the bar so we decided to mingle with them. They spoke no English, and we spoke no Russian so Usef the bartender was translating back and forth for us. We found out it was a birthday party so we sang "Happy Birthday" to them and afterwards we were like their best friends. Since we couldn't talk too well back and forth we just kept pouring shots for each other (at this point we were buying vodka by the bottle for $1.50 instead of by the shot). We had a great time with them dancing, singing, and Kurt wailed away at karaoke singing "aahhhhh girl" over and over. Its local tradition to finish the bottle of vodka with a Russian once they open it, so we were in for a long night. Greg has photos to document the evening, D'oh! Also found out that it's unacceptable to dance on tables, pull your own shirt up, and drink right from the champagne bottle! Guess we'll know for next time?! Usef gave us pins and postcards the next day for "being the best dancers in Russia". The following morning we had several stories to tell and laugh about around the breakfast table. Afterwards, Kurt and I hiked back up to the same glacier from the day before to play with the crampons and ice axes. It was a bit foggy and drizzly eventually but it was great to get the stuff on for a little practice for Elbrus. The ice was solid and littered with rocks and dirt. Several crevasses and some enormous seracs higher up.
The following morning there wasn't the typical morning rain so we thought we would be in luck for going up to base camp. We were wrong, just as we were leaving it started pouring. D'oh! For our stoves one of the Dacha workers was siphoning gas out of his own car with his mouth and a house!
The food at the Dacha was quite interesting, hotdogs and eggs for breakfast, and we had "foot stew" a couple nights. Why "foot stew"? Cause the vet's in our group id'ed the bones as foot bones, the animal was still unknown though.

The best shower ever after a handful of days on the mountain! Before getting to the Dacha we had a bunch of beers and pizza and bacon-flavored chips at the base of Elbrus. They were by far the tastiest thing in the world at the moment! Coming up to the Dacha we noticed a bunch of Mercedes and cars with lights on top. Looking around there are several military-types walking around the Dacha and the woods with AK-47s over their shoulders! The President of the Valley is supposed to be making an appearance that eventually never happened. But we met a bodyguard that was talking with his hands like an Italian while waving around a 9mm handgun! That evening was the celebratory dinner. The workers gave us vodka, brandy, champagne and chocolate, and we did several toasts to success and health. Vladamir said his part and handed out "Russian Alpinists" pins. He also brought the pictures from the photographer on the mountain. It was AWESOME seeing them already and brought back great memories even though it wasn't long ago. More beers and drinks that night in celebration.
The day before leaving we did a great hike down to town and up another glacial valley. This one had spots that were washed out so the trail would disappear often. We ended up climbing up the big grassy hill to a great spot for lunch. Behind us were views of the glaciers on Elbrus and the East Summit, nice. More jagged peaks, hanging glaciers, and spires all around. Back near the Dacha we hung out at the local kiosks for beers and even tasted the "meat sticks". The guy would pull handfuls of seasoned meat (not sure from which animal) out of a pick bucket sitting at the side of his stand, then cook them over a small wood fire. It was quite suspicious, but it was the best food we ate the entire time in Russia! We all ordered more realizing that dinner probably wouldn't be all that good. The young local boys were singing along to the music and dancing around in their fanciful colored clothes.
Leaving the following day it seemed like all the workers came out to see us off and wave goodbye. It's really cool how welcomed we are here! Usef came on the bus for a short speech before leaving too. It was a great place to stay and they treated us like family. Listened to The Dead on the way to the airport, nice.

<Moscow>       <Mt Elbrus>

023-elbrus valley.jpg (111315 bytes) Our Dacha (Russian for vacation home)  024-elbrus valley.jpg (125218 bytes)

025-elbrus valley.jpg (73709 bytes)  Views up the valley we hiking in 027-elbrus valley.jpg (74386 bytes)

026-elbrus valley.jpg (140913 bytes) A giant gun they use for avalanches (yeah right); 'nother great view 028-elbrus valley.jpg (94831 bytes)

029-elbrus valley.jpg (139691 bytes) Craig giving the "Ice Cowboy" matches; 030-elbrus valley.jpg (99030 bytes)

031-elbrus valley.jpg (61030 bytes) Towards where we were heading before the Border Patrol; Glacier we hiked to 032-elbrus valley.jpg (118556 bytes)

033-elbrus valley.jpg (129821 bytes) Looking up the glacier; Me next to a big ass crevasse  035-elbrus valley.jpg (84186 bytes)

038-elbrus valley.jpg (86418 bytes) One of the local kids; the river and view near the Dacha 039-elbrus valley.jpg (98973 bytes)

100-elbrus valley.jpg (129117 bytes) Grave of a female Russian climber; the town of Elbrus 102-elbrus valley.jpg (102878 bytes)

103-elbrus valley.jpg (153575 bytes) Washed out trail that we hiked; not a bad view for lunch! 104-elbrus valley.jpg (59116 bytes)

Some of the locals 101-elbrus valley.jpg (101618 bytes)   


<Moscow>       <Mt Elbrus>