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
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.
Our Dacha (Russian for vacation home)
Views up the valley we hiking in
A giant gun they use for avalanches (yeah right); 'nother great view
Craig giving the "Ice Cowboy" matches;
Towards where we were heading before the Border Patrol; Glacier we hiked to
Looking up the glacier; Me next to a big ass crevasse
One of the local kids; the river and view near the Dacha
Grave of a female Russian climber; the town of Elbrus
Washed out trail that we hiked; not a bad view for lunch!
Some of the locals