This is what we came to Russia for! Given the rainy weather in the valley
I wasn't quite sure what we would come across on the mountain. Leaving the Dacha
it started raining, the closer towards the base we got, the harder it was
raining. Oh great. We rode the two gondolas a few thousand feet up to where the
rain changed to snow. Next was a ride on the single chairlifts. Our packs rode separately
than us cause the weight of a person and a pack would probably make the chair
break and fall, which apparently isn't too uncommon. It was freakin' cold and
windy and visibility was pretty low. Up at the Barrel Huts around 12,500ft I was
questioning my decision to camp instead of staying in a nice warm and dry
Barrel. Oh well, I kept thinking that "Thou that shall not kill me will
only make me stronger." The existing tent sites were up the hill from the
Barrels on a rocky ridge. It took me almost an hour to set my tent up solo given
the high winds, white out conditions and freezing cold. I had to strategically
place rocks on different parts of my tent to keep it from blowing away while I
tried to tie it down and get the poles in. The ground was about 1/2 inch thick
so stakes weren't going in, so they were buried in between rocks and tied to
them. It dropped about 3 inches of snow just while I was setting it up. All I
could think about was those stories of being holed up in a tent for 3 days
straight. Sure didn't sleep much the entire time, probably due to the constant
sound of a freight train from the wind!
Luckily the weather cleared some a few hours later and the winds were helping to
dry things out. Once the mountain was visible it really raised moral. What
dropped moral was the Polish climber who stumbled in with bad frostbite and
reports that he lost his teammate. They searched for two days by helicopter and
never found him.
The second day on the mountain brought us beautiful clear skies and great views
of the twin summits and the surrounding Caucasus mountain range. There were
constant snow plumes blowing off the summit from the high winds. We all took a
hike up to the Pruit Hut remains and above towards Postukov Rocks which would be
our starting ground for summit day. Some clouds and wind, but a much nicer day
then the previous one. Rumor had it that a cyclone was forming over the Black
Sea and the good weather window would be closing in the next couple days. Good
timing for us? Hopefully! The rest of the day was spent lounging around, eating
and drinking lots, and eventually preparing for a summit bid that night as long
as the weather was good.
There's just something damn cool about waking up in the middle of the night and
freezing your ass off to climb a mountain! Call it sick, but it's very cool.
With 3 layers of poly-pro/fleece/gor-tex on top and bottom I was ready for our 3am snow cat ride which proved to be the most painful
part of the trip! Four bodies sliding down towards you and jamming you into a
metal bar isn't fun. I even dropped my crampons but Greg made a kick-save before
they popped out the back, whew. The stars were out and it was pretty windy, but
on with the crampons and time to gain some altitude. Vladamir was our guide and
set a great pace, perfect to stay warm yet not be out of breath. Once the sun
started coming up the views were spectacular! The peaks behind us were getting
lit up, the shadow of the Earth was stretching along the horizon, and the shadow
of the peak stretched across the land. Absolutely spectacular. Not long
afterwards we were on the traverse towards the saddle and Vladamir was having
some obvious problems. No one saw him eating or drinking so at a break in the
saddle we loaded him up with diamox, gu, and powerbars. He pointed out the route
and as a group we hammered on. At this point we were in the sun and it felt
great. We were about 2 hours from the summit and traversing the steepest part up
the side of the west summit. Singing "Greta" by WSP to myself helped
me to pass the time and forget that my lungs were about to burst and that my
heart was beating behind my eyes. It was awesome how we all worked together as a
group, going a good pace for everyone, and helping each other out when needed.
That's what gets people to the top. We got to a somewhat flat spot and rumor had
it we were 1/2 hour from the summit!!!! Shortly after we could see the high
point in the distance and we were almost there. Aaahhhh, the highest point in
Europe!!!! What a great feeling, and as usual the tears streamed sweat and
sunscreen in my eyes so I could barely see. After tons of pictures, hugs, and
congratulations most folks headed down from the small summit. The winds were
about 40-50mph and the temp was 17 degrees Fahrenheit below freezing, enough to
knock a skinny-ass like me off my feet a couple times. Bob and I were loving it
so much we decided to stay up there for a while. Within the next hour we were
both able to celebrate the summit with Rhonda and Bill again. Man, it was great!
Heading back towards the saddle we met up with the rest of the group as the last
two were on their way to the summit. Once within view of the Pruit Hut we were
one our own if we chose and it was a nice slow hike down the glacier with
fantastic views of the Caucasus range all around. Eventually getting back to the
Barrel Huts we all sat around talking about the awesome day and eating all the
junk food we could get on our hands. The big topics were pizza and Kentucky
Fried Chicken. MMmmmm. We were even close to riding the lift and gondola down
just to have some celebratory beers! 14 of the 18 of us made it.
Since we summitted on our first of three possible days we were heading back to
the Dacha the next day. The weather was beautiful once again and all we had to
do was pack and get down the mountain. What a fantastic time....
The gondola we rode part way up; the rain soon turned to snow
Real shaky chairlift, weather getting worse; Mike and Kelly setting up camp
Finally nicer weather; our first views on the mountain
Mountain view; Barrel Huts that the "un-adventurous" stayed in
Caucasus mountains; Getting even clearer!
Uumm, Elbrus again!
Caucasus mountains and the sunset; Snowcat and Elbrus
Looking north from the Barrels; My home for 4 days
Acclimatization hike above Diesel Hut; Remains of the burned down Pruit Hut
Chillin' at the Pruit Hut; Chillin' at the Diesel Hut
Looking out my tent
Sunrise around 16,000ft on Summit day
Shadow of the Earth and sunrise on the horizon
Believe it or not, we're smiling!
Shadow of Elbrus with the sunrise, damn cool; the view behind us
More views around; a group coming down around 18,000ft
Aahhh, the effects of altitude; gettin' closer!
We can finally see the summit; Summit marker!!!!
Kelly and Greg checking our time; WooHoo!, made it
17 degrees below 0 and 40mph winds almost blew me over; Greg
Group shot; Rhonda and Bob
Bill; View from the summit
View on the way down; folks on the final approach
Rich and Bill heading back towards the saddle; Taking a break from the wind
Kinda cool looking up at where you just were
Climb this next? yeah right; Just had to get down the mountain now
Our gondola for the ride down; celebrating with beers and babushka hats
Sunrise around 17,000ft
18,000ft saddle and summit!!!!