Wednesday, September 3, 2008


So what does it take to climb Mt. Elbrus, highest mountain in Europe?

  • Being somewhere in Russia near the border with Georgia - currently under tenuous cease fire

  • Having to wait an indeterminate amount of time for Slepak to straighten out the Mini's paperwork

  • Being in fantastic physical shape, namely having spent the past two weeks driving, drinking, or on the beach - usually several concurrently

  • Robles. Lots of rubles and some Euros. Slightly more than this many:

So last Friday, I bid Cyrus adieu and took a ride south towards the mountain. Unsurprisingly the police checkpoints were manned with many serious looking blokes with automatic weapons. But none of them actually came over talk to us, they just waved us on. Maybe it had something to do with driving a Lada that said "TAKCи" instead of a Mini or Panda plastered with stickers.

On Saturday, we had our first conditioning hike. We took a nice stroll from Azau, where our hotel was around 2350m down to Chegat. There we took two chair lifts up and hiked to the top of Mt. Chegat, 3450m. Along the way, two local dogs with itty bitty legs joined us. Here you can see me at the top of the mountain. We're safe here. Those mountains in the distance are in Georgia. They're not so safe.

On Sunday we rode two gondolas and a chair lift

To base camp - The Barrels, 3700m.

We finished the day with a conditioning hike to the top of Pastuhov Rocks, 4700m. Reaching the top in 3:30 was about par for the course. Our guide, Oskana, thought it was a pretty good time, and we performed well as a team. It also was a new personal altitude record for me, surpassing Rainier by over 1000 feet.

Monday was a rest day where we anxiously awaited the tales of the day's climbers and tried to get to bed early.

Tuesday was climb day.

0240 - *BEEP* *BEEP* *BEEP* Compared to a normal alpine start this is sleeping in. And the knowledge that someone else is making me hot breakfast, pure luxury. On the walk back from the head I stop, speechless in the middle of the quad. Elbrus had been hiding in the clouds for the past few days, but tonight the skies were clear and the full moon lights it brightly. At the top of Pastuhov Rocks I see a single prick of light - someone's headlamp inside their tent. And I feel a bit guilty for my luxury.

0300 - Porridge eases the guilt as we debates the amount of water to lug up the hill. After two cups of tea I acquiesce to the wisdom of the masses and pack a scant two litres.

0400 - Crampons and every piece of clothing I have with me are strapped on and we awkwardly pile aboard the snocat for a ride up to the base of Pastuhov Rocks. The feeling that I'm cheating the mountain and sullying my sport has been rationalized away by the facts that

  1. we climbed this high earlier

  2. it's just like driving to the parking lot or taking a chairlift

  3. 2000m would be a brutal summit day, especially given my mediocre conditioning and lack of willing partners

The feeling that I'm cheating the mountain and sullying my sport comes back in full force as we pass a dozen climbers doing it the old fashioned way...

0515 - After 45 minutes riding and putzing we're ready to leave the base of Pastuhov Rocks, 4600m - we're already higher than Mt. Rainier. 30 more minutes climbing and we're at the top of the Rocks - each step from here on is a new personal altitude record, and just a touch less air.

0600 - The sun rises and shoos the moon from the sky in a blaze of fire.

In the newfound brightness you can finally see the hordes of climbers ahead of us on the mountain. Probably over 100 aiming for the summit today.

0730 - The steep climb up the face of the mountain is complete and now we begin the long traverse to the saddle between the East and West summits. The altitude is well past 5000m and I'm not having a good time. Each step thuds on to the 1-2-3-4 I'm chanting in my head as I focus hard on the tracks in front of me.

0900 - Finally we reach the saddle, 5300m. After a well deserved stop for lunch we start the final push for the summit. At this point I decide to start pressure breathing and am amazed how much better I feel.

1045 - The false summit is in sight, meaning the heavy climbing is done, just an easy traverse left.

1105 - I reach the top of Europe! Obligatory photo in front of the summit bloc.

And me aspiring to live up to Brandon's legend.

1145 - All too soon we begin our descent back towards the saddle and further down to sweet, sweet, thick air.

Back at base camp, everyone's all smiles, with sweet memories of the top, and thoughts of the many, many hours of sleep ahead of them.

On Wednesday we took the lifts back down to the village where I snagged yet another cool bathroom sign photo.

And where we feted our accomplished group with many a local brew.

1 comment:

Luke Chen said...


Take care!