The Russian Ascent

Mount Elbrus – what an awesome sight!

The Mountain

With an altitude of 5642m, Mount Elbrus lives up to the title of the highest peak in Europe – one of the famed 7 Summits of the world! A dormant twin-peaked volcano situated in the central Caucasus Range, it rises up between the Black and Caspian Seas and divides Europe from Asia. The name Mount Elbrus was derived from the Persian word ‘Alborz’, which is a legendary mountain in Persian mythology that means ‘high guardian’. Last year, due to severe weather conditions, the route to the summit was closed, forcing all climbers turn back as trying to outlast the weather is futile upon Mt Elbrus. With its numerous glaciers, unpredictable weather and severe cold temperatures, Mount Elbrus promises to provide any adventurer with a fulfilling climb.

Team at Hotel

The Mt. Elbrus team at the hotel, night before heading off!

To The Foot Of The Beast

With recent weather forecasts not looking to promising, I eagerly waited at the carousel for my luggage after a late afternoon arrival at Domodedovo airport in Moscow, Russia. After a quick metro ride to our hotel we had the chance to stretch our legs and wonder around the marvellous Red Square – home to The Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral. We headed down to the hotel diner for a couple of drinks to discuss the plan of action for the next few days. It was early to bed as we had a long day of travelling ahead of us but there was something about Russia that just got my adventurous spirit racing and I found myself eagerly anticipating the trek up Mt Elbrus.

The next day was spent travelling from hotel to airport, and then airport to Wolfram Hotel – nestled in the heart of the Caucasus in a small village called Terskol. After breakfast we began our trek up Mt. Cheget by taking a leisurely stroll to the Cheget Glade for our first acclimatisation push. Once at the glade we were elevated by the Cheget Cableway to the upper station, followed by a hike along the ridge to the top of Mt. Cheget. – aprox. 3410m. With the team all doing well, we headed back down to the hotel to settle in for the night, happy with the 1st days push. Since the weather last year forced the route to be closed, we added 2 extra days to our itinerary to ensure that we had a number of opportunities to summit and so the next day was spent hiking in the Baksan Valley, getting our heart and lungs pumping! That night we took it easy at the hotel as the next day we were to begin the challenge of ticking off another item on my bucket list,

“Climbing Europe’s highest mountain – Mount Elbrus”

The Climb

And we’re off!

After breakfast we began our great trek up Mt. Elbrus, starting with the 2nd acclimatisation push. From the Azau Glade, at the base of Mt. Elbrus, we ascended the Elbrus cableway to the Garabashi Station some 3750m. We attempted to hike a bit further to the ruins of The Privut of 11 Huts (4050m) but the onset of a thunderstorm forced us to turn back some 50m short. We spent the rest of the day at the hotel enjoying our last night with a comfortable bed.

Mt. Elbrus team

Mt. Elbrus team – ready to summit the ‘Twin Peaks’

The next morning we retraced our steps from the previous day, except this time, with no thunderstorm, we continued past the Ruins and up to the ‘Blue Hut’ (4080m) – our base camp for the climb. The next day, another acclimatisation hike up to the Pastukhov Rocks (4700m), where I worked at perfecting my crampon technique, it’s amazing how quickly one re-learns this feat! Back down to the blue hut for a decent meal, hydration and a good night’s sleep, but before heading off to hit the sack, a late team meeting was called as new reports of oncoming bad weather had come in. Our hopes of having a few attempts to summit Mt Elbrus were dashed in the space of minutes as news of oncoming sever weather conditions will make a summit attempt later in the week almost impossible. This meant that our window of opportunity was slowing closing and we had to make a call to summit the twin-peaks in the morning. The vote was unanimous and the team headed straight to bed to get a good nights sleep.

An early start to miss the bad weather was what we were hoping for, but our wishes weren’t granted. We opted to take the snowcat up to Pastukhov Rocks, from where we began our summit bid of the Western Peak (5642 m). The team split into 3 groups due to pace, with Viktor, Christo, Heidi & myself in the lead, Rose, Debs Eldaline & Marisa next , and then Andrey with Erika in tow. Weather conditions were steadily declining with high winds, snow and unbearable temperatures. Reaching the saddle of Mt. Elbrus (the smooth dip in the ridge between the two peaks), the weather began to worsen with fresh powder snow and whiteout conditions up the summit slope. I decided then and there, that I was happy with my climb, for reaching the Saddle of Mt. Elbrus, a staggering 5325m, and that I was ready to turn back. And so with a sense of accomplishment, and complete peace, I headed back down the slopes of Mt Elbrus, with Adventure leader – Rose Gardener’s motto repeating in my head:

“Summits are for the ego, mountaineering is for the soul”

Thanks to everyone who has followed my adventures, I am looking forward to my next challenge later on in the year.

And all in the name of The Domino Foundation! Don’t forget to make a donation to the abandoned babies at The Domino Foundation Babies Home, the worthy recipient of all my fundraising endeavours.

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