Dispatches - Elbrus 2004

August 15, 2004

In 2004, Adventure Consultants ran two expeditions to climb Mount Elbrus in Russia. Elbrus is a giant dormant volcano, which separates Europe from Asia and is one of the world's coveted “Seven Summits”.

Adventure Consultants Elbrus Expedition 2004 Dispatches

Expedition One 

10 July 2004
Greetings everyone from St. Petersburg, formerly known as Leningrad back in the communist days. Everyone has arrived, safe and sound! Tonight was our first gathering, talking about our adventure to come, and generally enjoying the rich cultural scene that embodies the new Russia.

Seeing as everyone is pretty tired, it’s off to bed soon. Tomorrow we are off to tour the city and pack our gear for the flight to the mountains the following day.

So, this is Luis, Marty and the gang saying dobre-utra or goodnight from St. Pete.

11 July 2004
City living.... what a welcome diverse change from the simpler lifestyle we will have up in the hills. Today is spent seeing some of the amazing sites in and around St. Pete. A few fun facts; did you know that St. Petersburg is actually comprised of 42 islands? Also, that the whole city was built on a swamp? Amazing. Some of the more memorable things we saw today… St. Issacs’s Cathedral, 30kg of gold adorning the dome and inside doors, worth about 7 million USD when built, was paid for about the time the USA bought Alaska for about the same price! So, most Russians call this church their little Alaska! The massive stone pillars inside are comprised of semi-precious stone from all over the world. The two massive pillars of Lapis, weighing 4 tons each from Afghanistan were by far my favourite!

Then after a relaxing lunch it was on to the Hermitage, the world’s largest art museum. How big? Well, as Tatiana our city tour guide told us, "if you stand in front of each piece of art or sculpture for just one minute, it would take you 4 years to see everything".

So now we are back at the hotel, sipping a piva, (beer), and packing and planning for our day of travel tomorrow to get to the base of Elbrus. Where is that you ask? If you look at a map, we will be in the middle of the land bridge between the Black and the Caspian Sea.

So, till tomorrow from the hills, this is Luis, Marty, and team Peristroyka, signing off.

12 July 2004
Hurry up and wait was todays motto. Plus, the "duffle shuffle", moving our gear from place to place got us our exercise. Delayed flights, and a delayed transport saw us arriving to the Tryskol valley late. But the sunset over the hills and mountains on the way in made the long day worth it.

Everyone is still in great spirits, reenergized by the cool air and the views. Tomorrow will be our 1st walk together as a team up Mt. Cheget, a neighbouring peak to Elbrus. The Tryskol valley is actually a ski resort town, so Cheget, Tryskol Peak, (our walk day after tomorrow), and Elbrus herself, all have chairlifts up to certain points!

So, to save the knees tomorrow we will take the lift down hopefully in time for a late shashlik or barbeqe! Aaaahhhh, climbing in Russia. So, we will be slowly adjusting to ever increasing elevations over the next few days, returning to the valley floor each night, climbing high and sleeping low, then moving up onto Elbrus and begin to tackle our main objective.

So, till then, we are off to look at trillions of stars outside...spkonya-nochke. (goodnight)

Luis

13 July 2004
Changes in altitude, changes in attitude...isn’t that an old Jimmy Buffet song? Anyway, today was no exception!

After a frightening chairlift ride, we started up a beautiful ridge peering over into Georgia. Slow and steady saw us gaining the summit right about lunchtime. Resting up there, eating lunch, and looking across the valley at our route up Elbrus.

Then for the fun part! Glissading down the big snow patches left from the winter to catch the chairlift down to the valley floor to save the knees! Al yodelled all the way up, and Nikki, in her understated way, said that glissading is just a fancy term for sliding down the snow on your butt!

Tomorrow will be more of the same, climbing high and sleeping low...off to dinner, borsht and heavy black bread!

Mmmmm!

Luis

14 July 2004
Another great day of getting used to the new altitudes! Great walk with amazing views. We do however say good bye to shorts as tomorrow we move up to the barrels and to the snow! But for tonight, a final shower and yet another great meal!

Till tomorrow...

Luis

15 July 2004 - Barrel life
Greetings from above 3500m and the barrels. What are these weird things you ask? Old converted fuel drums that have a door and bunk beds inside. This is where we will be sleeping, eating and basing our higher climbs out of. We have arrived here just in time to prepare a late lunch and go over gear we will now need being on the ice and snow.

Great to arrive here and see lots of old Russian friends, one even brought me a bottle of champagne for my birthday in 3 days!

The weather is poor higher up, so we will keep our fingers crossed that it will improve.

So, till later, this is Luis, Marty, and team bochky signing off....

16 July 2004 - The Elbrus Shuffle
What more can you ask for whilst acclimatizing? A little wind, a little sunshine, beautiful views, and rolling around in the snow!

Today we went even higher than yesterday, getting more and more used to the thin air up there. On the way we got out our ice axes and crampons, (sharp pointy things that go on the feet for gripping ice) and really got down to business. Practicing falling and stopping, how to walk up a steep hill of ice, and how to even flip over backwards and still stop yourself. All in all, great fun! Tomorrow will be our final practice day, then on the morning of the 18th, weather permitting, we go for it! So, we are back at the barrel's now, resting and recovering. Everyone is in fine spirits and they all say "prevyet" or hi, to everyone back home.

So, till tomorrow, Luis and Marty, dust in the wind....

17 July 2004 - Postokov rocks
What a difference 24 hour makes! As you can see from the photo, the weather has taken a significant turn. Unfortunately, not for the better. Howling winds, driving snow, and colder temperatures saw us persevering yet upwards through the nastiness, to reach our high point at Postokov rocks, at over 15,000ft. Or 4600m. So now our acclimatization process is complete, we watch the weather. Technically we have 2 days to choose from. Going tomorrow morning will see us back at the barrels tomorrow night. Waiting till the morning of the 19th, we will have to climb the mountain, come back to the barrels and gather our things, and try to make it all the way down the mountain on the lifts, to be back in the hotel in the valley the same day! Why do we have to do this? Literally there will be nowhere for us to sleep up here as our barrel time runs out on the 19th and a new team moves in!

So, wish us luck with our weather, and stay tuned! 

Luis

18 July 2004 - Barrel bound
Well folks, the birthday present I was wishing for (better weather) did not come true. We were all up at 4am for breakfast, dressed and ready to go, the weather however had other plans. So, after careful deliberation, we decided to wait till tomorrow morning. About an hour ago it seems like our decision was a good one as a Spanish team that tried to go returned wind beaten and humbled. They told stories of zero visibility, wind that knocked them off their feet and lots of fresh snow. Sooooo, our team is spending today catching up on reading, playing cards and chess, and preparing for the inevitable battle that is sure to come.

Keep those fingers and toes crossed!

Luis, Marty and the Barrel Band

19 July 2004 - The final attempt
Well everybody, it looks like the weather may have broken. To reinforce this thought, a Russian team consisting of multiple climbing clubs combined has shown up, how many you ask? I lost count at 120 people. Everyone here was again ready to go this morning only to peer out of the barrels and be hit with driving snow and zero visibility. Later in the morning however, the winds dropped, and the clouds parted somewhat, so if this break in the weather continues, there will be quite the charge for the summit tomorrow.

Tomorrow of course is our final day up here. Flights to Moscow and onward home are looming ever closer. Not to mention the barbecue in the valley tomorrow night! So, I know everyone's fingers and toes back home must be getting sore by now for having them crossed for us for so long but give us one more day!

So hopefully the next time you hear from us will be from the valley with stories of a long but successful day!

Till then,

Luis, Marty and crew

20 July 2004 - From the roof of Europe
We did it! At 12:15 Moscow time, after a 7-hour climb in howling winds and driving snow, we reached the highest point in Europe!

Sadly, Urban and Al did not join us today, as they decided it was best to remain in support at the barrels and were happy with the heights they did reach. Urban is already planning his return next summer! But a big congratulation goes out to Jo and Rob Gambi for completing their 7 summits quest here today! Quite an amazing husband and wife team! Everyone else performed amazingly well considering the conditions and now, after summitting, dragging our bags down to the tram station, then to a bus, to arrive back in the valley at our hotel still wearing our harnesses and climbing boots, we are showering up for the big shashlik, or barbeque, to come!

Tomorrow we are on the road early to catch our flight to Moscow, looking forward to the sights and sounds of this enchanting city.

Till then this is Luis, Marty, and the whole crew sending warm thoughts back home... (you can uncross those fingers and toes now, we did it!)

21 July 2004 - Moscow white nights
I don't think anyone can beat this record...within 24 hours, via snow cat, aerial tramway, bus, and a plane, we went from our basecamp at the barrels, to the hustle and bustle of Moscow! Pretty amazing I'd say. This is always the fun part of the trip, celebrating our success, and seeing more of this stunning country.

Tomorrow will be spent visiting the Kremlin, Red Square, and hopefully St. Basil's cathedral and yes, Lenin's tomb.

After a final dinner together, we all begin to part ways, and head on back to the "other world"...thanks to all of you back home who followed along and were with us all the way...

Till next time...this is Luis, Marty, and the Russian crew, signing off.

 

Expedition Two

8 August 2004 - Touchdown in the valley
Back in the saddle again! After a quick flash thru Moscow, the team has all arrived safely here at the hotel ozone at the base of Mt. Elbrus.

A great dinner of fresh fish and a cold beer was a great wrap up to a perfect evening. Did I also mention that the team unwound upon arrival by soaking in the hotels wood sauna? Nothing like it!

Tomorrow will be a nice light hike up Mt. Cheget, to begin getting used to the altitude and to play in the snow, learning about how to use our ice axes, and pace our walking and breathing.

For now, we are all packing, listening to music, and watching an amazing lightning storm pass over the valley.

So, till tomorrow, this is Luis and the gang saying goodnight...

9 August 2004 - Top of Cheget
Up we went, literally laughing all the way! What a treat to be with a group that is all friends! Today’s hike was a moderate one, working on pacing, breathing and doing some filming for Annabelle’s film project.

Lunchtime saw us on the summit in time for snacks, great views, and just enough time on the way down to practice self-arresting in the snow with our ice axes!

We then hopped back on the chairlift to ferry us to the valley floor, and are now back at our chalet, heading to the sauna, then off to pack for tomorrows move up to the barrels, our next camp on the mountain for a few days.

Everyone sends their best back home, so till tomorrow....

Luis

10 August 2004 - Welcome to Barrel land
Here we are, back in barrel land! After much moving around of gear on the cable cars, we have arrived at our 1st campsite in the sky, the barrels or bochkys, at a little over 3800m.

Everyone is in fine form and out on the front deck of the barrels, enjoying the sunshine and watching the ever-increasing crowds arrive. Mt. Elbrus is quite popular in these summer months as up here you can climb, ski, and simply hang out on the snow all summer long!

Lena, our Russian cook is busy in the kitchen preparing a light lunch, after which we will be taking a small walk even higher to help us adjust here and return to our cosy barrels in time for afternoon tea and cookies!

So, till then this is Bond and Co., signing off....

Luis

11 August 2004 - Pastokov and beyond
Today’s theme was, "exceed all expectations"! The day started out simple enough, planning for some work with our crampons and ice axes, but as weather continued to circle around us, and with the crew feeling strong, we all decided to push higher, going all the way to Pastokov Rocks!

What does this mean? This means we did today what we planned for tomorrow, thereby allowing us to take a much-deserved rest day and start watching for our summit window.

We have one more night reserved here at the barrels, after that it will be either up to the hut to continue to wait out this spell of bad weather, or summit and back down to the green of the valley!

So, stay tuned as team, "where is the love?" continues our quest for the highest point in Europe!

Luis

12 August 2004 - Barrel bound
This is the sort of snowstorm one dreams of for the winter holidays...lots of snow, wind, perfect for cuddling up in front of the fireplace with a hot toddy and a good book.

All this would be great except that there is no fireplace up here, we are stuck in old converted fuel drums, cosy, but crowded. No hot bodysuit plenty of cocoa, coffee and tea, the gang is however threatening to break out the vodka if this does not stop soon, and for right now there is no end in sight!

So as of tomorrow, we need to summit and go down or actually move higher to another hut to wait as our barrel is reserved to a different group tomorrow night, we will see.

To top it all off, poor Sean twisted his ankle coming out of the barrels on the snowy steps this morning, he is in fine spirits despite this and we are all hopeful the swelling will go down quickly.

So, after a grrrreat breakfast of pancakes, bacon, eggs, and lots of coffee (thanks to Chris and summit coffee in North Carolina!), we are reading, relaxing, packing for a hopeful summit attempt and watching the snow continue to fall.

So, till later this is team snowbound, signing off....

Luis

13 August 2004 - Up to the hut we go
Today was spent moving up to the hut at 4,200 as we were evicted from our barrel! No worries as we are all cozied in, still hoping for better weather.

All forecasts point to tomorrow being the day to go, so we are planning on waking up at 3am to check the weather, if it looks good we will go for it!

So, stay tuned as the drama unfolds!

Luis and Co.

Ps. Happy Friday the 13th! Eeek!

14 August 2004 - The summit
The journey reaches its triumphant end... Today started out under a star filled sky with Saturn and the Moon high in the celestial plain. Everyone was full of anticipation and a bit of the jitters as to what the day would bring.

A perfect sunrise, little wind, and reasonable temperatures saw us make excellent time to the saddle. At this point everyone was starting to feel the altitude a bit, but everyone was deep in the game and ready to take on the final headwall!

After a strong push up, the summit plateau was attained, and after hugs and high fives all around, we walked onto the highest point in all of Europe!

A loooong walk down brought us back to the hut where we will start to celebrate our achievement! Tomorrow we will move us and our gear down the hill back to the hotel and more important, the sauna!

Everyone sends a big thanks back home to those that followed along and want to share that they are all safe and sound and on the way home!

Tune in for our touchdown in the valley tomorrow and all the fun it will bring!

Gracias por todos!

Luis and the gang

15 August 2004 - Celebration
Here we sit, celebrating! Sharing stories of our journey, and of future plans over copious amounts of local vodka!

Tomorrow will find us travelling homeward, some to London, Germany, and all the way to South Africa, but for now, only sharing the friendships borne from climbing a mountain together.

Thanks to all of you back home for your support, we felt it all the way!

So from all of us here in Russia, to all of you around the world, so long, and spaciba, (thanks)!

Luis and the crew

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