Dispatches - Elbrus 2005

August 06, 2005

In 2005 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 2005 Expedition Dispatches

Elbrus Expedition 13 - 26 July 2005

All the group members are assembling today in St Petersburg, Russia, for the start of their expedition to climb the highest peak on the European Continent, Elbrus at 5633m. The team members are;

Expedition Leader
Luis Benitez - USA

Tony Dark – Australia
Bill Fillmore – Canada
Steven Novick - USA
Colin Overy – Canada
Kieran Whitefield – Australia

14 July 2005 - Russia 2005 kicks off with a bang
Greetings everyone from St. Petersburg in Russia! The sun is shining, the boys are arriving and we are all excited to get this season started. Today it started with a bang, literally. As we toured Peter and Paul fortress, the 1st fortress in St. Petersburg, the cannon signalling 12 noon went off and scared us all!

Everyone is here, minus one. Colin, Tony, Keiran and Bill are having a blast. Steven should be joining us this afternoon, and bright and early tomorrow we head to the valley, Tryskol, at the base of Elbrus to begin our process of acclimatizing.

It is white nights here in St. Pete so the sun does not really go down, it only goes to twilight for 2 hours between 2-4am. So we have plenty of time to get to know one another and plan on how to make the most of our time together.

So until tomorrow from the Tryskol valley, this is Luis and the crew, off to the races!

15 July 2005 - Tryskol Valley touchdown
Finally! We arrived here after what proved to be a long drawn out travel day. A 3 hour flight, followed by a 3 hour bus ride saw us to this beautiful valley we are now in, right at the base of the mountain. This is expedition life in style! Clouds hang low in the valley and there is a bit of a chill in the air but this does nothing to dampen our spirits for tomorrow’s climb up Mt. Cheget.

After a quick steam in this chalet's world-famous sauna, the team settled in for a quick bite of dinner, meeting up with our Russian team member, Alexander, and then heading off to pack for tomorrow's adventures. So stay tuned as we get the 2005 Elbrus season kicked off bright and early tomorrow!

Luis and the crew

16 July 2005 - Mt Cheget climb and reunion

What a great day! We started off bright and early to get a head start on the afternoon weather. Beautiful skies saw us high on the slopes kicking steps in the snow and using our ice axes to practice self-arresting. We slid around learning to stop a fall, and even challenged ourselves by doing it without ice axes!

Clear skies and warm temps saw us on the summit by lunch. After a great lunch amid huge friendly crowds from all over the world, and snapping a photo or two of the clear summit of Elbrus across the valley, what a surprise but to see a large Greek team coming to the top led by a few fellas that were on Everest two years ago right next to the AC team! What a small world! After handshakes all around and promises to catch up over a vodka, we descended to the valley in time to enjoy some roasted lamb (shashlik) and a wonderful potato pancake with chili sauce (blini). Even Bill our resident vegetarian found something he liked! All this and a beer or two, we were ready to head back to the hotel for the planned afternoon sauna session. That’s right folks, this IS climbing, Russian style!!!

Till tomorrow,
Luis and the gang

17 July 2005 - Singing in the rain
Soggy and thundery were the themes for today, but these conditions did not deter us from reaching our planned high point for the day. After just barely making it to an old shack to seek shelter from the initial wave of storms, the crew donned Goretex and downed some hot tea, and off we went into the tempest.

After about 200 feet or so, the onset of thunder and lightening, saw us turning tail and speeding down the valley.

Upon return to the valley floor the sun came out and as I write this most of the lads are showering, listening to music and packing for the move up to the Barrels tomorrow (this is our staging camp on the mountain).

So stay tuned as if the weather stays this interesting, it will make our climb even more adventurous!

Luis and the crew

18 July 2005 - Barrell boogie
Movin on up. Today the crew moved themselves and all gear up to the base camp known as the Barrells. Why are they called this? Because literally that's what they are, big barrells that sleep 6 on bunks!

After moving in, we quickly ate some lunch, grabbed our crampons and set off for a short walk up to the old Pruitt 11 hut that burnt down years ago. There we went over even more self-arrest drills, walking with crampons on and generally breathing heavily to get used to the thinner air.

Afternoon saw us zooming back to the Barrells on the soft snow in time for a late lunch of borst soup and fresh veggies. Everyone is in good spirits and looking forward to going even higher tomorrow!

Till then,
Luis and Co.

19 July 2005 - Pastukhov Rocks
Up we went. All the way to 4,700m at a place called Pastukhov Rocks. Some were feeling the effects of altitude, others went all the way up singing! It was a 6 hour climb up today and as it stands now, tomorrow will be a rest day. This is a chance to rest up a bit after 4 days of climbing. Our summit push promises to be challenging, so stay tuned!

Luis and crew

20 July 2005 - Prep for summit day
Pack and prepare! Today's rest day was spent packing, preparing and trying on our summit day equipment. Our kick-off time, weather dependent is 3am this morning. It should be about a 10-13 hour round trip. Other teams are reporting good conditions on the slopes above and everyone is all fired up and ready to go!

Stay in touch as we go for the roof of Europe tonight!

Luis and crew

21 July 2005 - Team Yamos a la Playa summits Elbrus
There is something magical about summit days. The early morning wake up, the getting started sometimes by the light of a full moon, breathing, walking, waiting for sunrise...

Today was one of those magical days. Up at 3am to strong coffee in the steamy dining hut, then setting off under the light of a full moon, nary a cloud in the sky, sunrise was awe inspiring.

The team moved really well all-day long. Efficiently and confidently they pressed higher. Despite fierce winds and dubious snow conditions up high, we summitted at 9.30am Moscow time on the 21st July.

We faced a long walk down to the Barrells, but to expedite the process, we removed our crampons and slid down on our backsides, a technique called glissading. This allowed us to lose 300 meters really fast and get back to the Barrells in time for a late lunch. Not a bad pace! The team is looking forward to returning to the valley tomorrow where hot showers and cold vodka await!

Stay tuned as this wrap-up party should be interesting!

Luis and the gang

22 July 2005 - Down in the valley wrestling with fish
The beast lives! It was a smooth transition down to valley living. Upon return to our hotel, some of the lads even went for a run! Guess the mountain charged them up so much they had a little energy left over!

Tonight was no exception as Keiran wrestled our dinner to submission! The fish and piva (beer) was excellent as always.

Tomorrow we will head up the Schedla Valley towards the border of Georgia and take in yet another beautiful Russian mountain range.

The lads all say thanks for following along, and stay tuned for Moscow!

Luis and the gang

23 July 2005 - Schedla Valley romp
Today was anything but a rest day. Heading up the neighbouring Schedla Valley, towards the border of Georgia, our first hurdle was not the terrain, but the Russian border guards waiting for us. Handshakes, photos and a few rubles saw us safely past the checkpoint to enjoy this wonderful valley vista.

This is our last day here around the slopes of Elbrus, tomorrow it is a bright and early start to head back to Moscow, as we travel by bus and plane to Russia's capital city.

Stay tuned for bright lights, big city fun!

Luis and the crew

24 July 2005 -Bright lights, big city
What a day! Our day has been non-stop! But now we are back in the bright lights of the big city! Moscow is buzzing with summertime energy and the boys really wanted to go hang out in Red Square, so we went there for dinner and a session of people watching. Moscow truly is a blend of the old and the new, and everyone is looking forward to the city tour tomorrow. This is our last night together, as everyone is off to catch flights in the AM.

Thanks for following along, and stay tuned for the upcoming next trip! If the 1st one was any indication of the season to come, it should be awesome!

Luis and the crew

25 July 2005 - Good bye to Elbrus grupo uno
Well bags are packed and the guys are outta here tomorrow. We have done a great bit of seeing the sights and are off to dinner as we speak. Please stay tuned for more fun and adventure from grupo dos, I am sure it will be a blast!

Cheers and thanks,
Luis and the crew

28 July 2005 - Elbrus part deux
Greetings everyone and welcome to Elbrus part deux! The gang arrived today minus one, Tom Winter, who got delayed in Helsinki and should be here tonight. Everyone else went out for a quick bite after walking Arbat Street and checking out the vendors, and braving the Moscow Metro to get there!

Tomorrow we fly to Mineral Vody and begin our journey towards the mountain, so stay tuned!

Luis and crew deux

29 July 2005 - The gear game begins
Everybody finally made it to the valley this late afternoon no worse for wear. Tom is still missing his bags but hopefully they will turn up soon, we say better to have Tom than his bags!

As you can see, the evening was spent sorting through gear and getting ready for tomorrow’s hike up Mt. Cheget.

Stay tuned for fun from Russia!

Luis and the gang

30 July 2005 - Up we go
Today's cloudy skies did little to dampen our spirits set on getting out and up a little today. But even before we left the hotel, the skies brightened, and the sun came out for the rest of the day.

Everyone did well on snow school topics, like how to stop a fall with your ice axe and how to walk across a steep slope without falling too far!

Afterwards we rewarded ourselves with some hitchin, a local dish of potato and meat all fried up, and then back to the hotel to jump in the pool! Tom's bags even showed up, so all is well here in the valley.

Climbers should always have it so good!

Till tomorrow

Luis and crew

1 August 2005 - Barrell Bound
Amid rumbling skies, captain banana hands and the frolickers moved into the Barrells today.

After a brief lunch and rest, the crew headed up to stretch our legs for a few hours, but after 30min, the impending storm sent us scurrying back down.

Tomorrow we will go for Pastukhov rocks, the final stage in our acclimatization process. Till then its cards, books, and lots of tea!

Luis and crew 

2 August 2005 - Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful
Today's weather, while stopping all groups from summitting, did not deter us from getting to Pastukhov Rocks.

All day the weather played with our climb. At times we couldn't see much further than our own boots, relying on GPS to guide our way.

Why climb in this weather you ask? Now that we have reached Pastukhov rocks, we have finished our acclimatization climbs. This means tomorrow the gang gets a rest day, while we keep our fingers crossed for improving weather.

The forecast does not look good. Word on the street is that this cyclone is supposed to hang around for at least 4 more days. That is more time than we have to spare, but we will keep hoping that forecasts aren't always right!

Stay tuned.

Luis and crew

Elbrus 2005 Dispatch 11a

31 July 2005 - Test drive on Elbrus
You know how you test drive a car? boat? even a plane? Well today we test drove a mountain. We took the cable cars and chairlifts up to the Barrels where we will be living for the next 5 days, then went up to Pruitt 11 hut, and test drove our crampons to make sure everyone was in good form. A few headaches, but other than that, everyone agrees that tomorrow is the day to move up onto the mountain.

We descended back to the hotel for the night to prepare our gear and our minds for the big move tomorrow.

Wish us luck!

P.S. The group has come up with a name, don't ask me to explain it because it would take all night!

Luis and Captain Banana Hands and the Frolickers
(How's that for entertainment?)

3 August 2005 - Rest day in Barrel land
The weather has not improved much. Kelton and Elise tried to do their part by participating in a good weather dance with the locals.

The afternoon has been spent tying knots and rigging equipment for our summit bid, whenever that may be.

We are scheduled to try tomorrow, but have a reserve day we may end up using, pushing our summit attempt to Friday.

Stay tuned to see what happens as our trip nears its end.

Luis and crew

4 August 2005 - Hurry up and wait
Today's plan was simple, get up and walk! However, due to the unstable weather, we decided to use our reserve day and go tomorrow. The crew decided we have the time, so why not use it?

Now it looks like to reward our decision, the weather is improving slightly. We will see, as our time is up, and it’s our turn to try! Tomorrow morning at 3am, we begin our journey.

Stay tuned.

Luis and crew

5 August 2005 - The battle has been won
What a day! So the fabled weather window did not show up. Nevertheless, we loaded into the snow-cat at 4am for the 45 minute ride to Pastukhov rocks, keeping our fingers and toes crossed for improving weather.

As we headed higher, it was obvious that the weather was not going to cooperate. About 2 hours into the climb, Evan's feet started getting cold, and he began tiring quicker. Evan and his father Don, made the hard decision to turn around. We all applaud Evan for being a tough little 14 year old, and Don for making the decision to turn back with his son, bravo.

The remainder of us arrived on the saddle at about 11am. It was obvious then that Tom was really feeling the altitude, so rather than jeopardize the team’s chances, he elected to descend.

This left the dynamic trio (Elise, Kelton, Mike) and myself to see if we could finish off the climb. The conditions, of course, decided to get even worse. Deep snow, wind, and about 5m visibility threatened to turn us around. Upon ascending halfway up the headwall, we ran into 2 teams descending, saying it was impossible to go up. After a brief pow-wow with the trio, we decided we were feeling good enough to go further. After some creative route finding, we stood on the summit at 12.45pm Moscow time. Wouldn't you know it, but the same teams that said it was 'impossible', we passed coming back up our trail as we were descending.

We are all back at the Barrels now, safe and sound and looking forward to getting down to the valley tomorrow for some serious pool time!

Luis and the gang

6 August 2005 - Time to say goodbye
What a wonderful feeling to return to the land of green summertime pastures and flowing streams with wildflowers in abundance!

We made it back to the hotel nestled here in this pine forest, and are currently digging into our third bowl of freshly made French fries and sipping ice cold beers (coke for Evan).

Tomorrow we head back to Moscow and onwards towards home. We just wanted to thank everyone back home for following along and look forward to getting back to share all our stories with loved ones!

So till next month, this is Russia, signing off.

Luis Benitez

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