Elbrus summit success!
Russia anyone?? As much as I have traveled in my life I honestly never pictured myself hopping on a plane and flying to Moscow to climb a mountain! As always, Mountain Madness made it happen! Mount Elbrus is one of the Seven Summits (or Eight if you are including Carstensz Pyramid AND Kosciusko) and it is located in Southern Russia along the Georgia border in the Caucasus Mountain range.
The flight to Moscow from Seattle was quite the hop, skip, and jump away but arriving in Moscow and being immersed into the culture there was something that is hard to put into words. My husband and I chose the express route which limits your time to explore Moscow but also limits your time away from work and everyday life back at home! We had plenty of time to see what Moscow had to offer upon arrival prior to our next flight down to Mineral Vody to begin our acclimatization in order to summit Mount Elbrus.
As amazing as Moscow was to visit, we had no idea how incredible the ski village was going to be that surrounded Mount Elbrus; even in the summer months. After a short flight from Moscow to Mineral Vody we were met by our Russian guide Vladimir, who has been climbing in Russia for 20+ years, and our group was transported to the gorgeous town of Cheget! We made a quick stop at a local restaurant halfway between the airport and the final destination which gave us a true sampling of the culture and delicious food the country had to offer! The views on the drive into Cheget were beyond breathtaking and our guides told us the history of the area as well as the geological components of the mountains we were seeing along the drive.
When we all arrived to our chalet in Cheget we had the evening to settle in and explore and the views were just breathtaking. All around were towering mountains and glaciers that were quite drool worthy for the newcomer mountaineer. Within walking distance were plenty of shops, bars, and restaurants to explore prior to the journey to the “Barrels” on Mount Elbrus. While at the hotel we were treated to all of our meals which introduced us to the delicious Russian cuisine and hospitality. There was (as to be expected) a bit of a language barrier between the clients and the locals but that gap was completely filled with the help of Vladimir who was always with us assisting with the translation and communication which really made the trip so smooth and easy.
Our first few days in Cheget were filled with amazing acclimatization hikes with the most gorgeous backdrops that the mountain range had to offer. We were lucky enough to also be blessed with clear blue skies the majority of the trip! The group would be fueled each morning with a very filling and delicious breakfast and then we would all set out to explore the area as well as gain some altitude and hike some incredible trails prior to our summit bid.
The best part of any Mountain Madness trip is their detail to the acclimatization for the entire group prior to the summit attempt. There is always plenty of time allotted for every person to test themselves at altitude in a safe and appropriate manner. Most clients were coming from sea level and despite everyone’s extensive training one never knows how the altitude will affect him or her. We were able to sleep for a few days at 8,000 feet and climb up to 10,000 feet on successive days before packing up and heading up to the barrels on the mountain at 12,000 feet.
The day it was time to head up to the mountain was very exciting! The mountain expedition had started! Everyone packed up their gear and took a van to the base of the mountain and the initial ski lifts/gondolas which would transport us up to our mountain house for the next few days. The amazing group worked as a team to maneuver gear and supplies on the lifts and gondolas until we reached about 12,000 feet. The transition was seamless and yet another chance to acclimate to the altitude. From the final platform we were greeted by a snow cat that would help us with all our gear and supplies for the last stretch to the barrels.
The barrels were quite a treat. They had been fully remodeled within the last year and were surprisingly delightful. We had amazing views from our windows, warmth, and comfortable sleeping areas. The interior was brand new and offered us wood paneling and plenty of storage for our gear. They slept 6 people comfortably and provided so much room to throw on our gear for the summit morning (quite the difference from tent life on most summit attempts!). All the barrels surrounded a central “cooking” barrel where we were served warm, delicious meals throughout our stay. That barrel had a huge picnic table for everyone to sit comfortably as well bits of Mountain Madness history displayed on all the walls. It was a great place to socialize, fuel up, and enjoy views of the two summits of Mount Elbrus.
The next two days were spent on the mountain climbing up to higher altitudes, practicing mountaineering skills, and establishing our rope teams for summit day. The weather is quite unpredictable on Elbrus; we would be climbing in blue skies and then see a monstrous storm cloud roll in within a few minutes. Being prepared for ALL the elements is key on this climb.
Summit day was something out of a story book. We were promised an amazing weather window so were able to sleep in and bypass the true “alpine start”. We climbed up the mountain with the most captivating alpenglow sunrise I have ever seen; the views from Elbrus are hard to rival. Our group was fortunate enough to all tag the summit, everyone was strong and healthy, and we of course were climbing with Mountain Madness who offers nothing but the best guiding! Mountaineering is always weather dependent, especially in this region, and we could not believe our conditions for the summit. The first rope team was able to spend about 45 minutes salivating at the summit because of the lack of winds and clear skies.
The whole group was on its own personal high for the rest of the trip. The hard part was out of the way and now we had some exploring to do! We all climbed down the mountain as a team and had a celebratory lunch at the barrels and then it was on to a shower (and some Russian wine/champagne/vodka).
After our summit celebrations our group was also lucky enough to experience the Russian Banya! Our hotel had this spa next door which offered the most delightful local immersion to the culture. I will not divulge all the details of this experience because it is something that should be cherished and a surprise! Vladamir showed our group the best ways to relax after a climb including a series of hydrotherapy techniques that is something to write home about!
Our days together were dwindling in Russia and it was time to start our journey back home. That is always the beauty of these climbs with Mountain Madness; home is different for everyone and everyone you meet has the most amazing stories. Climbing with Mountain Madness always enables you the opportunity to be touched by everyone else’s experiences on this journey that you share together. I have yet to have an adventure with Mountain Madness that does not end with lifelong friendships with all the clients as well as the amazing guides that are responsible for our safety and the enjoyment of the climb. We will continue to climb with Mountain Madness because of this tradition! My new motto is what’s next?! For us it will be Aconcagua with Mountain Madness!
Dr. Seuss said it best with “Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way,” why not make that way with Mountain Madness to help with your next dream!?
- MM client Sarah Lee