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Mount Elbrus with Mountain Madness

From Moscow to Mountains — First Elbrus Trip a Success!

The first Moun­tain Mad­ness trip Elbrus expe­di­tion of the sea­son has come to an end. It was a great trip, a great suc­cess and though the jour­ney has come to an end, the mem­o­ries and friend­ships will live on.

Guide twins Alan and Dave on the way to the air­port. Tino Vil­lanue­va photo

Rus­sia is a tricky place to trav­el. The lan­guage, with Cyril­lic let­ter­ing, and a coun­try that was only open to trav­el in the 90s makes it feel quite for­eign to trav­el­ers. Many peo­ple also have the pre­con­cep­tion that, due to the stereo­type of com­mu­nism, Rus­sia is orga­nized and every­body stands nice­ly in line. The truth of trav­el­ing in Rus­sia is a bit dif­fer­ent. Chaot­ic air­ports, heavy traf­fic that forces $100k cars to pass each oth­er in the dirt and mud of the shoul­der at high­way speeds and aloof ser­vice staff are real­i­ties of Moscow.

Dave hang­ing out with a card­board cutout out­side our Belaru­sian lunch restau­rant.
Tino Vil­lanue­va photo

Alec and Tino (and a friend) sam­pling some local swill at the Muse­um in Izmailo­vo Krem­lin.
Tino Vil­lanue­va photo

How­ev­er, as with most places in the world, life in the moun­tain­ous regions is slow­er, the peo­ple are more wel­com­ing and those of us who live for the moun­tains feel more at peace. We spent about a week liv­ing at the high camp known as the Bar­rels while prepar­ing, accli­ma­tiz­ing and climb­ing Elbrus. When our pos­si­ble sum­mit days arrived, and the weath­er did not look great, we had to remain patient. 

The team decid­ed to remain at camp on our first pos­si­ble day and while oth­er teams ven­tured into thun­der, light­ning, snow, rain and wind, receiv­ing a thor­ough pound­ing by the weath­er, we stayed in camp and con­served ener­gy for what we hoped would be a bet­ter day. We had the time. It was the right decision. 

Ski tour­ing above the Bar­rels camp with the mighty Ush­ba in the back­ground.
Tino Vil­lanue­va photo

Sum­mit day came and while it was not the elec­tric storm of the night before, the weath­er was far from per­fect. Much of the climb could have tak­en place any­where in the world, we would not have known the dif­fer­ence. With a 60m bub­ble of vis­i­bil­i­ty it is hard to tell where in the world you are. But we pushed on through the dif­fi­cult con­di­tions with spo­radic and taunt­ing views of sun, sky and sur­round­ing mountains.

Dave and the crew with­in meters from the sum­mit. Tino Vil­lanue­va photo

How­ev­er, the sum­mit was white. I arrived on the sum­mit with Peter and Alec, first amongst our teams, and even though the weath­er was poor, luck­i­ly it was not ter­ri­bly cold or windy. We wait­ed as long as we could stay warm and then clicked into our skis for a 6000 ft descent from 18,500 ft. But as we were feel­ing our way through the white we became con­cerned for the rest of the group. Regroup­ing at the sad­dle, we worked well as a team to get every­body back safe­ly to camp. It was a long day, and every­body was tired, but we arrived just in time for a hot meal before falling fast asleep.

Peter and Alec on the sum­mit. Tino Vil­lanue­va photo

I do not mea­sure the suc­cess of a trip by the num­ber of peo­ple who stand on top of the moun­tain — there are much more impor­tant fac­tors such as meet­ing new life­time friends, enjoy­ing the com­pa­ny of these friends and return­ing home safe­ly with great sto­ries. On these cri­te­ria our expe­di­tion was a suc­cess. Still, 12 team mem­bers stand­ing on the sum­mit feels pret­ty great!

~ MM Guide Tino Villanueva