Summit and Ski Descent of Mt. Elbrus (18,540 ft)- Russia
Mount Elbrus — 18,540 ft. Anatoliy Savejko photo
Reported by Mountain Madness guide Mark Ryman
The first Mountain Madness Mt. Elbrus trip of the season was a huge success, complete with some good skiing for half of the group. We started off on July 5 in Moscow with a nice Russian style orientation dinner, followed by a tour of the city the next day. We made stops at the Kremlin, Red Square, and Moscow University before heading to Old Arbat street for entertainment and dinner. On July 7 we were up early for the transfer to the airport for our flight to Min Vody and 3 hour drive up the beautiful Baksan Valley into the Elbrus Region. Things have changed a bit since my last visit over 5 years ago and now you can find ATM machines, new hotels, and a high speed modern gondola on the lower slopes of Elbrus. They seem to be beefing up their ski infrastructure across the country of Russia to prepare for the 2014 Olympic games at Sochi.
Red Square in Moscow
Having left the hustle and bustle of Moscow behind, everyone was happy to spend a couple of days settling into a more relaxed pace in the Valley while enjoying the amenities of the Povorot Hotel and doing some acclimatization hikes to the Observatory on Elbrus and Mt. Cheget. Eventually we made our way up to our basecamp in the Barrel huts. Those of us with skis finally got to put them to use on some nice south facing corn snow between 15,000 and 12,000 feet, as we continued our acclimatization trips to prepare for summit day. The weather during most of the trip was outstanding. We had clear skies and unobstructed views everyday until after our summit push.
July 12 was a full rest day for half of the climbers in our group. The rest of us had skis and made good use of a snowcat assist up to the Pasthukov Rocks at 15k’ for two more runs to get the most of our “active rest day”.
Anatoliy Savejko photo
The Caucasus Mountains. Anatoliy Savejko photo
(Check out a video on YouTube of the skiing conditions we had)
A 3:00 a.m. start on July 13 treated us to a fairly calm, clear and starry, but moonless night. As the sun came around the east slopes, some clouds started to build in the valley below but the snow was firm and perfect for crampons. Our team was staggered into four different waves of ascent from the saddle between the two peaks of Elbrus. The earliest climbers to reach the summit got there around 8:30 a.m. and the last of us topped out around noon just as some heavy white out conditions began moving through intermittently. By evening we were all safely back at the barrels and happy to have completed the climb.
The group on the ascent. Anatoliy Savejko photo
Summit day! Anatoliy Savejko photo
Skiers on the way to the summit. Anatoliy Savejko photo
Mark, Scott and Chuck on the summit of Mt. Elbrus!
(Click here for a video of Scott and Chuck on the summit)
Soltan, our local guide, took a few of us for a very adventurous side trip to the Chegem Valley for our last day in the Elbrus region. This area required a 4wd van to climb over a muddy mountain pass and descent to a region that has remained virtually unchanged for the last 200 years and was a stark contrast to the rapid development occuring closer to Elbrus itself.
Two members of our group parted ways with us at the Min Vody airport and went to St. Petersburg, where I would run into them again a couple days later. The rest of us returned to Moscow and enjoyed a huge feast at an Uzbeki restaurant for our final celebration dinner.
The group celebrates the climb at a final dinner
The second group is on the mountain now with 8 out of 9 reaching the summit!
~ MM Guide Mark Ryman