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Mountain Madness Climber

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