Russia-Mt Elbrus
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<Moscow>        <Elbrus Valley>

This is what we came to Russia for! Given the rainy weather in the valley I wasn't quite sure what we would come across on the mountain. Leaving the Dacha it started raining, the closer towards the base we got, the harder it was raining. Oh great. We rode the two gondolas a few thousand feet up to where the rain changed to snow. Next was a ride on the single chairlifts. Our packs rode separately than us cause the weight of a person and a pack would probably make the chair break and fall, which apparently isn't too uncommon. It was freakin' cold and windy and visibility was pretty low. Up at the Barrel Huts around 12,500ft I was questioning my decision to camp instead of staying in a nice warm and dry Barrel. Oh well, I kept thinking that "Thou that shall not kill me will only make me stronger." The existing tent sites were up the hill from the Barrels on a rocky ridge. It took me almost an hour to set my tent up solo given the high winds, white out conditions and freezing cold. I had to strategically place rocks on different parts of my tent to keep it from blowing away while I tried to tie it down and get the poles in. The ground was about 1/2 inch thick so stakes weren't going in, so they were buried in between rocks and tied to them. It dropped about 3 inches of snow just while I was setting it up. All I could think about was those stories of being holed up in a tent for 3 days straight. Sure didn't sleep much the entire time, probably due to the constant sound of a freight train from the wind!
Luckily the weather cleared some a few hours later and the winds were helping to dry things out. Once the mountain was visible it really raised moral. What dropped moral was the Polish climber who stumbled in with bad frostbite and reports that he lost his teammate. They searched for two days by helicopter and never found him.
The second day on the mountain brought us beautiful clear skies and great views of the twin summits and the surrounding Caucasus mountain range. There were constant snow plumes blowing off the summit from the high winds. We all took a hike up to the Pruit Hut remains and above towards Postukov Rocks which would be our starting ground for summit day. Some clouds and wind, but a much nicer day then the previous one. Rumor had it that a cyclone was forming over the Black Sea and the good weather window would be closing in the next couple days. Good timing for us? Hopefully! The rest of the day was spent lounging around, eating and drinking lots, and eventually preparing for a summit bid that night as long as the weather was good.
There's just something damn cool about waking up in the middle of the night and freezing your ass off to climb a mountain! Call it sick, but it's very cool. With 3 layers of poly-pro/fleece/gor-tex on top and bottom I was ready for our 3am snow cat ride which proved to be the most painful part of the trip! Four bodies sliding down towards you and jamming you into a metal bar isn't fun. I even dropped my crampons but Greg made a kick-save before they popped out the back, whew. The stars were out and it was pretty windy, but on with the crampons and time to gain some altitude. Vladamir was our guide and set a great pace, perfect to stay warm yet not be out of breath. Once the sun started coming up the views were spectacular! The peaks behind us were getting lit up, the shadow of the Earth was stretching along the horizon, and the shadow of the peak stretched across the land. Absolutely spectacular. Not long afterwards we were on the traverse towards the saddle and Vladamir was having some obvious problems. No one saw him eating or drinking so at a break in the saddle we loaded him up with diamox, gu, and powerbars. He pointed out the route and as a group we hammered on. At this point we were in the sun and it felt great. We were about 2 hours from the summit and traversing the steepest part up the side of the west summit. Singing "Greta" by WSP to myself helped me to pass the time and forget that my lungs were about to burst and that my heart was beating behind my eyes. It was awesome how we all worked together as a group, going a good pace for everyone, and helping each other out when needed. That's what gets people to the top. We got to a somewhat flat spot and rumor had it we were 1/2 hour from the summit!!!! Shortly after we could see the high point in the distance and we were almost there. Aaahhhh, the highest point in Europe!!!! What a great feeling, and as usual the tears streamed sweat and sunscreen in my eyes so I could barely see. After tons of pictures, hugs, and congratulations most folks headed down from the small summit. The winds were about 40-50mph and the temp was 17 degrees Fahrenheit below freezing, enough to knock a skinny-ass like me off my feet a couple times. Bob and I were loving it so much we decided to stay up there for a while. Within the next hour we were both able to celebrate the summit with Rhonda and Bill again. Man, it was great!
Heading back towards the saddle we met up with the rest of the group as the last two were on their way to the summit. Once within view of the Pruit Hut we were one our own if we chose and it was a nice slow hike down the glacier with fantastic views of the Caucasus range all around. Eventually getting back to the Barrel Huts we all sat around talking about the awesome day and eating all the junk food we could get on our hands. The big topics were pizza and Kentucky Fried Chicken. MMmmmm. We were even close to riding the lift and gondola down just to have some celebratory beers! 14 of the 18 of us made it.
Since we summitted on our first of three possible days we were heading back to the Dacha the next day. The weather was beautiful once again and all we had to do was pack and get down the mountain. What a fantastic time....

<Moscow>        <Elbrus Valley>

040-elbrus.jpg (122065 bytes) The gondola we rode part way up; the rain soon turned to snow 041-elbrus.jpg (113456 bytes)

042-elbrus.jpg (52008 bytes) Real shaky chairlift, weather getting worse; Mike and Kelly setting up camp 043-elbrus.jpg (23335 bytes)

044-elbrus.jpg (69137 bytes) Finally nicer weather; our first views on the mountain 045-elbrus.jpg (53759 bytes)

046-elbrus.jpg (64261 bytes) Mountain view; Barrel Huts that the "un-adventurous" stayed in 047-elbrus.jpg (63386 bytes)

048-elbrus.jpg (58568 bytes) Caucasus mountains; Getting even clearer! 049-elbrus.jpg (64648 bytes)

050-elbrus.jpg (62459 bytes) Uumm, Elbrus again! 051-elbrus.jpg (57508 bytes)

052-elbrus.jpg (49005 bytes) Caucasus mountains and the sunset; Snowcat and Elbrus 053-elbrus.jpg (61206 bytes)

054-elbrus.jpg (93264 bytes) Looking north from the Barrels; My home for 4 days 055-elbrus.jpg (102275 bytes)

056-elbrus.jpg (86235 bytes) Acclimatization hike above Diesel Hut; Remains of the burned down Pruit Hut 057-elbrus.jpg (47382 bytes)

058-elbrus.jpg (86322 bytes) Chillin' at the Pruit Hut; Chillin' at the Diesel Hut 059-elbrus.jpg (76728 bytes)

061-elbrus.jpg (61113 bytes) Looking out my tent 062-elbrus.jpg (79927 bytes)

063-elbrus.jpg (35772 bytes) Sunrise around 16,000ft on Summit day 064-elbrus.jpg (64000 bytes)

065-elbrus.jpg (65333 bytes) Shadow of the Earth and sunrise on the horizon 066-elbrus.jpg (38592 bytes)

067-elbrus.jpg (71105 bytes) Believe it or not, we're smiling! 068-elbrus.jpg (76356 bytes)

069-elbrus.jpg (46373 bytes) Shadow of Elbrus with the sunrise, damn cool; the view behind us 070-elbrus.jpg (79999 bytes)

071-elbrus.jpg (68525 bytes) More views around; a group coming down around 18,000ft 072-elbrus.jpg (25417 bytes)

073-elbrus.jpg (31621 bytes) Aahhh, the effects of altitude; gettin' closer! 074-elbrus.jpg (44145 bytes)

075-elbrus.jpg (57266 bytes) We can finally see the summit; Summit marker!!!! 076-elbrus.jpg (57077 bytes)

077-elbrus.jpg (88488 bytes) Kelly and Greg checking our time; WooHoo!, made it 078-elbrus.jpg (42015 bytes)

079-elbrus.jpg (54881 bytes) 17 degrees below 0 and 40mph winds almost blew me over; Greg  080-elbrus.jpg (61934 bytes)

082-elbrus.jpg (77030 bytes) Group shot; Rhonda and Bob 085-elbrus.jpg (58328 bytes)

089-elbrus.jpg (45533 bytes) Bill; View from the summit 083-elbrus.jpg (109490 bytes)

084-elbrus.jpg (55532 bytes) View on the way down; folks on the final approach 087-elbrus.jpg (69302 bytes)

090-elbrus.jpg (41803 bytes) Rich and Bill heading back towards the saddle; Taking a break from the wind 091-elbrus.jpg (67596 bytes)

092-elbrus.jpg (38452 bytes) Kinda cool looking up at where you just were 095-elbrus.jpg (77482 bytes)

093-elbrus.jpg (109827 bytes) Climb this next? yeah right; Just had to get down the mountain now 094-elbrus.jpg (94644 bytes)

096-elbrus.jpg (111967 bytes) Our gondola for the ride down; celebrating with beers and babushka hats 097-elbrus.jpg (106661 bytes)

elbrus02.jpg (123522 bytes)    elbrus03.jpg (185068 bytes)    elbrus04.jpg (134644 bytes)    elbrus05.jpg (117380 bytes) Sunrise around 17,000ft

elbrus06.jpg (142039 bytes)    elbrus07.jpg (162648 bytes)    elbrus08.jpg (141312 bytes)    elbrus09.jpg (185467 bytes) 18,000ft saddle and summit!!!!

<Moscow>        <Elbrus Valley>