On Top of Europe
Climbing Elbrus, 24-30 August 2013
On 29 August 2013 we summited Mt Elbrus, at 5,642 m the highest mountain in Europe. It is located in Russian Caucasus, a beautiful region of mountains, valleys, villages and friendly local people. If you ask us, the best region in Russia! We climbed with a small group of 5 people guided by Liza.
And after the cable car, the nice old-fashioned chairlift. Marco is in front with the skis.
The base camp of Elbrus, for the south face standard route, is often just referred to as “the barrels”, see photo below. The barrels are a bit run down and especially the toilet facilities are infamous, but lots of people stay here before their climb to the peak of Elbrus. We stayed in a nicer and newer camp next to the barrels.
Japanese team-member Ken outside our accommodation with a view to Mt Elbrus and the toilets.
Already on the first day we went on a small acclimatization hike to the Diesel Hut (Priyut Hut). To the left our Japanese team-member Ken, to the right our two Indonesian team-members Jay and Ingka, and in the middle Tahir, our local friend who came with us to practice his Japanese and English!
Back down at the camp, we checked out the fleet of “snow cats”. On the night of the summit climb the snow cats usually bring people up to the Pashtuhova Rocks at some 4,670 m from where the climb begins. If you start the climb straight from “the barrels”, the ascent to the west summit is some 2,000 vertical meters as opposed to some 1,100 vertical meters from the rocks.
On the third day we had a rest before going for the summit. We enjoyed the sun and the fantastic view from outside our hut.
Time to read a book and relax…
From the camp we had a great view to Elbrus. To the left is the main west summit, 5,643 m, and to the right the slightly lower east summit. The standard route goes past the Pashtuhova Rocks (where the wide snow cat tracks end straight below the east summit), then the route traverses below the east summit to the saddle between the two peaks, and finally it climbs up the steep sides of the west summit to the peak.
Summit day arrived. We left base camp at 2 am and took the snow cat up to the Pashtuhova Rocks at 4,670 m. From there we started the steep traverse across the base of the east summit. Here the sun is just rising to the east. The weather was brilliant.
And finally we arrived! At the top of Europe, 5,642 m, with a brilliant view and in fantastic weather!
Malene enjoying the summit!
View down along the glacier to the valley.
Photo reportage from “The Barrels”
We must admit that we like these places full of left-over “rubbish” from a former era, lost in time, abandoned. The barrels are just a place like this. So we had a wander around and took some photos. We hope you will enjoy as well!
Unfortunately the cafe was closed.
Here the toilets from the other side. On the left side of the toilet-ruin you can see the abandoned old toilets, the small dark hole is the “shit hole”. Interesting to just leave it lying there…… And as a mirror image, in the right hand side of the photo you have the old collapsed pole for the electricity wires lying there next to the new one.
30 August 2013. We just came down after a fantastic climb to the summit of Elbrus, our last big mountain of the trip. As soon as possible we will post all the photos. Now we will absolutely have to sleep after the cook here at the hotel served us a big plate of “beshbarmak” for dinner! Good night from Terskol!
Hay and Honey
23 August 2013. We took all the small back roads through valleys and over hills to reach Terskol at the foot of Mount Elbrus. In Terskol we met our guide Liza and our group for the climb, more about that later. But the drive to Terskol was really a joy, North Caucasus is just beautiful!
Tomorrow we will head up on Elbrus to 3,700 m where we will acclimatize for a few days before attempting the summit. We hope for good luck!
Why is there always something to do?
22 August 2013. So, driven absolutely mad by the full moon, we returned to Kislovodsk to eat more chocolate croissants. But……life on the road is not easy! The day started with a 10 km run up and down the steep hills outside Kislovodsk, then a more or less warm “shower” in the small blue bucket outside the car. And then finally, as we headed down to the waiting chocolate croissants, very hungry, Frida suddenly had a flat tire! Aaarrrrrrgh! We got it changed and headed down to Kislovodsk to find a tire repair shop…..poor the croissants, they had to wait! Fortunately we found the best tire repair shop in the Caucasus!
But we were wrong if we thought that now we could relax. Next thing we found out that our homemade japanese umeshu was leaking! Aaaaaarrrrgh! The solution was a mix of extra strong quality plastic bags for human-waste (!) from our Aconcagua expedition plus electrical tape, gaffa tape, insulating tape for windows and finally a metal ring closure (what is it called in english?). Anyways, it works!
Finally we could let the sun set over a long day.
16-22 August 2013. We are preparing to climb Mount Elbrus here in the Caucasus Mountains and so after 2 months of climbing nothing we have to make an effort. We went into the valleys north and northeast of Elbrus to spend some time in altitude and to hike around a bit. Generally, we had very grey weather! The valleys were still beautiful and we did have some sunny days as well but……also quite a bit of rain!
Malene is a bit more sceptical…….
Some of the small villages have fantastic signs or rather monuments with the city name and some illustration of the main trade or activity going on there. The village of Babugent below seemed to have a lot going on!
And in between valleys we went to Nalchik to buy korean style salads, bread and fruits!
Finally, after 6 days in the valleys, the temptation got too strong……we just had to return to Kislovodsk to eat another chocolate croissant at the french bakery and to drink another cup of that smelly natural mineral water! Probably it was the full moon driving us mad…
The Russian Drinking Culture
12-13 August 2013. Russian drinking culture is not only about vodka! The Russians (and other ex-Soviet republics) also have a special drinking culture when it comes to natural mineral water. The mineral waters of the North Caucausus was first noted by an Arab traveler in 1377 but the area only started to be developed as a Russian “kurort” (health resort) in the early 1800s. In 1863, the “Balneal Society” was established in Pyatigorsk (balneology = the treatment of disease by bathing, including also drinking of mineral waters and treatment with medical muds etc). In the Soviet Union, the “kurorts” were taken to a whole new level with the founding of the “Balneal University” in Pyatigorsk and in 1960 all resorts in the USSR were handed over to the labor unions so that industry workers could be awarded with a healty treatment holiday in one of the sanatoriums. Nowadays in Russia there is still thousands of working sanatoriums, some modernised, others still old style.
Inside the grande drinking hall in Kislovodsk. Marco is eager to get started with his “balneal” treatment – but also a bit nervous…
In Kislovodsk, you can drink either natural sulfuric water or natural dolomitic water. The type of water is indicated on the elegant lamps above the drinking stations – and each type of water can be enjoyed either hot or cold.
Here Marco is pouring his first cup of cold sulfuric water.
Others understand how to enjoy the treatment in a more elegant and calm way.
And others again need a good rest to digest the smelly waters!
And the whole scene is being surveyed by ladies dressed in hospital uniforms. For your comfort!
Dressed up ladies are enjoying a stroll in between treatments.
Also in Kislovodsk, Marco captured these nice images of the classical Russian public toilet. The price is displayed on the note next to the small hatch, 10 Rubles per visit. And notice the roll of classical, grey, slightly elastic toilet paper. Once you have paid the 10 Rubles you are allowed to tear off as much toilet paper as you think you might need….under the strict and critical eyes of the attendant!
Actually, this particular toilet attendant was not there when we arrived. She was busy feeding a small squirrel nearby.
Next report will be on our acclimatization efforts before the Elbrus ascent……and we need your support!….it is raining and the border to Georgia is only a couple of hours drive away with its promises of wonderful Georgian foods and wines! Elbrus, Elbrus, Elbrus, Elbrus……………
Finally we found our small piece of heaven in Russia! It is located in the Caucasus, in the very southwestern corner of Russia where the beautiful Caucasus Mountains are rising on the border between Russia and Georgia.
14-15 August 2013. We drove about 80 km south from the small town of Kislovodsk towards Mount Elbrus. It was grey and rainy but we found a nice place to camp in the hills at the foot of Elbrus. In the morning we stumbled out of bed with our cameras to capture the brilliant view of the highest peak in Europe (5,642 m).
In the Valleys North of Elbrus
14-15 August 2013. We left the Russian “Kurort” of Kislovodsk in the afternoon after drinking another couple of glasses of the healthy sulfuric mineral water which has made the city popular as a “spa-town” since the early 1800s. More on this “drinking culture” in a later post… We drove up the beautiful valleys south of Kislovodsk, towards Mount Elbrus. We were hoping to arrive close to Elbrus, to enjoy the view and to acclimatize a bit in the altitude.
As we got closer to Elbrus, the weather got grey. Typical for the afternoon. There were lots of small summer camps of the local mountain people with sheep, goats and cows out and about in the green fields.
View to the large “summer camp” in the valley below. We went there the day before but did not take any pictures, because we thought it was some kind of refugee camp! We asked a couple of Russian hikers we met on the way down and they explained to us that it was just camping; the local people come here for a couple of weeks during the summer to enjoy the fresh air and the pure water!