Arriving in Mineralnye Vody
After Kilimanjaro, we decided to see another relatively easy peak of the 7 summits. So it was time for Elbrus. We compared among 3 different operators and after Elbrus Tours and Pilgrim Tours were on the finishing line, we decided to go with Elbrus Tours.
After arriving to the Mineralnye Vody airport we were greeted by our driver. He spoke minimal english, but we got along just fine with simple sayings like "pizza?". So he droves us to a pizza joint called Roma just in the city of Mineralnye Vody.
There is a 3 hours drive from Mineralnye Vody to Terskol. We arrived during the evening so there was not much to see as the sun had set. During the trip, we decided to focus on our main hobby, shut eye.
Terskol and acclimatization
We arrived into our hotel and was greeted by our main guide. We went through the main gear together and checked that everything is in place. Elbrus tours checklist has been a bit outdated and nowadays you don`t need a sleeping mattress as they have a hut in the mountains with good beds.
The next morning we head off at 9 am to a nearby peak. Got massive amounts of calories from the breakfast (eggs, sausages, porridge, bread, cold cuts, tea, coffee etc.)
The peak was Terskol peak and the way to access it is by walking the main road towards the ski elevators. When you notice electricity lines in the village crossing the main road and there is a World War 2 memorial under the electricity lines, make a right turn to a gravel road. In the beginning, there`s also a cattle farm made out of shacks and debris. Follow the gravel road (3-4 hrs) and you`ll reach the top, 3100 meters. There was some slush/snow on top in July so be prepared. This peak offers beautiful sights of the Wolf gate, a waterfall and also very interesting sights of frozen lava. The lava has formed square/pentagons bars on the side of a mountain.
The following day we headed towards the elevators at the end of the road. There is 3 elevators to get to the top, 3847 meters. There is cafes which offer the most tasteful blinis, pancakes with minced meat, soups etc. The cafes usually close at 4 pm as the elevators do. One pancake with minced meat or blini was 100 RUB. A beer is about 90-100 RUB.
Elbrus Tours has a huge hut next to the elevator station. It can accommodate about 100 people. The construction was still happening as we arrived.
We sorted our gear in the evening and the next day we climbed to 4200 meters. Did some self arrest practices and headed back.
The following day we headed to Pastukhov Rocks that`s at 4700 meters. Before we started climbing, we told our main guide that we could climb from the Elbrus tours hut to the summit. He said okay and off we went. As we started closing in on the Pastukhov Rocks, our main guide said that you need to follow me. He continued that we need to climb higher. We asked how high? And the reply was "higher". So we continued. At one point our guide said that we are going to 5000 meters. Eventually we got there and reached back to the hut.
Ascend and descend
During the evening as we returned, our guide started asking if people are interested in hiring a snow-cat that takes you to Pastukhov rocks or to 5000 meters. We felt that we could use a ride. We asked for the price and our guide said that it`s going to be 6000 RUB per head. Bear in mind that Elbrus tours speaks about 2500 RUB (300 eur if 8 passengers http://www.elbrustours.ru/en/Elbrus/8days.php). So we thought that there is no way around it and spoke to the guide again and decided to accept the high price. After a few minutes the guide suddenly appeared and told us that the price is 8000 RUB per head
. He said that it`s because of supply and demand and that there is a weather window that hikes up the prices. We felt ripped off, but decided to pay eventually.
The summit morning was beautiful! Clear sky and you could see people starting the climb at 11 pm from 3800 meters.
We started our climb from 5000 meters at 4.30 am and headed towards the col. The sun started to warm up in the col and everything felt great. We finally reached on top of Europe at 8 am. The feeling was just amazing!
As we had descended back to 5000 meters we came across with people waiting for a snow cat. Our energy levels were low and I decided to ask for the price. As I approached our main guide I noticed that he was talking with a Russian climber. They spoke about 30 euros, 2000 RUB for getting back to the hut. I decided to confirm the price and asked from our main guide that is 2000 RUB the price and he replied yes, it is. So we collected the money from 4 other climbers and looked for our main guide. We were just about to hand the money in as he replied that the price is now 3000 RUB. We were felt like suckers. So we started to ask why the price had gone up and all he could do was spread his arms. Eventually we collected the 3000 RUB per head as we felt rather weak and wanted to get over with this. We gave it to our main guide and shook hands on top of it. After a minute or two our main guide came back and said "guys, this is not enough". That was the last drop. We said that you confirmed the price and we made a deal. He said that you don`t know anything about the snow cat prices. We replied that apparently you don`t either, took the money and started to walk from the 5000 meters back to the hut.
It took us a few hours, but we felt good after reaching back. There was another guide that escorted us safely back. He was absolutely a great guide!
We didn`t speak with our main guide since.
All in all, Russia has tons of spots to climb. Some spots seems to be more beautiful than Peru has to offer. I`d love to climb in there again and see the nature again, but with different operator.