This trip report will contain real-time dispatches from my Mount Elbrus expedition beginning May 14, 2012, which I will update daily (hopefully) via satellite phone. Be sure to check back from time to time to gauge our progress! If a daily log is late, it may be due to any number of reasons, including bad weather and/or a lack of sunlight for charging the sat-phone batteries.
Mount Elbrus (18,513') is the highest peak in Europe and one of the Seven Summits. It's located in the Southwestern region of Russia in the Caucasus mountains near the border of Georgia. Google map.
My partner Paul and I are climbing unguided with logistical support (ground transfers, permits, etc.) from Pilgrim Tours (Elbrus Lite Package). We will camp on the mountain rather than use the noisy, crowded huts.
Weather Report: Click here for the current weather conditions on Mount Elbrus.
May 13: Arrive in Cheget (late night).
May 14: Preparation day; finalize permits, sort gear, etc. Take ski lift up to Barrels Hut for acclimatization and return to Cheget.
May 15: Climb Cheget Peak (11,815’) to acclimatize.
May 16: Camp 1 - Take lift to Barrels Hut area and set camp (12,470’).
May 17: Acclimatization hike to Pashtuhova Rocks (15,321’).
May 18: Camp 2 - Move camp to Diesel Hut area (13,638’).
May 19: Acclimatization hike to Pashtuhova Rocks (15,321’) or higher.
May 20: Primary summit day.
May 21: Possible summit day or weather day.
May 22: Possible summit day or weather day.
May 23: Possible summit day or weather day.
May 24: Descend and overnight in Cheget.
May 25: Travel home.
Paul and I made it to Cheget after 29 hours of travel (Chicago - New York JFK - Moscow - MineraleVody). Everything has gone smoothly so far with one minor glitch. We are hoping to climb Cheget Peak today to help with acclimatization but the ski lift isn't running. Today is Monday following a major weeklong holiday here and it seems that all of the tourist have left the ski area except for me and Paul. (We were the only 2 guests at the hotel last night.) Thus, the lifts aren't running. However, apparently if you have the right connections anything is possible in this part of the world. The folks at our hotel whispered in the right ear and they are going to fire up the lifts just for us. Incredible!
Late day update: The hotel manager didn't have the right connections afterall and they would not start the lifts for Cheget Peak for us. Therefore, we stuck with our original plan and took the lifts up Mt Elbrus instead. We hiked up the short distance from the second lift to the Barrels Hut. We only stayed a while but being above 12,000ft should help with our acclimatization.
We hope the lifts will be running on Cheget Peak tomorrow but if not, we'll run up Mt Elbrus again following the climbers mantra; climb high, sleep low.
Next update tomorrow evening.
The lift on Cheget Peak wasn't running today but it's just as well. Rather than climb Cheget Peak, Paul and I took the lift back up Elbrus to the Barrels Hut and set up our tent at 12,700'. We have returned to the hotel for the night but that means we'll have less weight to carry when we move to camp tomorrow.
The temperature was a balmy 45(F) while we were setting up camp. We had our first glimpse of the summit through the clouds and our excitement level is quite high. Taking time to acclimatize is important but we can hardly wait to start climbing!
Next update will be from Camp 1 tomorrow.
Camp 1 - 12,700'
We moved to Camp 1 @ 12,700' today and hiked up to 14,000' for acclimatization and to scope out a Camp 2 site. After returning to Camp 1 we made a hearty dinner of Thai noodles and chicken! Both of us are feeling well, with just slight headaches from the altitude. The rest day tomorrow should help.
My next dispatch will be from Camp 1 on Thursday.
Today we did a gear carry up to Camp 2 @ 13,700 feet, cached some gear and dug out a level tent platform to compensate for the slope. Good weather for the hike up and down but it started to snow in the late afternoon and through the evening. I have a minor stomach bug but it does not feel of any consequence. Planning to move up to Camp 2 tomorrow.
Camp 1 - 12,700'
We made the move to Camp 2 today and climbed the 1000' within 2 hours. We are both feeling good. My stomach bug appears to have settled down and we will rest for a day before making a summit attempt, depending on weather and physical condition. Weather has been sunny and clear in the morning turning to overcast and snowing conditions during the afternoon and into the evening.
The unfortunate news from the mountain is there was a a fatality last night when a Finnish skier coming off the summit slipped and fell. We heard the Snowcat late last night and got the word today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family. We are saddened by the news but look forward our summit attempt.
We are taking a rest day today to help with acclilmatization. I hiked up to an elevation of 14,600', just below the Pashtuhova Rocks, while Paul stayed back at camp.
Camp 2 - 13,700'
Paul and I woke at 0300 today, had breakfast and started for the summit under a very promising star lit sky. It took us about 3.5 hours to reach the halfway point. That's when we met a guided group coming down. They had ridden the Snowcat from the Barrels Hut to Pashahova Rocks. Thus, they jumped ahead of us this morning.
The guide said they encountered total whiteout conditions before they reached the saddle, so they turned around. Paul and I decided to climb a little higher with the hope the clouds would burn off as the sun rose. Unfortunately, exactly the opposite happened. As we continued to climb the cloud layer descended on us and we were forced to turn around at 16,500'.
The weather forecast called for clear skies in the morning with a snow storm starting in the afternoon, it seems to have came early. The storm is supposed to continue through tomorrow, so we will be tent bound at least until Tuesday. Conditions back @ Camp 2 are mostly whiteout with steady light snow and little or no wind.
Sunrise at 14,600'
Monday started out looking good, however the forecast is for bad weather today and tomorrow. Our window of opportunity is narrowing as that will leave Wednesday as the only opportunity to make the summit. We are tent bound for now, waiting and watching for a break in the weather.
Late update: Weather is still marginal and we are hoping for a break. Conditions switch between calm and stormy. Right now it is quiet as darkness descends. We plan to get a weather forecast Tuesday morning and make the next decision.
At 0300 when we looked out of the tent there was nothing but a starry sky and we decided to make a summit push. Unfortunately, the snows of the prior days created knee depth drifts and we were breaking trail all the way to the saddle, about 4,000 feet of trudging in total. The soft snow made the going slow and tiring. With the summit in sight, a storm started to come in again and we felt it was the wise decision to head back down. And it was, because we descended into whiteout conditions that made navigating from each route marker challenging. A search and rescue team was concerned and were monitoring all the climbing activity to ensure the safety of all and we came across them as we got close to Camp 2.
We returned safely to our tent and made the difficult decision to suspend our summit attempt and work towards getting down the mountain.
Nearing the saddle...
We awoke to mostly clear skies on Wednesday morning, we broke camp and headed down the mountain. We are disappointed with not reaching the summit but dealing with bad weather is something that all climbers face, especially when attempting big mountains. I've been very lucky with weather on the other seven summits that I've climbed, so I can't complain too much. Putting things in perspective, a skier lost his life on Mt Elbrus a few days ago. How much can we really complain about our minor misfortune given such a tragedy?
As we depart the Mt Elbrus region, I have learned that the poor weather conditions are forecast to continue for a full week. Thus, our decision to end our expedition seems to be a good one. If I ever return to climb this peak remains to be seen. I will let some time pass before I make any decisions. However, I must confess that in light of the tragic deaths on Mt Everest this past week, and the general chaotic situation that exists on Everest, I will do some serious soul searching as to whether or not I wish to continue my 7-summit quest. I don't wish to turn this expedition log into a diatribe on Everest but if I eliminate Everest as a goal then it is unlikely that I will incur the considerable cost for tackling the other 7 summits.
So much to consider!
Lastly, I wanted to thank Zscapes again for updating this blog for me each and every day. I phoned in updates via sat-phone and Mark was kind enough to type up the report in SummitPost. Thanks Mark!