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Ascent of Elbrus on 2005-08-24

Climber: Ben Lostracco

Others in Party:Andrey
guide
Date:Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Elbrus
    Location:Russia
    Elevation:5641 m / 18510 ft

Ascent Trip Report

PROLOGUE TO THE MT ELBRUS CLIMB
My wife Rose and I are on a "46 DAY EASTERN EUROPE 2005 TOUR" (August 11th to September 25th). The Russia part of the tour (17 days, August 11-27), Moscow and the Mt Elbrus climb, was booked with CETNEVA ADVENTURE TRAVEL of St.Petersburg, Russia through Anatoly Moshnikov. Anatoly has summited Everest and led the Soviet Union Army rescue squad.
Cetneva's package included all the necessary transfers, hotels, one flight and train, from the time we arrived at the Russia Airport to when we got on the train to Kiev, after the Mt Elbrus climb.
We left on August the 11th and flew Montreal/Munich/Moscow, arriving Sheremetevo 2 Airport in Moscow on August 12 at 16h30 hrs. We stayed at the Hotel Russia, next door to "Red Square".
After a 3 day visit of MOSCOW WE FLEW TO MINERAL VODY, in the Caucasus area, on August 16th. We were met by Ivan, Anatoly's son and an experienced climber, and his driver Alexy, who drove us to our base for Mt Elbrus - EDELWEISS HOTEL, CHEGET FIELD, TOWN OF TERSKOL at the top end of the beautifull Baskan Valley, and the south foot of MT ELBRUS (elev 6600'). This beautiful touristy ski area is very close to the Georgia Border. We met our guide for rest of the stay "Andrey Fetisov". We would do 5 days of acclimatization hikes before starting our 4 day (3 nights) Mt Elbrus ascent on August 22nd. The Edelweiss Hotel is family run, the lady Zufra sort of runs the Hotel, very friendly place. They live here.

AUGUST 17 .... ACCLIMATIZATION HIKE UP IRIKCHAT VALLEY TO 7600 FEET.
The driver Alexy, drove Andrey and I a short distance down the Baskan Valley to the TH at the village of Elbrus (Alexy's home), elev 6400'.
The trail heads mostly north up the east side of the narrow Irikchat Valley, easy to moderate. After an hour, Andrey for some reason got off the main trail, ended up crossing numerous, dangerous, landslides. Back on the main trail as it climbs the valley, we went through the floor of a beautiful tall pine forest. The trail fairly smooth and not difficult for the most part, up higher it got steep at a few places with sandy and slippery footing. After 2 hours and about 1200 feet of climbing we turned around (7600'), here we lost the tall vegetation and had a beautiful view of Mt Ushba to the south, the area of tomorrow's destination.
We met this good-looking/extremely-sexy woman with a huge backpack just above the pine forest. She was tanned, muscularly-built and clad in a haltartop with a bikini bottom !!!! Never before seen backpacker !!! Love these Russian women !!! She was all alone and said that she was afraid to camp higher-up, so she is going to find a camp lower down. Unfortunately we didn't get an invite.
We also met 3 large groups of young people and families. Hiking appears to be popular with the locals.
Back down to the TH, Alexy, was waiting. We had a mid-afternoon lunch at the Hotel (our package included meals), and for the rest of the afternoon, Rose and I played tourist, we walked up the main road about 3km to check out Terkskol.
2 Spaniards with their guide plus 3 others arrived at the Hotel, all with different itinerary. We had a late dinner with Andrey. Edelweiss Hotel is a small friendly family run place, located away from the main road, at the foot of the Cheget Massif Ski Station with a number of other Hotels and businesses . I felt good.

AUGUST 18 ..... ACCLIMATIZATION HIKE TO "GREEN HOTEL" AT 8500 FEET.
Alexy transferred a whole group of climbers to the Adylsu Valley, he drove up the valley on a dirt road, and first dropped off Ivan and his 3 clients, going on a technical climb on the famous wall of mt ushba. Then he took us to our TH (7500 ft) at the end of the dirt road. The Spaniards and their guide, Nikoli, were going to the same place as Andrey and I, the Green Hotel. They left before us.
At the TH there is a large Climbers Hotel, mostly empty cause of the off skiing season. Just passed you go through a gate and a Police Border Patrol check point (Georgia being only kms away). They check your visa and passport. The trail, easy to moderate, follows the narrow valley bottom and river. Patches of snow higher up is covered with debris. We climbed for 2 hours, another short day. We did not see the Spaniards ! !
The GREEN HOTEL at top of the valley (8500') is a beautiful large area, with a tarn, wildflowers and camping area, rung-around 180 degrees by glaciers and snow jagged Peaks. We took a break, met/chatted with 4 Russian campers, out for their first time, they gave us tea.
After 45 minutes we hiked back down to the TH, again the Border Patrol. Stopped for a break, Andrey had a beer, I would learn that the Russian don't take-in too much water on their climbs (I will talk about this in future reports). We continued our descent down the dirt road, about 5kms, to the prearranged pick-up point. Alexy was there with the van and the Spaniards, who had arrived about 30 minutes before us.
Back to the Hotel in mid afternoon for the usual after hike routine. A group of 12 Turks arrived, apparently 2 days early.
After dinner Rose and I went out for a walk along the river, feel good, no altitude symptoms.
Later in the evening we were informed that 3 POLISH CLIMBERS HAVE BEEN REPORTED MISSING since the 16th (2 days ago) on Mt Ushba. Three rescue parties are out looking for them.

AUGUST 19 ..... ACCLIMATIZATION CLIMB TO THE CHEGET MASSIF AT 11400 FEET.
Andrey and I had to wait around for the chair lift to open for the day at 10h00 hrs. We took 2 chair lifts to the 2nd ski station at 10,007 feet, from there a moderate smooth trail takes you to the shoulder of Cheget. The last section to the summit is steep and rocky, I huffed and puffed on the 1 hour climb. Sunny and hot the last few days.
A large group of Germans followed us to the summit. Spectacular views of Mt Elbrus and the whole top end of the Baskan Valley. Back to the Hotel early afternoon for the usual after-hike routine.
Later this evening Ivan and his 3 climbers returned from Ushba with the sad news ...... 2 POLISH HIKERS WERE FOUND DEAD in a crevasse, the 3rd has not been found as yet, Ushba has been closed to climbers due to too many dangerous crevasses.

AUGUST 20 .... ACCLIMATIZATION CLIMB TO CHEGET MASSIF AT 11400 FEET.
Our program for today called for a climb to Pic Terskol at 12,500 feet, Andrey pointed out that this was an error and that Pic Terskol is less than 11000 ft, so I decided to redo yesterday's climb. Andrey purposely set a faster pace, we were on top in 45 minutes and back to the Hotel at 12h15 hours.
Had the rest of the day for errands, at the Internet we were helped by Igor (with the Turkish group), a 17 year old Siberian, friendly and very helpful young man, studying to be a musician. Excellent command of English.
Anatoly arrived at dinner time from a climbing trip in Eastern Russia. We had a long chat, he has done a lot of climbing and makes a point of leading clients whenever he can, He is here to lead the Turks up to Elbrus.
Rain this evening, the whole valley is in a fog.

AUGUST 21 ...... ACCLIMATIZATION CLIMB TO PRIUT HUT 2 AT 13600 FEET.
We had to wait around for Anatoly's 3 Turks to get ready (start of their summit attempt). Alexy drove everyone to the AZAU CABLE CAR STATION at 7,200 ft, a few miles above Terskol. A large installation. It was heavy overcast with some fog, did not look good. It was crowed with people, slow to get on.
1ST CABLE CAR - takes you to 9,800 ft, 2ND CAR CABLE CAR - to 11,500 ft and the 3RD A SKI LIFT - takes you the rest of the way to Garabashi Camp`THE BARRELS`at 12,500 ft. A large base camp, accommodating 60-70 people. The Dorms are huge round steel Barrels set on concrete pads, 6 cots per Barrel with blankets and worn out mattresses. Plus there are outhouses and trailers for the staff, kitchen and 2 dining rooms. Andrey uses Marina, a staff member and a very nice friendly woman, to do the cooking for his group. He brings up all the necessary food for his group.
Anatoly and his climbers left for a tent site above the Priut Camps, they will go for the summit tomorrow. After checking out the place we set out for Priut Hut 2, the snow trail on a snow covered glacier is really soft and wet at the start with streams of water in places - the glacier has receded up to this level. The trail is a caterpillar track all the way to Pastukhov's Rocks. I had forgotten my sunglasses so Andrey was able to find me an old pair, which Anatoly said made me look like Mallory.
When we ARRIVED PRUIT HUT 2 (13,800 ft) it was raining and snowing, windy and cold. My hands were freezing due to a poor choice of mitts. After we warmed up inside the camp I decided to go back down due to the weather, our goal had been 15,000 ft. We rested at the Barrels.
BACK DOWN at Azau Cablecar Station, we ate a late lunch at a cafe owned by Alexy's sister.
15h30 hrs - Back at the Hotel, Rose and I called our daughter Julie re: our next leg of our trip to Ukraine. I spent the rest of the day packing for tomorrow's start of the Mt Elbrus attempt. I felt a slight pressure at 13,800 feet, I feel good now.
MT ELBRUS 18,510 feet is an old volcano with a few chimneys of sulphur smell, I however would not smell it. The top of the mountain is glacier covered with some rock outcrop, the glacier ends at 12,500 ft. Once below the glacier, MT ELBRUS IS JUST ONE HUGE PILE OF SLAG, humongous sized chunks of slag with all sorts of caves. No vegetation whatsoever, until you get down to 9,000 ft where its starting to grow, grass covered with bare spots.. Up close Mt Elbrus is an ugly site.

AUGUST 22 ..... START OF A 4 DAY MT ELBRUS SUMMIT ATTEMPT (DAY #1 - AZAU CABLE CAR STATION TO GARABASHI "THE BARRELS", base camp elev 12500 feet)
After the usual AM routine I kissed Rose good-bye, she is ok staying alone for 3 nights. Alexy transfered us to the Azau Cable Car Station (7200'). When we got to the Mirbar Station at 11,500', the lift was not open, so we had to hike up to the Garabashi "THE BARRELS". The trail was moderate to steep and with a 50 lbs backpack, I climbed slow, a light snow falling.
11h00 hours - We arrived THE BARRELS at 12,500' and was put in Barrel #9. I rested in my cot, the weather changing for the worst, heavy wet snow. Andrey suggested we stay put for the rest of the day - we were scheduled to climb to Priut 2. I chatted with a Russian tourist and his daughter. They have a dislike for the USA cause they backed Ukraine. Andrey is of the same mindset cause USA have a military base in Georgia who in turn aligned with Ukraine. Like most of us we tend to focus on the local issues and do not appreciate/see the international picture.
Most tourists here are Russians, Europeans or Middle Eastern (Russians, Germans, Turks, Iranians, Polish, French), few North Americans. Base Camp here does not have the International language/flavor of Aconcagua or its decorative look (flags, banners, stickers, logos) that existed at Aconcagua.
The Chechian/Iraq political situation is hurting them badly. Oleg and Victor (guides leading the German Group) later told me that the area used to get a lot of their business from North Americans and English tourists and climbers. Today they have a hard time finding guiding work.
16H00 hrs - Late lunch of Borscht, sausage, salad and cheese. Trailer was well organized, reminds me of my construction days. Met a whole bunch of other climbers, the Germans I met on Cheget Massif will try for the summit in the AM.
We heard that a number of people summited today, apparently a very clear no wind day above 14,700 ft, an ideal climbing day.
20h00 hrs - Served dinner, much too late for my liking. Andrey came in the Barrel later in the evening, reeking of booze. He had purchased 2 bottles at the Azau Station ! ! telling me they were presents for the staff ! ! Andrey likes his vodka.

AUGUST 23 ..... DAY #2 OF MT ELBRUS ATTEMPT .... ACCLIMATIZATION CLIMB, THE BARRELS TO PASTUKHOVS ROCKS AT 15700 FEET).
Very clear sky during the night, 3/4 moon, forecast for next 2 days looks good, however you are warned that things can change quickly. Had a hard time sleeping cause of a lumpy mattress, will try to change it today.
Watched Oleg's large German Group (12 + 4 guides) leave for Pastukhov's Rocks on 3 caterpillars, around 4h00 hours.
We had an early breakfast, Marina a very nice lady, liked the fact that I carried all of my dirty dishes back to the kitchen.
8h00 - Andrey leads me out for an acclimatization climb, sunny and mild. We followed a snow covered track all the way up. I wore 2 layers + a shell on top, nylon pant on bottom, plastic boots, ball cap and glasses, ski gloves even though most of the others wore none. I shed my shell at the Priut Hut 2, no crampons, slid on the way down. The trail is straight up, we used switchbacks. I went at my pace, numerous granny stops, heavy breathing, for the last part I used the rest step method.
Met up with Anatoly and the 3 Turks on their way down, after a successful summit. Said that yesterday's conditions were ideal.
11h30 hours - ARRIVED PASTUKHOV'S ROCKS (15,700'). From here the trail to the summit looked extremely difficult and cause for worry. We had a 1/2 hour rest. On the way down did some glissading on my rear end, it was a quick descent.
Lower down there were a lot of people skiing, snowboarding and just enjoying a beautiful day on the mountain. A blonde, BIKINI CLAD WOMAN, sunning standing up, like a statue, she'd turn around from time to time. When I photographed her she gestured as not liking it. However, later when she passed in front of my Barrel, she gave me a big smile.
13h00 hours - BACK TO THE BARRELS, spread out my gear to dry, lunched, rested for tomorrow's summit day. Oleg's group all back down by 17h00 hours after a sucessful summit.
Interesting conversation with Oleg, Victor and Andrey, they all do not drink hardly any water while on a climb and believe that too much water is not good for you. Today Oleg drank less than half a liter of water during the 12 hour day. They are aware of the West's thinking on this subject !!!
After dinner I reviewed tomorrow's climb with Andrey, 2h30 hours breakfast, 3h30 hours we take the caterpillar to Pastukhov's Rocks with 6 others. I paid him my share of the cost.
GEAR, Top - 4 layers + gortex shell, Bottom - midweight longjohns, gortex pant, plastic boots with 2 pair of socks and crampons, harness, gortex mitts with inner glove, touque, poles, daypack with 4 liters of water, extra emergency down jacket, pile pant, gloves and a lunch.
I prepared my gear. It was windy as we went to bed. All I could think about was the mornings climb.

AUGUST 24 ....DAY #3, SUCCESSFUL CLIMB TO MT ELBRUS "EUROPE'S HIGHEST POINT - ELBRUS WEST PEAK ELEV. 18510 FEET".
As usual before a big climb I have a hard time sleeping, I slept about 3 hours. Got up early to go to the toilet, clear skies but very windy and cold. Got dressed.
2h30 hours - Marina up to prepare OUR BREAKFAST, apparently she does this just about every morning. Love the cultural differences, Andrey and a few others use mayo on everything they eat, like salad, soup, meat, eggs, bread. Thickens carnation milk with sugar, adds jam to tea. I finished getting ready, Andrey said the wind is normal and we will climb today.
3h30 hours - Caterpillar LEAVES THE BARRELS with 9 people (6 clients + 3 guides). Two young guys lightly dressed, were freezing, they came back down with the cat. We got dropped off just below the rocks, at about 14,700 feet.
4h30 hours - We STARTED OUR CLIMB, The trail goes straight up towards the East Peak, a long traverse to the left (on the South side of the East peak) leads you to the col at 17,000 feet, then a traverse around the North side of the West Peak (the most dangerous) brings you to the summit. Using a zig zag approach up the steep part to the first traverse, bobbing headlamps, ahead and behind us, we slowly made our way up. The trail condition were considered ideal, hard packed snow except at North side of the West peak, soft snow, lots of sliding, dangerous.
The HUGE WIND AND FREEZING TEMPERATURE stayed with us all day, my accessible water froze. You are in the open and never sheltered from the wind. No breaks to speak of except for a 15 minute stop, just below the summit in a sheltered area, off the side of the trail.
ON THE ASCENT, with the wind to our back, Andrey kept telling me not to stop but I had to take tons of granny breaks, lots of heavy breathing. You walk bent over, looking and concentrating on every step you take. Huffing and puffing, you work on your breathing. The shell's hood, partly fogged glasses and the wind at your face greatly restrict your visibility. Horrible conditions. You get sore chest muscles from the heavy breathing, your calf's are burning, from the stretch you get with every step up the steep incline. You want to stop to recuperate but you can't. The wind took one of my liner gloves (Andrey gave me his spare), an Iranian lost his whole backpack, another his hiking pole.
10h30 hrs - 1ST AND ONLY SNACK BREAK OF THE DAY in a somewhat sheltered area just below the summit, off the side of the trail. Had a few bites of a cheese sandwich, snicker bar, peach and hot tea. My accessible water bottle was frozen and I didn't want to go in my pack, to check the other water, for fear of loosing my gear to the wind.
11h00 hrs - ARRIVE SUMMIT, MT ELBRUS WEST PEAK, 18,510 FT. I thanked and hugged Andrey, no time for emotions, it was really blowing and we had to get out of there. Two others arrived about same time. Took a few photos ! ! screwed up, had to change film, had it in my pocket ! ! took forever. Left summit after 15 min. We had a cup of tea at the sheltered break location just below the summit.
ON THE DESCENT we had the wind blasting the blown snow in our face, couldn't see. Huge gusts of wind, would come and go, strong enough to push you sideways - we would stop and brace ourselves, as we anticipated the gust. I walked with my head down and sideways trying to shelter the face, your hood at times covering your view. I was extremely careful with every step, well aware of the downhill consequences. I walked like a duck trying not to snag my crampons on my pants, however it did happen once (too many). On the last steep section it was really tough on my quads and the ends of my toes (sliding/hitting the toe of the boot).
During this descent as I fought the wind, I HAD TEARS OF JOY, as I reflected on today's accomplishment, I knew that my wife Rose would be happy for me. I had Andrey call the Hotel, once we got lower down to safe conditions. When I recount these types of experiences to my wife, she always asks "WHERE YOU HAVING FUN?"
Lower down, wind not as strong, I shed one top layer.
15h00 hrs - BACK DOWN SAFE TO THE BARRELS (after a 11 1/2 hour day), again I hugged and thanked Andrey for a job well done. The first thing I did was to run to the toilet ! and I mean run! No piss, just a big soft dump. I had to go 3 hours earlier but I fought it all the way down, a bit of crap in my underwear. No way you can shit out there with today's wind and all the clothes you have to remove ! ! I thought that I would have to go in my pants (which is not uncommon in mountaineering)! ! So I guess you can say that I was lucky today.
Tough day, at times I felt like I wouldn't make it, slow pace gets it done. Tired, sore calfs, quads and toes, and stiff upper back. I felt really flushed from the effort, started taking in as much liquids as possible. Marina had hot tea ready, gave me a congratulatory hug. I changed to camp clothes and put my gear out to dry, relaxed in my cot.
We had lunch followed by a late dinner, chatted with a number of climbers, napped, updated my diary, drank a lot.
20h30 hrs - Retired for the night , really pleased with my day's effort, I'll tell Rose that "I was having fun". Andrey was great today, always at my beckoning call.

AUGUST 25 ..... DAY #4 OF THE SUMMIT ATTEMPT , DESCENDED BACK DOWN.
Good nights rest, felt good, only soreness is quads and calfs, plus my usual "heavy bags" under the eyes after a high altitude climb. My stool this AM was soft and black ! ! cause for concern. Clouds moving in, no wind this AM.
Packed up, said our goodbyes, hiked down to Mirbar Cable Car Station and took Cable Car down to the bottom, Azau Cable Car Station. Rose was there with Alexy. Big kiss and a hug, I felt her happiness for me.
Back to the Hotel to relax, usual after hike routine, Studied our next leg of this EASTERN EUROPE 2005 TOUR, Kiev/Ukraine. Rose called our daughter Linda.
Anatoly, his son Ivan and Victor left to scout a climb on a local mountain.




EPILOGUE

AUGUST 26 - REST DAY
I got up feeling sick, went to the toilet 4 times during the evening, will not eat today, take in liquids and rest. Rose feeling good. Spent most of the day outside in the sun, writing/updating my dairy. Andrey took us to a local restaurant, I had rice only, Rose had roasted chicken. I was feeling ok in the evening, didn't use the toilet all afternoon.
AUGUST 27 - OUR 45TH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY.
I got up feeling good, whatever I had gone.
We celebrated our 45th by taking the Azau Cable Car to the top. Rose was very courageous as she normally shies away from these types of rides.
I was very PLEASED WITH CETNEVA and Anatoly, he runs a first class operation, everything was as per contract, no surprises. Andrey was always there for us. Ivan a really nice guy was extremely helpful at the airport. They all have a love for the mountains. The family run Hotel owners were just great.
AUGUST 28 - WE LEAVE TERSKOL FOR KIEV AND MY NEXT CLIMB "MOUNT HOVERLA" IN UKRAINE.
Anatoly, Ivan, Zufra saw us off, Alexy with Andrey transferred us to the Mineral Vody Train Station, for our train to Kiev. Andrey led us on board, right to our cabin (no security). Andrey was great.
14h02 hours - train leaves Mineral Vody for Kiev, to Rose's relatives and to MY NEXT CLIMB "MT HOVERLA", HIGHEST POINT IN UKRAINE.

"SOME DO DREAM .... SOME DO .... FEW DO BOTH"

"THE REWARD OF THING WELL DONE IS TO HAVE DONE IT."




Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:1842 m / 6043 ft
    Distance:16 km / 9.9 mi
    Route:snow track from garabashi camp to summit, day #3
    Trailhead:garabashi "the barrels' camp  3799 m / 12467 ft
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground
    Gear Used:
Hut Camp



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