I was always looking forward to the opportunity to climb Mt Elbrus. Another 1 of the 7 Summits, but also the mystique of being in Russia. What would it really be like?
In this case the adventure started well before setting foot on the mountain. Just getting a visa into Russia proved to be a difficult encounter with Russians and rules!
The short story is – you need to hold an invitation from the Russian tour operator. All tour operators are registered and need to provide you your documents based on which you make your visa application. Now the trick (requirement) I found out is that if you have multiple tour providers is to make sure your itineraries follow a chronological order, no overlaps and definitely no missing days in your schedule – there must be no possibility to go skipping of unescorted!
It took me 3 trips to the Russian consulate in Sydney before I finally got all the necessary documents aligned and my visa issued.
St Petersburg was fantastic (another adventure story), and on day 3 I joined the IMG team that assembling to head south to Mt Elbrus.
Just the day of travelling from St Petersburg to Chajet was an adventure. The early morning drive through St Petersburg, the airport where queuing was an art form (thankfully our Russian guides knew the rules). And then the road trip from Min Vody to Chajet was one many surprises. Fields of sunflowers stretching into the distance, cows sleeping in bus shelters and in the middle of the road and small townships that the government had closed (except they forgot to tell the residents). It was a a road trip that I will never forget, and one that I would love to repeat.
Our acclimatisation walks went well. Walking along farm roads high into the mountains that surrounded Chajet or riding in the ski lifts that took us up high onto the snow covered slopes of Mt Elbrus, these were easy days.
Summit day started fine and clear and by 5am we were leaving the hut and heading for the traverse north that started at approx 5000 metres. The first few hours is all about getting into a comfortable routine, not to fast and not to slow – it’s steep but not to steep .
The traverse takes you north and into the saddle between the two volcanic cones that are the north and south summits of Mt Elbrus. We started in clear skies but by the time we reached the saddle we were in a white out and it did not improve as we made our way up the final push to the summit.
My summit photo could have been taken anywhere – we had no more than 10 metres visibility and the weather was deteriorating and once the obligatory summit photos were complete Mike, our guide, had us turned and descending as quickly as we were safe to. By the time we were back in the saddle between the two summit cones there were obvious signs of exhaustion in our group but Mike wasn’t letting us rest up. A quick drink and bite to eat and we were off again.
The thunder and lightening was now directly overhead and at the top of the mountain was no place to be. The air was electric – practically. Every one in our group could feel the electricity in the air and our hair was standing on end! We had to be off the mountain and quick.
All of our group made it safely back to the hut. The last three led in by Sasha told us of a frightening experience in the storm that was covering the mountain. The next day as we left the mountain we heard that a climber had died after being struck by lightening – that was an indication of how lucky we had been.
Click on this link to view photos from the Mt Elbrus Area Gallery