This season has been a whirlwind, phew! Finally back at home here in Ann Arbor I can only think back to all the amazing people I have had the privilege of taking into the mountains.
It has been almost a month since I returned from my first trip to Russia with Mountain Gurus, and in the interim it has given me time to reflect on the experience. Having the opportunity to both guide and climb Mount Elbrus was something I did not expect, but very grateful for it.
The trip started out with a speedy descent from Mount Shuksan and a bee line for the airport. Arriving tired and jet lagged in Moscow I felt back in my element. I met my crew of 3 climbers the following morning and we promptly set out to explore the city. Our local tour guide Irina helped us navigate through the amazing subway stations to all the classic sites. Back to the hotel we geared up for our flight to Mineralnye Vody, where we met our Russian co-guide Roman. Driving to Terskol we watched as the mountains became larger and larger out the van window, inciting a sense of nervousness and excitement.
Our next week consisted of acclimatization hikes on Mount Cheget, as well as forays to the upper slopes of Elbrus. As with most mountains around the world, Elbrus has its unique style of climbing. Utilizing cable cars, chair lifts, and snow cats we weaved our way through the masses of Russian tourists. Amazingly we only spent one night in a mountain hut prior to our summit attempt. Most of our evenings involved great food and conversations in the valley below. This allowed us to eat and sleep well in preparation for our summit bid.
Summit day started with a quick sno-cat ride to 15,500ft, where we began the slow walk uphill. Even with the help of machines this mountain can have a long summit day and can produce some very difficult weather conditions. Luckily Romans wife, who came along for the climb, had her portable speaker with ABBA blasting most of the morning. The clouds were in and out but we all managed to slowly step to the top of Europe. Descending back to town that night it was hard to imagine that only a few hours before we were wearing all of our clothing and fighting off the cold.
Perhaps one of the most memorable moments of the trip came at the final dinner. Over the course of the trip I had been admiring Romans Soviet era ice axe, which was made out of heavy duty aluminum and steel. He graciously handed me his axe and said "I do not collect anything, I just use, take this." The incredible warmth and camaraderie I felt while in Russia was something I had not anticipated, but realize was the best part of the entire trip.
There are so many other mountains around Elbrus that I hope to explore in the coming seasons, and will hopefully be going back next year. Overall, this was one of those trips that shapes a life, and I will not soon forget it.
Below is a video that Roman made throughout the trip, enjoy!