The idea to travel to Caucasus and climb Elbrus came to mind just as I was busy making final arrangements for the expedition to East Greenland in the spring of 2004. I had already been on Teide this winter, assuming a successful ascent of Gunnbjørn Fjeld and later Elbrus, would bag me three of the most prominent peaks in the world (top 50) as measured by prominence this year. The idea would be to climb the mountain together with my two sons, Pål Jørgen, age 15, and Tor Erling, age 22. This would be really nice and there are, after all, a relatively small window of opportunity (in time) to do such a climb "family style".
The text that follows here is
straight out of the notes that I made during the trip, so perhaps
more a diary than a trip-report. A summary of GPS waypoints for the entire trip,
including the entire route on Elbrus
are listed at the end of this report.
by email and ordered their "Lite Package". This is designed
for independent parties (ie. that do not need a guide and that
prefer to climb the mountain unsupported.). Pilgrim Tours will do
the paperwork (for VISA applications etc.) They will also offer
reliable transport service between the airport and the Baksan Valley as well
as providing additional services such as local lodging with no
advance booking needed.
Initially, the email with Pilgrim went fine, replies kept coming and information on their Elbrus page, www.elbrus.org was also helpful. Then, they went silent and no response came for more than a week. This was critical, since we were going to Italy just before the trip to Elbrus. We therefore needed all the VISA paperwork done and completed about three weeks before the Elbrus departure. It seemed (there may have been other reasons) that Pilgrim Tours failed to understand such situations. I called their Moscow office in desperation, no luck, they said they had little or no communication with Caucasus, moreover nobody spoke English.
Time to shift into "high gear" and call upon all possible help. I contacted my Russian friend Alexey and made him call their office (in Russian), that helped, minutes later they called back and spoke (suddenly!) fluently English. The paperwork got done, Tor Erling ran to the Russian Consulate in Oslo and secured the VISA papers. They require personal presence, cannot do this by mail etc. The lady answering the phone in the Consulate must have been trained in unfriendly conversation, but never mind.. Tourism and receiving foreigners is a huge industry in many countries. Elbrus is a major attraction of foreign travel to Russia and provides much of the basis for the local economy in the Baksan Valley. It is therefore quite a paradox that people are advised not to mention a climb of Elbrus as a purpose of visit, since this might delay or make it difficult to obtain an entry visa. Russia has a considerable way to go in order to improve the situation and increase her tourist traffic. This applies both to the smaller companies like Pilgrim Tours as well as to the Consulate, the state buraucracy etc. This initial phase was full of small frustrations, possibly enough to discourage some less persistent people.
We walked to the airport express train, arrived at Oslo airport
Gardermoen and had a problem free check in at the Aeroflot flight.
We also withdrew both Euro and Dollar from the local ATM in order
to have currency to support our two weeks in Russia.
The flight was also timely and free of problems, Russian aircraft does not have western size overhead bins, they are shaped in such a way as to only take coats or other smaller items. We travelled with three smaller backpacks as carry on luggage. The idea was to use them for day hikes and the summit push, while Tor and I had checked two larger packs to be used on the mountain plus a bag with climbing gear and other items best carried in a bag during flights.
Upon arrival in Moscow, we presented our hotel and airport-to-hotel voucher to Aeroflot. In Russia, Aeroflot representatives still viewed customers (like us) as a problem, no service oriented person anywhere. It became clear that this Moscow transfer should have been bought from Pilgrim Tours and NOT from Aeroflot. I have not seen how Pilgrim service in Moscow works, but it is hard to see how it could be worse. Most likely it is much better (as well as less expensive). After a long and completely unneccessary wait, we finally were directed to a small van that took us to hotel Sojus.
We had a small sightseeing along local streets, then dinner at the hotel. The neighborhood was dominated by a park and many large apartment buildings, the sidewalks of too many people (men) walking around and drinking beer.
We got up very early as our tickets had a 0745 departure to Mineralye Vody and
Aeroflot had informed us that the airport transport would leave the hotel
at 0550. With the 2 hour time difference from Norway this would "feel like"
0350. Well, at 0550 the departure time was changed to 0600, and at 0615 without
any bus, the new time was 0630. We arrived at the domestic terminal at 0715 with
a sense of urgency. The monitors flashed a 0745 departure, however what was even
printed on our tickets turned out to be boarding time, while the official
departure time was 0815. Well, we cleared all obstacles and made the flight
with low pulse and excitement to finally be on the way to Caucasus.
We met two German boys, age 21 and 23, on the flight. They were also headed for Elbrus, but with no plans of how to transfer from the airport to the Baksan Valley. We were met by a Pilgrim Tours driver with a van, he was OK with us offering the Germans a ride. Shortly after leaving the airport we came to a police/military road control post. Papers and passports were inspected, all in good order except for the obvious "mistake" that our youngest German friend had interchanged his first and last name on the arrival card that had been filled out when flying to Moscow. Big fuzz, obviously solvable by giving the police money. Our driver resisted, went out and discussed the matter, 15 minutes later we were again heading towards Caucasus.
The driver was very helpful. He stopped when appropriate, we bought soft drinks, later had a stop in order to compensate for all the fluids we had consumed. As we got nearer to the Baksan valley, he stopped and completed the so called OVIR registration for all of us, very efficiently indeed. As soon as we arrived to the house provided for Pilgrim lodging, we met Tatjana and Andrey, the local Pilgrim representatives. Tatjana was an English teacher and worked here during the summer break. Andrey had been in these mountains since he was 3 years old. They quickly got us the two remaining permits, a border zone permit (for hiking near the Georgia border) and an Elbrus national park permit. Equipped with these as well as our completed arrival card, the OVIR, the special Visa Voucher (that we received upon arrival in Mineralye Vody from our driver), and of course, our passports, we should be relatively safe from police hassle. If the Elbrus region is ever to really create a large volume tourism business, then this complicated buraucracy must be simplified.
We had arrived in the upper Baksan valley, at the very base of Elbrus. This area is part of the Russian republic Kabardino-Balkaria. The Kabardino part is mainly plains while Balkaria is a mountain area, part of the Caucasus. Local names (on the map) were in the Balkarian language, spoken by the local people of the region.
Bright blue sky greeted us on this first morning in the Caucasus. The
ridge above Cheget was the target for a first acclimaization hike.
We hiked up parallel with the chairlift, I strongly believe that walking
the hills are better for acclimatization and general conditioning, rather
than taking the lift in order to get into thin air more quickly and without
any effort. Soon, we were higher than the chairlifts anyway. Initially,
the views of Mount Donguzorun, 4454m,
never stopped to impress us. The west face of this
mountain falls down about 1900 vertical
meter, with seracs, hanging glaciers and
shear rock. The valley below is completely filled with a glacier and
numerous moraines. The summit high above having its very impressive
hat of snow. Yes, the scenery in this area is absolutely breathtaking.
The Cheget ridge climbs continuously until 3410 meter, after which there is a small dip in the ridge, a small saddle before the ridge continues upwards. We stopped at this viewpoint, had lunch and spent a few hours in order to really get the thin air to start influencing our bodies. The primary factor of this point was measured to about 30 meter. The ridge continues, now more like a scramble. Appearently, one can continue quite some ways, but the final part to the summit Donguzorunchegetkarabashi, 3769 meer, is supposed to be quite tricky.
We subsequently returned back down to the valley, all hungry for dinner served at 1900 in a building right next to the one we were staying in.a
Preparations for the next day were completed, Tatjana provided automobile gasoline for our MSR stove, white gas or other more specialized fuel were not available. We checked the equipment and decided what to leave behind in a bag for storage. Essentially all the mountain gear we had brought from Norway as well as our mountaineering food should go with us to Elbrus. I initially thought of making an initial trip up the mountain to about 4500 meter in order to acclimatize and get first hand knowledge of the mountain. However, the fact that our base camp area in the valley was as low as 2000 meter, made me reconsider this plan. My thinking now said that the time and effort to return all the way down would be too much compared with a relatively small gain. Therefore, we now wanted to carry maximum loads and make the summit in a single big attack. The consequence of this approach was that we needed to carry as much supplies as possible in order to sustain a long trip. Acclimatization would require several "extra" days, in addition we should be prepared to wait through a period of bad weather without being forced off the mountain.
Establish Camp I.
The climb of Elbrus has started. We started climbing from the end of the road in the upper Baksan valley, on July 31 at 0945, elevation about 2377 meter. (See below for GPS coordinates.) Loaded with provisions for about a week, our backpacks were heavy and we moved slowly up the steep trail under a very hot sun. The start is brutal, the trail, actually more like a rough road used to construct the cable way, heads steeply uphill. It is quite rocky. The panorama view across the valley and back down the valley just improves as we gradually get higher. Pål Jørgen walks faster uphill than Tor and myself, despite having a pack with a weight that is at least as heavy as ours when measured relative to the body weight. He stops after gaining another 100 vertical meter and Tor and I catch up with him. In fact, each time Pål stops he serves as a great motivation for us to carry on until we can all rest together.
We reached the top of the first cable way at 1200, had lunch and continued around 1245. We arrived at our Camp I at 1445. This spot was a bit higher than the top of the second cable way, on nice snow between some sheltering rocks at 3518 meter. The trail to this point is obvious and easy, but rather steep and hot with the weather we experienced.
In the early evening, we took a trip down to the cable way top station, mainly to explore. However, we were able to buy water and the local speciality, grilled lamb meat, thus saving us from melting snow as well as adding an extra day to our maximum stay on the mountain. In any case, we have carried up provisions for a long stay, we should be able to sit out bad weather for 4-5 days and still have a summit day. Most commercial expeditions operate with 2 or at most 3 possible summit days. Thus, our chance of success should be considerably higher relative to bad luck with the weather. We had a warm evening, everybody are in good shape, we agreed that we should move up another 500-600 meter tomorrow, provided that we felt OK also in the morning.
Around 1700, thunder nearby. Soon, we had rain. Hard rain. We relaxed in the tent and guessed how long this would last. At 1900, the weather cleared, we can see the summit again, the rain has ended. We talked, many different topics, until about 2130. Tried to sleep, but the elevation still made this hard. Mostly rest until 0300, then we all fell asleep until a new day broke. A clear night, the moon is full, no darkness outside this night.
The tent is a bit overcrowded, last time we slept three persons was in the Rocky Mountains,
but then with Pål age 13 and my wife Heidi. Pål is bigger now and Tor is (much!)
bigger than Heidi. We did not sleep particularly well, partly due to the change of
elevation, partly due to this being the first night in a tent with substantially higher
demands on coordination.
We still feel that the right thing to do is to carry everything further up, above 4000 meter to a Camp II. At that elevation, we should have maximum benefit for further acclimatization, we will also be within striking distance of the summit. The plan calls for sleeping there two nights before moving up to a Camp III that shall be used the night before our summit attempt.
Today, the weather is possibly even better than yesterday. The sun is blazing from a crisp and clear sky. We are on snow now, moving steadily, but not particularly fast uphill with our heavy backpacks. We reach "The Barrels", these are huge cylinders of metal that are used as huts. The highest chairlift, a single person chair, serves this camp from the cable way service further down. We feel good about having carried everything, including supplies for a week up from the valley on foot. This exercise clearly contributes to acclimatization, but perhaps more importantly to establishing physical strength in our little team.
We run into another Norwegian as we pass the Barrels, he is part of a Pilgrim guided group. Higher up, the terrain is more level, even a very slight dip down, as we see the Disel hut higher on our left side. The slope now climbs more and we spot an area higher on the right side as a possible site for our camp. The area near a break in the ridge, turns out to be very good for establishing Camp II. The snow is level, there are rocks around that may provide some shelter in case of bad weather. Above us, there is a rock point with some sort of memorial marker, the monument has a metal pole pointing to the sky, if for no other purpose, it will certainly serve as an excellent lightning rod.
We established camp and cooked dinner. The afternoon sun so hot that we could walk around and sit on nearby rocks, t-shirt style. Later, I paid a visit across to the Disel hut. Just above it, there were a large camp of tents, at least 20. I chatted with some British climbers, they wanted to start at 0200 tonight for their summit bid.
We woke up to a bright day with crisp air. A little frost during the night with
ice on rocks and where melting water had been running yesterday. The sun was
shining on rocks nearby, but our tent was just behind sufficiently high
rocks to remain in the shade for quite some time. It was already decided
that we should stay one more night here for acclimatization. However, it made
sense to hike up to the Pastukhov Rocks and carry most of our supplies there.
In this way, it should be easy to set up a high camp there tomorrow and then
have the day next day be our first summit day.
We set out, but Tor did not feel very well as we approached 4300 meter and subsequently returned to camp. Pål Jørgen and I continued to the distinct band of rocks and followed the rocks higher until we found a more level spot, suitable for a camp. We left my big backpack filled with provisions, fuel and climbing gear. Next, we continued up the last, steeper part of the rocks on a snow slope. We looked around, obviously one could also camp up here. From here, the route to the summit heads straight up the snow slope. We descended the snow slope and hiked back to our Camp II. As is always the case, in this type of terrain and not completely acclimatized, the return hike took substantially less time and soon we were back sharing thoughts and impressions with Tor Erling.
The night has been spectacular. The weather quickly took a turn for the worse.
Hail, thunder, massive lightning flashing around and moving right across our
campsite. Then wind and snow, more wind, more snow.
Early morning, the weather shows no sign of improvement, but the thunder has stopped. According to our Swiss barometric altimeter, we are now 100 meter higher than yesterday, a strong low pressure system is here. Outside is drifting snow and very limited visibility. The plan called for moving the camp up to 4600 meter today. The plan has been cancelled. However, most of our supply is up there. If weather permits, we should launch an expedition up there and retrieve food. In any case, this is a morning with no hurry, some breakfast, some talk about a wide range of topics. No need to do much, mountaineering is also patience, perhaps in particular this kind of big mountain mountaineering.
Later in the day, the conditions seemed fair enough for a trip outside. Pål Jørgen and I set out, while Tor Erling remained in the tent. We advanced higher quite fast, and as expected, the weather did not improve higher up. In fact, the wind got very strong and upon reaching the ridge itself, Pål Jørgen sat down on a rock about 15 meter from our depot, while I furiously searched through the backpack and got the various items of food transferred to my small pack. The conditions were quite bad indeed, no visibility, snow drift and very stong wind. We hurried down from the ridge, then needed to use the GPS to retrace various waypoints in order to find the correct way back down. Absolutely no way to see even a few meters ahead. We were quite happy to be back and quickly got into our sleeping bags in the tent. Alas!, we forgot to bring down a liter of gasoline for the stove. I was NOT happy about this at all. No immediate problem, but we were running low, possibly too low to melt sufficient water in preparation for a summit bid.
The storm continued into the night, but everything looked better around 0300, moonlight
and some stars. Now, in the morning, the weather is much better,
but not perfect. It looks like an improving trend
has started. We quickly agreed that the main effort today shall be to make
yet another trip up to the high depot and retrieve one liter of gasoline.
The purpose of a high "cache" is really to simplify the climb, our high depot
seemed more and more like having the opposite effect.
We will then prepare for a summit bid starting tomorrow (night) morning.
I have trouble with the (MSR) stove, it burns, then goes out, with no appearent
reason. I have been making a better place to cook
(more protection from the wind).
This time Tor Erling and Pål Jørgen should go while dad stays
in the tent. They left around 0930.
The plan is to make a summit bid tonight. First, we must now get the
water supply back in good order. Sunshine and fog is now alternating,
the weather is not bad compared to the previous couple of days.
We are all well acclimatized after 3 nights here at 4100 meter.
The time is now 1530,
the boys carried out their mission in good style. They returned
I expected them back with the extra fuel and a water bottle.
Right now we have fog and light snow showers. Pål Jørgen has been three consecutive days to 4600 meter. We have melted 6 liter of water, been drinking chocolate and chicken soup. Time to catch some sleep, hoping that the weather will continue to improve.
I woke up at 0130 and looked out on a dark sky full of stars. The stove
started without trouble and preparations for our summit bid underway.
After breakfast and the normal period of confusion while getting the
right pieces of clothing on or in the pack, we all left under a brilliant
sky filled to capacity with stars, at 0230.
Much to our surprise, Tor Erling soon seemingly ran out of steam and his pace fell below what we all agreed was reasonable if we were to make the summit. We quickly agreed that he should turn around and return to camp. The precise cause of this collapse was never determined. He certainly was well acclimatized by now, he had carried a heavy load up the mountain and certainly contributed very significantly to preparing our little team for this summit attempt.
Pål Jørgen and I continued at a much higher pace to our depot at the Pastukhov Rocks, we had some unexpected trouble locating it this time. It was still very cold and dark, but soon we had crampons on the boots and continued uphill. The route first heads directly uphill, the hill was longer than expected, at times it seemed like we never really got any closer to the rocks above. Still, almost without noticing, we moved more towards the left and decided we were in the Traverse.
We kept passing other parties. Many climbers are driven all the way up to the Pastukhov Rocks by a snowcat. I must admit that the lights and noise from this machine seemed out of place. I do not fully accept that climbers use this type of equipment. One can debate the use of the cable way, however, as a fixed type of infrastructure, this is likely within acceptable limits. Climbers do use cable ways in the Alps and I guess it has been accepted more or less equivalent with roads. However, to hire a specialized vehicle with huge belts that can crawl up almost any steep snow slope, is not very different from the hire of a helicopter. In principle, one could get a ride directly to the summit. Is this to "climb" the peak? One could of course argue, that almost 1000 vertical meter still remains, good enough to be acceptable with the Colorado Mountain Club if you climbed a fourteener. I would argue that when you climb one of the truly most prominent peaks on earth, then one should expect to climb more under muscle power only.
The Traverse led us nicely into the saddle between the East and the West summit. The sun was shining higher up on the slope to the West summit, we both looked forward to a warming effect of these rays. Pål Jørgen had said that his feet were cold, not very, but a little. They did not seem to get warmer, but not colder either. I kept checking him on this, but felt that there was no reason for concern. As soon as we came out of the shadow from the East summit and into the sun, we stopped and rested. The route continues on a traversing ascent from the saddle and up towards some rocks, then further in order to reach the north ridge of the West summit. The stretch from these rocks until you gain the ridge, is likely what would pass for the crux of the climb. The slope down into the saddle gets steeper, there are rocks below and a fall here without a self arrest is likely to end in disaster. Many climbers have been killed by sliding down here, this season a Scandinavian climber was killed just at this spot. I have a hard time understanding why commercial, guided climbs recommends that their clients use ski poles only. They may be good for uphill hiking and also for keeping your balance. However, if you still suffer a mishap resulting in a slide, ski poles are exceedingly difficult to use for a successful self arrest. I would strongly urge any party thinking about Elbrus to practice self arrest technique with an ice axe and to walk with an ice axe, not ski poles on the higher slopes of Elbrus.
Once you reach the north ridge, the terrain becomes much more friendly. First, gently up along the ridge, then more off to the right. Pretty flat for a short section, even slightly downhill. You now see the summit, a fairly distinct, but rather small high point ahead. The final hill is slightly steeper, but quite easy compared to the earlier slopes. We made the summit just before 0830. 6 hours from the tent, about 250 vertical meter ascent per hour. Given that we climbed from the 4100 to 5600 level, this must be said to be acceptable.
Phenomenal views all around. Blue sky, a slight effect of the sun, no wind, what more can one ask? We spent about 20 minutes on the top, taking pictures, drinking and just letting nature and all its wonders sink into memories forever. Pål Jørgen suddenly exclaimed: "Dad, we must make Tor Erling also experience this", well said and setting the agenda for the remainder of our trip.
We hiked back down to our camp in 3 hours including a brief stop at the high depot in order to bring everything back down. After a good rest in the tent, we broke camp and carried down to the cable way. Soon, we were down in the valley and back at our headquarter, booking dinner and soliciting suggestions for a good hike the following day.
Today we decided to go on day hike exploring another area of the Caucasus.
Upon recommendations from our Tatjana, we selected the Adylsu valley.
drive us to the trailhead in the morning, then come back to pick us up at 1600.
This valley runs south-east from the village named Elbrus. The road starts out
as reasonable. then gradually gets worse. One can drive all the way in an ordinary
car, but having a jeep is definitely no disadvantage. A fairly big, 85 percent
completed lodge was located right inside a pretty big and ugly gate.
After hiking on a good trail for about 20 minutes, we came to a military border camp with a guard checking that people had a special border zone permit. The border to Georgia follows the crest of the mountains at the end of the valley. Our papers were in good order (thanks to Pilgrim Tours), and we proceeded along a very nice trail for another 1.5 hours. The trail partly follows the river, there is a natural crossing on a big rock as the trail climbs a small valley before entering a flat grass area shielded by a pretty big moraine. This area is quite popular and serves as one big base camp for visitors. A colorful set of about 60 tents were pitched on this nice site with people everywhere. Mostly Russian campers, but also foreigners. The location is beautiful with white, sharp peaks looking down and big crevassed glaciers on the slopes in between. The entire area is dominated by very distinct moraine ridges, some of these display a very fascinating structure.
We proceeded along a trail that climbed along the very top of one of these ridges and followed it all the way to the glacier that continued up to the crest that defined the Georgia-Russia border, only 3 kilometer away. Upon returning to the base camp area, we just could not resist the temptation to also climb along a second moraine ridge that lead us into the western part of the area. From this ridge one gets a good view on a glacial lake dammed by the moraines as well as a better view of the high mountain skyline extending further along this side of the valley. Although not the highest peak, the nearby peak continued to capture our attention. This peak stands out from the very beginning of the hike into this beautiful valley. The entire landscape is very impressive, the peaks extend up to 4200 meter, unfortunately, most of what we looked at were outside of our map.
Our hike back down the valley went quite quickly and shortly before 1600 we were all relaxing near the big gate. Tatjana and Andrey showed up with the Pilgrim jeep, we drove a bit down the valley and had (late!) lunch at a small local restaurant. Local dishes and local beer, Andrey told us that he hiked into this valley with his parents at age 3. He subsequently climbed Elbrus at age 10 and now worked with overall coordination of the Pilgrim operations in the area.
We got up at 0130, had breakfast and did our final preparations. We left the
tent and headed uphill at 0240. A beautiful black sky with thousands of stars
and the broad, distinct Milky Way running across. The snowcat had already
ferried many teams up to 4500 meter making several trips between the Barrels hut
and the Pastukhov Rocks area. We walked at a steady pace, tonight Tor Erling moved
with a speed quite similar to what Pål Jørgen and I had sustained
4 days earlier. We came quickly to the Pastukhov Rocks and continued up the
slope above that always seems to never end. Finally, at 5000 meter, onto the traverse
and climbing another 300 vertical meter along the Traverse. Meteorites flying across
the black sky, a fascinating display. Gradually, the eastern sky would get lighter and
weaker stars are starting to disappear. We are clearly earlier here than 4 days
ago, there is no sign of sun hitting the slope from the west summit that can
be seen from the Traverse. In fact, Venus is still bright on the eastern sky.
This is good progress, but since we started higher this time, we think that
the overall progress is about the same as the previous time. We have been
passing a lot of people, first on the long uphill slope, then along the
Traverse. We finally turn the corner on the Traverse and get to see into the
saddle between the two summits.
The route is flat into the saddle, a welcome change. The sun is rising, shining brightly high on the final traverse up the west summit to its north ridge. The sky is now deep blue everywhere where we just minutes ago had stars, they have all vanished, conquered by the powerful sun.
We easily advance up to the rocks that splits this last traverse into two parts. There are only three climbers ahead of us, they are about to disappear onto the north ridge when a cloud suddenly shows up higher up on the west summit, then quickly descends upon us. Quite surprisingly, within minutes we find ourselfs in fog with about 10 meter of visibility. How could this happen? The cloud must have arrived from the west shielded by the west summit before this sudden ambush. We continued in the fog the relatively short remaining stretch up the north ridge and across to the summit point. There, we met the three climbers ahead of us. We already met one climber descending in the high traverse, he may have been on the summit just around sunrise, possibly the only climber this day to make the summit with good visibility. Thus, we were number 5 and 6 on the Elbrus summit on this day, arriving at 0740. A total ascent time of 5 hours from our tent, quite acceptable showing that we were quite comfortable with the thin air by now. We took pictures, not much to consider except for a few good shots of Tor Erling. The success of our trip was now 100 percent, I got to experience the summit of Elbrus with my two sons. Two trips, 4 days apart, two climbs of a "7-summit", under different conditions. Incredible how Dad will get in shape by this approach, the thought that "4 sons" would have been rather hard did pass my mind.
We stayed on the summit about 15 minutes, the fog persisted and the wind was picking up. It looked as if the top of the cloud was only 10 meter higher, we had a brief look at blue sky and sun straight up. At this moment, we saw our own shadow projected onto the cloud below, the shadow surrounded by rings with rainbow colors. This phenomena is quite rare and very interesting to observe.
The descent went without any notable incidents, the clouds made for limited visibility almost all the way down to the Pastukhov Rocks. We met several more climbers that most likely would make the summit, unfortunately with no view. Among them, a rather large Norwegian group with a guide, this was not a Hvitserk group, but a group organized by a small company called Eco Expeditions. We were back at our tent at 1020, good to stretch out and relax body and legs. We rested until 1200, broke camp and started downhill at 1245. We hiked down to the cable way in a little more than one hour and were back at our Baksan valley headquarter before Pål Jørgen returned from his hike with a local guide.
The last day in the Baksan valley. We had celebrated the double climb
of Elbrus the previous evening, the boys wanted a day to explore the
local area, while I thought it would be fun to climb at least one additional
peak in the Caucasus. The simplest goal in terms of approach, looked like
heading straight uphill from our valley lodging. The fairly steep grassy slope
surely led to a summit if one just kept going.
I left the house at 1030 and walked directly towards the slope behind the building. The local river was easily crossed on a bridge closed by a fence. I climbed the fence across to an old building, through a wooden door and into an area that looked a bit like a vegetable garden. Vegetation, mainly weeds was the main difficulty, I still walked with care not to damage any plant that might be cultivated. On the other side, a rather steep, rocky hillside climbed to a somewhat more gentle grass slope higher up. I first climbed left, but the terrain was steep and loose and although I surely could have gotten up this way, I said to myself, why take any risk at all here when it surely is easier to climb this section a bit further (right) downstream. Moving carefully back down, I got up to the grass quite easily by using plain common sense.
This was indeed a long grass slope. I perfect place if you love flowers. I passed a lonely pine tree, and headed up towards what looked like a few small cliffs with a couple of pine trees above them. After passing also a few short stretches with boulders, I converged onto a somewhat more distinct ridge that continued uphill. From this ridge, one sees the village of Terskol down to the right, while the hotel area Cheget across the road and our building on this side of the road could be seen more directly down, slightly to the left.
Continuing now up along this ridge, I located a small ridge point (3134 m), then arrived at the highest grass area, 3390 meter. For a while I had seen what looked like the summit, it definitely looked quite feasible. I continued up on gravel and loose rocks without any difficulty, aiming for the horizon slightly to the right of what looked like the highest point. This point was marked with some kind of pole and a cairn visible from below. As guessed, the final stretch from the crest of the ridge to the summit also proved easy. I hit this summit at 1330, 3 hours of steep uphill hiking to 3536 meter, a bit more than 1400 vertical meter.
The surprise, however, was that a high ridge extended in the direction of the next higher peak, Sarykolbashitersak 3776 meter across from Soldatsky pass at 3383 meter. This ridge clearly had at least one higher summit. I descended slightly to a small saddle, then climbed more steeply, but easily (US class 3) a short step before a more gentle slope led to a new summit. This summit was carefully measured to 3545 meter. But this was not the end of the story, from here, yet another summit further along the ridge could be seen. This one also marked with a pole. The terrain across to it looked a bit complicated, but turned out to be quite easy. First, down the ridge to a large stone blocking the way. Next, down on the right side of this stone. The soil looked like some kind of clay, I made stable foot prints and this passage turned out to be quite easy. Further along, just some easy scrambling and I was at the third small summit, this one measured 3548 meter and is the highest point. From here one could look downhill to Soldatsky pass. The climb of Itkolbashi was complete.
I left the summit around 1400 and arrived back at the house where we stayed, shortly before 1600. A very successful trip, a good workout and just the way I wanted to end my stay in this beautiful valley of Baksan. We went to Cheget in the evening and had local food for dinner. A celebration of our trip was in order and ethnic food seemed very appropriate.
Departure by a prebooked taxi at 0645. We left this early following advice
by Pilgrim Tours that reported a higher than normal number of road blocks and
police check points along the road to Mineralye Vody. We had one stop in order to
feed the taxi more motor oil, we avoided all police check points and made the
airport in 2:45, very fast and efficient.
After dragging our fairly heavy luggage about 100 meter from the parking to within 10 meter of the check in counter, we were stopped by an English speaking woman that informed us that a porter would assist with our luggage. We politely told her that we easily could cover the last few meter, but she insisted that this was a free service that all travllers should/must use. After a short wait, two porters appeared and took about half our luggage the few remaining steps. Later, as we were waiting to board the plane a new woman appeared and informed us that we owed 200 rubels for porter service. Of course, they got nothing. When shall such people, even official airport people, learn that honesty pays? This had little to do with the amount asked, but a lot to do with not lying to customers.
After a two hour wait in an essentially empty room reserved for foreigners, we boarded and had a quiet flight to Moscow. One should notice that Aeroflot airplanes do not have any storage bins above the seats. There is a small shelf, completely useless for any but very small items like a coat or other small items.
Upon arrival in Moscow, we again experienced a terrible lack of customer service from Aeroflot with respect to arrival and hotel transfer service. We had paid significantly for this, there is only one lesson: Do not even consider it, arrange for Pilgrim Tours or any other commercial offer to take care of your hotel transfer, any alternative to Aeroflot simply must be better. The regard you as a problem rather than a customer, they reluctantly, after uncountable delays drive you around to the wrong locations until eventually dropping you at your hotel.
We continued immediately from the hotel to the Red Square in the centre of Moscow by taxi. Advance agreement on the fare, 600 rubels, a taxi driver that kept telling us about buildings and streets as we drove by. We strolled around the central parts of town, looked at the Cremlin, the well known supermarket Gum and a large catheral located nearby. Tried the well known metro (subway) in order to get back and had our final farewell celebration at restaurant Staraga Bashnya, very close to the Red Square. The place was OK, but did not live up to their claim of standard. Several items on the menu were unavailable, the winelist was horribly overpriced as was also coke and mineral water. Despite large signs about accepting all major credit cards, they insisted quite surprisingly at the end of the meal that 6 percent tip had to be paid in cash. This depleted our currency reserve more than convenient, in fact totally unacceptable practice without any signs or warnings. In particular, for tourists that are about to leave the country.
We took the metro back to the hotel, the last metro station plus a taxi in order to get there. The hotel had informed us that a taxi from this station should cost you 100 rubel, not surprisingly the taxi drivers near the station asked 300-400. We walked a few minutes away from the station and readily located a driver that was more than happy to receive 100 rubels. Free market at work, commented Tor Erling. I guess he was sort of right, however, a slightly more predictable correlation between service requested and price offered would simplify the life of tourists.
Departure from Moscow with Aeroflot. The plane was not Russian built, but an Airbus.
We arrived timely in Oslo with all luggage. A great and memorable trip to a new
and different part of the world had come to an end. It is a great privilege for me
to be able to experience a trip like this with both my sons, strong and healthy,
always positive and contributing in their own ways to making the trip a huge
Kabardino-Balkaria seemed distinctly Asian to me. The location, the people and the culture. Also, from a point of view where mountains are classified by primary factor (or prominence) as much as by height alone, Elbrus does not present itself as the high point of Europe.
All morning measurements
PB is 53 years old, TE is 22, PJ is 15.
This will be converted to figures.
Day no. Elev. PB (pulse/oxygen) TE (pulse/oxygen) PJ (pulse/oxygen)
Day 3 2100 49 93 60 92 54 94
Day 4 2100 48 93 58 93 67 94
Day 5 3518 47 90 76 85 63 87
Day 6 4130 47 87 90 80 77 88
Day 7 4130 48 88 83 88 76 87
Day 8 4130 49 88 67 91 60 92
Elevations are listed as read from the GPS for consistency.
The "Day number" refers to the report above.
elevations are likely to be 5-10 meter lower, as the GPS seemed to
give a systematic deviation on the high side in the Elbrus area.
Day 2: 2090 m, N43:14.983, E042:31.454, The river right opposite our Base Quarter, Baksan Valley.
Day 3: 2756 m, N43:14.580, E042:30.343, Top of the first chairlift on Cheget.
Day 3: 3051 m, N43:14.426, E042:29.826, Top of the second chairlift on Cheget.
Day 3: 3469 m, N43:14.480, E042:28.986, First small "summit" along the ridge.
Day 3: 3440 m, N43:14.489, E042:28.936, First small "saddle" along the ridge.
Day 4: 2377 m, N43:15.989, E042:28.689, End of the road, Baksan Valley. The start of the trail.
Day 4: 2540 m, N43:16.086, E042:28.305, Along the trail
Day 4: 2663 m, N43:16.204, E042:28.020, Along the trail
Day 4: 2811 m, N43:16.460, E042:27.893, Along the trail
Day 4: 2941 m, N43:16.451, E042:27.662, Along the trail, top station of the first cable way.
Day 4: 3045 m, N43:16.708, E042:27.618, Along the trail
Day 4: 3140 m, N43:16.799, E042:27.752, Along the trail
Day 4: 3242 m, N43:16.996, E042:27.846, Along the trail
Day 4: 3351 m, N43:17.164, E042:27.858, Along the trail
Day 4: 3418 m, N43:17.312, E042:27.826, Along the trail
Day 4: 3518 m, N43:17.500, E042:27.778, Our Camp I, the trail runs a bit further left (facing uphill)
Day 5: 3693 m, N43:17.916, E042:27.773, Along the trail
Day 5: 3718 m, N43:17.976, E042:27.841, Near The Barrels (huts)
Day 5: 3833 m, N43:18.220, E042:27.784, Along the trail
Day 5: 3929 m, N43:18.454, E042:27.680, Along the trail
Day 5: 3983 m, N43:18.715, E042:27.630, Along the trail, flat section here
Day 5: 4052 m, N43:18.845, E042:27.659, Along the trail
Day 5: 4130 m, N43:19.018, E042:27.707, Our Camp II, the trail runs further left (facing uphill)
Day 6: 4230 m, N43:19.198, E042:27.597, Along the trail
Day 6: 4330 m, N43:19.338, E042:27.508, Along the trail
Day 6: 4378 m, N43:19.401, E042:27.430, Along the trail
Day 6: 4472 m, N43:19.571, E042:27.477, Along the trail
Day 6: 4576 m, N43:19.750, E042:27.540, The very lowest part of Pastukhov Rocks
Day 6: 4633 m, N43:19.825, E042:27.540, Our Cache, Camp site below steep upper part of Pastukhov Rocks
Day 6: 4687 m, N43:19.888, E042:27.534, Top of Pastukhov Rocks, possible camp site.
Day 9: 4946 m, N43:20.196, E042:27.406, High in the slope above Pastukhov Rocks
Day 9: 5064 m, N43:20.298, E042:27.291, Beginning of the traverse
Day 9: 5300 m, N43:20.533, E042:27.009, End of the traverse
Day 9: 5432 m, N43:20.954, E042:26.702, Saddle between the west and the east summit
Day 9: 5520 m, N43:21.089, E042:26.641, Top of steeper, ascending traverse to the north ridge
Day 9: 5575 m, N43:21.141, E042:26.591, Along the final stretch befoe the summit
Day 9: 5650 m, N43:21.152, E042:26.270, The summit, correct elevation is 5642 meter.
Day 10: 2626 m, N43:12.467, E042:44.006, The Adylsu valley
Day 11: 4276 m, N43:19.265, E042:27.506, Our Camp before the second summit climb.
Day 13: 3548 m, N43:16.344, E042:32.447, Itkolbashi