Elbrus South Expedition, 15th August 2019
Leader: Becci Amos
Arriving in a sort of Russian heatwave when you have come to climb the country’s highest mountain takes a bit of getting your head around. The team arrived safely in the village of Cheget and after refreshing showers sat down to some welcoming food and a briefing for the expedition. There is always a buzz of excitement about the beginning of an expedition whilst packing your kit for the next few days, getting to know your teammates and soaking up the sights, sounds, smells of a new environment.
The journey in 4x4s up the dirt track and into the forest is an adventure in itself! After a gripping ride well tackled by our excellent driver we began the trek up to the make at 3200m under the hot sun. We were forecast rain for 3 days but there was not a cloud in the skies. The valley was beautiful with an abundance of gentians, wild thyme and juniper on the ground and fascinating rock sculptures upon the ridges.
As the team made their way to the lake the weather suddenly changed and we were facing thunder, lightening, bullet hard hail and string gusts of wind. There was just enough time to get into waterproofs and take shelter from the worst of it. The weather went from glorious to horrendous and back again in the space of a few moments. On our second day at the lake we hiked up to 3600m making the decision not to head up to Mount Mukal following the previous day’s storm and the uncertain forecast. Thankfully the sun remained and the rest of our time at the lake was blessed with pretty good weather. Sleeping up at 3200m for a couple of nights was beneficial for the team to acclimatise and worth it for the beautiful setting. The porters and cooks did an amazing job and everyone appreciated how well we were fed. We spent our time relaxing, reading, forming those team bonds and having a dip in the icy lake water.
Rest and packing:
We arrived back in the village of Cheget by lunchtime to enjoy the local pizza and shaslik (kebab). We spent the rest of that day sorting and checking kit, preparing for the next phase and resting. The anticipation for heading up towards Elbrus was becoming tangible by this point!
The journey up to the barrels is great fun and full of excitement. Loading kit on and off of the big cable cars and slowly moving up the mountain watching the valley get further and further away. Pictures and descriptions cannot truly prepare you for the ancient looking single chair lift that forms the last part of the journey, you have to experience it for yourself!
Everyone was pleasantly surprised by how cosy and hospitable the barrels were (we won’t mention the toilet) and we sat down to our first meal at the barrels cooked by the lovely Layla.
On our first afternoon we took the slopes and concentrated on refreshing good footwork skills in crampons. We made it up to around 4300m and had a few cheeky glimpses of the summit and enjoyed incredible views of the Caucasus range looking out toward Georgia.
On our second afternoon we took a brief ride up to the Prijut hut, the team’s first taste of being on the snowcat which was a lot of fun and a bit squashed. The bit of effort saved at the start of the journey allowed us to make it on foot up to the high snowcat drop at 5000m, the team did great and had a short rest there before heading back down the steep slopes.
We had a small weather window for summit day as forecast looked increasingly uncertain with new snow and potentially stormy weather coming in. We were hopeful to make the summit the following day and decided to go for the high snow-cat point as we were keen to maximise our chances of doing so.
Two members of the team were feeling strong and wanted to test themselves, opting to walk from the barrels to the summit. They set off at midnight with their guide Dimitri and walked up through the night.
The remainder of the team set off around 4am with Oleg, Vladimir and myself, just in time to see the sun rise. We took the snow-cat, meeting with Hendrik and Christian at 5000m who had made it to 5000m in good time. We all travelled slowly into the saddle together and had a short break before assembling into smaller teams to head up the fixed ropes and onto the summit.
Each small team worked hard up the steep slopes and arrived on the summit close enough to share the moment together, it was a great celebration and the cloud cleared just long enough for some fantastic photos.
The return journey was smooth and quick and we were greeted by some more excellent food at the barrels. We spent another night here, choosing not to rush down with all of our kit but savour the moment.
The following day we headed back down for showers and celebration! The vodka flowed and many laughs were had. By this point the team had formed friendships and spent the final couple of days eating, drinking, relaxing and enjoying the local culture.
We said goodbye to Russia thankful for the chance to stand on top of its highest mountain, for the good weather, banter and the friendships made on the way.