I am close to being ready to go for my long awaited trip to Elbrus, Europe’s highest mountain, at 5,642m or 18,510 feet. Elbrus is a dormant volcano in the south of Russia, in the Caucasus mountain range, and close to the border with Georgia. Whilst some people argue that this part of Russia is actually in Asia, it is accepted in all mountaineering circles that Elbrus is in Europe.
So why climb it, and why now? Well it is no secret to anyone that knows me that I harbour a (perhaps foolish, and almost certainly overambitious) desire to complete the Seven Summits. Having done Kilimanjaro a few years ago, I have booked to do Aconcagua in each of the last two years, but had to cancel, and so it is booked again for this December, and I am hoping that it is third time lucky. In the meantime then, I am ‘squeezing in’ Elbrus and hoping that I am lucky enough to be able to summit.
Elbrus has two main routes up, the North and the South, and also two summits, the East and the West. The South route is easier and busier, being populated by a cable car and ski runs up to over 3,000m. I will be attempting the North route, and trekking the whole mountain from base to summit. I will also be aiming for the West summit, the slightly higher of the two, conditions permitting. The whole trip takes about 12 days, of which nine are on the climb itself.
The mountain is essentially non-technical, in that it requires only glacier travel experience, and no technical climbing. It will need crampons and ice-axe only, and for us to be roped up in teams of four. The climb is expedition style, which means carrying everything that I have with me on my back, and cacheing where possible as part of the acclimatisation. The sleeping arrangements are in tents, other than I think one night in a hut of sorts somewhere. I think the final night is spent at around 15,800 feet, which is higher than Mont Blanc!
I’ve had to buy a shedload of new stuff for my trip (well actually I could have hired most of it, but I just wanted some new kit), and including some 6,000m mountaineering boots, a -25 degree sleeping bag, a new thermarest, an ice axe, a new 75 litre rucksack, a new lightweight harness, and a new light down jacket. Packing it all into the rucksack is going to be fun, but I’ll obviously get there somehow.
The whole trip is going to be an amazing adventure, as amongst other things it is my first trip to Russia, my first trip to the Caucasus mountains, my first expedition style mountaineering (they have been portered previously), and the second highest (fingers crossed) that I will have ever been (depending upon how high people think Kala Pattar is, which if higher than this then it will be third highest). It is also a fundamental stepping stone to the Seven Summits, so fail badly here and then the rest I can forget about really, so the pressure is on too. I’m not thinking about failure though – albeit if the weather is bad (as I found out on Mont Blanc a few weeks ago) then there is nothing you can do about it.
The trip goes via Moscow, then internal flight to Mineralne Vody, then by road to Pyatigorsk. If all goes well I’ll be on the summit about a week after that following a long route up the mountain, and probably some interesting food along the way. I’m very open to whatever is thrown at me, and I hope fit enough too. We’ll find out soon enough…….my next post will let you know whether or not I made it………..until then!