It’s Elbrus Time!

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 :)

Elbrus 🙂

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!

A March Update…

I thought it (well beyond) time that I updated my blog, so here goes:

The year so far for me didn’t get off to a good start. In fact it was awful. In January, four days before my 50th birthday, my Dad passed away. He had been ill, as I think I’d said in a previous post, for some 6 months or so, with cancer. He (only at the end, at least) was in pain, and so I should to some extent be grateful that he is now in a better place, or something like that. But that doesn’t help at all really. Fact is that I’ve watched both of my parents die of cancer now, and it took them both from (far far better) places of apparently otherwise fitness and good health, to being dead in a matter of months both times. I therefore hate cancer, and in this case, hate is by no means a strong enough word. I shall dwell no more on this, and put it away now :(.

I haven’t had the appetite for cycling much so far this year, and let’s face it, the weather has been woeful. I think we’ve had three weekends where winds topped 50mph, and also the wettest start to the year since records began. For this admittedly fair weather rider, and coupled with all else that has been going on, that was too much of an excuse for the bike to stay locked in the garage. Oh and I did also suffer a broken toe, but I shan’t dwell on that one either – it’s healing now!

I have been out in fact, only on four occasions altogether. Once on a brief ride in January, twice (although only about 35 miles each) on a short trip to Northern California, where the riding was fabulous, and then last weekend, when I did my first sportive of the year. The sportive was the aptly named “No Excuses” around Huntingdon, so called because as long as you turn up, they refund your £35 entry fee, and if you don’t, they give the money to a worthy charity, in this case prostate cancer. They apparently raised £22,000 for the charity, which means a whopping 630 people didn’t show up having entered. The stats are copied below in case anyone wants to take a look, but suffice to say I was absolutely knackered by about two thirds of the way through. Over 80 miles had me cramping and not really having fun, but I was very glad to be out there, cold as it was.

I have cycled only 200 miles this year though, and it is scarily almost a quarter of the way through. I must get out more now….

The weekend that is now just ending (9th March as I write) has seen me decide to get my walking legs back, having done basically none of that either. I did join a gym a few weeks ago, but the attractiveness of a stair climbing machine has and probably always will be lost on me I’m afraid. So blessed with some rather fine sunshine at last, I went and put some good old miles in, with a smallish (10lb or so) pack on my back for good measure. Yesterday (Saturday) I got in about 12 pretty flat miles around Milton Keynes, and today I headed out to Woburn, just about 6 or 7 miles away.

Blessed with totally beautiful weather (and frankly if we get days like today in the summer I won’t be complaining) I put in just over 14 miles, making 26.2 for the weekend. Although that is not exactly a huge number, I cannot actually remember the last time I walked 26 miles in two days, so that has to be a good thing. I also saw so many deer it made my head spin – witness this shot below for example:

The deer at Woburn Abbey

The deer at Woburn Abbey

Here are some a little closer with part of Woburn Abbey in the background:

Deer in front of the Abbey

Deer in front of the Abbey

So with me planning to be back to full fitness as soon as I can, I am now starting to look forward with relish to the rest of the year. I have planned the Welsh Three Peaks in May, am trying to get a full Three Peaks trip in June , and am also looking to try to get a Mont Blanch trip in in July, prior to Elbrus in August. I have also contacted International Mountain Guides to see if they can’t get me that Aconcagua trip back on for the end of the year. Third time lucky, all being well……….

More soon, I promise.

New Year’s Resolutions……

A little late I admit, but here is what I have decided I would like to accomplish during 2014. So not exactly New Year’s Resolutions as such, but more targets really.

I first should reflect on what happened during 2013. I said two things back in my post when I came back from Thailand just over a year ago, and they were to try to do 3,000 miles on my bike, and to do complete 6 mountain summits:

Well I can tell you that in terms of my bike, I overachieved on my goal. I managed 3,277 miles last year in fact, and it was a very memorable year, culminating in the Prudential Ride 100 in August finishing on the Mall in front of Buckingham Place.

Too many jelly babies on the way round perhaps?

Too many jelly babies on the way round perhaps?

I finished, for the record, in a time of 5hrs 18mins for the 100 miles, and I’d love to be able to take part in the event again, although I suspect it will be horribly oversubscribed. Last year 20,000 people took part, and the rumours are that over 100,000 people have applied for the same number of places this summer, so we will see. Here is me getting my medal at the end too:

And displaying quite proudly my finisher's medal :)

And displaying quite proudly my finisher’s medal 🙂

I also completed around 8 other Sportives ranging from about 60-85 miles, and so all in all a great year on the road. My new Canyon bike (bought at the end of 2012, but ridden for the first time this year) flatters me for sure. It has now been put away for the winter, but I have bought myself another, slightly less ‘shiny’ Canyon bike for the winter months. Any excuse I know 🙂

Now as far as the hills were concerned, I can only call 2013 a total disaster. Of my proposed 6 mountain summits I completed none. I probably walked a total of 10 miles in the whole year, and as far as I can recall, I actually went out twice for any type of walk. My trip to Aconcagua, upon which all my hopes rested, was of course cancelled for the reasons outlined in my last post, but that didn’t excuse my abject lack of trying. I did really really want to do Mont Blanc (and still do), but you have to put time and effort into these things, and I just didn’t. So this year, things have to change……..


So my goals then for 2014 are as follows:

Bike: I need to complete as many miles as I did in 2013 (3,277). To aim for much more is not going to be achievable, and in any case, this is a year to right the wrongs of the last one in terms of mountains, as I will set out below.

I have already in fact signed up for 10 Sportives, ranging from about 70 miles to 118 miles. The best of these will undoubtedly be the “Tour De Yorkshire” in July. At this, I get to ride a bona fide stage of the Tour de France, which of course this year starts in Yorkshire. I get to do the first stage (the so called ‘Grand Depart”) a week after it has taken place, and I can’t wait. I have never ridden 118 miles in a day before, so just completing it will be a big bonus for me, outside of the euphoria that surrounds the whole thing.

My bike riding will also be a big factor in terms of endurance training for the mountains.

Bike goal: 3,278 miles. Subsidiary goal – to do the Prudential Ride London in less than 5 hours (this might be beyond my physical means as it would mean an average of >20mph over 100 miles, but a boy (or an old man!) has to dream).


The aim is to do two of the Seven Summits. I have singed up for Elbrus in August, and barring disasters will sign up for Aconcagua at the end of the year too. I don’t think I can realistically say I will do much more than that (!), as it will take all of my time to train and be ready for them, on top of a few bike rides here and there. I do have a bit of a busy day job too 🙂 I will have to be very fit for both mountain trips, as both involve a huge amount of load carrying, the likes of which I have never done before, and the latter involves trying to get to the somewhat alien and dizzy height of 23,000 feet.

Subsidiary goal: To do the 3 Peaks:

I’ve always wanted to do this, but have just never had the outlet, or a group of people who wanted to do it with me. But then I’ve never really tried asking either, so back to the above “you have to put time and effort into these things….”.

If anyone out there therefore has a 3 Peaks adventure planned, then you may just be helping me out, that’s all I’m saying 🙂

Happy New Year everyone, and I hope it is a great one for you, whatever (big or small) adventures you have planned.

Life is oh so short

It has been so ridiculously long since I have put up a blog post, that it has taken me some time to find out how to log back into this site. Sad!

I thought I now needed to do two things here though, if even only for posterity. One is to update anyone who doesn’t know already (that is if anyone actually still reads this site outside of anyone who knows me :O) of what has happened re my intended trip to Aconcagua. And then secondly to tell a bit about my future mountainous plans.


Firstly an update then on Aconcagua. In short, it isn’t going to happen, well not this year anyway. I won’t dwell here into too many of the reasons why, but in short, my father got diagnosed with terminal cancer this summer, with a prognosis which talked about a matter of months, as opposed to years, in terms of life expectancy. I cancelled my trip practically the day that I found out, simple as that.

I mentioned in my previous post that I’d say something about my decision about who to go with, and I thought I’d still take time here to tell a bit about what happened there too:

So basically when I chose my (also aborted, that time due to two broken heels :)) trip last year, I had booked with Jagged Globe, whom I went with on my Alpine Introductions Course, and who I have found absolutely excellent throughout. They would, and perhaps should, have been my natural choice for this time around, but something told me to search around and do a bit of due diligence here and there, and so I did.

There are actually not a lot of firms who do Aconcagua trips, and they basically are divided into three categories. There are local firms in Argentina; there are a few UK firms (e.g Jagged Globe or Exodus for example); and there are the bigger international outfits (mainly US-based) who focus on Aconcagua as it is one of the Seven Summits.

I had ruled out the Argentinian outfits straight away. Maybe they offer the best value, or even the best expeditions. I just don’t know. My thinking was that there is so much to know, and so much to go wrong, even before you get there, that I’d rather be in the hands of someone closer to home, and who speaks my native language, just in case. Then I started reading this year’s Everest coverage (and what an incredible, and also very controversial, season it was) and began seeing some names appearing to me from the operators over there. One name kept appearing and also jumping out to me, and it was International Mountain Guides (IMG).

IMG have been going since 1986, and they cover the four corners of planet earth in terms of the mountains. They lead expeditions to all of the Seven Summits, and therefore put people on Everest every year. I first heard about them from reading Alan Arnette’s wonderful blog ( He has climbed with them himself (including on his own Seven Summits bid), and so if that is not an endorsement in itself then I don’t know what is.

Literally from the moment I enquired about availability, I got nothing but first class, prompt (bordering on immediate) replies from them. It was also very personal too, as in they wanted to know about me, to make sure there was a fit for both sides. I was contacted (surprisingly) by one of the founders, Phil Ershler, who was brilliant in every regard. Most importantly for me, there was no big hard sell. In fact almost the reverse was true – I had to pass and prove my worth, and they invited me to ask all sorts of questions of them to make sure that this would work. I’m glad to say that it most certainly did, or would have done anyway.

One of the other key factors about IMG for me, apart from reputation, safety record, success rates etc., was about the way they actually climb the mountain. Instead of an ‘armchair ride’ (as if this is ever likely at 23,000 feet!), IMG like their clients to do the mountains expedition style. In other words, you carry your own stuff, you do carries up and down to each camp, and you put up your own tent etc. Everyone mucks in basically, it is a team, and you need to graft, hard, along with everyone else. Good.

Anyway, basically almost as soon as I hap put down my deposit, I had to call them and tell them I wouldn’t/couldn’t go after all. The very satisfying thing was that instead of saying “sorry but you’ve lost your deposit” etc (which under their terms and conditions they would have been entitled to do). they said they’d hold it over for me for a future trip. That to me just vindicated my decision to choose them in the first place.

What next?

Having cancelled my trip, I have spent most every weekend up in the North East visiting my Dad in hospital, and now in his Nursing Home. He’s still hanging in there, and my time with him is precious, and so it should be. I haven’t been able to plan anything else meantime though, and so that, being selfish for a moment, has made me a bit stir crazy.

So a few days ago, I got, for a host of reasons, to deciding that I needed something, anything, to look forward to. And to cut a long story short, here it is:

Mount Elbrus

Mount Elbrus….

The above is the tallest mountain in Europe. Now many people think that particular honour goes to Mont Blanc, but Mount Elbrus is about 1km higher, at 5,642m (18,510ft). It is a dormant volcano, in the Caucasus Mountains, which are in southern Russia, close to Georgia. I have booked my trip for next August, and all I can say is that I dearly hope it comes off. There is lots to learn and know about Elbrus, and my education has begun with great excitement and vigour.

Mount Elbrus is of course also one of the Seven Summits, and if I can reach the summit (I have some work to do in many respects between now and then), then I would look to try to do Aconcagua next winter too. I won’t get too carried away yet though.

To go back to the title of the post, life is very definitely too short. This one will be for my Dad.

I’ll post more soon, promise.