Earlier this year, Gareth flew out to Russia with a group of Bucketlisters to lead our first ever Mount Elbrus climb. Among the lesser-known of the Seven Summits, Elbrus is the highest mountain in Europe, sitting at 5,642 metres above sea level.

If you ask us, this remote peak should be on every mountain lover’s bucket list. Keep reading Gareth’s trip report to find out why!

THE ROAD TO RUSSIA

I met our clients at the Aeroflot desk of Heathrow Terminal 4 at 14:30, full of excitement and some nerves at the thought of what was to come. The flight from Heathrow to Moscow was 4 hours long. Here, we spent our layover telling stories of our previous trips, training and family left behind.

A further two hours flying took us to Mineralyne Vody, where we befriended a Russian serviceman who shared a lift with us in our transfer to Terskol, in the valley that sits below the twin peaks of Elbrus. 

Checking into our twin rooms in the hotel at 9 a.m., we spent most of the day sleeping, recovering and acclimatising from our travel to this point. We headed into town mid-afternoon and had local pancakes for lunch while we were briefed on the following days by our local guide, Anna.

Anna was a petite, slight lady in her mid thirties, and remained quiet, to begin with, not speaking unless necessary. However, as we all spent more time together and she grew more confident with us, she began to engage with our conversations more and more and even join in with our British sense of humour.

Dinners in Russia are late, so at about 20:30 we headed into town to have a mountain of barbequed mutton, chicken and vegetables, which was shared among the five of us, leaving us all feeling full and content.

TREK DAY 1

The next morning we woke to porridge, coffee and toast for breakfast at our hotel before heading out for an acclimatisation walk high up into the Irik Chat Valley. A steep climb started the day in the cool morning breeze, but as we climbed up the valley, the sun rose higher and began to beat down on us. 

At first, we were passing many other tourists, but as we climbed higher the crowds thinned.  The landscape became increasingly picturesque, as we trekked through alpine meadows past large sandcastle-like landforms. By now, we couldn’t see another soul, besides the groups of squeaking marmots and herds of wild horses. 

We sat down for a short lunch at the head of the valley at 2700m, gazing over the ice base of the glaciers reaching down and away from the east summit of Elbrus.

A swift descent back down to the valley was followed by a stop at the local shop for ice cream before returning to the hotel to rest and prepare for the following day.

TREK DAY 2

Changes in the weather forecast meant we had to be flexible with our plans and acclimatisation schedule today. Instead of heading up the Cheget Shoulder as planned, we climbed to the ice base at 3500m to take advantage of the good weather.

On the way, we passed a huge waterfall and all enjoyed the cooling waters, climbing through to reach the recess behind the flow. From the top of the ice base we were almost looking across at the Barrel’s Hut, where we would be staying in a few days’ time.

TREK DAY 3

For our third day of acclimatisation, we headed up onto the glacier to get above the foul weather that was lingering in the valley. This also gave us the opportunity to practice essential glacial travel skills, such as fitting crampons and holding an ice axe whilst wearing big summit gloves. We also covered important safety skills like stopping a slip or trip with ice axe arrests. 

The rest of the afternoon was spent sucking in the thin air, allowing our bodies to adjust to the limited oxygen at this altitude as we relaxed in a mountain café atop of the gondola that ferries climbers up and down the valley. 

TREK DAY 4

The fifth day was when we moved from our cozy hotel up to the cramped “rabbit hutch” of a room that the four of us would share for the following three nights. After settling in, we went on a meandering walk up the glacier, weaving between the skidoos and snow ploughs that were transporting climbers higher and higher up the mountain. After a 500m climb, we returned to the basic Barrel’s Hut for rest and preparation for a higher acclimatisation walk the following day.

The second time making our way up the glacier was easier, reassuring us that the acclimatisation process was working properly. We carried on higher this time to where the angle of the glacier kicked back, and climbed steeply for a few hours to reach Pastukhova Rock.

An early dinner this evening meant we could try to get our heads down for as much sleep as possible in the short, nervous few hours before rising at 2:30 a.m. for breakfast and the start of our summit bid. 

SUMMIT DAY

When 2:30 came around, we decided to get a lift on a snow plough up to our high point from the previous day. Rushing through the freezing, pre-dawn air, we made our way to the plough.

Once we arrived at 4700m, we started the steep climb up an icy face the traverse at 5100m. This was the crux for our group, as we battled into a strong headwind, which was throwing up large balls of ice into our faces – protected only by our balaclavas and ski goggles. 

The traverse eventually brought us to the col – the saddle between the east and west summits. We were protected from the wind here and the warm early morning sun was a nice respite from the harsh conditions normally found at this height. 

But it didn’t last long. Soon we were off again, heading towards the last obstacle between us and the summit: the fixed lines leading up to the summit plateau. These ropes protected us on a steep climb from the rocks far below, and we passed up them without issue. Once here it was a 40minute amble across the plateau to the highest point in Europe, where we finally stood, basking in the sunshine and ruffled by the cutting winds.

With a sense of relief that everyone had made it, I sat back for a moment and thought, “This is alright, isn’t it?” We spent a short while here for our summit photos and congratulations, which all too soon came to an end before we had the long retreat back down to the Barrel’s Hut. 

Arriving back in the late afternoon, we all dived straight into our sleeping bags for some well-earned rest. 

AFTER THE SUMMIT

I always find those few days after returning from standing on the top of any big mountain very surreal. 

The sudden return to normality, sitting in a café watching the busy hustle and bustle of town after being in a very hostile and remote environment always seems to put priorities in perspective. 

But I wouldn’t change anything – give me a mountain over a town any day!

If you’ve been inspired by Gareth’s first ever Elbrus trip report, why not book onto our next Mount Elbrus climb in April 2021?! For more information, call us on 01769 309 007!