Elbrus II: The Summit
Waking up in the early hours this morning and having to duck outside to the outhouse, I questioned if the weather forecast had got it completely wrong. Today was our planned summit day and it was meant to be clear with light winds. It was clear, a brilliant night sky full of stars, but the strong winds were persisting. Could make for an interesting day. We had a few hours till we planned to leave so I jumped back in the sleeping bag and tried to get a bit more sleep.
We got up at 05:00, had breakfast, got ready and set off at 06:15. It really is luxury having a warm hut to get ready in compared to being in a frozen tent. Outside it was a brilliant morning. The sun was just rising over the mountain range and importantly, the winds from the previous days which had persisted throughout the night had died down.
We made good time as we retraced the route we had climbed a number of times during our previous day’s acclimatisation. The morning air was cold. When the sun was on us it was pleasant enough, but frustratingly, there was one small cloud in the sky that obstructed the sun for the first couple of hours. It was a perfectly clear, blue bird day, except for this one damn cloud sitting directly in front of the sun.
We reached the broken down ski-cat, the high point on our previous day’s acclimatisation, by about 09:00. From here on up we were on new terrain. The route initially traversed up and across to the saddle between the East and West Summits where we stopped for a break, then proceeded up the steeper slopes to the West Summit. The East and West Summits are both similar heights, but the West Summit is the true summit being about 20m higher. On the upper slopes, underfoot was all hard packed, wind-scoured ice and nevee. It made walking easy but we still had to be very careful; one slip would send you sliding miles down the mountain.
When the summit finally came into view it was magic. While Elbrus is not an overly technical climb, being late winter and the weather that comes with it, there was always an element of uncertainty as to whether we’d make it. But once the summit was in sight we knew there was nothing that could stop us. We walked the remaining section following up a snow ridge and topped out at about 11:45. It had taken us 5.5hrs from the hut to the summit and was pretty good going.
The summit was incredible. There was not a breath of wind and even the pesky cloud which had tormented us earlier in the morning had disappeared leaving a perfect, clear day. It was still cold, about -25degC, but absolutely spectacular. We put thicker down jackets on to stay warm while we were stationary and hung out on the top enjoying the view. From Europe’s highest point, the view looking out over the Caucasus Mountains coated in winter snow was remarkable. What made it all the more special was Jon and I had it all to ourselves. The advantages of climbing in winter…
After about 30min on the top, and getting a bit cold, we started heading down. The descent was pretty uneventful and by 14:30 we were back at the hut. A top day out! Back at the hut Olga greeted us with a bottle of champagne and homemade fish and chips. Does it get any better!!?
We could have rushed to pack up and catch the ski lift back down to the village that afternoon but decided to relax, enjoy the occasion and stay up one more night.
Elbrus Day 6 – 14th March 2018
This morning we got up in reasonable time, packed up and got the morning ski lift back down to the village. At the bottom, a driver was waiting to take us back to the hotel in Terskol. We threw our gear in and jumped on board. Cracked windscreen – Check! On the way back to the hotel we dropped Olga off at her place and said our goodbyes. Although we couldn’t speak each other’s language, we’d had a fantastic time and will miss her happy, smiling face, and of course her amazing cooking.
Back at the hotel, the first point of call was a nice hot shower then we just relaxed for the day. We’ve got another spare day here then start our journey to Anchorage.
While Elbrus was cold, Denali will be a whole other level.