Second of the Seven Summits - Mt Elbrus (18,511’) – July 2005
To tell you about my climb of Mt Elbrus, first I have to tell you about this beautiful and unique place.
Elbrus is 5,642 meters high or (18,511’) and is the highest mountain on the European Continent. The locals of the area call it “Mingitau” - The Mountain of a Thousand Mountains. It is located in Russia, in the Caucasus Range. This range is over 750 miles long and is located in between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. It is said that it is one of the most stunning mountain ranges in the world, and there are a lot of peaks over 4000 and 5000 meters high.
Mt Elbrus is a volcano that has two summits, both over 5000 meters, the west summit is 18,511’and the east summit is 18,441’. It has 23 glaciers, and has over 56 square miles covered in ice. Elbrus is over a mile taller than the mountains surrounding it. The climate here is very intense, and extremely variable. In a short time, temperatures can drastically change from comfortable to arctic temps, like -40F. It has been said that it takes 25,000 steps to make it to the summit of Elbrus.
In 1829, the east summit was first climbed by Kilar Khashirov, and in 1868, the west summit was climbed by Douglas Freshfield, and statues of both of these men stand at the entrance to the Elbrus area, and it is believed they are the Protectors of the Area.
During World War II, there was much combat in this area. Between 1942-1943, the German Army occupied Mt Elbrus, including the Elbrus camp Pruit 11. The idea of Hitler was to put the Nazi flag atop the highest mountain in Europe, to announce the victory over Stalingrad. Captain Grot, of the German army, set up the fascist flags on top of both summits, which let the German HQ announce that the Caucasus range was captured. Their victory was only short-lived, however. When the Germans starting losing the war in Russia, they abandoned Elbrus, for fear of being surrounded there. Immediately after the Germans deserted the area, the Soviet flag was re-established on the top of both summits. However, many soldiers lost their lives on the mountain, their bodies now rest covered in the ice. To this day, many military artifacts can be found in this area. Many memorials to the soldiers are in this area, including the memorial plate at the summit.
In August 2004, I first attempted to climb this mountain, but due to bad weather, I could not reach the summit. Since then, I have not been able to stop thinking about this mountain.
In July 2005, I packed my gear again, and this time accompanied by my husband, Michael, returned to Elbrus. This time having gained more experience, patience, and mountain knowledge and I was anxious to gain my second of the Seven Summits, having climbed Aconcagua (22,841’) in the previous January. So after traveling around 8000 miles by plane, we arrived in Moscow, and spent one day resting and sightseeing. Then, another plane for 3 1/2 hours and by car for 3 hours, just to get to the Elbrus area, making it a hard place to get to.
So after finally checking in to our hotel and some dinner we were pretty exhausted from all the traveling and with an 11 hour time difference as well.
On July 24, we had an acclimatization hike up Cheget Karabashi, 11,150’, where the views of Elbrus and the mountains around where spectacular. It was a warm and clear day. Seeing Elbrus for the first time again made me a little nervous. Seeing all the good weather before the climb made me think about if there would be bad weather coming for the days ahead.
July 25, after a quick breakfast, and with our backpacks full, we left the comfortable life in the hotel for our Elbrus camp. It was another sunny and beautiful day. Around noon, we arrived at camp, (13,350’) and we noticed that over the last hour or so, the weather had begun to change. Now there were signs of a lenticular cloud building up around the summit. Trying not to worry too much about the weather, we situated ourselves at camp and ate some lunch. Afterwards we went outside to take some pictures and realized that the weather had gone bad. It was hailing, windy, and the temperature had dropped considerably. Now my fears of bad weather were coming true. The weather got worse and Elbrus was whited-out by the storm before us. Later, we heard from a group returning from the summit, who got caught in the weather, how terrible it was up there, even lightning strikes. After talking to our guide, Oleg Miller, we decided to go up a little ways for more acclimatization, since the storm had calmed down a little. It was still windy, cold, and white-out, and we reached about 14,500’, which was pretty good under these conditions. Happily, we returned to camp, rested, and ate a good dinner. There were no signs of the weather changing for the better.
July 26, was supposed to be our acclimatization hike to the Pastukhova Rocks. But we woke up to another bad weather day, with no break in sight and Elbrus still hidden from view. We left after breakfast, trying to see how high we could get, but again the bad visibility, wind, and cold kept us from reaching the Rocks and we even reached less higher than the day before. So we went back to camp, ate some lunch and rested. Later we started preparing for the summit attempt, since the 27 th was supposed to be summit day. The weather, however, was still showing no signs of change, and quite a bit of snow had fallen. After talking with Oleg we all decided that Wednesday the 27 th wasn’t a good day for Summit so we rested all day. Our chances to reach the summit under these weather conditions wasn’t very good, plus the risk of frostbite was higher. I was mad all these days just like last year, but I still believed that the weather could change. So we rested and rested all day, making it harder to do nothing and looking at the weather all day, waiting for that breaking moment that we had being hoping for.
Finally about 5:30 pm the weather changed and for the first time in 3 days we saw Elbrus again. My heart began to race, I was so happy and nervous at the same time since I knew that the weather could change again. But all I could think about was summiting this year.
After a good dinner we checked our gear and everything was ready for Thursday the 28.We went to bed early.
Summit day, we woke up in the middle of the night. Got our gear together and readied for our ascent of the summit. Under a beautiful and calm early morning sky, Oleg, Mike and I began our climb for the summit. I was extremely excited, the big day was finally here. After a couple hours of climbing, we reached the rocks at 15,000 feet, where we took a break, and replenished some foods and liquids. By this time the sun was coming up, the view of the Caucasus range was amazing, and we could see Elbrus’ shadow.
We continued climbing up the long traverse to the col. This was the steepest and longest part of the climb. There were a lot of climbers going for the summit, too. We were all feeling pretty good and strong, and after a couple of hours we reached the col, where we took another small break. Then began the traverse of the col, which took about half an hour. This is where we stopped for a big break, ate food and had drinks. At this point, we were extremely excited, because we were only two hours away from the summit. It was a beautiful day, no wind, and we were still feeling very strong.
Our final approach to the summit began, we climbed in line behind a lot of other climbers, since the last big hill is exposed and climbers must ascend single file. I was concentrating every step towards the summit. I was so happy, because this year finally, I was going to reach the summit. Time passed, really fast, and before we knew it, we could see the summit before us. So we climbed the last stretch and reached the summit, the time was 12 o’clock noon. Elbrus’s summit was very small, and there were a lot of climbers on top. Everyone was trying to get their picture taken next to the summit monument. My turn finally came and I had my proud picture taken with my Costa Rica flag, happy to have the 1 st successful ascent by a Costa Rican. I had reached the summit of Elbrus, the highest point in Europe, and my second of the seven summits. Now one step closer to my ultimate dream.
After we were done with the pictures and enjoying the view, we started on the way down. We had spent half an hour on the top of Europe. The wind at the summit was cold and strong, making it hard to be there any longer. So down, down we went, a lot faster now. We made a couple of breaks along the way, and after a long day he we’ve finally got back to the hut. We were very tired, very hungry, and very happy with our summit day. We had a good dinner celebration and had shots of vodka with Sasha, Vicka, and Oleg, our wonderful Russian friends. We fell off to bed.
The next day we packed our gear up, and it was time to go. We said goodbye to the mountain for the last time.
Russia is very beautiful and special to me. I was so lucky to have the opportunity to be on this mountain twice. I improved and learned so much on my two attempts of Elbrus. Today, I am a more patient and mature climber because of my experiences here.
A very special thank you to Eddie and Allison Howard, of Redding, for their continued sponsorship and belief in my dream.
Now, train and get ready for my next big challenge; KILIMANJARO, AFRICA!