This past June Seth Waterfall made his third guiding trip to Russia to climb Mt. Elbrus. It’s an endlessly fascinating country to anyone who was raised during the Cold War and the climb is a little different than some of the other uphill walks that Seth has taken around the globe from Denali and Kilimanjaro to Everest. One of our all-time favorite guides checked in with us and gave us a glimpse into what was a mountain once shrouded behind the Iron Curtain. —LYA Editor
Top: Climbing Mt. Elbrus. We were treated to relatively clear skies and a beautiful sunrise.
Above: The Church of Christ our Saviour.
Top: L to R: 1. Travel time to Moscow is about 24 hours from Seattle. The hotel where I was staying is about a two-hour drive from the airport in Moscow rush hour traffic. I hadn’t slept since leaving the US but the sight of the Kremlin and the Moscow River reminded me of how cool it is to travel to this ancient and historic country. 2. Russian Orthodox Christianity made it through the Communist period and is a huge part of daily life in Moscow. There are domed Churches everywhere in this city. Here we have St. Clement’s. 3. Tourism, not the Iron Curtain.
Above: Church of Christ Our Savior lit up at night.
L to R: 1. When in Russia you must have vodka shots. The guys on my trip were into Beluga vodka. 2. Exploring the Kremlin with my clients. 3. Red Square with Lenin’s Tomb on the left. It’s a really crazy place to visit for me since I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s at the end of the cold war. Spy novels and movies were all the rage and Russia was always portrayed as the enemy. Now we can tour Red Square and the Kremlin as tourists.
Above: Cheget is a small (2 lift) ski area next to the large and modern Elbrus ski area. It reminds me of the small ski areas at Snoqualmie Pass, only the terrain is very serious at Cheget! We use the lifts to acclimatize before moving to high camp on Elbrus.
L to R: 1. Mineralnye Vody is the closest city with an airport to Mt. Elbrus. It’s name translates as Mineral Water. It’s located on the north side of the Caucasus and is famous for its natural springs. 2. Cheget is a small (2 lift) ski area next to the large and modern Elbrus ski area. It reminds me of the small ski areas at Snoqualmie Pass, only the terrain is very serious at Cheget! We use the lifts to acclimatize before moving to high camp on Elbrus. 3. Pics of my climbing team from our hike on Peak Cheget.
Above: Climbing Peak Cheget.
L to R: 1. After spending a night in the village of Azau, at the base of Cheget, we moved to high camp on Elbrus. 2. Three gondola rides and 5500′ later we were delivered right to our hut. 3. We immediately left for an acclimatization hike as the weather forecast was terrible but we had good weather at the time.
Above: We spent the next two days hiking and training intermittently as several storms whipped through the Caucasus.
L to R: 1. A crazy scene at Mt. Elbrus camp. 2. Our huts were little more than a few bunks built into some storage containers but they were warm and our cook was great. 3. We were lucky to have such nice accommodations at 12,500′.
Above: On our third day on the mountain the forecast showed a decent break in the storms.
L to R: 1. Yuri (Russian Guide) and I took turns breaking trail to the summit. 2. We didn’t have much time so we took a snow cat up as high as it could go before we got out and started climbing. 3. The climbers on my team were great and even though we took the cat up high the altitude and new snow (from the storms) made for tough climbing.
Above: The team high on Mt. Elbrus.
L to R: 1. The last few steps to the summit. 2. Summit shots with the boyz! We were the first up for the day and we had the summit all to ourselves for the whole time (1/2 hour) we were there. There was a new storm moving in from the west and as we walked off the top the clouds dropped down and it began to snow. 3. The wind picked up as we descended and several teams that were behind us turned their summit bids around. We were very lucky to top out when we did.
Below: After the summit we returned to high camp and quickly packed up our stuff. We hopped back on the gondolas and rode them back to Azau for a team party with more beer, vodka and shishlek (chicken and lamb kebabs). That night the first of our team started to head back home. A few of us spent the next day resting and doing some more celebrating but that was pretty much it for my Elbrus season of 2016.
As the longtime editor of the Live Your Adventure blog, it’s been a pleasure to tell the stories of our guides and athletes for five-plus years. Thank you to all of them, including Seth Waterfall. To each and every one of them, good luck and godspeed. See you on the next adventure, somewhere in the mountains. -Dan K
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