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Month: October 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

The Turbulent History of Mount Elbrus

After having climbed Elbrus in August 2015, i have been fascinated by its beauty and curious about its history. What piqued my interest was the monument of the soldiers who perished on Elbrus.

Monument of Soldiers on Elbrus

So, i did some background digging on the internet and read some books and found that Elbrus has been the center of some very historic events. Though not a lot of information is available on the mountain, it has been a focal point during World War 2. The guides did not say much about the incidents other than some facts about how the glaciers reveal bodies of soldiers and some artillery occasionally and how the Red Army suffered to gain control over Elbrus, which had fallen into the hands of the Germans.

History

Caucasus Mountains

From wikipedia

The Central Caucasus range extends along the South Western part of Russia. It contains some of the tallest mountains in Europe of which Elbrus is the tallest. It is a region that is rich in oil and natural resources.

Caucasus Mountains Range

From wikipedia

To gain a strategic advantage to proceed further into Russia, Germany wanted to take over the control of these vast oil reserves. This will enable the army to have sufficient supplies of fuel for its further advancement towards the east. The army was already having problems with getting fuel supplies to the German army who were in the front lines and with this capture, the problem could be solved. As a result, Operation Case Blue was created where the German army was divided into two groups. The Edelweiss group was tasked with the capture of the Caucasus region. The Edelweiss land forces comprised of 15,000 oil industry workers, included 167,000 troopers, 4,540 guns and 1,130 tanks and supported by 1,000 aircraft of the 4th Air Fleet.

As explained by Yasen Dyachenko, a leading authority on Russian mountaineering:

The action is named after the 1-st mountain division “Edelweiss”. Vermacht thoroughly prepared for еру War on all possible battlefields – both in desert, and in Arctic regions, but the special place was borrowed with mountain armies. There were some specialized divisions of Mountain Huntsmen in Vermacht structure, and undoubtedly elite division completed by locals of mountain areas of Southern Germany, Bavaria and Austria was allocated among them. These guys were single and not younger than 24. They possessed fine training of operations in mountain above a snow line. They have been trained to move at all forms of a mountain relief, to choose a position for supervision, for fight points, for an ambush and an attack, for defense. There is no need to write that their equipment and gear was the best for that time. All arms, provisions has been adapted for pack transportation. All kinds of shooting arms have been extremely facilitated, but have standard calibers, and, that the most important, their aim systems have been calculated in view of a corner of an eminence down to firing vertically upwards or vertically downwards.The officers has fine region maps of the whole battlefield and many officers had climbing experience received particularly on Caucasus before the War. And, at last, they had the faultless radio communications. Any minute leaders could receive the information on a site, character of battle conditions of each platoon separate battery.

With such a strong presence, The Edelweiss was quick to move and capture key strategic points in the Caucasus including all the key passes across the range. By end of August, most of the southern region was in the hands of the German army. The Red Army were no match to the advancing Edelweiss team. Yasen Dyachenko explains:

The Red Army had no specialized mountain divisions. It is terrible even to think of destiny of those parts and divisions which, being cut off from a way on the Southeast by an avalanche of German tanks, have gone to foothills of gorges of the Main Caucasus Ridge. Without maps, without radio communication with staffs and with each other, they went up by numerous gorges of the Western and Central Caucasus, reaching sooner or later a glacial zone. It is difficult to image the behavior of the people exhausted by long transitions, wear in bad army boots on a glacier. And they was under aim machine-gun fire! Those who could see rare films of German military chronicle, and those whose fathers were lost their lives in this terrible battle, hardly could stop their tears. I saw it and could not.

As a symbolic move, a small detachment of the Edelweiss division was sent to climb Elbrus and plant the Nazi Swastika on its summit. This was to indicate the conquest and dominance of the German army in the region.

The Edelweiss group was fully equipped to handle the rough and cold terrain of the mountain and eventually posted the flag at the west summit. The mountain hut, Prijut 11 at 4,160m, which was initially built by Russian scientists, became the Barracks for the German Army.

German Army resting on Elbrus

From Sputnik News

Although many in the upper echelons of the Nazi party were happy to hear the news of the swastika flying on top of Europe’s highest mountain and tried to promote it as a symbolic victory over Russia, Hitler, apparently, was furious at this “gimmick” and threatened to court marshal the officer in charge of the operation.

The Red Army fighting in the Causcasus Range

Photo: mucsn-fsin.ru

All was not good on the German side though. By December 1942, The Red Army had some success in fighting the Edelweiss army with their limited equipment and preparation for high altitude warfare. The Edelweiss group had to retreat to avoid defeat. This was followed by several other losses on the German side in other areas of Russia.

Eventually, the Edelweiss team had to leave the Caucasus range and

On February 1943, the Red Army was instructed to examine the abandoned camps in Elbrus and to replace the swastika with the flag of the Soviet Union. A group of ill-equipped soldiers lead by the legendary Alexander Gusev with nothing more than civil winter clothing, army boots and assault riffles but with a lot of patriotism climbed Elbrus and replaced the swastika with the flag of the Soviet Union.

Russian troops on Elbrus


from Sputnik News

Planting the Soviet flag on the summit of Elbrus

from Sputnik News

A very rare footage of the Red Army climbing Elbrus to place the bust of Lenin and a memorial plaque is found here.

Video courtesy of Net-Flim.ru.

Since the re-capture of Elbrus, there have been several monuments that are placed in the honor of those who lost their lives in the war. This picture below was taken by me during my climb of Elbrus before going to Barrel’s hut.

War Memorial

I am struck by it’s beauty as well as its heritage in world events. I pay my absolute respects and tribute to the soldiers who have died on this mountain. To this day, Elbrus reveals many of the remains of the war through the melting glaciers like guns, artillery and mines. A grim reminder of its turbulent past but also a symbolism of human achievement and perseverance.

Technical Climbing Learning Session

Teaching Professional Climbing Level 1

When you want to climb more complex mountains, you will need to have some technical climbing experience. Since my goals are to climb higher and go for more challenging mountains, i thought some technical training will do me some good.

I reached out to our Elbrus climbing group and luckily they were also interested in learning more, so we decided to sign up for a Level 1 certification course conducted by YMCA. a Level 1 course is certified by Singapore National Climbing Standards (SNCS), is a set of standards developed by Singapore Mountaineering Federation (SMF), a professional body that oversees the sport of climbing in Singapore.

The course was conducted on Saturday, 24th October 2015 at Climb Asia, situated at Civil Services Club, 60 Tessensohn Road. We met our instructor, Freddie Ablazed. He is one bad ass climber who has done a lot of climbs all over the world. We could not have asked for anyone better to be our instructor. His style was very friendly and casual, yet professional and engaging.

We were taught the basics of climbing in the initial half of the day followed by hands-on climbing and belaying the next half.  The basics included introduction to the various tools, ropes, knots, techniques as well as understanding communication between climbing partners and many more.

Climbing Level 1

The second half was where all the action and pain was. We tried out free climbing and little did i know how weak and under trained my upper part of the body was. The pain on the fingers, shoulders and arms was excruciating. The initial few tries were ok but subsequently, i couldn’t even get my self up and had to fall a couple of time.

More difficult Climb

Later on, we went onto learning belay. This was more fun and i was more successful in climbing and belaying although by this time i was totally wasted in terms of strength.

After some initial tests, i managed to pass the basic course. Now i need to train seriously for the Level 2 course which requires you to do lead climbing, rappelling and other cool stuff.

Climbing Group Photo

These skills will eventually come in handy when i plan to attempt Peak Nun or probably Carstensz Pyramid (Puncak Jaya). Taking things one step at a time.

Below is the video showing how Freddie does the climb. So simple and smooth. Need a lot of practice before i can do that.

All About Avalanches

Avalanche on the slopes of Mount Everest

From Wikipedia

White Death moving down the mountainside above the trains.  Relentlessly it advanced, exploding, roaring, rumbling, grinding, snapping – a crescendo of sound that might have been the crashing of ten thousand freight trains.

Charles Andrews (Steven’s Pass – Gateway to Seattle)

Avalanches happen when loose snow deposited on the mountain slide down triggered by natural or man made causes. What starts off as a slide of loose snow becomes a full blown avalanche due to gravity, as the sliding snow gathers speed and momentum and accumulates more snow in its wake.

Avalanches can be triggered by natural causes such as earthquakes, strong winds and heavy snow storms or by humans such as when skiing or when using explosives. The Earthquakes on Everest in Late April 2015 and more recently on Mt. Steele in Yukon where nearly 60 million tons of snow was displaced were caused by natural factors. Human factors such as while skiing or explosions called controlled avalanches to clear unstable snow can also trigger avalanches. Below is an interesting infographic on the causes of an avalanche and how they get triggered.

Causes of avalanches

From TrailSherpa

Getting stuck inside an avalanche can be terrifying in the least and fatal at worst. The accumulation of hard snow and rocks become a fast approaching projectile that uproots trees and swallowing up and tossing around everything in its path like a giant washing machine.

A Video introduction to Avalanches

Nothing can match the awesome power of avalanches like a video footage. Watch the massive power avalanches taken in these videos.

 1. Avalanche 101 from National Geographic

2.A Controlled Avalanche in Norway

3. Big Avalanche Videos

4. Skiers trigger avalanches

5. Russian Soldiers Create An Avalanche By Firing Artillery

Surviving an Avalanche

Modern technologies and techniques greatly improve the chances of surviving an avalanche as well as improving rescue operations after an avalanche. As an initial step, most ski or climbing areas are cleared of avalanche prone loose snow through various techniques such as controlled explosions before they open for the public. Many areas also have physical barriers built along the slopes of the mountain to control or prevent the flow of the avalanche into inhabited areas.

Avalanche Barriers

This photo above taken by me during our Elbrus climb shows avalanche barriers that are built into the slopes of the mountain to stymie the flow of the snow down to the village.

But what if you are there on the mountains and there is an avalanche? What do you do? How do you survive?

In most cases, you are required to carry some basic essentials such as beacons, shovels and robes. There are other tools that are also available such as breathing apparatus and air bags are used in the case that you get buried in the avalanche. In the article by The Clymb titled 6 Tips For Surviving An Avalanche, the author provides some basic information on techniques that you can use to survive such as:

  1. Moving Sideways
  2. Jump Upslope
  3. Carry an Avalanche Beacon
  4. Grab Something
  5. Swim and
  6. Create an Air Pocket

A more detailed instruction with pictures in given on How To Survive An Avalanche in WikiHow.

Avalanche Survival & Rescue Videos

Avalanche rescue missions are a high stakes game where tools, time and experience make the difference between life and death. Rescue teams need to respond fast and work hard in unknown terrain to locate, identify and rescue victims. Here are some interesting videos of how avalanche rescue teams do their wonderful job.

1. Banff National Park Rescue Video


Banff, Yoho and Kootenay rescue specialists received a report of several people buried in an avalanche — not all wearing beacons. The team moved quickly with several different pieces of equipment including a trained avalanche rescue dog, avalanche search beacons, Recco search beacon, SKED sled, Akia toboggan, ropes and hardware, vacuum mattresses and first-aid equipment including oxygen.

2. Surviving an Avalanche from CBS News

Another video from CBS News, Surviving an avalanche: Rescue team shows how it’s done,  gives a detailed account of how avalanche rescuers prepare and respond to avalanche situations.

3. How to Survive a Potentially Dangerous Avalanche

A detailed account of how

4. Skier Saved from avalanche by using Air Bag

Avalanche Safety Tips

This infographic from Coloradoan explains the causes of an avalanche as well as the tools and equipments that are needed for rescue.

Danger: Loose Snow Ahead Avalanches

Danger: Loose Snow Ahead from Coloradoan

This is a nice piece of infographic that is available that summarizes all the tips needed to survive an avalanche.

Avalanche Safety Tips Infographic

From SnowBigDeal.com

Avalanche Survival Stories

As a conclusion, here are some educational stories of people who have been on an avalanche and survived.

Avalanche survivors share their story in the hopes of saving lives (Pique News)

Buried alive: An avalanche survivor breaks his silence

Avalanche Survivor Shares Story Of Burial

An Avalanche Survival Story

 

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