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Climbing Elbrus (5,642m), Russia – Terskol Observatory

Acclimatization to Terskol Observatory

Terskol observatory is on top of a mountain near Terskol town. Standing at 3,100 m it is a good mountain to get started on the acclimatization process. We got up early at around 6.30am. Since we could not see anything the previous night, we ventured out to check out the surrounding area near the hotel. It was a wonderful place surrounded by forest with a graveled path that leads to Cheget market in one direction and the main Terskol town the other way. The weather was quite chilly but once the sun shone through the tall trees, it became warmer.

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Unfortunately, there was WiFi only at the reception, so, we gathered together there to do some browsing as well as call our respective families. Internet was relatively fast so long as a few people were connected. Soon, once others from the hotel logged in, the connection became intermittent and slow.

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Dasha, our guide, had come to the hotel to have breakfast with us. We had our breakfast at around 8am which comprised of oats, bread with butter and cheese, omelet and coffee. After breakfast, we got ready and started for our first acclimatization trek at 9am.

The Trek

The trek started off by walking through the forest to the main Terskol town and then going up the trail to the Observatory. The walk takes  you through an army barracks, so photo taking is discouraged, especially, of army officers.

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There was a river crossing on the way, whose source was from the melting glaciers from Elbrus. The river was quite rapid and its current was strong. The roar of the water was quite loud.

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Once through the barracks, you come to the main road which has several hotels, cafes and shops along the way. We spotted some really good “Elbrus” T-Shirts, and promised ourselves to buy once we summit and come back. After a short walk along the road, we veered off to a side track that lead to the climb to the observatory.

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The climb was gradual with a well laid out path. There were a lot of trekkers along the way, some preparing to climb Elbrus while the others were there for the daily morning exercise regime. We also spotted several soldiers who use the trail for the exercise. The weather was hot and so we took several steeper shortcuts that we took us faster to the destination.

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The trek was not that bad since it was not that high. It was more of a warm up for things to come. So, we enjoyed all the way as we stopped and took plenty of photos. The view was amazing as we walked along the pathway. We chatted with other people who came from different countries like Germany, Lebanon and USA. All were in high spirits and were climbing around the same day as ours. So, we knew we will be bumping into each other in Barrel’s Hut.

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The town borders on the Georgian border, so, the Caucasus mountains form a geographical separation between the two countries. Apparently, to climb the other peaks you, you will need special permission from the Georgian authorities.

As we reached closer to the destination, the clear skies gave way to dark clouds. Soon there was a drizzle. We changed into our outer shell jackets. Luckily enough, the drizzle gave way to a hail storm of sorts. Something that we all experienced for the first time in our lives. The small pellets of ice hit on our exposed skin like needles. However, it was only for about 20 minutes before the hail stopped and the weather was clear again.

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Soon enough, we were at the top of the climb at the observatory. It was a beautiful sight to behold. We could see the glacier from Elbrus. We could even see Elbrus from the top but it was covered in clouds. At the far distance, we could see the ski lift that was to take us from Terskol to Barrel’s Hut. The entire Caucasus range was visible with several high peaks. We spent about an hour there taking photos and resting before coming back down to the Hotel.

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It took us about 4 hours to climb up and 2 hours to get back to the Terskol. The long trek was helpful in warming up our muscles. It was also important for getting into a rhythm of trekking for long hours. Overall most of us did pretty well without any altitude sickness.

On the way, we stopped at a shop to try and get us some new SIM cards, but the shop was closed. So, we reminded Dasha to come back again before going to Barrel’s Hut.  We continued our walk towards Cheget town where we were to have our lunch.

Lunch was at Cafe 7, a nice little restaurant that served some delicious food. Lunch was brosch, bread, vegetables and coffee. The others had beef as well.

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After lunch we went back to our hotel, had a shower and slept for some time. Thankfully, the hotel had hot water for us to bathe in the cold weather. Later we came down again to the reception for some internet use and hung around till dinner.

Dasha wanted to come down and have dinner with us and also do a gear check so that anything that we fall short off, we could get at the rental shop. So, we spread out all the gears from the climb and had Dasha check it. I was lacking in ski-goggles and thermos. So, i made a note to rent them out when we go to the shop.

After all the inspection was done, we retired to bed for a good sleep. Tomorrow, we were to do our second acclimatization trek the next day to another nearby mountain – Cheget.

Climbing Elbrus (5,642m), Russia – Elbrus

At Moscow Domodedovo Airport

from left to right: Uantchern, Benson, Vinnie, Boon Leong and Myself.

Our flight to Moscow started on the 2nd-Aug at 2.30am. CK had went ahead one week prior and was at Moscow. He would be joining us to the trip to Mineralyne Vody at the domestic airport. The flight took 10 hours. As usual, i could not sleep a wink in a seated position, so, i ended up watching a lot of movies in the in-flight display. We landed in Moscow at 8.10am (10 hours flight + 5 hour timezone correction).

Russian Style Interrogation

While everything went smoothly for others in the team at the immigration, my adventure started right from the get go. At the immigration counter, the officer took longer than usual to process my passport, then told me to wait at the side and made a few phone calls. I tried to ask him what the problem was, but he could not or rather did not say anything other than “Please wait”. Then a rather grumpy looking officer came over, and asked me to follow him. I complied and followed him. He took me to a room (more like a store room without any windows) and told me to “sit”. So, i sat there waiting for something to happen. It took nearly an hour before another officer came and took me to an interrogation room. He used a Russian to English conversion app through which our communication took place.

Essentially, he was just blindly stonewalling and making it difficult for me. It started out with saying that my visa was not accurate, then he changed and told me that the agency that invited me was blacklisted and finally told me that we will let you in but at your own risk. Essentially i countered saying that, if the agency was blacklisted then i would not have gotten the visa. Also, i asked him how the other members of my team (going through the same agency) went through while i cannot. Since i have obtained my visa, it could not be invalid, unless the Russian embassy in Singapore messed up, which was not the case anyway. Finally, i told him that i will continue with my trip no matter what. He felt exasperated and after this brief conversation, he led me back to the room and made me sit for another hour.

In the mean time, the team members got a little worried. They approached the Singapore Airlines representative office to find out my whereabouts. They had called the immigration and asked them, to which their response was all passengers were cleared. Somehow, they did not mention that i was sitting in the room being interrogated.

Back in the room, i was again escorted to the interrogation room and asked a few more silly questions. In the meantime, the representative officer from Singapore Airlines had identified my whereabouts and came over to talk to the immigration office. Within 5 minutes of her arrival, i was sent through immigration and i never saw the officer again.

To Minerlyne Vody

After all the excitement in the first 2 hours, the rest of the time was spent waiting for the domestic flight to Mineralyne Vody. The first thing that we did after we came out was to convert some Euros to Roubles and also get a SIM card with a data plan. The SIM card had pretty good rates for data with about 600 Roubles for 5GB. However, what we did not know was that, The prepaid SIM is charged a tariff once you go to Minerlyne Vody. So, essentially, it was only usable in Moscow. We spent the rest of the time at a restaurant where we had lunch.

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At 4.20pm, we boarded the S7 flight to Mineralyne Vody which took about 2 hours. From the flight, you can see the vast expanse of plain fields till the horizon.

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Once at Mineralyne Vody, our guide, Ms. Dasha Chuenko, was waiting outside to receive us. We were immediately escorted to a 10 seater van which was to take us to Cheget, a village near Terskol, the closest town to Elbrus.

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Terskol is a 3 hour drive from Mineralyne Vody and the travel was at night. On the way, we stopped at a store to get us some beers to overcome the drudgery of traveling at night. This is to be my last alcoholic beverage till after the summit. We reached Cheget at around 10pm to a beautiful cottage like hotel run by a traditional Russian family.

We were allotted room and we retired off to bed. The guide informed us that the first of our acclimatization treks to Terskol Observatory at 3,100m will be tomorrow after breakfast. So, we went off to bed.

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