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Climbing Elbrus (5,642m), Russia – Last Few Days

Rest Day at Terskol

Following the summit day, we were to spend the rest of the day in Cheget. So, we got up and after a quick breakfast, headed off to Cheget market and lazed around.We went for some shopping to bug some souveniers and also buy the Elbrus T-shirts that we had promised ourselves earlier on.

There was a very good cosy shop run by Ms. Zulfiya, who spoke very good english and had a wide collection of items. The good thing about this shop was that, she accepted Euros and returned change in Roubles or Euro. This came in very helpful when we ran out of Roubles that we had converted. We got some T-shirts, souveniers and stickers from her. We also managed to buy an English book on Elbrus.

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We visited the pub that we had celebrated the night before and took a photo of it. A nice little place run by a mafia-looking but very nice boss.

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Following that, we took a stroll across the other side to Terskol and got ourselves some Elbrus T-shirts.

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The rest of the day was spent lazing around the town or in the hotel. Towards the evening, we started packing for our trip back to Moscow the next day. I did not have much energy to pack anything neatly, so i just split the clean clothes and the dirty ones and stuffed everything into the duffel bag and i was done in 10 minutes flat. I went to the lobby and was soon joined by our group to surf the internet. We took a group photo with all of us wearing the same T-shirt.

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By that time, Dash had come to the hotel without official certificates and presented it to each of us among much applause from the others in the hotel lounge.

After the certificate ceremony, we went out for a short drink and called it a day. We went back to our hotels and slept for the long trip back to Moscow.

Trip Back to Moscow

The next day, we got up early and again, after breakfast the van was outside with Dasha. We packed our bags into the van and boarded it after having said good bye to hotel owners. Dasha was to accompany us to the airport, where she would drop us off and pick up another group of clients from Korea. She was to go to Elbrus again in another two days.

After a 3 hours drive to Mineralyne Vody, we boarded the plane back to Moscow.The view from the plane was nothing but flat plains as far as the eye could see. Not a single mountain or even a bump in view. A contrast from where we just came.

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We reached Moscow by 4pm. The trip from the Airport to the Hotel was pretty bad considering that we caught the evening after office hours traffic. The traffic was slow moving and by 6pm we had reached our Hotel – Hotel Wega.

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It was plush hotel with a lot of tourists and soon we were taken up to our rooms. It was a 5 star experience compared to the Hotel in Cheget or Barrel’s Hut. But somehow we missed those places.

We decided to meet downstairs in an hour and head to Kremlin. We took the metro to Kremlin. The metro is in pretty good condition and getting around should be ok. However, not many of the metro staff speak english. We used the map and looked up the similarity of words to get in and out of the train.

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At Kremlin, we roamed around a bit, had dinner in one of the food markets in a shopping mall and took photos.

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By 9pm, we headed back to our hotels. I and Uantchern were to fly back to Singapore the next day while the rest make their way to St. Petersburg.

Flight Back to Singapore

The next day, we woke up early to make our way to the airport. Unfortunately, we again were in the middle of the morning office commuting traffic and movement was slow. Luckily we had planned for this and had started early.

After some shopping at the airport to dispose of our Roubles, we left for Singapore. Leaving a wonderful experience and country.

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

The Summit Attempt

The D-day has arrived. This is the day we have been waiting for and training for. It was a day of mixed emotions.

We were woken up at 1.30am by Dasha. Breakfast was ready by 2am, so by that time, we got into our clothing. We had a silent breakfast. There were other groups of people who were attempting the summit on the same day, so the kitchen was quite full but silent.

After dinner, we headed out to the hut to put on our double boots and crampons. It was quite cold and the process was slow considering that we were wearing them with our headlamps on.

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Once we were ready, we headed out to the area where the snow cats were parked. Since there were quite a few people going up, the snow cats had to make multiple trips up and down the mountains. Our planned departure was set at 3am. However, the snow cat only arrived at 3.45am. Till then we were all standing in the dark silently wondering how the day is going to turn out. We could see lights from climbers and snow cats dotting the mountain. The snow cat was an open top vehicle where you need to sit behind the snow cat in the open. It was quite cold and nothing could be seen in the dark.

The climb up to 5,100m on the snow cat was quite challenging with people sitting at the back getting crushed by those up in the front. The climb was quite steep towards the end and the driver had some trouble navigating the snow cat past other climbers and returning snow cats. Eventually, after about 45 minutes, we reached the drop off point. We all got down and wore our bags. We took the ice axe in our hands and started the climb. The time was about 4.30am and the sky was turning blue in the horizon. We would need our headlamps for another hour before the sky will be bright.

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We were told to walk in single file as the pathway up to the saddle and beyond is going to be quite narrow. So, first was Dasha, who set the pace. Then came Uantchern, Benson, Myself, CK, BL, Vinnie and two other guides. The two guides were experienced climbers. Nikita, was as nimble as a butterfly and Ali was a strong and broad man who can lift you up with one hand. We got introduced to them the previous day.

The path up to the saddle was a relatively steep climb, but manageable with short steps. It took about an hour to get to the saddle.

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By the time we reached the saddle, the sun had come up, but we were hidden by the East Peak, so, the temperature was quite cold. We stopped at one point where some of the folks needed to empty their bladder.

As we were sitting, i decided to drink some water. So, i removed my mittens so i could undo my bag and reach for the flask. But instead of placing the mittens on the pole, i put it under my arm. As you might expect, i accidentally loosened my arm and my mittens fell. With the strong wind, my mittens were blown away down the slope. I and the others watched helplessly as it kept rolling down the mountain without stopping at all. I could only imagine what would happen if one of us fell off the side of the slope. There was nothing to stop you from rolling other than our half-baked learning of self-arrest using ice-axe.

By that time, Ali, who was behind me started shouting in Russian. Not sure what he said, but i am sure i got a good dressing. Luckily i had a spare glove, so i took it out of the bag and wore them. They were not mittens, so, i had to keep moving my fingers frequently as they would become numb if i didnt.

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The picture above shows the right way to remove and place your mittens. A hard lesson learnt.

After that brief incident, we continued on our journey along the saddle. There was a photographer who took photos of us in angles that we would not risk taking. He looked like a real pro. Aparantly, he goes up the mountains and takes photos when there is a large group going up.

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As you can see, there was a large group of people who were going up the mountain. The amazing thing was that, we were able to overtake several of the groups of people on our climb towards the saddle, even though we were roughly about 45 minutes behind them. So, how you perform on the acclimatization trek has nothing to do with the actual day of climbing. It was good that we took the acclimatization trek slowly and also had an additional spare day to rest.

By the time, we reached the saddle, the skies were very clear and bright. We did not need the headlamps anymore. So, we rested before we had to climb the steep wall up the west face.

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The west face is really steep with a near 45-60 degree climb. A clear vertical climb would have been impossible. So, we did a zig-zag up to the top. It would take another 2 hours before we reach the plateau at the top. Before that, we had to climb the steep face as well as rope up to traverse some rock and ice sections towards the top.

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There were two sets of ropes that were set up. One for those going upwards and the other for those moving down. So, Ali, Dasha and Nikita positioned themselves along the point where you need to transfer your carabiners from one rope to another. After another 30-45 minutes of climbing on ropes, we were at a plateau.

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Again, we rested after a hectic climb up the slope. From there we could see the East Peak of Elbrus. An awesome sight. The summit was another 20 minutes from the place where we rested. The walk is a slight climb, followed by a walk along the near horizontal stretch. The final summit rests on another section of climb of about 30 degrees. However, you do not need to take the bags to the summit. So, we left the bags there and took our camera and ice axe and began our final push.

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Finally, we reached the summit. It was the most beautiful sight i have ever seen with near plateaus on the north side and the Caucasus mountain range on the south side. As we turned around ,we could see a whole bunch of people walking towards the summit. It was about 10.30am by the time we reached the summit. So, a total of nearly 6 hours to go up.

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The summit was quiet crowded with groups of people taking photos. There was one group that removed their shirts to take a group photo. A brave act that i will easily pass if offered to me. The weather was very cold and the winds were strong. But the sky was clear as the weather websites had indicated.

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Coming Down

We spent about 30 minutes on the summit taking photos. After all the high fives, hugs and hand shakes, we started our way back to the place where we left our bags. We rested there for about 20 minutes and then started our way back to Barrel’s Hut. The climb down will be faster. But the walk down the slope was quite tricky. At several places, we nearly slipped and fell as the sun made the snow very soft. Getting a grip on the loose snow was tough and we had to take extra precaution to make sure that we had a firm footing. This slowed things up a bit. We rested again at the saddle and soon enough we were walking along the narrow path that lead us to the point where the snow cat dropped us.

By this time, my knees were really aching from the constant breaking and pressure while coming down. A few others as well were not too good in shape to walk all the way down to the Barrel’s Hut.

As we rested in on the saddle, we wanted to get back to Terskol that day itself. We did not want to spend another night at Barrel’s Hut. But the last cable car that goes down is at 4pm, So, there was an urgency to get back to Barrel’s Hut and then make our move down to Terskol. Add this to the fact that we were not in good shape to walk all the way down, we decided to take the snowcat from 5,100m.

Dasha radioed the snowcat to come and pick us up. The rates were fixed and we waited for 45 minutes before the snowcat showed up. We all eagerly boarded the snowcat and in 30 minutes, we were back at Barrel’s Hut. If we were to walk all the way down, it would have taken another 2 hours at the least.

By 1pm, we were at Barrel’s Hut. Excited and Exhausted. We quickly got out of our clothing and rested. By 2pm, lunch was ready and we quickly gobbled it up and went to our respective bunkers to pack up and leave. We had to carry the entire garbage footprint that we had left on the mountain over the last 5 days. These included, cartons, waste, food items and empty plastic bottles.

Since the ski-lift was still not operational, we had to take the truck back down to the cable car station. The truck was crowded as usual with limbers, skiers and casual visitors. We barely managed to catch the last cable car back to Terskol.

Arrangements had been made by Dasha for the vehicle to pick us up and also at the hotel to prepare our rooms. Soon enough, we were boarding the van to our hotels in Terksol and reached the hotel by around 6pm with some stop overs in the middle.

We rested for sometime after a much needed hot water bath. Then we headed down to the Cheget market to have our celebratory food and drinks. A drink we did. Like there was no tomorrow.We had the special 5642 beer available only at Terksol. It was great tasting and considering i refrained from drinking since the beginning of the trip, it was a welcome celebration.

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Soon after that, Dasha, who had gone back home to refresh herself, joined us and took us to a very nice bar and disco. Shortly after that, Nikita joined us as well and the party really got going.

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There again, we had vodka and some thing called Cha Cha a very strong alcoholic drink that can burn your throat. A group of Russians kids danced to traditional Russian music and invited us to dance with them. Both myself and Benson complied and had much fun dancing in the middle, surrounded by people clapping.

Soon the traditional dancing gave way to techno and all of us got into the dancing mode.

After all the drinks and partying, we headed back to the hotel and were sound asleep. Tomorrow, was going to be our last day at Cheget and was reserved for shopping and relaxation.

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

Acclimatization Trek to Cheget Mountain

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Cheget is another mountain near the village of Cheget where we were staying. Also standing at 3,100m, it is steeper than Terskol Observatory trek. It is a good second trek for acclimatization. There was a ski-lft that can take you all the way to the top, but since we were trekking, the plan was to go up the mountain and then use the ski-lift to come down.

As usual, we woke up early at 6.30am and congregated at the lobby for some internet surfing before heading for breakfast. Breakfast was the usual. Once breakfast was done, we started our trek at around 9am.

The initial climb up to Cheget was quite steep and it got us panting in no time. However, from yesterday’s warm up climb, we did not have much of a problem climbing this one.

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The view of the surrounding scenery was much better than the trek to Cheget Observatory as it was very close to the Caucasus Range and the border between Russia and Georgia. There was a large expanse of gravel space between our path and the Caucasus Range. This is a no-man’s land which separates the two countries. At one point, there was a notice put up indicating border demarcation.

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The signboard triggered a flood of creative juices amongst the team members. They had a lot of fun taking funny poses with the sign board. At 3,000m we reached the first stop which is where the first ski-lift drops you off before you take the second ski-lift to the top. We rested at a very nice cafe overlooking the valleys. I had some coke while the others ate a special Russian dish called Peerushki. Its something like a pancake and its specially well made in that area.

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After resting for about 30 minutes, we continued our journey to the top of the mountain. This was another hour’s walk. Along the way, we could see Elbrus in all her glory. This time, the skies were relatively clear and we could see the two peaks of Elbrus. We could even see the Barrel’s Hut at the bottom of the snowline. The previous day, we had checked up on the weather and found that today would be mostly clear in the mornings with snow or shower in the noon and evening.

Mount Cheget is about 3,700m high, but no one is allowed beyond 3,100m due to security reasons. We suspect that there is a army outpost at the top overlooking the Georgian border. At the top of Cheget, we unwinded and relaxed in the sun, gazing at Elbrus. Tomorrow, we head off to Barrel’s Hut. Although we have seen a lot of video footage of Barrel’s Hut and Elbrus, we did not know exactly what to expect or how it would be like.

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There were a lot of people at Mount Cheget who had used the ski-lift to come up and enjoy the views. Again, we rested for an hour basking in the sun and enjoying the splendid views.

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After an hour, we decided to go down, this time using the ski-lift. It was quite inexpensive at around 200 roubles for each ski-lift. We had to take two of them. One to the cafe where we rested at around 3,000m and then next to the Cheget town. The first one was a single seater chair while the second one was a double seater chair. The views from the ski-lift were amazing with lush green valley below while surrounded by mountains.

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When you sit on the ski-lift chair, you are to fasten yourself using a chain that fits onto the other side of the chair, preventing you from falling off. I had a little problem undoing the chain when i got down at the ski-lift as i tried to unhook it a bit too late. The chain wouldn’t come off easily. The operator started shouting at me to unfasten it soon. But since i was struggling with it, he had to temporarily stop the lift so that i could get off. After that embarrasing moment, i got some serious glare from the operator as he switched the system back on. The next chair down, was no different, but this time i managed to unhock the chain earlier and got off easily.

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The total trek up to the top was about 3 hours and we were down in about 30 minutes. Once at Cheget, we went for our lunch at Cafe 7 again and had a hearty meal. As usual, mine was vegetarian with beetroot, bread, soup and vegetables.

After the lunch, we went back to the hotel to leave our bags and then head to the rental shop to get our gears for the climb.

The shop, The 7 Summits Club, is located down the road from Terskol village and a nice walk from Cheget along the main road. It was well stocked with all the necessary items that is needed for the climb. In fact, you can get almost everything from the shop.

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I got my ski-goggles and thermos flask from there while the others got their gears. The rental was reasonable based on the daily usage. So, for us it was to be rented out from 5th August to 8th August. Any additional day of usage will have to be paid extra while returning the items. You can either pay in roubles or euros.

After the purchase, we went back to the hotel and separated the goods that were to be worn in the town and packed them separately. These will be left in the hotel and collected when we return from Elbrus. The rest of the items to be carried to Barrel’s Hut is the essential climbing gear with the necessary clothing.

The rest of the evening went in lobby doing some internet surfing and chatting before dinner was served. Dasha held a short briefing on the activities for the next day. Since there is no WiFi at Barrel’s Hut and since the SIM card bought in Moscow did not work, we told her to stop on the way to get ourselves a new SIM card for our phones. After the brief chat, we headed off to bed. I could not sleep much due to the excitement of things to come the next day. I tossed in bed till about 2am before falling asleep.

Tomorrow, we will be heading off to Barrel’s Hut.

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