In 2014, I decide to take on my second summit Mt Elbrus located in the Caucasus Mountains in Russia.
This was literally a planes, trains and automobiles to get there starting in LA, flying to Moscow, then to St Petersburg for a few days of rest before making our way towards our intended launch point.
On a side note, every time we landed (and there were 6 times of landing and taking off) all the Russians clapped and cheered as if it were a miracle that we landed the plane safely.
This was my first adventure with International Mountain Guides who are seasoned pro's at logistics and getting you up and down the mountain in one piece.
We finally arrived in the small village of Terskol which is at the base of a Ski Resort not too far from Sochi where the Olympics were held.
We stayed at a small hotel to acclimate up and down in the local mountains as Mt Elbrus sits at 18,513' causing major issues if you attempt to go up too quickly.
After 3 days going on easy non technical hikes next to the not too friendly borders of Georgia, we made our way to the mountain to begin the climb. IMG contracts out with a Russian guide service to use their "hut" as base camp which fits about 12 people in pretty cramped quarters which has been beneficial for all parties for years. The other places to stay up on the mountain are either in your tent or the infamous Barrel Huts (seen below) which are cylinder year round accommodations to stay overnight.
We continued to go up and then come back down to get ready for the big climb. I always get butterflies the day of the summit attempts because of the unknown that lays ahead. The morning of the climb, our lead guide Mike Hamill woke at 4am and went out to check the dark skies. All he could see were bright stars so he made the call to go for the summit. Summit day is a 6,000' climb from base camp to the top and back. Off we went and were welcomed to an amazing sunrise. As I would later learn during the day, my nutrition became a detriment as I didn't eat enough considering how many calories you burn on your way up. Uhh, my energy. Where did it go?
Elbrus, has two humps which you cross over. Between the two, lies the "saddle" where we roped up and put on our crampons. As we were doing this the sun disappeared and low visibility moved in. Up the super steep face we went in route to the summit. I could only see 10 feet in front of me as I was number 2 on our rope behind our leader. The face took about 1 hour to climb and it was a bear especially with no energy. As we got to the top, we couldn't see anything but had that joy that you temporarily get once you summit but knew we still had a long way to go down. As we prepared to go back down, the storm was getting worse and now lightning erupted. As we got back to the saddle, there was a couple who were suffering from altitude sickness. They were in a bad way and we could feel the lightning strikes coming down on us. Quickly we regrouped and off we went. Very scary to be above the tree line with no protection during these storms.
We finally made it back to the hut but were saddened to hear that one of the people with high altitude sickness were struck by the lightning and died.
Despite the loss, it was an amazing experience to climb and reach the top but was really tough overall and taught me the lesson to really focus on my nutrition for future climbs.
Now that I had climbed two of the seven, I knew this is what I loved to do and wanted to continue the journey!!!