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What to expect on Elbrus with us

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1. Flying the flag on the summit.

As you can guess by the title this blog is about the recent (at the time of being written) trip to Mt. Elbrus.

What do you need to know about Elbrus?

It is:
– An inactive volcano.
– 5642 metres tall (18,510 feet).
– Located in the western Caucasus – within the geographic Europe.
– One of the seven summits (the highest mountains at each continent).

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2. Our challenge for the week.

The taller summit (the one we went to) was first reached in 1874 by Akhia Sottaiev – a guide working for a few Englishmen and a Swiss.

Anyway, 143 years later as part of the guide team I found myself amongst the ranks of Exped Adventure. We were a 10 strong team of varied backgrounds and ages ready for an attempt for the summit. Of course, there’s much more to be done in order to achieve such a goal and most of the things have been covered in the training day. Typical questions include the effects of altitude, the boots, crampons and the warmth of the kit that you may need.

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3. Some people like more basic tools.

The answers to most of the questions are ‘depends’ but kit wise you can expect to need double boots (our team favoured Spantiks), walking crampons, a reasonably light axe, poles and a variety of warm layers with a mother of all down jackets should things start getting funky. The altitude has struck each and every one of us in varying amounts but headaches, lack of sleep and incredibly frequent urination were a common theme at ‘base’ at least at the beginning.

The trip starts in London where you will meet the rest of the team and the guides as well as pick up the last pieces of kit in case you didn’t get them before. From then on you will enjoy two flights and one transfer before ending up at the beginning of your Elbrus journey – a village called Cheget.

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4. On top of Cheget – pointing to our final goal

The next day we went up onto one of the smaller local peaks called Cheget which boasts a ‘modest’  3772 metres of altitude – here we got to experience the first signs of altitude, the physiological impact was beginning to show, the walk seemed a bit more tiring than expected. The breathing rate increased and the feeling of the heart thumping away became more apparent. Quirky.

Having come back from this little trip we packed the things we would be taking up to the mountain and stowed away  the things we would not. The journey up to ‘Heart of Elbrus’ happened by using the system of ski-lifts through which we had to take up all the supplies we would need for the upcoming days – food, water and the like. This made for quite an interesting exercise of trying to fit as much  as possible onto a lift which never stops moving. One of our team has also picked up a rucksack belonging to a participant from a different group, kindly preventing ‘the walk of shame’ of trying to retrieve a rucksack left at the bottom.

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5. Heart of Elbrus – our hub for the week.

Once that process was complete we moved our stuff into the accommodation – the heart of Elbrus is essentially a warehouse-style building with shipping containers on the bottom, used as canteens and living quarters at the top. At the bottom you will also find the biggest source of entertainment; a TV with a ‘classic’ music channel – combined with a rocking chair, this is most definitely the party spot.

The living quarters are basic – consisting of bunkbeds and blankets – I would suggest you bring your own sleeping bag and a liner as well as a source of entertainment (such as book or music) to make it a homely experience during the more passive aspects of acclimatisation – my recommendation includes ‘Call of the Wild – Guy Grieve’ and some jazzy music to spice up your evenings.

Food wise, the quality of the food is good although the mentality surrounding catering is slightly different to what we are used to in the UK. Being an Eastern European and a vegetarian I seem to have dodged the dishes which raised the most controversy and found pretty much all of the food absolutely fine and certainly above the standard which would be ‘passable’ in a place with no road access.

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6-7. Good weather makes all the difference!

As things go with mountain environments sometimes you do not have the luxury of enjoying the views and instead have to either focus on a task at hand or use your imagination. However, when the sky is clear everything becomes beautiful.

The acclimatisation process is a tough one, and often the views help to take the edge off. Mark who was the in charge of the trip often ensured that, what could be perceived as ‘suffer fest’, was actually quite entertaining. Mark used every opportunity to squeeze in a little bit of knowledge into the days, discussing and practising different techniques for navigating in bad weather, ice axe arrests and even demonstrating different kinds of belays you can make up using snow, ice axe and some rope.

One of the best things noticed by myself and Mark is just how well jelled the group was – taking a risk of sounding like the most common of clichés, the team became a temporary family which, despite some pretty savage banter at times, took the most care in making sure everybody is alright.

Being up high in this environment is not easy, so the camaraderie and support of the other team mates goes a very long way.  It pays off to be fit when going for this trip, however nobody should think that any level of fitness will make it a cruise – the physiological demand of operating at high altitude is rather significant and should not be underestimated, while the way from the hut to top of Elbrus and back is only around 13km, it takes the best part of 12 hours and a significant toll on your body. The challenge is quite respectable but not out of reach for a ‘mortal human being’!

See you there!

Over & Out – Until next time!

Filip Kamycki

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