The seven summits, the highest peaks of the 7 continents: Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Vinson, Carstensz! Trips, Statistics & information!
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Elbrus

Tripreports

           
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On the new 7summits site we will place trip reports to the 7summits, so email them and we will add them!

Below is the report of 7summits' Harry Kikstra climbing Elbrus. Happy reading :-)

 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

 

Click the pictures below to enlarge:

(prologue)

Slowly the surrounding hills turn into mountains while the rain plunges down from heaven.
"IIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!" is the desperate sound our windscreen wiper makes during its fierce attempt to move from left to right. Finally it succeeds in making the road visible for about half a second. About 5 seconds later it manages it again while the heaven itself seems to fall from the sky. Our driver races with undiminished speed across the little mountain roads, not being inconvenienced by any sign of fear of oncoming cars and steep abysses.
Just before this shower started we missed a Russian lorry driver -who did not mind the meaning of the stripes that divide the roads into two halves- by an inch and I am seriously starting to wonder if we ever going to see Mt Elbrus at all. The 'summit' of Asia, Everest, is known for the fact that 10% of summiteers does not make it back down alive; would the people who only want to get near the 'summit' of Europe face the same odds?

To the Summit of Europe

The report of a 14-day trip to the Caucasus, to climb Mt Elbrus: the highest point of Europe and therefore one of the '7 summits'. Main players: Niall from Johannesburg, Gleb, Nickolai and Natascha from Moscow, Saskia & Harry from Amsterdam.

 

Amsterdam, 26th July 1999

We get up at 6 in our brand new house, find our way through the piles of boxes, pull the door shut behind us and leave for Schiphol airport. We moved 5 days ago and already we are leaving our latest gain for two weeks to find another highpoint: Mt Elbrus with 5642m the highest mountain of Europe.
We had no time to prepare for this trip -as usual - and have no idea what the current value of the Russian Ruble is. There's no official exchange rate in the newspapers and the banks in Amsterdam also had no idea. When even the airport bank has no clue we just enter our plane, armed with a bunch of US dollars (7summits currency…).
After a nice flight of a few hours we land at 'Sheremetyevo international airport Moscow' where we are introduced to the afterpains of good old communism: out of 20 available booths only 2 are being used to check our passports -while about 30 people are walking around very busy doing nothing- and we have to wait 45 minutes to get our first stamps of the season.
When you want to visit Russia (and there are many excuses to do so) you will need a visa; in the Netherlands we had to pick this up at the Consulate in The Hague. But the moment you enter the dark little room your enthusiasm will be killed by annoyance: long waiting lines without any clear order, no directions on what forms to fill out and a few people working who don't seem to enjoy it.
So we were warned about the bureaucracy before coming here, but once we get in the country it's quite different: during the rest of the trip we find out that the average Russian is much nicer than their fellow countrymen in The Netherlands of at the airport.

After the check we collect our luggage and break our way through a hundreds of Russian, mostly illegal cabdrivers, who try to whisper us into their old cars and their way into our wallet. A few dozen people are armed with little cardboard signs with the name of a person or a travel agency. Just when a slight uneasy felling is crawling under my skin, a mix of uneasiness and culture shock, I notice Gleb, one of the owners and guides of Pilgrim Tours. I had arranged the entire trip via Internet and email and transferred a large sum of money to an American (!) bank amount, modern or naïve?
After we have waited another hour and a half we see Niall who is wriggling his way through the overheated mass of taxi drivers; we had never met him, but he looks remarkably like the picture he emailed us a few days ago. Besides that, his length of 2 meter also helps…
Niall lives in South Africa and has climbed Aconcagua last year with my good friend Robert, who I climbed Mt Blanc with. He also scaled Kilimanjaro and therefore he will try to climb his 3rd of the so-called 7 summits here in Russia. Since Dick Bass climbed these mountains, the craze for collecting them has spread like a virus though the mountaineering community and beyond. It also has put Mt Elbrus on the map, as most people (still) think that Mt Blanc is the highest point of Europe. But with it's 4807m it actually is not even in the top 10 as besides Elbrus there are other giants as well hidden in the beautiful but war-torn Caucasus.

The heat wave that has struck all of Europe has also taken over Moscow (32°C) and our Hotel Rossia resembles more a kiln than a hotel. But it is a kiln with 5 restaurants, a sauna, souvenir shops, a hairdresser and most of all over 3000 rooms, so if you want to spent 8 years in one hotel without spending one night in the same room, this is the place…
But it is certainly a nice place to stay, as it is adjacent to the Red Square and the Kremlin and not too expensive if you eat somewhere else.
The Ruble exchange rate is not a secret after all, you get about 25 for a dollar and this does not change at all in the next few weeks, so it almost seems that the financial markets have shifted to a lower gear again.
When exploring this enormous hotel we suddenly bump into an empty room with some tables set for dining. After fruitless discussions about the meaning of the Russian menu we negotiate our way in to a 150-ruble chef's surprise meal. It tasted really good, but when we wanted to get the same deal the next day, the door was closed and the receptionist one floor up denied there was a restaurant at all!?!

There's plenty of western influence in the center of Moscow: next to the Kremlin is a huge pop concert and many thousands of barely dressed girls and tipsy boys are swinging on the beats of a Russian boyband, while in the breaks the Vengaboys are heard over Lenin's tomb…

 

Moscow, 27th June

Back in the warm hotel we went to bed exhausted, but hear the faint ringing of telephones all night. Let's ask Niall if he heard them as well.
" Did you hear all those phones ringing?"
"Yeah, tell me about it, every few hours my phone rang!"
"Ah, and who was calling?"
"All nice friendly ladies who were worried about me and wanted to help me with my loneliness"
After further investigation it became apparent that the friendly Russian women had contacted not just Niall, but everybody in a single room… seems that capitalism and marketing are commonly used nowadays.

The breakfast buffet is very good, after having our little room card registered in a big book, we are allowed to make our choice from a full English breakfast including potatoes, cornflakes, sausages, pancakes and a salad bar. To recover form this and the fact that 8 o'clock is quite early (our biological clocks were still at 6) we take a little nap.
But a few hours later we find ourselves wandering on the famous red square in front of St Basil's cathedral, probably the most well known building of Eastern Europe and always the background for any news report from Moscow. The legend says that Ivan the Terrible had the eyes of the architects Barma and Postnik taken out right after finishing it so they would never make anything more beautiful…

We try to get a coke in a bar that is disfigured by a giant replica of the Eiffel tower (' for all your Bar Mitzvah's') but have to be patient as there are 3 other clients and the waiter seems to be quite tensed en looks like he is going to flee the scene.
We enter the Kremlin; the huge space with it's many Cathedrals, the governmental buildings and the "Armory" museum. Most Russian citizens will never see this from up close because of the steep entrance fees: 200rubles each + 30 rubles for the photo permit (!) and another 280 rubles for the museum and another 40 for the photo permit for the museum (sigh…). But it very beautiful, from the gold domes of the cathedrals to the biggest caliber canon (890mm), never used though. Just a few meters further on we see the world's biggest bell; unfortunately a piece came off when the great fire of 1737 was extinguished. A smart Russian turned it in to a wishing well (covered by wire-netting) and now you can get a better life for just a few pennies.
That life will be much shorter if you dare to leave the sidewalk by the way, as your heart will miss quite a few beats by being scared back onto it by the loud whistles of the many guards. Of course they have to be careful as Boris Jeltsin is somewhere in these buildings (the Kremlin Bar?).

It is still over 30 degrees out here and we are glad to find some shade in the museum. It is filled with weapons, jewelry, fairytale coaches Faberge eggs and historical wardrobes, very nice and quite impressive.
We conclude our Kremlin tour with a walk through the gardens en decide to be real tourists and walk to the nearby Arbat street. This is probably the most western street in Russia, filled with restaurants (including a 'MakDonalds'), souvenir stalls crammed with Matruschka puppets. Their popularity is something that amazes the Russians still, as originally they are from Japan, not Russia. We go for some Russian food and score 4 pita breads with Shoarma (Niall took 2).

The warm weather is tiring and slowly we walk through deserted little streets towards a large cathedral situated on the banks of the Moskva river which had been used as a bathing place recently, but now it is being restored to it's original condition and function. We try out the Iridium phone Niall brought and it works perfectly while we doze away on a quiet park bench.

"What's that?" Niall looks suspicious at the little plastic bag filled with liquorice I take out of my pocket.
"It's 'drop', typical Dutch candy, but every foreigner I ever offered it to immediately spat it out with a distorted face!"
"I will try some….. hmmmm, nice!" And so Niall proves the historic connection between the Dutch and South Africa on a hot sunny day in the center of Moscow by being the first foreigner to like drop…

The heat of the last few days releases itself in a sudden thunderstorm and large drops of cool rain surprise us before we reach the hotel. As 'our' restaurant never existed and the other in-house facilities are extremely pricey we try to get some food elsewhere. Just a block north east of the hotel is a little bar where after some gesturing we are treated with a selection of Russian tapas and a good glass of beer! A quick walk to Red Square for some pix and a call to Robert, our friend who couldn't make it, finish off our evening as we have to get ready for an early rise for our departure to the Caucasus!

Moscow, Monday 28th June

Niall has had quite some calls from girlfriends to be last night and is looking tired when he appears at the breakfast buffet. After a good meal I help him separate his huge bags into two piles: useful and too heavy.
Our transport is waiting outside the hotel and we meet the other climbers that will be traveling with us to the mountains: 4 Americans that have booked the fully organized trip to climb Elbrus; Nate and Daniel are two young boys who will be attempting the summit of Europe with Nate's father; the 4th person, Phil, is a true summit collector: in his forties and already climbed 4 other continental highpoints, including Antarctica's Mt Vinson. He had been to Everest as well, but had to abandon his summit attempt at 8000m because of altitude disease. Their guides will be Gleb and Natascha; our summit guide Nickolai will join us later.
Our van takes us to Vnukovo airport where we arrive in time thanks to the wide Russian highways. To avoid both theft and damage we are advised to have our bags wrapped in huge sheets of thick paper, which are tied up with thin ropes! Even though Niall left quite a lot of stuff at the Hotel he still has to pay a few hundred rubles for the excess weight.
An airport shuttle takes us to the Tupolev 34 from Mineralnye Vody Airlines, where all of a sudden a no photo policy seems to be in order as angry, shouting faces appear the moment I take my camera out of my case. Well I guess then it has to be a secret hipshot…

MV Airlines has little appreciation for the 'funfactor' of flying as becomes painfully clear the moment we are having some drinks served. When the stewardess asks me what I want to drink I answer with a smile and
" A Fanta please!"
After a sigh and a glance at the ceiling she looks at me angrily and asks impatiently:
"Mineral water or cola?"
The choice of lunch that's served is not too wide either, but the only choice, a lonely sandwich with beef tastes good; vegetarianism is probably considered a luxury here.
After a nice 2hour flight and a bumpy landing we touch ground in the also hot-aired Mineralnye Vody where we are being torpedoed by groups of taxi drivers and beggars. They know that any westerner coming here has enough money for a Gore-Tex jacket and therefore more than enough for feeding their children… We try to stay friendly but this is not appreciated; even a dropped water bottle is snatched away, drunk half empty in seconds and refused to return. We have had it with these people and decide to enter our waiting van even though it is hot inside. Inside we find 5 people waiting already; it seems to be normal here that any person wanting to hitch a ride just enters a waiting car -it will ride anyway- but our guide Gleb is relentless and has everybody who did not pay exit the vehicle.
As it is not possible to transfer fuel for our stoves on the plane our bottles are still empty and we have to find a pump nearby as Gleb tells us that the gas in the mountains is of poor quality. Niall and I empty a 1.5 liter bottle of mineral water each within minutes and amaze the curious pump attendant by asking him to refill it with their best gas: octane 92. This will turn out to be not quite what we expect fuel to be, especially the special colored effects when burning are bonus, but hey, what can you expect for $0.10 per liter?

Slowly the surrounding hills turn into mountains while the rain plunges down from heaven.
"IIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!" is the desperate sound our windscreen wiper makes during its fierce attempt to move from left to right. Finally it succeeds in making the road visible for about half a second. About 5 seconds later it manages it again while the heaven itself seems to fall from the sky. Our driver races with undiminished speed across the little mountain roads, not being inconvenienced by any sign of fear of oncoming cars and steep abysses.
Just before this shower started we missed a Russian lorry driver -who did not mind the meaning of the stripes that divide the roads into two halves- by an inch and I am seriously starting to wonder if we ever going to see Mt Elbrus at all. The 'summit' of Asia, Everest, is known for the fact that 10% of summiteers does not make it back down alive; would the people who only want to get near the 'summit' of Europe face the same odds?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry on red square, Moscow with the famous Cathedral in the back

Wrapping luggage at Vnukovo airport

Secret hipshot of our plane from MRV airlines

Natascha & Niall at the fuelstation

 

 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3