Just getting there was an adventure!
Russian airlines, rally enthusiast taxi drivers, bulldozers tossing boulders off the mountain and dynamite blasting on the slopes wasn’t something we’d anticipated in our planning, but was what we had to navigate just getting to Mt Elbrus. My climbing partner, James Pickavance and I set off in September 2003, to climb the tenth highest summit in the world. We didn’t know we’d have to endure Russia’s internal airline flights and a…shall we say, interesting transfer from Mineralny Vody to the Baksan Valley first! If I ever do a car rally, I know who I’ll call to be my driving partner! He only had three gears – exciting, bone-shaking and fast.
Climbing the lower slopes of Mt Elbrus involved dodging bounding boulders, displaced by overzealous bulldozers and taking cover so as not to get swept away in avalanches created by the dynamiting taking place on the ski-slopes.
Getting to the Barrels huts in one piece was almost a miracle and we hadn’t actually started climbing the mountain yet! After a few days recovering, I headed out alone and in the dark, for the west summit. James hadn’t been feeling well so he summited the next day instead.
I entirely agree with Pushkin when he says, “Will I ever forget its gritty heights?” and yet the first thing I remember whenever I think of Mt Elbrus is that bruising taxi ride into the valley, Russian folk songs blaring out of the car radio!