Monday, July 16, 2007


I had with me the following alpine touring (AT) gear:

- Dynafit SR 8.0 160cm (with Dynafit TLT Speed bindings)
- Scarpa F1 Thermo plastic boots
- Black Diamond carbon fibre poles
- Kohla 2.1 skins

I chose the gear with ascent in mind. The set is pretty much as light as it gets and worked like a charm on the way up even with a heavy rucksack on. However, in descent there were many problems. Combination of deep snow and heavy load should not even be considered. With a day pack and gentle slope the descent is all right but I ended up walking down when I had my rucksack on.

I had planned on skiing down from the summit but I missed that chance as the conditions were not favorable to take the skis all the way up. I'd imagine that after a light snow fall in slightly sub-zero temperature the gear would be ideal for the final approach to the summit and skiing down. I will probably buy another pair of skis for AT trips where snow conditions will be variable and where weight is not an issue.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Is a guide necessary?

My plan from the beginning was to go up without a guide but not solo. The question if one needs a guide to climb Elbrus is a good one and the answer depends on how one sees the role of a guide.

The standard route up to the summit of Elbrus from Barrels Huts is very straightforward and very well marked. Based on my experience only heavy snowfall or purposeful removal of the route poles can make it difficult to reach the summit without a guide. GPS with preset waypoints goes a long way to help even in those situations.

Up on the mountain on a bad weather and visibility there's not much to see. Most often the goal is just to get to the summit and back. On good weather there are several points of interest like the East Summit, the wreck of the Land Rover and the Saddle. A professional guide will probably be able to point these out and also give some background info making the experience more thorough.However, most of the information can be obtained beforehand in the net and GPS can point out the exact locations. In the end using a guide for this purpose is a trade off between convenience and the feeling of independent discovery.

What comes to accidents Elbrus is relatively accessible and well monitored mountain. Even in bad weather help is unlikely to be more than a couple of hours away if an emergency call
(preferably by satellite phone although cell phone works in most parts of the mountain) is made. Also due to the general popularity of the mountain as a climbing destination one is seldom alone up there. Despite all of that accidents do happen and people die every year, mostly solo climbers or in unguided groups. Presence of a professional guide more or less reduces the risk of an accident and the guide is likely to be more efficient in coordinating first aid and evacuation. I do not, however, have any first hand experience of the competence of the guides up in the mountain.

My conclusion is that during high season (July - September) a professional guide for the sole purpose of showing the normal route up is not necessary. A climbing partner, however, with first aid skills and adequate means of communication is a damn good idea in every case.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Juho's summit day report

I woke up on Saturday, June 30th later than what I had hoped for but despite pretty strenuous day before I felt well rested and ready to go. Visibility from my tent at 4100m was not bad but couldn't see the summit unlike on the previous morning which was clear and calm. There was also a bit of wind which didn't promise good for the summit 1,5km higher. Due to worse outlook for the weather on the coming days I decided to make the ascent that morning.

The glacial spring water stream had frozen overnight and I had to dig deep to fill my water bottles. At 0644hrs I started skinning with my skis up the slope with Pastukhov Rocks some 500 vertical meters higher as my first intermediate goal in the process. After a while I sent the first status update to Barrels and hoped that somebody else in any of the many groups on the mountain was up or heading up the same time.

Up to Pastukhov Rocks the way was rather uneventful. I had to zig-zag around the Rocks at the right hand side due to steep and slippery ice while the visibility was deteriorating and the wind was picking up all the time. At the time I was around the rocks snow fall was heavy and facing the wind was really uncomfortable. I switched to down jacket, put the crampons on and left the skis before having the second breakfast and starting up the steeper part of the climb up to the Saddle.

The following 6-7 hours of the climb were pretty much the same. On a steady "25-50 steps and a break" -pace I went from one marking pole to another. The route itself was well marked and only in a case of a heavy snowfall I can imagine many of them would be completely buried. Half a dozen times I couldn't see the next pole right away and had to guess the direction with keeping the previous pole in sight and luckily I never went wrong.

As the visibility was between 50-150m all the time I could only guess how steep the ridges on each side of route outside the Saddle were. I was using either two skiing poles or one pole and the ice axe all the way up to the summit. The wind was getting worse by the hour but luckily the temperature didn't seem to drop and I had no trouble keeping frostbite at bay. No headache, no nausea and I was making steady progress. One thing that was very uncharacteristic for me was that I didn't really feel like stopping to take photos. Once I tried and camera froze about two seconds after being turned against the wind.

Eventually I made it to the top and took immediately shelter behind the rock marking the summit. Keeping my hands inside my down jacked I took out the satellite phone and gave the rest of the team an update on my status. I had planned on calling a couple of people from the roof of Europe but I really just wanted to get out of there. I was also slightly concerned about the possibility of temperature dropping but I was still in relatively good shape for the return.

Decent was pretty much the same as the ascent except naturally much faster. Finally after passing the Saddle and heading down to Pastukhov Rocks the sun came out for the first time. The snow would have been extremely good for downhill skiing but I never regretted my decision of leaving the skis as most part of the decent would have been extremely risky due to the poor visibility.

In retrospect I'm glad I took the risk and went up solo that day. I had no close calls on the way but I got a taste of what Mount Elbrus can be especially during winter. In the unlikely event that the ice would have been harder, wind higher and temperature lower the risk would have increased proportionally. This time, however, I was very happy with my fast acclimatization and I believe I was making sound decisions all the way up and down. For those more risk-averse I don't recommend going up alone, though.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I'm back to Khartoum and the pictures are finally online. Click the link on the sidebar to access the online gallery. Besides my analysis there will hopefully be trip reports from other expedition members soon.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

On the roof of Europe

Today the rest of the grup reached the summit of Elbrus. Minna, Jukka and Jussi started with a professional guide from Barrels Huts around 0400hrs with the Snow Cat up to Pastukhov Rocks and based on initial reports everybody made it all the way up there. If the weather up there was parallel to what I was experiencing today near Diesel Hut at my camp it was even worse than yesterday. Gongratulations!

I'm back in the Azau village now preparing for departure to Moscow and maintaining the gear. According to the forecast the weather is not getting better and the visibility up there is less than 200m all the time. I will miss the chance to get good photos up there and also checking out the Land Rover wreck. Also camping at Pastukhov Rocks or higher is not feasible due to heavy snow fall and high winds. On the other hand I managed to do a solo ascent under relatively difficult conditions and based on this experience I feel confident attempting more challenging peaks in the future.

I will post later more detailed analysis and an ascent report as well as commentary on the gear I was using.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Juho's Summit bid, last message

30-06-07 17:51 (over the phone)
I'm back at the Pastukhov Rocks. Everything is okay except I think I have lost my phone. Anyway, I will try to ski back to my tent and get some sleep there.

Juho's Summit bid, message #4

30-06-07 14:45 (over the phone)
I have just reached the summit. The weather is extremely bad, very cold and windy with icy snow. To save energy for safe return I need to start my decenting very soon. I will inform you on way down when I have crossed the saddle and GSM works again.

Juho's Summit bid, message #3

30-06-07 10:29 (over the phone)
I'm currently about an hour's walk from the saddle. Weather is nasty but bearable. I estimate that the summit can be reached from there in 3 - 4 hours. GSM phones do not work in the saddle so if needed I will call you using the satellite phone.

Juho's Summit bid, message #2

30-06-07 8:40
I'm at the Pastukhov Rocks now. Feeling strong but the weather is bad. 100m visibility, snow and wind. On down gear now. Will probably leave skies here as it is steep and icy. Pushing forward.

Juho's Summit bid, message #1

30-06-07 7:24
Made it to the tent above Diesel Hut at 1930hrs. I started my summit bid at 0644hrs. Weather is cloudy and foggy. I will update my status every couple of hours.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Had the best sleep since arriving to Caucasus. Good feeling after a night well slept. Light wind and hail early in the night but crystal after midnight with no wind and almost full moon. Would have been nigh perfect weather for the summit bid.

Tent and sleeping bag worked like a charm under these easy conditions. Gonna set the camp just above Diesel Hut today and wait for the break. The rest of the group are leaning towards staying low and taking the snow cat 4 a.m. to 4500m on the summit night.

Secret late night report from Jukka

Everybody else is already sleeping, I still have some energy left, so why not a small bedtime story.
We are currently situated at 3700m above the sea level in Elbrus' first base camp called Barrels Huts. Our choise for accomondation tonight are these funny-looking tubes in russian colours tailored for sleeping quarters. Story goes that these pipes originate from Siperia and are a residual of old russian oil pipe lines.
Although the view from the window is breath-taking, you should consider twice before checking in your girlfriend here for a romantic night in a canddle light (canddle since naturally there is no electricity).
Challenge uno: if she would happen to need to go to a toilet, there is an old 1,5 litres Fanta bottle hanging on the outer door implying that it should be done there.
Challenge due: previous visitor, or her girlfriend, has evidently tried to do it i.e. hit it but missed it quite badly. So you really don't want to go near this alternative.
There is of course a public toilet nearby as an alternative. Directions: go about 100m downhill, turn left, take a deep breathe before entering (actually take it at least 20m before you even see the toilet building) and try to hit the hole in the floor. Keep the toilet paper on your knee, try not to touch the floor during the process and voila! enjoy the summer.
There might of course be some color pen, exaggeration, in above report, but for me this all is new. Okey, tomorrow I will tell you about Minna's cookings, now there is a tasteful story. Till then sweet dreams.
p.s. we try to put some photos on the site soon

Day 4

Finally some clouds! Not much though and still no wind. We moved up to Barrels Huts and while I aimed for Pastukhov Rocks (4700m) the rest went up to Diesel Hut. I started too late and turned back a couple of hundred meters shy of the Rocks as clouds moved in.

Skiing downhill was ok but slushy and some icy bits. Fell once but not too bad and it was a good heads up for me. It will be serious business in the coming days as the weather seems to deteriorate as well. Right now there's some thunder up in the mountain and some showers. I'm camping but the others are staying in one of the barrels.

Today up and down 622m on fairly short time of 2h 46min. Tomorrow we plan on moving up to Diesel Hut and maybe I will reach Pastukhov Rocks after that. Much will depend on the weather and how this night will go. Everybody is ok but most are experiencing more or less headache. Minna and Jukka are contemplating on taking a ski ride up to 4500m on the summit day.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Day 3

On the third day the weather was, if possible, even better than yesterday. While the rest of the group was renting gear I went up with two gondola (10 € return) and one chair (5 € return) up to Barrels Huts (3700m) and skinned up to Diesel Hut (4050m). Almost no wind, unlimited visibility and shorts and t-shirt were more than enough.

I have made some adjustments to the ascent plan based on discussions with people coming down from the mountain. Tomorrow we will sleep at Barrels from where we will move as soon as possible to Diesel Hut. It seems to be the best place where Minna, Jussi and Jukka will eventually make the summit bid from. Tomorrow and the following night will give good indication how acclimatization is proceeding.

I will probably try to camp both at Pastukhov Rocks and at the Saddle later and hopefully will get good runs in most areas of the mountain. Today my skis proved out to be exactly as I expected - fast and easy on ascent but shaky on the descent. The total ascent on this easy day was 351m and descent 588m (down to the second condola). With long breaks the touring lasted 3h 21min. Tomorrow the plan is to the camp at Barrels and hike up to Pastukhov Rocks and ski back down.

Few flashbacks from Jukka

Few words could be in order for those of you that do not know me and where I know Juho. We've known since high school, but back then he was quite well-behaving boy with body like Anna-Mari Sandell. As most of you know, last few years he has travelled around a lot, been there and done that, but most importantly gathered a lot of experience about mountaineering and of course muscle&stamina. So it did not take me long to accept his invitation to come here and experience this first hand.
Okay, then some flashbacks about today. After being detaining from alcoholic substances for two days (midsummer we spend in Pärnu in Estonia was quite an experience to say the least), I felt much better this morning and more ready to rock this majestic rock called Mt. Elbrus.
Wheather outside was beautiful and breakfast tasted like breakfast again. Next thing to do was to head out with Jussi and Minna to rental shops to get some gears for days to come. Meanwhile Juho headed for Elbrus base camp to check the place and make some enquiries about accomondation there.
Renting equipment turned out not to be any picnic. Nobody was speaking english and our understanding about russian is as much as a pig might understand about satellelites. Thanks to Victoria - our nice but very beautiful interpreter back in Finland - we managed to rent a set of highly necesseary gears: ice axes and crampons. We missed a lot of time in the shops and just managed to meet Juho at the base camp before heading down to the village for the last time before the summit attempt.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Day 2

Everybody managed to summit Cheget Peak (3481m) today in near perfect weather. Minna and Jussi experienced slight headache during the summit push and everybody felt the descent in their knees. All of this was, however, expected and the acclimatization proceeds slightly ahead of scedule. The total ascent today was 1473m, descent 1728m and the duration of the hike (including breaks) 9h 25min.

Tomorrow we will carry out a recce to Barrels Huts and beyond to find a suitable hut to be the base camp for the summit attempt in a few days. I hope to get some decent rides down with my randonnee gear despite some large patches of ice that were visible from Cheget Peak today.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Day 1

Arrived at Azau early evening. Two hours acclimatization walk at dusk up to 2800m (500 vertical metres up from the village) after dinner. Cloudy all evening. Breakfast tomorrow at 0800hrs.

Final preparations for the expedition took place in Finland and Estonia. Minna and Jussi practised riot control in Rauma with Russians on vodka in mind. Jukka and Juho had a crash acclimatisation course in Pärnu while extremely low on oxygen. Despite some minor setbacks on the way everybody is now in Caucasus on the way from Mineralnye Vody to Azau village at the foot of Elbrus. Everybody is in perfect health and looking forward to Cheget Peak tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Expedition schedule (preliminary)

Sunday, June 24th
  • Night train Tallinn - Moscow
Monday, June 25th
  • Flight Moscow - Mineralnye Vody
  • Transport airport - Azau
  • Clearing red tape
  • Overnight at Scheherazade hotel in Azau
Tuesday, June 26th
  • Equipping and resupplying
  • Cheget Peak acclimatization walk / ascent
  • Equipment tests
  • Overnight at hotel Scheherazade
Wednesday, June 27th
  • Cheget Peak ascent / Barrels huts
  • Equipment tests
  • Weather assessment
Thursday, June 28th
  • Barrels Huts
  • Elbrus acclimatization walk / skiing
Friday, June 29th - Monday, July 2nd
  • Acclimatization walks / skiing
  • Barrels/Diesel Huts
  • Saddle camping
  • Summit bid (weather permitting)
  • Last night at hotel Scheherazade in Azau
Tuesday, July 3rd
  • Train/flight to Moscow
  • Overnight at Sherstone hostel in Moscow
Wednesday, July 4th
  • Sightseeing
  • MiG-29 test drive
  • Overnight at Sherstone/train
Thursday, July 5th
Friday, July 6th
  • Sightseeing
  • Train/flight to Helsinki