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.