Mount Elbrus is a dormant volcano in the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia, near the border with Georgia.
Elbrus has two summits, both of which are dormant volcanic domes. The taller west summit is 5,642 metres (18,510 ft), the east summit is 5,621 metres (18,442 ft).
The east summit was first ascended on 10 July 1829 by Khillar Khachirov, and the west summit in 1874 by a British expedition led by F. Crauford Grove and including Frederick Gardner, Horace Walker, and the Swiss guide Peter Knubel of St. Niklaus.
On July 17th I left Stockholm Arlanda in the evening. Kind of stressful start on the trip since I noticed seconds after Daniel dropped me at terminal 2 that I had forgot my hiking shoes. Called him and he immediately agreed to drive back after picking them up at home in Uppsala.
Meanwhile I made my check in and after an hour Daniel were back with my shoes. Forever grateful for the effort he made.
Stressful moment number two came just after I got my hiking shoes. I remembered I forgot my invitation that I have been told might come in use at the Russian border even if I don’t need any visa with my Armenian passport. I ran all the way through the terminals to finally at T4 find someone from Swedavia who could help me print the document. Thank you to the lady behind the disk who where so helpful.
After this I can’t run into more surprises and my older sister texted me that I should lean back and relax now it can only be better on my way to Elbrus.
But things ended up being worse.
Close to midnight I arrived to Moscow. I was very excited about entering Russia for the first time. I had verified three times both with Russian and Armenian embassy that I can travel with my Armenian passport without any visa. And the answer has been positive. As long as the passport is valid. Which it is.
At the border control they looked through all the pages in my passport and finally said “This problem!” pointed on a stamp, and continued speaking Russian. I didn’t understand what she meant so I just said that I don’t need any visa since I am Armenian citizen. She shaked her head and suddenly she had another colleague at her side looking at my documents. And a minute later the third border staff has joined. He explained I was definitely not allowed to pass the Russian border.
He took my both passports and told me to follow him. I desperately tried to get some empathy “I have a flight to catch....I am going to Elbrus tomorrow...” the answer was short and determined “You are going NOwhere!”
The coming hours I sat in a room, had the russians interrogating me in details. They asked me about everything. Where I live, about my family, where I work, what education I have, my aim with this trip and so on. After that I was just left alone with the discreet cctv in the corner.
I sat in the room with no passports but so grateful I had my cell phone. I texted Daniel to tell him what was going on in the middle of the night. The more time passed I started to get more worried. I had no idea what consequences my trespassing would have. I started to create the worst scenarios in my head and at this point I had forgot about my Elbrus plans. I just wanted them to let me go back to Sweden.
After hours they finally came back to the room. They put over ten pages paper in front of me, all in Russian language. They told me to sign these papers since I have broke the Russian law, paragraphs this and that. I had no idea what I was going to sign. So I asked them to translate it to English. The answer was “No, we can’t. You have to call a friend who know Russian.” Who am I calling in the middle of the night speaking Russian and are able to translate over ten pages story telling about me trying to brake the law?!?! When I said I won’t sign until someone translates it they left me there and went out without explanation.
After half an hour of waiting, a guy came in. He was the translator and were speaking perfectly English. Finally! He explained everything, I have broken the law and I have got a fee that I have to pay and if I don’t they won’t let me in to Russia for 5 years. After me signing the papers I got my passport and they followed me to the Aeroflot counter where they had arranged a new flight ticket on the first Stockholm flight. I waited for some more hours in the terminal and tried to get some sleep since I had been awake all night.
This was so not my plan! I had to contact Alpindustria and tell them to not wait for me at Mineralnye Vody. Instead I prepared my family in Sweden that I was coming back.
Disappointed of course but grateful to be home and big lesson learned that even if the Armenian passport is valid I need to renew the stamp that allows me to travel to foreign countries. The next day I called the Armenian embassy and they told me to come in on Monday to get a new stamp. In the same time I was having discussion with Alpindustria about when they can have a available spot for me in their climbing groups. I also had to call Menzies every day because my luggage was lost.
A week after coming home I finally got my luggage and on August 6th I also got my visa in my Swedish passport. Now ready for a new try. Alpindustria helped me out with a new booking. So grateful for that and with the most flexible boss at work he let me take vacation again and flexible family who supports me in my crazy adventures. I am so grateful!
On Wednesday August 14th I was on my way again on a second attempt to enter Russia. This time with fully covered valid passports and visa. And it went all well. I was so relieved when passing the border.
On Thursday August 15th I arrived at Mineralnye Vody at 5 am. Waited for the driver who picked me and two other team members at 10.00 am. It was around 2.5-3 hours drive to the village Cheget on 2100 m where we checked in at the hotel. After that me and my new Russian friends went out for a hike for about 1.5 hour in the near area.
In the evening the rest of the group had joined. I realized I was the only foreigner in the team. All of them where from Russia and the guide only speaks Russian. Good luck to me! But since I had to pick the date where they had available spot this was the group I joined. Luckily there were four members in the group who could speak English and translate for me. Thanks to Kirill, Anton, Nathalie and Anatoli.
On Friday August 16th we had an acclimatization day. We did an ascent on Mount Cheget to around 3200 m. The top is on 3601 m but since you must cross the Georgian border and need permission we did not go all the way. We had a lunch break and then we took the lift down to Cheget. Checking equipment in the afternoon and in the evening we had briefing for upcoming days.
On Saturday August 17th we left Cheget for the Mountain Hut in Garabashi on 3846 m. This is our base camp upcoming five days. Here we gonna spend four nights and do the acclimatization training until we make the summit attempt. I was really surprised over the comfort up here. I was prepared for a cold barrack but instead I got surprised with the nice Hut “Heart of Elbrus”. We checked in at our small room for 8 people. Later on we started the acclimatization training. We climbed to 4050 m and then back to the mountain hut. The weather was not the best. Cloudy, and rainy also some hail when we reached our goal for the day. In the evening we got served a dinner at the restaurant and early in bed to get some rest for the acclimatization day after.
On Sunday August 18th we started the acclimatization climb at 9 am to Pastuchov’s Rocks 4700 m. It took us around 4 hours to get there with two short breaks on 10 min. It was such a fun day even if it was some winds around 35 km/h and poor visibility I enjoyed every second. When we got back we had a late lunch and the rest of the evening I tried to get as much rest as possible.
Monday August 19th and Tuesday 20th
On Monday we had some ice axe practice in the morning. And how to climb while securing on via ferrata (with the set: a lanyard with two carabiners and the harness). The rest of the day I tried to get as much rest as possible since I was going to start the summit attempt at 23.00 at the evening. I was the only climber in the group, and from our base camp as well, who where going to walk all the way from the base camp. The rest of the team where going to start 5 hours after me and go with the snowcat up to 5100 m.
I was kind of stressed over my lack of sleep. The night before I did not get many hours since I got disturbed by the climbers from other teams who where leaving for the summit.
And also this night I did not get any sleep, I was awake but at least I got some rest. At 22.00 I had a small meal before starting the journey with my guide Sergey. Every meal on the high altitude was a struggle for me. I know how important it is to eat so I forced myself, meanwhile handling all the nausea. I got hot water from the kitchen staff which I poured sugar in to bring with me in my thermos. Since it was below freezing point during my whole climb I had to bring the hot water in a thermos and not a regular water bottle which will be frozen pretty fast.
In the very beginning of our climb it was raining and later snowing. We kept a very good pace and where at Pashtuchov’s Rocks at 02.00 am. This was an whole hour faster than we did the day before on our acclimatization climb. From here I had 400 altitude meters more to go, until I will meet the team, and this is much more steeper part then before.
I did not want to go to fast and to be forced to wait in the cold. Sergey and me kept a perfect pace and we were up at 5100 m around 03.45 am. I had some hot sweet water and activated my hand warmers. Changed to the down jacket and the mittens. I was just starting to get cold when the team arrived. Luckily we started to climb immediately and I could get warmed up again. As long as we were moving I was fine. But if we stoped I got cold.
The first part together with the team the snow was very soft. On step up, half step down. It was so frustrating. It took a lot of energy both mentally and physically. Later on it got a little bit better but at that moment you got reminded about the high altitude. Breathing up here is not easy. Now I was higher than I ever had been (Ararat 5117 m). I was happy over this fact. It gave me energy.
The continuing climb was tough. At the saddle, around 06.00 am we took a break and changed from walking with poles to one pole and ice axe. At this moment it was windy but I got to know later that this winds are normal. It was actually good weather conditions.
On the last steep part we had to pass the via ferrata. From here I couldn’t make any documentation since it felt to dangerous and I was cold. I was saving all my energy on where I put my feet’s. You don’t want to make a wrong step here. Even if I know I am secured with the harness I could not avoiding thinking about where a fall on the glacier will stop. Where will that crevasse end?
When we came up on the end of the via ferrata and reached the plateu, where the summit is, we had really poor visibility. I was afraid about that the guide will tell us to turn around. Instead he gave us a break and then we did a last push to get up on the summit. Suddenly the clouds were all gone. The peak appeared and we had our first sight of the summit. I was so happy. I fell some tears of happiness. It was such a magical moment to see the summit and to know we were going to make it.
The last steps up on the summit was great I felt suddenly so full of energy and strong but in the same way so small compared to the majestic high peaks.
At 08.10 am I stood on the summit of Mount Elbrus, 5642 m. The highest peak in Europe. We took the summit photos with those from the group who arrived first. Ten minutes later the rest of the team reached the summit. Everyone was so happy! Such a beautiful moment for all of us to share together as a team. For some seconds I was the one standing highest in Europe. Such a grateful moment.
When leaving the summit it started to get bad weather conditions. Once again so grateful about the perfect weather conditions when we managed to reach the summit.
In the evening we were back in Cheget village at the hotel.
Wednesday August 21st
Since we had a reserve day for summit attempt we now got it in Cheget instead.
Me and my new friends, the brothers Kirill and Anton went to Azau and did a hike to the Waterfalls on 2819 m. It took us around 2 hours to reach the destination and it felt great to make a small performance after the big achievement the day before. The mountains are truly addictive.