Category: Russia

Summit Success on Mt. Elbrus (18,510’/5642m), Russia!!

August 12, 2012, 10:45am: Summit photo on Mt. Elbrus (18,510'/5642m). Left to right: Bob, Joe, and Joey Szalkiewicz, Gia Ksnelashvili. Kneeling in front SMI guide Kurt Wedberg. Congratulations team on a job well done!!

This is a write up of SMI’s 2012 Mt. Elbrus climb as told by SMI guide Kurt Wedberg:

Greetings from the Baksan Valley deep in the heart of the Caucasus mountain range in Russia near the border of Georgia!  We are proud to say our team reached the summit of Mt. Elbrus (18,510’/5642m) on August 12, 2012 at 10:40am!

We have been guiding climbs of Mt. Elbrus since 2000.  Out of all the times I’ve been here this was the most touch and go with the weather.  It has been stormy since our arrival.  It has rained every day in the valley and Mt. Elbrus has received 1-2 feet of new snow on its upper flanks over the past few days.

When we arrange Mt. Elbrus climbs we build in extra days for weather into our itineraries.  We’ve never missed reaching the summit and part of the reason for that is having enough extra days to work with.  This year I was carefully watching the weather patterns and analyzing five different weather forecasts on a daily basis.  They were all calling for stormy weather for the entire time we were here.  It looked like the best break we would have was on Sunday.  Although not ideal it looked like that could be the only day we would have a realistic shot.  The problem was we didn’t have as many acclimatization hikes done as I would have liked.  The human body generally can acclimatize at about 1000’/300m per day above 10,000’/3048m.  We had taken a couple hikes and by Friday we had reached 13,320’/4060m.

This year’s climb was a private expedition with the Szalkiewicz family who are long time good friends of SMI.  Joey and Brittany Szalkiewicz are two of the youngest to ever reach the summit of Kilimanjaro (19,340’/5895m) when they climbed it with us in June 2010 at the ages of 12 and 10 respectively.  On this climb Bob, Joe, and Joey were the team members.  They had trained a lot for this climb and it showed as they had been performing well on all our hikes here.  Although Mt. Elbrus is lower in elevation than Kilimanjaro it is a more physically demanding climb but one I believed they were ready for.

On Saturday we hiked up to 15,500’/4724m.  We did it after arriving at the Diesel Hut (13,320’/4060m) prepared to spend several days if necessary.  After this hike we returned to the hut and I asked each of them how they were feeling… headaches, loss of appetite, general lack of energy, or any other sign of altitude sickness.  Everybody felt great so I told them I’d like to try for the summit the following day.  I cautioned them this was a very aggressive schedule but since they had been diligent in their training and were all feeling well I thought it best that we should jump on the weather while we had a chance.  If we missed the summit because of weather we’d still have a couple days to work with.  In reality though I wasn’t sure we would be presented with another weather window.

Summit day was cloudy and windy but I thought we should stick our noses in it anyway and see what happens.  We strapped crampons to our boots and at 4:30am began our ascent wearing several layers of clothing, headlamps, and goggles to protect our eyes from the blowing snow.  Wind and whiteout conditions were the dominant themes of the day but it never was enough to make us turn around.  We maintained a steady even pace everybody was able to keep.  We took short efficient breaks along the way.  With careful pacing and very little time spent standing around we were able to maintain warmth and keep our bodies fueled.  The wind stayed at a steady 30-40 mph all day.  Occasionally the clouds would part enough to give us a glimpse of the mountain but most of the day our visibility was limited to 45m/150’ or less.  As we neared the summit the wind kicked up harder to a steady 40 mph with gusts to 50 mph.  All team members were wearing five layers of clothing including our puffy down jackets.  6 hours 10 minutes after we started the climb we stepped out on the summit at 10:40am!

Once at the summit we took a couple quick summit photos then it was time to turn around and retrace our steps.

We managed to sneak in the summit finding a small seam in the weather that allowed us to get up and down.  The weather got worse later in the day.  On the following day (Monday) many groups who didn’t try on Sunday made an attempt and nobody reached the summit.  Now back at our hotel in the Baksan Valley it rained for a large part of the afternoon.

Besides finding a seam in the weather the success of this climb is attributed to the team showing up in great shape from many months of diligent training.  They also were careful to always take care of themselves and they did well listening and following instructions.  It was a very memorable climb for all us and I’m very proud of the team’s efforts.  Congratulations Bob, Joe, and Joey!!

A few pictures are below.  The rest of the pictures can be found here:  Mt. Elbrus August 2012

Mt. Elbrus on the morning of August 9, 2012. This was the only view we had of the mountain during our entire trip. Soon after this photo was taken clouds formed around the peak obscuring our view.

Joe, Joey, and Bob Szalkiewicz, and SMI Kurt Wedberg with Mt. Elbrus behind during our first acclimatization day hike.

Our first acclimatization day hike is up Chegit Mtn. located a short distance from Russia's border with Georgia.

Wildflowers are abundant on the flanks of the Baksan Valley during the summer months. The photo gallery from this trip (see the link above) shows many more.

Nearing the high point of our first acclimatization day hike on Chegit Mtn (3400m/11,154') with the Baksan Valley far below.


Lamb kebab's barbecuing over a bed of charcoal coals in the Baksan Valley.

Hiking in the fog during an acclimatization day hike on the flanks of Mt. Elbrus.

Arriving at the Diesel Hut (4060m/13,320'), our high point for this acclimatization day hike. We had lunch then descended back to our hotel. The next day we returned to the Diesel Hut to sleep. Climbing high and sleeping low is one of the best ways to acclimatize to higher elevations.


August 11, 2012: The team at the high point (4725m/15,500') of the last acclimatization hike before attempting the summit on the following day.

Afternoon clearing reveals a nice view of the Caucasus the day before our summit bid.

August 12, 2012, 4:30am: The team beginning the ascent of Mt. Elbrus bundled up with blowing snow and cold temperatures.

At sunrise the team pauses for a quick break for food and water. Clouds obscured the sun for most of the day but occasionally a "sucker hole" would allow sunlight to reach the team.

The team climbing at 5300m/17,388' at 9am about 1 1/2 hours before reaching the summit.

August 12, 2012, 10:45am: Team summit photo left to right: Bob, Joe, and Joey Szalkiewicz, and SMI guide Kurt Wedberg.




Mt. Elbrus Team Arrives Safely!

Greetings from the Baksan Valley deep in the Caucasus mountains at the border between Russia and Georgia!  On August 8 our team arrived here after spending time sightseeing in St. Petersburg the team flew south to the town of Mineralnye Vody then drove to the town of Terskol where we will base ourselves out of for our climb of Mt. Elbrus.  Our hotel is at 2100m/6889′.  This is a very pretty area with pine trees, a glacial fed river, and green hillsides displaying many varieties of wildflowers.

On August 9 we took our first acclimatization day hike.  We hiked to Chegit Mtn at 3400m/11,154′.  This made for a nice first day hike.  After several days of traveling and sightseeing it was nice to get outside and get a nice hike under our belts.  We had a nice view of Mt. Elbrus in the morning before clouds obscured our view of it.  We hiked for 3 1/2 hours to the top of Chegit Mtn.  Weather was pleasant which allowed us to take time to relax and enjoy the view while having  a snack.  Afterwards we descended back to our hotel.  There are a couple ski lifts on this mountain that operate in the summertime.  We took advantage of those and rode them back down to where we started our hike!

On August 10 we completed our second acclimatization hike getting to 4060m/13,320′ on the flanks of Mt. Elbrus.  The team did well and we’re now ready to move up and sleep at the Diesel Hut at 4060m/13,320′.  We plan on acclimatizing to higher elevation once we’re settled in the hut.  This will be our base of operations from where we’ll make our summit attempt.  Currently the region is experiencing evening thundershowers but the forecast is calling for a clearing trend.  Since we can’t control the weather we plan to get ourselves ready physically and mentally if/when weather allows for a summit attempt.

We will post updates and pictures when possible but given the limited internet access in the region it may be a couple days before we check in again.  Thanks for all the support from family and friends back home and we look forward to being in touch soon!!


Mt. Elbrus July 20-30, 2010 Wrap Up

The 2010 Mt. Elbrus team has returned to the United States safe and sound.  It was a fun filled trip that packed a lot into 10 days.  Our goal was to reach the summit of Mt. Elbrus and return safely.  We accomplished that plus toured parts of St. Petersburg and Moscow.  We will carry memories from this great adventure for years to come.

We reached the summit of Mt. Elbrus on July 26 at 12:20pm.  Congratulations to John Rogitz and Bill Simon on reaching the top of Mt. Elbrus, the highest point on the European continent!!

Here are a few pictures from this truly memorable adventure.  The rest of the pictures can be found at the SMI photo gallery here:  Mt. Elbrus July 20-30, 2010.

4:30am: John and local Russian climber Gia gearing up at the start of summit day.

Gia, Bill, and John climbing at 15,700', 4785m. The full moon was a nice added decoration to the backdrop of our climb that morning.

Sunrise painting the clouds in morning colors over the Caucuses

Casting across the Caucuses Mt. Elbrus's morning shadow reaches up to kiss the moon.

Climbing at 16,500', 5029m the sun's morning rays tickling the summits of many peaks in the Caucuses adds to the dramatic landscape during our climb.

The sun's warming rays greets the team on summit day at about 16,800', 5120m

Traversing into the saddle in between the east and west summits of Mt. Elbrus

Bill expressing the sheer joy of high altitude mountaineering with the dramatic backdrop of the Caucuses behind.

Taking a rest break at the saddle as a cloud moved in creating low visibility white out conditions.

John gearing up for the final push to the summit

Roped up together it's all business for the steep crux section of the route. Approaching 18,000', 5486m there is half the available oxygen as there is at sea level. Climbers take 2-3 breaths for each step up hill. Concentration coupled with a steady methodical pace is the most efficient way to climb in the increasingly rarefied air.

Above the crux the terrain opens onto a plateau that leads to the summit of Mt. Elbrus. Kurt, John, and Bill know they are close now.

Kurt, John, and Bill reaching the final 40', 12m hill to the summit.

Topping out on the summit of Mt. Elbrus

Reaching the summit of a high peak is always an emotional, spiritual, and very powerful experience

From left to right: Gia, John, Bill, and Kurt on the summit of Mt. Elbrus.

Thanks guys for a great climb!!

Mt Elbrus July 25

After a successful hike yesterday the team slept well last night.  Everybody has been acclimating well and showing no signs of having trouble with the altitude.

We ate a good breakfast of fresh apples and oranges, toast, quesadillas, and granola then got ready for our next hike.  The goal was to get to 15,500′, 4724m.

At 9:40 we left the Diesel Hut under cloudy skies and warm temperatures.  As we climbed the weather would alternate between cloudy and sunny.  When the weather cleared we were treated to magnificent views.  Even when a cloud moved in we never had any precipitation.  The thermometer on my Suunto Core watch/wrist top computer read in the mid 60s when the sun was out and about 10-20 degrees cooler when a cloud surrounded us.  Overall the weather was pleasant conditions to hike in.

We hiked in 1 hour stretches then took breaks to eat and drink.  This procedure is also part of our training since this is how we intend to climb on summit day.  Taking a steady pace with regular breaks to refuel is the most efficient way to climb a big mountain.

Elbrus from the Diesel Hut

After 4 hours we reached our high point of 15,500′, 4724m.  We took a 15 minute break then descended back to the Diesel Hut.

Although clouds obscured the summit all day we noticed a few people had reached the top and were descending past us.  The pleasant weather we had for hiking was apparently good enough for reaching the summit.  This was good news.

Upon returning to the hut we discussed making a summit attempt tomorrow.  The weather forecast is for similar conditions tomorrow as we had today.  Everybody is feeling great after our latest hike so the decision has been made to try for the summit in the morning.  We used the afternoon to organize our gear.  We ate an early dinner then went to bed at 6pm.

We are psyched and ready for our summit attempt tomorrow!

Mt Elbrus July 24

Today we moved up onto the flanks of Mt Elbrus and will spend the next couple of days here doing acclimatizing hikes.  Our base of operations is the Diesel Hut at 13,451′, 4100m.  The Diesel Hut is a 2-story structure that can hold approximately 40 people.

The Diesel Hut, 14,000' on Mt. Elbrus

It is equipped with large propane tanks and stoves for cooking. It was named after a generator powered by diesel fuel that gives the hut electricity for lighting.  This generator has worked every year since I started coming to this hut but unfortunately it is currently not in operation.  In spite of that the Diesel Hut is still a comfortable place to stay while we get ready to make our summit attempt.  It was built in 2002 next to the old Priut 11 Hut that stood here from 1938 until it burned down in 1998.

The weather today was cloudy with intermittent rain that turned to snow above 12,500′, 3810m.  We arrived at the Diesel Hut at 12:30.  We took some time to find bunk space where we unrolled out sleeping bags and pads.  We then ate lunch and organized our gear before setting off on an afternoon acclimatization hike.  Weather remained cloudy but precipitation had ceased as we set off to climb another 1000′.  The clouds lifted enough to offer us a nice view of Mt Elbrus in front of us and the Baksan Valley behind.  We could also see the mountains on the opposite side of the Baksan Valley that stretch well in to Georgia.

Mt. Elbrus from the Diesel Hut

We kept a steady methodical pace getting into a nice rhythm with our breathing and walking.  This is the foundation for efficient high altitude mountaineering.  Taking these hikes to higher elevation triggers our bodies to produce more red blood cells that are the basis for acclimatization to the thinner air with decreased oxygen.

As our hike continued a cloud moved in obscuring our view bringing with it wind and snow.  We stopped for a quick refueling break and donned our waterproof/breathable jackets that offer protection from the elements and keep us dry.

1 1/2 hours after beginning our hike we reached an elevation of 14,500′, 4420m.  Reaching our goal for the day we turned around and made our way back to the Diesel Hut.  A pizza dinner was accompanied by hot soup and tea.

Everybody on the team is performing well and feeling great.  Tomorrow we plan a longer acclimatization hike another 1000′, 300m+ in elevation.  If this hike goes well we will have put ourselves in position for a summit attempt as soon as July 26 weather permitting.  While we always take things one step at a time on these high altitude climbs the excitement and anticipation are building.

Thanks to everybody for your support.  Please pray for our continued safety, good health, and for the weather to give is an opportunity to make a summit attempt soon!

Mt Elbrus June 23

Our team arrived at Mineralnye Vody after taking a 3 hour flight south from St Petersburg.  We were greeted to rain, which was a big contrast to the unseasonably warm weather we experienced in St. Petersburg.  The rain stayed with us for most of the 3 hour drive to our hotel in the village of Chegit.  This village is located in the Baksan Valley region of the Caucuses mountains.  This mountain range is situated in between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea right on the border with the country of Georgia.  Remotely located, this destination offers beautiful scenery from glacial fed rivers that feed into the valley floor to high glaciated peaks.  The scenery promises to get increasingly spectacular as we move higher on Mt Elbrus.

Upon arrival we learned that the weather is forecasted to be stormy until July 25 then it is supposed to clear.  This should not slow down our acclimatization schedule.  We can still take hikes in stormy weather.

Our plan is to take several hikes at increasingly higher elevation to acclimate ourselves to the thin air we will be climbing in on summit day.  This should set us up well for a summit attempt sometime early next week, which is when the weather is supposed to get sunny.

The strikingly beautiful view of the Caucuses mountain range from the terrain where we conducted our first acclimatization day hike. Seeing views like this are always a blessing and something we are so fortunate to experience every time we're presented with such spectacular scenery.

Our team woke from our hotel on July 23.  We were greeted to rainy weather as we ate a breakfast consisting of eggs, cheese, bread, peanut butter, and jam.  We then loaded light packs with clothing, snacks, and water for the day.  We drove 15 minutes up to the base of Mt Elbrus where we rode a gondola onto the flanks of the mountain.  This region has several ski resorts that operate during the winter / spring months.  One of them is located on the lower slopes of Mt Elbrus, similar to how Mt Hood in Oregon is laid out with a ski resort at its base.

As we began our hike the rain stopped and we were treated to sunny warm weather with partly cloudy skies.  We hiked up to 13,200 feet.  We took several breaks along the way which gave us opportunity to refuel our bodies and enjoy the scenery.  From this vantage point we could see the twin peaks of Mt Elbrus above.  In the opposite direction we could look across the Baksan Valley into the country of Georgia.

As time moved from morning to the afternoon clouds began getting thicker and at 2:30 it started to rain.  We had gained plenty of elevation for the day though so after putting on rain jackets and pants the decision was made to descend.  By the time we reached the gondola station at 9700 feet the rain had abated.

Returning to our hotel we used the afternoon to organize our gear for subsequent days.  Tomorrow we plan to move up and sleep on the mountain as we continue acclimatizing.  We will base ourselves out of a hut   at 13,451′, 4100m.

While enjoying a dinner of lamb and chicken kebobs, fresh vegetable salad, potatoes, and rice we reflected back on what a great hike we had.  We are excited with anticipation for the coming days ahead.

We also want to acknowledge all our loved ones, family, and friends who have been keeping us in their thoughts and prayers back home.  Your support is felt all the way over here deep in Russia 11 time zones away from California.  Thank you!!

Mt. Elbrus July 22, 2010

After a memorable day touring St. Petersburg yesterday the team is ready to leave today for the Baksan Valley.  We will fly south to Mineralnye Vody then drive to our hotel.  After getting settled here we plan to begin our acclimatization hikes tomorrow.

Russian airline ready to take passengers to Mineralnye Vody.

The Baksan Valley is a pretty area decorated with pine trees, glacial fed rivers, and high peaks above flanked by glaciers on all sides.

Mt. Elbrus has an east and west summit. Our objective is the higher west summit on the left.

Mt. Elbrus, Russia 18,510′, 5642m July 20 – 30, 2010

Mt. Elbrus is the highest mountain in the European continent making it one of the highly sought after Seven Summits.  This year Kurt Wedberg returns to Mt. Elbrus on a private trip with long time good friends of SMI John Rogitz and Bill Simon.  John is a veteran of Aconcagua and many climbs in the Sierra.  Bill reached the summit of Kilimanjaro in February and has climbed Mt. Whitney and Mt. Rainier plus has many climbs on Mt. Baldy in Southern California under his belt.

Bill and Kurt arrived in St. Petersburg on July 20 and spent July 21 touring parts of the city, the Hermitage Museum, and the Peterhof Palace.  John arrived this afternoon.  Everybody’s luggage made it intact and the team is ready to fly to Mineralnye Vody on July 22 where they will drive to the Baksan Valley and begin acclimatization hikes.  Stay tuned for updates as the days progress.

Here are a few highlights from a day or touring this historical and fascinating city:

The Church of the Resurrection. Construction began in 1883 by Alexander III as a monument to his father Alexander II. Also known as the Church of Spilled Blood it was finished in 1907.

Bill and Kurt at St. Isaacs Cathedral. This is the largest Russian Orthodox church in St. Petersburg. Construction took 40 years between 1818 and 1858. Each of the pillars (112 total) is a single solid piece of granite weighing 80 tons (about 177,770 pounds) each!

The Hermitage Museum. This was originally Peter the Great's winter palace. Today it is one of the most famous art museums in the world. Its 365 rooms contain an impressive amount of artwork from around the world including paintings 16,783 works of graphic art 621,274 sculptures 12,556 works of applied art 298,775 archeological monuments 734,400 numismatics 1,125,323 other exhibit items 144,185. To view everything in this museum would take years and only 10% of what the museum currently owns is on display to the public.

Bill and expert guide Catherine in front of Rembrandt's classic painting The Return of the Prodigal Son. Of all the world renown works of art housed in this museum this is one of the most famous.

After a 3 hour visit the Hermitage Museum seeing some of the many highlights we took this hydrofoil boat across the Neva River to the entrance to the Baltic Sea to visit the Peterhof Palace.

Bill traveling in style on the hydrofoil en route to the Peterhof Palace.

The Peterhof Palace. This was originally Peter the Great's summer palace. It was heavily damaged during World War II by German bombs. Today it is well on its way to being restored.

Damaged statues and fountains were restored and placed alongside original pieces that survived WWII.

Many statues and fountains on the Peterhof grounds are electroplated gold and symbolize Greek mythology.

In addition to restoring buildings, statues, and fountains 15,000 trees were planted. The Peterhof grounds are full of pretty gardens offering beautiful scenery and comforting shade.during a pleasant afternoon walk.

Mt. Elbrus, Russia 18,510 feet, 5642m

We just returned from a wonderful two week trip to Russia. The group met in St. Petersburg where we took some time to tour the sites and see some of the many historical places in this beautiful city. We then flew south to Mineralnye Vody then drove into the Caucasas mountains only a stones throw from the border with Georgia. Here we spent some time doing acclimatization hikes in the picturesque Baksan Valley. We then moved up to a hut at approximately 14,000 feet where we continued acclimatizing while we took hikes as high as 15,800 feet.

On our first summit attempt we came up short stopping at 17,150 feet just before the saddle between the east and west summits of Mt. Elbrus. Weather turned stormy with increasing snow accumulation and fierce winds.

The following day was clear though and we managed to climb to the highest point on the European continent on a warm and windless day.

A few pictures showing some of the highlights of the trip are below. The entire photo gallery can be viewed here:

L to R:  Chuck Raper, Jim Wood, Debbie Wood, Connie Self, Kurt Wedberg

L to R: Chuck Raper, Jim Wood, Debbie Wood, Connie Self, Kurt Wedberg

Peterhof Palace, St Petersburg

Peterhof Palace, St Petersburg

Peterhof Palace, St Petersburg

Peterhof Palace, St Petersburg

Church at Peterhof Palace, St. Petersburg

Church at Peterhof Palace, St. Petersburg

Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

The most famous painting in the Hermitage Museum is Rembrandts Return of the Prodigal Son

The most famous painting in the Hermitage Museum is Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son

Knight armor on display at the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.  The Hermitage Museum has so many artifacts that if a person viewed each piece for one minute it would take seven years to see everything.  Furthermore, only 10% of everything in the museums possession is on display!

Knight armor on display at the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. The Hermitage Museum has so many artifacts that if a person viewed each piece for one minute it would take seven years to see everything. Furthermore, only 10% of everything in the museum's possession is on display!


Boarding a Russian airliner bound for Mineralnye Vody

Boarding a Russian airliner bound for Mineralnye Vody

The Mt. Elbrus region is right next to the border with Georgia

The Mt. Elbrus region is right next to the border with Georgia

Acclimatization hike on Cheget Mtn in the Baksan Valley

Acclimatization hike on Cheget Mtn in the Baksan Valley

A beautiful waterfall we passed during an acclimatization hike

A beautiful waterfall we passed during an acclimatization hike


Terskol Glacier on the flanks of Mt. Elbrus

Turskol Glacier on the flanks of Mt. Elbrus

The group taking a break above the Turskol Valley on the flanks of Mt. Elbrus

The group taking a break above the Turskol Valley on the flanks of Mt. Elbrus

Acclimatization hike on Mt. Elbrus

Acclimatization hike on Mt. ElbrusThe Diesel Hut at approximately 14,000 feet on Mt. Elbrus

The Diesel Hut at approximately 14,000 feet on the flanks of Mt. Elbrus

The Diesel Hut at approximately 14,000 feet on the flanks of Mt. Elbrus