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