Month: September 2012

Elbrus 2012 Resting at the Barrels Huts

On Friday, Sept 7, I moved up to the Barrels Huts at the 12,300′ level on Elbrus, a volcano in Russia, the highest point of Europe and one of the Seven Summits. On this trip I first encountered the Barrels on my acclimatization hike of Tuesday September 4 from Cheget to the Barrels.

The Barrels Huts (capitalized because that’s their actual name in Russian) are just what it sounds like – large steel drums, about 30’ long and 10’ in diameter tipped on their sides with doors and windows cut out and beds and little room dividers built in. They’re set in a long row side by side along a large flat spot a few hundred feet above the chairlift. Or almost 1000’ above Mir Station. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

I went up again on Thursday for another acclimatization hike, this time from Mir (Tram Station) to Pastukhova Rocks at 15,300′. I returned Friday to spend the night for my summit attempt on Saturday. The Barrels are a very popular tourist destination. When the weather is good, and the lifts are running, average people in jackets and street shoes can quite easily get there and enjoy the views.

On a pleasant weekend day there will be a hundred tourists sitting in the sun staring at the groups of other tourists and climbers going up and down the cat track, and clicking like crazy with their cameras. Some will even have binoculars. The administrator sent me to barrel number four. I stepped up the four narrow ladder rungs and inside, first the vestibule area with old gear storage racks and the old bathroom door, sealed with a very large padlock. Way back in the day they used to have bathrooms and cooking in each of the Barrels. No longer, and you have to use the kitchen and the very dirty outhouses. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

I spent the afternoon laying out and organizing my stuff, and purifying water with my PurifiCup, and charging my electronics with my Goal Zero Guide 10

Back at the hut, I again switched to the trail shoes and hung the socks to dry on one of the many crisscrossed cords above the beds. Drying out gear is common enough that many tents and huts have installed lines just for that purpose. I set my phone to charge on the Goal Zero Guide 10 battery pack, and took my boots out, removing the insoles to allow for full air circulation, to dry in the sun. I sat next to them on a slat of wood laid on the concrete for just that use, to enjoy the warm rays of daylight. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

I spent Friday night there, sleeping quite coldly, in my bunk in #4 Hut, with no electric heaters, as in 2010.

It got colder and colder as the night progressed, and I huddled snuggly, but cold, in my 15 degree down bag. I ended up running to the outhouse a few times in the night. On a trip out around 4:00 AM I saw a group on the concrete slabs getting their crampons on but when I returned to the hut they were gone. A few minutes later I heard a snowcat start and grind its way up the slope. A part of me wished I were on it. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

After my failed summit attempt I returned to the Barrels and dried out my clothes and charged my electronics. I have been to the Barrels many times now, with two trips in 2010 (May in a group climb with Pilgrim Tours, and in September with Top Sport Travel for Elbrus Race 2010) and now this one. I love them, in spite of the dirty outhouses and bedding, in spite of the cold and damp, in spite of the tourists milling about on the concrete slabs during the sunny days.

I spent a few seconds in my exploration to examine all the decals stuck on the walls by various climbers and guides. It’s kind of fun to see what there is from around the world. Lots of interesting graffiti too, but of the generally “clean” kind – like so and so from whatever country climbed in whatever year. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

Gallery for The Barrels on Elbrus

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Elbrus 2012 Cheget Hotel and Market

I spent much of my time in the Elbrus region at the hotel in Cheget, a small village about 3 miles from the Azau, the village at the base of Elbrus from which the Tram and Gondola run up the flanks of the highest point of the European Continent. When I first arrived on Monday, September 3, I was wasted from jet lag from the flights in.

I completely unpacked and organized my gear into the wardrobe and did some laundry, which since the room is typical foreign chilly, would take a few days to dry. I purified enough water to last the night, about two quarts. The beds weren’t as small as some foreign beds, and had large duvets and unusually large pillows. Atop all that were pile blankets in a leopard print pattern. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

I had breakfast and dinner as part of my hotel rate, and for the most part it was good service and good local food without the hassles of trying to cook for myself. I really enjoyed interfacing with the people in this region of the Caucasus.

The meals take place in a communal dining room just off the kitchen, with one to three serving or cooking staff, typically elderly women. They quietly bring you things and take empty plates away. Some things, like salads and breads are there when you arrive, and others are brought to you as you eat, including hot water in a kettle for whatever type of hot drink you prefer. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

I had a couple of days of rest when I visited the local market in Cheget. There you’ll find a larger wool market building with several stalls, a few souvenir shops and kiosks, and a row of cafes leading up to the chairlifts for Cheget Peak, one of those used for acclimatization by many packaged expeditions on Elbrus.

Smoke rose from the many open welded iron stoves stacked with skewers of grilling spiced meats. People bought and sold and ate and drank and just milled about like me – absorbing the life. I probably hung out like that for a couple hours, which could be tough for some people considering how small the market is. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

Photo Gallery Cheget and Market near Elbrus in Russia

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Elbrus 2012 – Hiking from Mir to Pastukhova Rocks

On September 6, 2012 I left the hotel and took a taxi to Azau to ride the Gondola up to Mir, the top station for the cable cars on the South side of Elbrus in Russia.

At the top gondola station, Mir, I exited the car and lo and behold this was one of the off days for the chairlift. Well that makes today just that much more complicated. [and] completely ended any fantasy of a summit today. I was totally unprepared to scramble down all 4000′ of that road in the dark. — from “Elbrus, My Waterloo” – publishing October 2012

I worked my way up to the edge of the snow above the Barrels Huts, put on my crampons and made my way over very poor conditions to Pastukhova Rocks, landmark about half way to the summit of Elbrus. The route was exposed glacial ice and melted water running down the surface mixed with slush and dirt. In places it was almost a small waterfall over volcanic sand.

I had set a goal of hitting the Rocks at 1 PM, and I made 1:06. Amazing, 2:13 from the Barrels, but I was beat and empty. I didn’t want to take any more time out than leaning over my poles to pant every hundred steps on the way up. Yes, I was counting.

I had to beat a 30:00 pace the whole way to make the gondola cutoff with enough margin for error. So I ran. Or as close to running on 40% slopes of ice and water and slush as you can get in crampons. — from “Elbrus, My Waterloo” – publishing October 2012

After returning to the hotel I was pretty well knackered, hung clothes to dry, ate, and then went quickly to sleep.

Elbrus Gallery:

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Elbrus 2012 – Hiking to the Barrels from Cheget

On Tuesday, September 4th, I did my first shakeout cruise. My acclimatization hike from the hotel near the market in Cheget, up to the barrels, from 6800′ elevation to 12,300′ elevation. Roughly 5400′ of elevation gain over 7.3 miles. Reverse that for the return home. I walked up the access road from Azau to the Barrels.

…the long gravel road that weaves under the gondola and tram lines. There is actually a lot going on up there with several huts, some full time lift and power line workers, so that supply trucks, huge military or mine style trucks with 5′ tires run up and down this road all day. That’s both good and bad, since they simultaneously pack down and chew up the road surface, and the overall grade or angle is determined by the lowest common denominator of the trucks. Sadly, I generally dislike loose gravel in sand, so despite averaging a good time overall, I was not really happy. There were spots that felt like one step forward and two steps back. — from “Elbrus, My Waterloo” – publishing October 2012

It was long, hot, dusty, but it was a great sense of accomplishment to go somewhere that most American climbers never ever go. This is roughly equivalent to the Cheget Peak hike that most guide companies do in the first day or two of the itinerary. Only they usually go up the chairlift to get a thousand meters in before hiking.

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