July 17 - Climbing through the clouds

Today is Gretchen’s 40th birthday. It’s also the day we put in our first long mountaineering day.

BAI group at VCSPS passWe climbed to VCSPS pass at almost 12,000 feet (11,900 feet or 3,600 m). It was a long day, a hard day but a really beautiful day and everyone felt great about it.

We awoke this morning to completely cloudy skies. We actually took off for the climb in a steady drizzle. It looked like it was not going to be very good weather. As we climbed up the steep trails toward the pass, hiking through meadows of beautiful mountain wildflowers, the clouds began to disperse and we had broken clouds all day but actually very little rain. As the day wore on, the skies got clearer.

We looked across at the steep mountain faces and the glaciers, through the broken clouds of the day. It made for a very aesthetic walk as we climbed. On the pass we had a little bit of light snow.

Mark and Gretchen celebrate Gretchen's 40th BirthdayAnd on the descent, we got our first view of the massive twin summits of Elbrus. This seemed to be a particularly good omen. The peak cleared for the first time since we’ve been here and we finally got a good view of it as we descended from VCSPS pass.

And now, almost 10 hours after we left, we’ve gotten back down and we’ll be tired now as we get back to the hotel but it’s going to be nice to return to the luxury of the hotel.

Karen has asked me not to reveal in the dispatches that there is a swimming pool here at this place. I guess that’s not up to the image of a mountaineering trip like the one we are doing here. But actually, as tired as we are this evening, I don’t know if people are going to have much energy for that. Perhaps a sauna and a little bit of relaxation will be in order before we begin to prepare to go up for our first night of camping on the glacier tomorrow.

Gretchen and Olissa cutting the birthday cakeA great 40th birthday, I think, for Gretchen. And certainly for all the rest of us, it was a good mountaineering day and a good start to the climbing in the Caucasus for this Berg Adventures trip.

Above: Comet Hale-Bopp over Mt. Elbrus from Pik Terskol, Caucasus, April '97. ©"Observers", AlltheSky.com