August 10th – The Best Day Yet!

I am calling you on the afternoon of the 10th of August. We are all standing here, the entire team is standing here together on a little notch at about 12,600 ft. A short distance below the summit of Gamuchi Peak, which we tried to ascend today. It has been an excellent mountaineering day. Alex Willis said it was “the whole mountaineering enchilada” a few minutes ago. I’ll try to describe to you what he meant by that.

We were up at 4 am this morning after a quick breakfast. We walked along a beautiful trail through the moraine on the glacier. And on the lower dry portion of the glacier we walked unroped. In that section, we looked back over our shoulders and saw the full glory of Elbrus’ twin summits, totally clear behind us for a full hour or so. It was really beautiful. As we climbed higher up the glacier we came to a bergshrund. We fixed a line over the bergshrund so the route became technical somewhat. From a saddle at that point, we scrambled across some rock and then we’ve been roped up for a traverse and a climb up a higher section of the glacier.

Now at this little notch we just talked to some Czech climbers who have descended from the true summit. They described it as quite loose and wet, the scramble up to the summit. We have deteriorating weather (we’ve got a wet snow falling right now) and we’ve had no visibility for quite some time. So now at 1:30 in the afternoon our rope teams are going to descend and amazingly enough, I’m not sure if everyone that is looking at me right now has even thought about this, but we are going to go all the way back down to that lodge in the valley tonight and it’s going to be pretty comfortable when we get back down there.

We’ve got some good climbing to do and a lot of attention to pay as we do this descent, and a long walk back out the valley. But, we’ll be all the way back down at the lodge. Tomorrow night we’ll be at those “Barrels” that you’ve heard so much about - actually almost exactly the same elevation that we climbed to today. Of course to get that high tomorrow we’re going to ride those cablecars or those trams and then we’ll be on the slopes of Elbrus itself and underway for our acclimatization for the great climb of Elbrus in a few more days.

Back at the Green Hotel…

Well it is still the 10th of August. I thought I should call back and report in again. Now some 13 hours after we left we are back down at the Green Hotel, that beautiful meadow I’ve described. We’ve had a fantastic mountaineering day - exhausting, a confidence builder I’m sure for this entire group. It’s been varied in the types of terrain we’ve moved through, certainly in the weather we saw. A really full mountaineering day. Donna said to me as we came in to camp here that this was the best day. I’ve looked at some exhausted faces but also confident and satisfied faces. People have trained hard for this trip and it paid off today. We had a great climbing day.

Now the tents are coming down and we’re packing up we are getting ready to head out to the valley, where sometime tonight we are going to have a nice meal. I finally saw Ryan put on a pretty thick sweater a few minutes ago. This guy has the most amazing metabolism; he says it’s because of Wisconsin winters. It was pretty cold and windy up there. Both Ryan and Hynek have been the casual crew on this trip - they are having a great time. They are relaxed, they know what they’re doing and they sleep late in the morning. In fact when we did that midnight train to Moscow the “rhythmic rocking of the rails” was so effective with those guys that we almost left them on the train. And Mr. Casual, Ryan, never seems to need many warm clothes; he was up there in a t-shirt most of the day. The rest of us were more warmly dressed and as I’ve told you tomorrow after a much needed night’s rest and some organization in the morning we’ll be moving up to the Barrels. We’ll actually be on Mt. Elbrus preparing to climb higher. Being acclimatized, we’ll be climbing Mt. Elbrus in a few days.

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