August 21 – In the Caucasus Mountains

This is the Berg Adventures Elbrus Team 2 climb. We have now arrived in the Caucasus Mountains. Yesterday we flew down from Moscow to Mineralnye Vody and someone commented from looking out the window for the 2 ½ hour flight, the entire way (I’ve noticed this before myself) you see nothing but what seems to be very productive and well managed agricultural areas as you are flying south from Moscow.

So we got to Mineralnye Vody and the weather was quite different than it was with the last group. It had been especially hot when we arrived with the first Elbrus climb of the season. Yesterday it was cloudy and quite cool.

Vladimir and Lara, who you remember from the previous Elbrus climb, met us at the airport and we drove down to the Baksan Valley. On the way we stopped at the same roadside market that we had stopped at before. It is in a very colourful collection of stalls with local women selling fruits, barbecue, various packaged foods and drinks. It is really a fun place. I’ve especially noted there that it seems everywhere in the world we travel – Bolivia, Nepal, Tibet, Tanzania, that people, especially women are shy about being photographed. These women are just the opposite - they love to be photographed. As soon as the cameras come out they give us big smiles, often showing us quite a collection of gold teeth and of course they have colourful clothing. We had a lot of fun as we relaxed down at the market.

We arrived to a very warm welcome here at this lodge last night. We had a nice dinner and this morning we woke up to go on our first mountain hike. The vehicle that showed up this morning was an interesting one; it was a four-wheel drive military transport vehicle. Vladimir told me it’s called a Gaz 66 and that it was an award-winning vehicle when it was first introduced. It was certainly just the vehicle to take us up the road to where we began our climb at the Jantugan climbing base. Along the road it is quite an amazing scene. It is a steep mountain road with cows everywhere and local Balkari people following their cattle. There was also a piece of artillery; a big military gun that’s used for avalanche control on one of the cornices and of course the big mountain faces and the glaciers of the Caucasus spilling down in every direction.

We hiked up the Kashkatash Glacier to something over 10,000 ft. Along the way we often stopped and just shared stories and recollections from previous trips. It felt great for everyone to stretch their legs and we had basically very good weather.

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