Later in the Evening of August 29 – Goodbye to Good Friends

I am calling you on the 29th of August, our last full day in the Caucasus Mountains in the early evening. A few yards away from here I can see a fire out back of our hotel and the members of our Russian staff: Evgeny, Alex, here comes Nadia and of course Larissa (Lara) and Vladimir are showing up. Everyone is getting ready for the barbecue.

I’d like to go back and describe our day again. When you have climbed a big mountain you’ve sort of earned your right to have what I call a mountain tourist day. It’s much more gratifying the way we had it today for our efforts on Elbrus. It was absolutely clear in the valley and in the distance we could look off and see the twin summits of Elbrus from virtually everywhere we were. We slept in, but by mid-morning we took a bus to the Cheget ski area which is a wonderful collection of shops and restaurants and of course the lifts run up the hill. We rode a lift up, got some fantastic views down into the valley and across to Elbrus. Then we walked out to a lake and had a really fantastic view of the north face of Donguz – Ozun. We also looked up at another very impressive peak called Nakza. Vladimir lay in the grass as we all did; he pointed out the various routes on these big peaks, and we enjoyed soaking up the alpine sun and just kind of lolling on the beauty of the mountain.

Later we walked back and rode the lift down and had a barbecue, of course, lunch at our favorite restaurant at the base area. Again, sitting down in the sun, there was a lot of shopping that was still going on. Various local hats were purchased and other items. I sat down at one end of our long table out in the sun with Olessa, who had gone down to Cheget with us, and Bruce, Joel and David. We had a lot of good times laughing and just enjoying the warm mountain day. Bruce’s beard has come in really full - he is very proud of it. Joel has also let his beard grow, but I think that he is going to be shaving it off pretty soon. In the warm afternoon air, we had a great time with Olessa, who when I first met her, just about month ago, seemed to be speaking no English at all. Today, either because of confidence (or maybe because she has been up late all the night studying some English in order to talk with this group) she was really having good conversations with us and we really enjoyed her friendship.

Later before we returned to the hotel, we drove to a spring that this area is so famous for. I may have mentioned that we drink naturally carbonated bottles of water here and we went to the spring where it is collected - it’s a place called Nazzan. There are three springs in the area, each of which you can put your bottle or cup under and get naturally carbonated water. The taste of each is a little bit different, and it is the popular place for locals to come to get water and have picnics... we enjoyed hanging out there a for a bit.

Tonight we will enjoy some fellowship with our staff, a final night in the Caucasus as I said, and tomorrow we are back to St. Petersburg which as you can imagine seems a long, long ways from the Caucasus Mountains at this point. It will be great to get back to a big city but tonight we are going to savour one more night with our friends here in the Caucasus

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