Peak of Europe. How MAPS.ME team member has climbed Mount Elbrus
Stories | 05.09.2019
At MAPS.ME we also travel the world and discover new places. Our head of business development Ilya Gusakov has climbed Mount Elbrus and shared the story of his adventure with our blog.
Idea and team
I do freeride skiing and love mountains. I wished to go to one of the famous peaks a long time ago, but this wish it was waiting for the right hour and moment of realization. The idea to take and go there came spontaneously, and Elbrus turned out to be one of the most affordable options both in location and price.
We gathered a mixed team. It's unlikely that you can go on such trips only with close friends. Some of them may say that you are crazy, others are just not interested. I have a friend with whom we share the interests of travel. It was he who proposed this trip, so in the end we gathered together a team of friends and acquaintances. Many at that time were unacquainted, which made the trip even more interesting.
Why do I need Elbrus? When we arrived at the training camp, everyone got acquainted, and everyone answered this question. I then remembered the words of the famous British climber George Mallory. When asked about the purpose of climbing Mount Everest, he replied: "Because it exists". I also needed Elbrus simply because it exists. And still I wanted to test myself and my strength.
Now there are many companies that organize tours to Elbrus, and they also provide equipment for hire. In general, now you can go on a trip almost without anything and take all the equipment and clothes already in place. It makes economic sense, because good professional equipment for climbing is expensive, and thus you can save money and get suitable equipment.
I already had a lot, I bought something myself, because I often go to the mountains, and all this will be useful to me. But we rented crampons, ice axes and special boots. It was professional equipment, almost new, so we did not regret it at all.

The guides sent us a list of necessary things in advance, it can be downloaded by the link:
Training and acclimatization
I began to prepare for the trip back in Moscow. I ran a lot, in the gym I emphasized the legs, and trained endurance. In this case, it is important not to overdo it. A week before the trip, it is better to minimize physical activity so that the organism could have a rest before climbing. We began to prepare for the August trip back in May. We called up with the guides several times, discussed equipment and other important technical issues.
Elbrus does not require high mountaineering training. Climbing from the south is not considered the most difficult. You do not climb the rocks, but walk along the trodden path. The most important thing is to be focused and attentive, because climbing is still dangerous. The weather on Elbrus is very changeable, so today you can go along the trail, and tomorrow it will be already in the snow.

The best time to climb is August. Calm weather and few thunderstorms. At this time, the air above is most saturated with oxygen. Some, of course, climb in winter, when at the top there is minus 30 and even minus 50 degrees. But I don't understand how they do it.
The first three days we did not go up to the base camp. At first we lived in the village of Elbrus at an altitude of 1,700 meters above sea level and from there went to small acclimatization tracks. We trained in different parts of the Elbrus region and Cheget, climbed to the Devichii Kosy Waterfall and the observatory, which is located at an altitude of 3,000 meters. There was already a sense of height, and it was hard taking into account the great physical exertion and the heavy backpack with things and food. By the way, up to an altitude of 3000 meters in summer it is very hot – the temperature reaches 30-35 degrees. Only the cool wind from the glacier helps.
After three days of training in the Elbrus region, we moved to the base camp at an altitude of 3,800 meters, where we lived for three days and continued to prepare and acclimatize. On the second day, we climbed already to a height of 4,700 meters to the Pastukhov rocks. We learned how to "chop in" – that is, to keep ourselves with the help of an ice ax on ice in the event of a breakdown and sliding along the slope. In mountaineering, there is such a rule that if you didn't manage to "chop in" on a steep slope within 4-5 seconds, you will develop such speed that you won't be able to stop at all. This skill is necessary for everyone who climbs Mount Elbrus, especially when you are walking along a narrow path, and next to you is a chasm and the so-called icefall with crevices where a tractor can fit.
To be honest, I was afraid that I had not learned enough to do this after just a few attempts. This thought haunted me during the whole ascent and to the very top. Therefore, I advise to all who will rise: ask the guide to devote more time to this and, if you feel that you need more practice with an ice ax, tell him about it.
When we finished all acclimatization trips, we began to prepare for the ascent, namely, to rest all day. Then everyone had a headache because of height, some even took painkillers. Someone even took a diuretic to get rid of excess fluid. The less fluid at the beginning of the path – the better, it will not expand in the body because of pressure and cause headaches. We went to bed early in the evening, because at night we had to get up for the ascent.
The ascent
Starting the ascent in the night is not difficult, but rather unusual. But when you wake up and go out – there is nothing around, only complete silence and darkness. The stars are very clearly visible, and you see how they fall down. You feel either in space, or in vacuum. These are inexpressible emotions. Before climbing, you are filled with a sense of expectation of something awesome. You even have a little chills and feel a knot in your stomach because of excitement.
At three in the morning we started. We decided not to go straight from the base camp – this is what professional climbers usually do. They begin to climb as early as 10 p.m. in order to be on top before 12 noon. They go all night, but many run out of power on the road, and they return. Therefore, basically the groups get to a height of 4,700 or 5,100 meters on a snowcat and start climbing from there, that's what we did. Our plan was to climb to a height of 5,300 meters in 4 hours, to be on top by 9 a.m.
We were lifted on a snowcat (/crawler vehicle -ed. note/), already dressed in all the equipment (it was already very cold) and for 40 minutes we climbed to the starting point. Some of the guys were focused and silent, but I, on the contrary, felt a sense of adventure, I wanted to get there as soon as possible.
When we arrived at a height of 5,100 meters, there was a lot of snow. The base camp is mostly ice, and here there was freshly fallen powder. We started the ascent, it was scary when on your left there were only crevices and abyss. You go concentrated, look at your feet and think about not catch with crampons on each other or on your pants. There are many risks to fall down. When we reached the Saddle, this shallow place between the two peaks of Elbrus, it was already dawn. I did not even notice how it dawned, I was very concentrated.
We climbed the Saddle in the fog, but while we were preparing a snack, the sky cleared up, and we saw an incredible view. At that time it was already quite high, somewhere 5,300 meters. It is important for me to see the top and final point. Thus you have energies to go, and when you rise in the fog, the energies seem to disappear faster.
Further there was only the top, where we climbed again in the fog. At high altitude, you have a strong headache because of a lack of oxygen. The guide encouraged us, he several times said that it was a 15 minutes' walk, and we'd been walking 45 already. It seemed that it would never end. it is not clear how long to go, nothing is visible in the fog, and the trail does not end. It's funny that the closer to the top, the more all kinds of equipment lies on the trail: trekking poles, backpacks and other equipment. Someone loses things in the fog, someone forgets them. When you already see the peak at the very top, the energy comes back again, as a revival of your spirits. And you want to climb again.
The peak
Feelings are incredible when you reach the top. At first you don't even understand what you've done. In the beginning, we were unlucky with the weather, we climbed in complete darkness and even got upset. But then, as it often happens in the mountains, in a matter of minutes it cleared up, we saw all the peaks below us and realized that we were on top of Europe.
Fear does not return at this moment. It's more likely to be euphoric, and you don't think about anything. Even that the whole team was connected with each other by ropes, and that they have already messed up while everyone walked along the top and took pictures. But you still need to remain attentive, there is a small platform at the top, so you should be careful.
We spent only 15 minutes on the top and had to come back due to the weather. The guide said that we were lucky because the weather conditions got worse when we were still climbing. In the mountains there is such a thing as a weather window, if you don't get into it, then the top will simply not open, and you will have to return. We did get into it.

During the descent, you need to be even more careful, because there is no more energy, and euphoria ends. Some guys even started to stumble a little along the road, but everything went on quietly.
  • Take light food with you. Nuts and baby food are great – a lot of nutrients and can be eaten quickly.
  • Start preparing in a few months. Climbing right away is also possible, but with good physical training it will be easier.
  • Take water and food up to the base camp. While you go to short acclimatization tracks, you have to cook yourself.
  • Drink much water while climbing. When climbing sweet soda will help, it contains a lot of sugar.
  • Eat much garlic. It boosts the immunity and is a good stimulator of the heart muscle.
  • Do not be afraid to travel with strangers. In such trips, people manage to get to know each other and often make friends.
If you want to climb Mount Elbrus and know why, do it. These are amazing feelings that I wish many of you to experience. Prepare well and be careful. When I got down, I thought that I would not go to the mountains for a long time. But a few days passed, and I strain after it. Hope to climb to Everest Base Camp next time.
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