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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mount Elbrus - Early Days

Russians like to drive very fast, especially on open roads. Our drive from the airport at MineralInye Vody airport to Kislovodsk town was not exactly a joy ride. We were in two vehicles and the two drivers (obviously on retirement for some time now) were pretty much racing against each other. And so a couple of near-misses on barrier lines later and in pouring rain we arrived safely in town!

When we did the long off-road ride to base camp on the 4X4 the next day we were pretty much used to rough rides. Besides, the snow-covered twin peaks of Mount Elbrus and the views of the surrounding mountain were providing some needed distraction. I would have loved to ride in the formidable, “Old Russia”, never-die, hard as rock machine, but watching it in action from a bit of distance was not a bad compromise. The guys in the team got the honours.

We did not waste time. We arrived at base camp, had lunch and packed our day packs for the first acclamatisation hike. It was pleasant and not too long – on fresh pair of leg the 300m we ascended did not feel like we did any climbing. Over the next two days, acclamatisation hikes from base camp (2500m) became harder, led us to the most amazing terrain and took us to through some of the most challenging trails I have ever been on.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mount Elbrus - The Housekeeping

My trip to Mount Elbrus started off rather shaky. I might have dropped a ball or two on the logistics side of things, but fortunately, the expedition overall was not severely impacted. For anyone planning to make their way to Russia, I have a few tips:

Make sure your Russian Visa uses your flight details to determine valid dates and not the dates indicated in the invitation letter provided by your host. When you apply for a Visa, you need to indicate arrival and departure dates in the application form and include tickets but it turns out these are not used in determining visa valid dates. The result was that I had to leave a day later than I planned because I was going to arrive in Moscow an hour before my Visa was valid. The Visa was valid from 24 June and I was due to land on 23 June at 23H00. This would have been avoided if I double-checked the dates before I left the embassy.

Get a small English/Russian phrase book to assist with getting around and settling down into a hotel quickly in Russia. Valuable time was wasted sorting out problems that originated from miscommunication. Very often people cannot recognise some of the alphabets that we use, so it might not fully assist to write things down. We missed our flight from Moscow to Mineralnye Vody because the driver dropped us at the wrong airport, and we could not read the name of the airport ourselves to correct that mistake early.

Moscow has three international airports that are fairly far apart. So when booking flights, especially if you are booking your own flights at or similar sites, makes sure you connect to the next flight at the same airport. You might have enough time to connect but the hassle of collecting luggage and getting a taxi to the next airport can add hugely to travel discomfort.

If you prefer to buy a local sim card (as opposed to roaming) to keep in touch with people at home, ask the expedition company for the cellular phone operator that covers the area of the mountain where you will mostly climb. When I travel I prefer getting a local sim card so I can make local calls when necessary and still be able to send messages home if I need to.


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