We’re proud to say that our skis have been all over the world. And, just this summer, they made it to a new international destination: Russia. Our friend and Lithic ambassador, Pat, sent us his report from the field. We’ve broken it up into a few installments for you. We hope you enjoy reading about his trip, and let us know if you plan on taking your Lithics anywhere exotic this year!
How do you pry a dedicated local out of his favorite mountain range to go halfway around the world for a mountain he’s just heard of? How do you view your favorite deep play winter pastime against the backdrop of a foreign country? What does cheese taste like in Russia? What day will it be when we finally land in Dubai, if we ever do land? Just what exactly makes an adventure? Lucky for a lot of us in the mighty PNW, we’ve got friends that want to find the answers.
When one of my favorite ski friends asked me to go ski Mt. Elbrus with her, this was my reaction: Isn’t that in Antarctica? No thanks. Turns out I was thinking of Mt. Erebus, and no, she didn’t want to go there either. I gave it a bit more thought; I hadn’t been out of the U.S. to shake down my view of the world in a bit, maybe it was time. On the other hand, I hadn’t even skied in over a month- a late season back injury had benched me in March and I had resigned myself to the glories of early summer. It was a tough sell- it sounded great, but I made a few lame excuses and thought I’d heard the last of it. Thankfully, Emily doesn’t let go of ideas that easily and came back with an offer that I couldn’t refuse. She had cashed in all her frequent flyer miles- the flights were on her, I just had to show up…..well shoot! I guess I’ll go.
Mt. Elbrus is the highest mountain in Europe, an extinct volcano that tops out at 18,500 feet. It’s between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea in the Caucasus Mountains, and because it’s one of the Seven Summits, it gets a fair amount of traffic during climbing season. We would be there at the beginning of climbing season, early June. It’s not technical climbing or skiing, but the weather can be fierce and of course glaciers include crevasses. I did a bit of reading and concluded I could plod to the top coming off the couch, and would probably get a kick out of the ski down and get a quick look at Russia along the way. I’d been to the top of a few of our local volcanos around here in Washington, but our biggest is only 14,410, and I hadn’t been over 5000 feet in a month and a half. I immediately began a rigorous training schedule with plenty of kayaking and landscaping projects around the house. I guess getting on some Washington volcanoes would have been a good idea, but it just didn’t come together in the roughly two weeks before departure.
Side note: if you want a Russian Visa, prepare for a fearsome bureaucratic assault. If you had concerns about your carbon footprint related to the trans-oceanic flights, it will pale in comparison to the trees that died for the paperwork.
After a delightful array of connecting flights, (read The Jaunt, Steven King) layovers, and taxi rides, we were in a little village near the base of the mountain. I woke up early the next morning and took a rambling walk around the village, and was happily surrounded by immense mountains with steep creeks pouring out of them, milky with glacial silt. The icefalls visible from the village were noteworthy- these were just the foothills of the Caucasus, but had the massive look of the world’s big mountain ranges. There were tough looking mountain ponies running around, all the cars were 4X4’s, the wool market was beginning to open up, and village life in springtime was underway. Everything looked very practical and straightforward, as I had imagined Russia might. Interestingly, we were in a Muslim corner of the country, so it looked European, smelled Asian, and every now and then the Mosque would sound a call to prayer. After checking in with the local government SAR team, we gave the gear a final look and headed for the gondola.
Stay tuned for what happened next....