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Elbrus Logistics Explained

February 4th, 2014 | Posted by Charles Miske in Europe | Logistics - (Comments Off)

Elbrus Logistics can be a nightmare to those not experienced in Third World travel. Not to say that it’s in an undeveloped nation, but it has many of the same adventure travel perils to consider.

Elbrus Logistics can include a tour of the Wool Market and a visit with a Baksan Local

Elbrus Logistics can include a tour of the Wool Market and a visit with a beautiful Baksan Local

Elbrus Logistics Question:

Recently on my Facebook Page, someone asked this question about Elbrus Logistics.

Did you use Pilgrim Tours? I have heard some really good info about them. Also, did you go with a group or use the Pilgrim “Lite” tour? Thanks. — MP

To answer the question, yes, I have used Pilgrim Tours twice. Once I used their full 8 day package, and the second time I used the “Lite” package.

There are three local guide services I would recommend for Elbrus Logistics.

I’ve also used Top Sport Travel, with their Elbrus Race Itinerary. I have a great friend in Nikolai from Top Sport. I have a climbing friend who has done the traverse of Elbrus with 7 Summits Club and he was quite happy with his unique experience.

In the van with Elbrus Logistics provider Nikolai from Top Sport Travel

In the van with Elbrus Logistics provider Nikolai from Top Sport Travel

Elbrus Logistics Loopholes and Gotcha’s

First of all, Russia is on the opposite side of the world from us, and the internet can be iffy. Some of your contact people might be actively taking groups on tours or climbs. You might go a few days without hearing back and because the email is from Russia, it’s likely to be in your Spam Folder. Even then there will be some communication issues, and you should use the most simple English possible to communicate.

Next, you will need to deal with Russian Visa issues. Unless something changes soon, expect to do the mail-in Visa Application and for the process to take at least six weeks from the time you get your Invitation and Voucher. You are recommended to use the official site ILS-USA CLICK HERE. I am told by the staff there and at the Consulate that this is the only acceptable processing center, and that all the others must go through this office. Save time and money and use this office.

The Elbrus Logistics provider will insist on some deposit being wired into a bank in Eastern Europe. This is normal, do not be alarmed. The three providers listed are all reputable. Sometimes you have to wire the whole amount. Other times you must bring Euro (preferred right now) or USD for the balance. If you fly through Amsterdam or Frankfurt you can get some Euro at the airport while you wait for your transfer.

Layover in Amsterdam (AMS) with Miffy on the way to Russia

Layover in Amsterdam (AMS) with Miffy on the way to Russia

Once you get your deposit in, your provider will then send you a PDF scan of the documents you need for your Russian Visa. This could also take as long as a week. If you add all of this up, you’ll see that the least expensive route to get your Visa could take 8 weeks or longer. Plan accordingly. In a pinch, you can get one in less than 10 days, but it’s not very easy or inexpensive to do and I highly recommend against it.

Elbrus Logistics Options:

The “Lite” packages basically are customized, pay for some up front, pay for the rest as you go. You decide ahead of time how many days you’ll need to stay in a hotel, and how many at the Barrels Huts. When in the hotels you’ll be fed breakfast and dinner. At the Barrels you’ll be on your own unless you also hire a cook. On the “Lite” package you’ll need to figure out your own climbing itinerary and route finding. By the time you hire both a guide and a cook you’ll have put together an Elbrus logistics package that costs more than the standard 8 day group itinerary.

You’ll also need some cash for the Tram/Gondola fares, any meals you buy outside the standard hotel fare, taxi between the hotel and the Tram/Gondola Stations, and some few other things that might pop up.

In the standard 8 day itinerary you’ll get almost all of your meals taken care of (aside from some alcohol) and you’ll get the guide and cook as part of the group. You’ll just march along with them and they have a relatively high success rate. If you are nervous about weather at all, get the 11 day package which allows for a couple extra weather days that the 8 day cannot.

With the standard group package there might be additional fees if your group decides to use a Snowcat to transport luggage or for the trip to Pastukhov Rocks on Summit Day. These are generally not options on the “Lite” package unless you have passable Russian skills and can talk your way into them. You might also tip your guide and cook if you choose.

Todd Gilles and myself acclimatizing for Elbrus Race 2013

Todd Gilles and myself acclimatizing for Elbrus Race 2013

I have two books available about two of my trips to Russia.

Elbrus, My Waterloo – available only on Amazon Kindle right now. This book is about a trip I did on the Pilgrim “Lite” package CLICK HERE

Elbrus Race 2013 – available on Amazon Kindle and paperback, B&N Nook, and Google Play. This book is about a trip with Top Sport Travel for the Elbrus Race Skyrunning event. CLICK HERE

Both describe some of my own experiences out of my travel journals while in Russia and have a wealth of information on the area and how to get around. If you have any other questions just comment below.

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Elbrus Race 2013 Wrap-up

February 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Charles Miske in Europe - (Comments Off)

As I prepared for the Elbrus Race 2013 with my team mate Todd Gilles, I worked hard to increase my fitness for the vertical ascent of the Classic, from the Barrels Huts to the summit of Elbrus at approximately 18,500′. Normally you do that a couple days after the Qualifier, about half of the distance and elevation gain of the Classic.

Myself, Kilian Jornet, and Todd Gilles at the opening ceremony for Elbrus Race 2013

Myself, Kilian Jornet, and Todd Gilles at the opening ceremony for Elbrus Race 2013

At the same time my friend and climbing partner Todd Gilles said he’d like to
join me on Elbrus. I gave him a training program to follow to help him adjust his
current fitness levels more toward fast vertical travel. I’ve known him for a
couple years now and just last December we started climbing together. I went
with him on several Winter Colorado Fourteener climbs and attempts, as well as
several ice and rock climbing trips. He refers to me as his “Mountain Mentor”
and that makes me feel really good. As a former competing champion in
figure skating he was in really good physical condition and not afraid of hard
work. We were going to have a blast. — From the Preface to Elbrus Race 2013

We had the usual hassles with the Russian Visa process, and the generally slow responses of the Russian Logistics companies. Finally there, we ended up staying in the Barrels with Kilian Jornet and his crew. They were there to do a video on Kilian’s attempt at a base-summit-base speed record on Elbrus. Sadly, the weather was not cooperative on either the Qualifier or the two days of the Race. The Qualifier was cut short, the first Race day it was cancelled after the Extreme (base to summit) Race had already started, and when the Race was finally run, they brought the finish line of both the Extreme and Classic routes down to a bit below 17,000′.

The Qualifier in whiteout conditions for Elbrus Race 2013

The Qualifier in whiteout conditions for Elbrus Race 2013

Elbrus Race 2013 – the book

When we returned from the Elbrus Race 2013, I compiled my notes into a book, and published it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and then on Google Play and Google Books. We were quite successful, though we did not reach the top. My 5th place, and Todd’s 3rd place finish were momentous occasions as the best US results in nearly 20 years. For a press release from Elbrus Race 2013 CLICK HERE.

A lot of people didn’t qualify, qualified but dropped out before the Race, or dropped out and turned back in the storm. It was pretty tough conditions and I was thrilled that Todd and I stuck it out. He placed, and I finished and we’ve been an inspiration to others to join us for Elbrus Race 2014 STORY.

Elbrus Race 2013 Classic 3rd Place Trophy for Todd Gilles

Elbrus Race 2013 Classic 3rd Place Trophy for Todd Gilles

If you’re interested in mountaineering, skyrunning, adventure travel, the Seven Summits, or even a great story, Elbrus Race 2013 is the book for you. For more information CLICK HERE for the rest of the story.

Having never read about or experienced mountaineering and extreme incline races before, I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s firsthand recount of his and Todd’s experience in Elbrus Race 2013. I am in awe of their accomplishments, and have an even greater respect for their quest and dedication to their dreams. I can’t wait to hear more! — 5-star review on Amazon

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Elbrus Race 2013 Itinerary: Food and Transportation

September 9th, 2013 | Posted by Charles Miske in Europe - (Comments Off)

Todd and I will be following this itinerary, as posted on the ElbrusRace.com website:

15.09.2013 1 Flight arrival to Min Vody. Transfer to Baksan Valley Hotel Elba HB __D
16.09.2013 2 Acclimatization walking nearby. Hotel Elba HB B_D
17.09.2013 3 Transfer to Azau lift station. The opening of the competition. Going up to refuge “Barrels” ~3710m refuge “Barrels” BLD
18.09.2013 4 Qualifying speed climb from Barrels hut to the Pastukov rocks, 4800 m. refuge “Barrels” BLD
19.09.2013 5 Relax day. refuge “Barrels” BLD
20.09.2013 6 Speed Climb of Mt. Elbrus West 5642 m. Descent from Barrels to the Valley Hotel Elba HB BLD
21.09.2013 7 spare day for the Race or Awards Ceremony & farewell party at the evening Hotel Elba HB B__
22.09.2013 8 Transfer to airport. Flight from Min Vody. B__
Mir Station with Elbrus in the background

Mir Station with Elbrus in the background

Transportation Days:

Sunday, September 15, we’ll be flying in to Mineralnye Vody (MRV). This airport normally doesn’t have any way to eat or drink in arrivals, but they do generally feed the passengers well enough on the flight there from Moscow. The van driver will pick us up and drive the 3-4 hours to the hotel just outside Cheget, a village near the base of Elbrus. On that drive it’s possible to stop at a quick mart and get water or snacks.

Monday, September 16 we’ll take a taxi or car provided by the hotel to the lifts in Azau and ride up to the Barrels and walk around a little to check out the snow at the foot of the glacier and get some air at 12,000′ into our lungs. I probably won’t walk up very high, and it will be slow so that I don’t get any residual training effect. We’ll ride the lifts down and then take a car to the hotel.

Tuesday, September 17 we’ll all be taken by van to the tram station in Azau with all our bags for the huts. We’ll have the opening ceremony then take the tram up to the Barrels where we’ll set up camp for the duration. The organizers claim that the tram operators will waive ticket fees for the event participants, but I don’t know that this has ever been true. We’ll have to be prepared for that.

Wednesday, September 18 is the Qualifier. We “run” from the Barrels to Pastukhova Rocks at about 15,300′ with a two hour cutoff. Then we have a quite liberal cutoff for the trip back to the Barrels. Like four hours. On this day I had considered returning to Cheget in the evening to spend the night low, but that will depend on how I am processing oxygen and recovery.

Thursday, September 19. Assuming I go to Cheget I’ll have to make my way back up to the Barrels. Otherwise we hang out in the sun and relax. Absorb food and energy. Dry our clothing. Charge our electronics.

Friday, September 20. If the weather is good and all is well, we “run” for the summit of Elbrus, at over 18,500′. We have a five hour cutoff for the 6,500′ climb to the top. And a four hour cutoff for the trip back down to the Barrels. If all goes well, we will then return to the base, and get a van to the hotel. Otherwise we stay another night in the Barrels.

Saturday, September 21. If the weather was not very good, we give the summit a shot on this day. Otherwise we’ll be in Cheget just hanging out. The award ceremony and dinner will be that night, and we’ll be taking a van to that. If we are hanging out in Cheget, it’s a short drive or long walk from the hotel so we can go visit the market and grills.

Sunday, September 22. We wake up early and will be taken by car or van to the airport in Mineralnye Vody. The departures section of the airport is a bit more modern, and will have a small area to eat and drink in it. We then fly to Moscow to end our trip.

Eating Days:

Sunday we’ll be getting a dinner at the hotel in Cheget. On Monday we’ll be getting a breakfast and dinner. We’ll be on our own for lunch. We might be able to get a box lunch from the cook. If the weather and tourism is good there are grills up at Mir, the top tram station. Otherwise there will be grills in Azau and Cheget. Worst case we’re on our own and have shakes and bars for lunch.

Tuesday through Friday we’re on the schedule for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Some in the hotel, some in the Barrels Kitchen.

Saturday we have only breakfast, either at the hotel or the Barrels. Lunch will be on our own, unless we’re stuck at the Barrels doing the Race on Saturday. Last time this happened they did feed us, though it was meager. Then we have the Celebration Dinner on Saturday night, included in the Race entry fee.

Sunday we have breakfast early in the hotel, then it’s off to the airport.

Next:

In the next article I’ll look at this itinerary in regards to clothing and gear. Check back soon.

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Elbrus Race 2013 Weather on the Way

September 7th, 2013 | Posted by Charles Miske in Europe - (Comments Off)

We’ll be arriving in Moscow on September 15, 2013. From there we fly to Mineralnye Vody where we will be picked up at the airport and taken to our hotel just outside Cheget, just down the road from Azau, where the tram and gondola go to the Barrels Huts on Elbrus. I checked the weather along the way for Moscow, Mineralnye Vody (just say Mineral Vody) and Cheget for Sunday, so I can plan my travel wardrobe.

Weather for Moscow on September 15 2013 on the way to Elbrus Race 2013

Weather for Moscow on September 15 2013 on the way to Elbrus Race 2013

Weather for Mineralnye Vody on September 15 2013 on the way to Elbrus Race 2013

Weather for Mineralnye Vody on September 15 2013 on the way to Elbrus Race 2013

Weather for Cheget on September 15 2013 on the way to Elbrus Race 2013

Weather for Cheget on September 15 2013 on the way to Elbrus Race 2013

The site I normally go to for a mountain-top forecast “Mountain-Forecast.com” only goes out six days now (you could sometimes get a 9-day) so it’s not terribly helpful, but here are the links, if you’re curious:

Mountain Forecast for Elbrus

Elbrus Summit: [FORECAST]
Elbrus Barrels: [FORECAST]
Elbrus Base: [FORECAST]

Screenshots of current forecast through September 11 2013

Elbrus Summit Forecast through September 11 2013 (leading up to Elbrus Race 2013)

Elbrus Summit Forecast through September 11 2013 (leading up to Elbrus Race 2013)

Elbrus Barrels Forecast through September 11 2013 (leading up to Elbrus Race 2013)

Elbrus Barrels Forecast through September 11 2013 (leading up to Elbrus Race 2013)

Elbrus Valley Forecast through September 11 2013 (leading up to Elbrus Race 2013)

Elbrus Valley Forecast through September 11 2013 (leading up to Elbrus Race 2013)

I’ll be watching the weather carefully, especially for the summit. Doing this race with 80 MPH + winds will not be a lot of fun. Normally “running” up a mountain like this you dress as lightly as possible. Trail running shoes, softshell tights, softshell hoodies. This could be interesting…

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Battery Pack for Charging a Phone

July 30th, 2013 | Posted by Charles Miske in Review - (Comments Off)

One thing I rely on for my expeditions is a battery pack for charging my phone. My model of choice at the moment is a Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Battery Pack. It’s got plenty of juice for charging my phone a few times. It’s light and compact too.

Charging the Goal Zero battery pack

Charging the Goal Zero battery pack

On my recent trip to Alpamayo I took my Guide 10 battery pack and my Nomad 7 solar charger. About half of the days were sunny so I didn’t really have to worry about keeping the battery pack juiced up. Another climber on the trip brought his along too, for his phone. Sometimes on these trips I’m the only one with Goal Zero gear, so I’m the one that ends up charging everyone else’s toys. He was using his phone primarily as a camera. I used mine for music as well.

Guide 10 Battery Pack

With the battery pack to store the solar energy from the panels, it’s easy to charge your gear at night when you’re not using it. In fact, one trick is to keep it in your sleeping bag with you. I think the warmer temps inside the bag improve charging efficiency.

Charging droid with the Guide 10 battery pack

Charging droid with the Guide 10 battery pack

I’ve experimented a bit with the Guide 10 over the years. I’ve replaced the batteries with AAA using the handy adapter. This is great for keeping headlamp batteries charged, though I think the new USB charging headlamps might be a better more efficient option for charging with the battery pack. I’ve also experimented with different types and capacities of AA batteries. I keep three cables in an Eagle Creek zipper storage bag with the Guide 10 battery pack. The three I use most on an expedition:

  1. Micro USB
  2. Sony Camera Cable
  3. Mini USB

Those three cables serve my needs and weigh very little. In the zipper bag, about the size of a grade school pencil pouch, they take up no room and are easy to manage. Over the years I’ve learned quite a bit about organizing my pack and making it easy to do stuff, even in the dark.

Battery Pack and USB Charging Cables in zipper pouch

Battery Pack and USB Charging Cables in zipper pouch

I actually carry this battery pack zippered case in my carry-on bag when flying and use it to charge my phone for long flights when there isn’t a USB socket in the in-flight entertainment console. I fly economy. If you have any other suggestions or tips, please, go to my Facebook Page and share some pics and tips there, or comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

Disclaimer: I am a Goal Zero Athlete and am provided equipment to test

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