The Peaks of the Seven Continents

Elbrus Race 2014

September 24th, 2014 | Posted by Charles Miske in Europe | Story - (Comments Off)

So, Elbrus Race. Obviously I didn’t go. Just as obviously it didn’t happen.

A friend on the Front Range took a group to Elbrus during the race at my recommendation and they had a blast with Nick and the rest of the gang. But they didn’t summit. Their pictures and video from 18,000′ are insane! Wish I had permission to show you some.

There’s a pic from Elbrus Race from the organizer. So in the big scheme of things, if I were doing the race I wouldn’t have gotten my summit. But the day before was amazingly blue sky gorgeous. A part of me thinks I might have gone that day and finally gotten it out of the way. I hope I can go next year.

I finally got my passport straightened out, got my invitation and voucher for a new set of dates, and then had a terrible time getting flights lined up that fit those dates, and then couldn’t get to the visa center in time to get my visa processed in the dates available. It was a mess from the beginning. I suppose that the second the lady at the visa center said my papers were out of order I should have just quit while I was ahead.

Kilian wasn’t there either, so I’m not sure what his plans are for Elbrus. It’s on his list.

I did get a lot of work done though, including two published books, one on training for hiking HERE and one on self-help finding time to train HERE – both have done awesome so I recommend you go check them out.


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Waffling on Elbrus Race 2014

July 31st, 2014 | Posted by Charles Miske in Europe - (Comments Off)

Elbrus Race 2014 is being held the week of September 6-13, according to the itinerary posted below and HERE.

IX international (2014) Elbrus Race program :

Date Days Day’s program
06.09.2014 day 01 Flight arrival to Min Vody. Transfer to Baksan Valley, Azau station. Accommodation in the Hotel Elba.
07.09.2014 day 02 Acclimatization walking nearby. Accommodation in the Hotel Elba.
08.09.2014 day 03 Transfer to Azau lift station. The opening of the competition. Going up to refuge “Barrels” ~3710m. Night at refuge “Barrels”
09.09.2014 day04 Qualifying speed climb from Barrels hut to the Pastukov rocks, 4800 m.
10.09.2014 day 05
(full moon at 15:00 pm)
Relax day. Night at the refuge “Barrels”
11.09.2014 day 06 Speed Climb of Mt. Elbrus West 5642 m. “Classic” from hut Barrels (3710) & “Extreme” from Azau 2400m Descent from Barrels to the Valley
12.09.2014 day 07 spare day for the Race or Awards Ceremony at the morning & The farewell party at the evening
13.09.2014 day 08 Transfer to airport. Flight from Min Vody..

I was forming a team of 3 to go DETAILS but over the past year since the 2013 Race a lot of water has passed under the bridge. Some of us were really sick for quite some time. Some of us had endured injuries. Some of us had endured financial hardship. I myself was involved in legal finagling to extricate myself from a series of business partnerships and investments. That took up a great deal of stress and in spite of any other factors contributed greatly to a deficit in training hours.

In other words, I wasn’t able to train the way I had for the 2013 Race, in which I took 5th place. Sadly though, since it wasn’t all the way to the summit due to weather I wasn’t able to achieve my Seven Summits Quest goal with Elbrus, the highest mountain and highest volcano in Europe. After a lot of deliberation I sent an email to my friend in Russia asking if there were a trip in August that I could attach myself to so that I could share expenses at the Barrels (cook/food) and he sent an itinerary for me that seemed to fit in with my own plans so I agreed and sent the deposit. I received the Invitation and Voucher and not coincidentally I happened to be in Seattle where I could go in person to the Visa Center.

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 Center I was informed that a technicality in the requirements for available Visa Pages in my Passport prevented my application from being processed. Thankfully it was not rejected, which would unnecessarily complicate future applications. I needed to get additional pages inserted into my Passport, which isn’t a very complicated process, but can take up to 6 weeks plus additional time for shipping back and forth both ways. They recommended Overnight mail, but in this county there really isn’t such a thing. Long complicated story. USPS won’t even deliver to most of the resort units even to full time residents.

STP - 13 year old rode with Puget Sound Mini 200 + miles

STP – 13 year old rode with Puget Sound Mini 200 + miles

In the middle of that process of course, I spent a week traveling to Utah and Seattle to drop off my 13 year old who would be riding in the Seattle to Portland 200+ mile cycling ride with his uncle. Immediately after returning home to Colorado I spent a week at the Boy Scout camp near Castle Rock Colorado as the Assistant Scoutmaster for my Frisco CO Boy Scouts. It rained a lot, and I was really happy that my son and I had done a lot of camping in a variety of conditions so that at least one of the boys had good morale during the week. Seriously though, it was great fun to help the boys earn a slew of merit badges, including the Wilderness Survival, which required them to spend a night out in a low impact shelter built on the spot.

BSA camp activity - dueling on the ropes near Castle Rock CO

BSA camp activity – dueling on the ropes near Castle Rock CO

To make things even more fun I had a house listed in Utah and it expired without being sold so am in the middle of dealing with the legal implications and handling the repairs necessary to list it again in a different price bracket so that we can appeal to a different market. That’s going to require several trips to Utah over the next month added to the other fun things I need to do. Full plate!

Of course, all of this wasn’t enough time for the whole 6+ weeks to pass. Once I do have my passport in hand it takes a minimum of 30 days to process a Visa Application to Russia by mail (for those centers that accept mail). Going in person is an option that cuts the time down to a week to 10 days depending on the Visa you’re applying for. In any case, as it is, I am getting close to the deadline necessary to go to the 2014 Race. The 30 day window closes in a few days. The 10 day window closes in a couple weeks. I am hoping that my Passport arrives quickly and that all goes well. In the past couple months of training I’ve achieved quite a few PR (PB) and top-3 personal records for some of the Strava segments I’ve run on. I even got a Male KOM (ascent speed best) for a segment on Rainier up to Pebble Creek. And I was “walking” it with a heart rate of 100. That inspired me that maybe I could go back to Elbrus Race and make a decent attempt. On the other hand, going up with the Photographers to the summit to await the champions (possibly with another attempt by Kilian) sounds enticing as well. Not sure yet. Still have to get that Passport back in enough time for the rest of the process.

I’m not telling you all of this so that you can pity me, or so that I can excuse myself. Rather I tell you all of this so that you can understand that I am working hard to overcome all the difficulties that the world is tossing at me seemingly to prevent my success. I fully believe that you are able to overcome your own difficulties even when it seems there is no way to do so.

The Qualifier in whiteout conditions for Elbrus Race 2013

The Qualifier in whiteout conditions for Elbrus Race 2013

I really want to go to Russia this year and get this one done!

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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 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.


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

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