Thursday, July 28, 2016

Sorry for the silence--quick update

So, when i last left you we were down from Elbrus and getting organized in Terskol--this was Monday.  The next day was to be an easy climb up Mt Cherget--about 12,000 feet--enough to get your blood flowing but not too much given the Elbrus summit.

Unfortunately, back home our beloved doggie, Roxy--who had been battling numerous enemies for the last 3-4 years, took a very bad turn for the worse (she has about 10 seizures over 5-6 hours).  Anders and I immediately decided to pull the plug and head home to help Judy and Jenny.  It took a bunch of effort to figure out how to change plans and get safely home from the hinterlands of the Caucasus Mountains but with a lot of help from Judy and IMG's travel agent we did figure it out.

We left Tuesday morning at 10 and faced by far the most objective dangers of the trip on our ride north from Terskol to Mineral city.    Three hours of object terror--I'll provide more detail in my summit report.  We then flew on to Moscow, during which Judy and Jenny made the decision (fulling discussed and supported by me and the family) to put little Roxy is a pic of me and Rox during better days...

I tried to be strong but this news put a bunch of chinks in my armor.  None-the-less,  upon arriving in Moscow Anders and i did make our why down from the airport to Red Square where we had a nice meal and toasted our beloved canine friend...

Yesterday involved 12 and 15 hours of airplane time for me and Anders respectively and now we are happily back in the USA--though really missing Roxy...

I'll get back on the program shortly as we celebrate Roxy's life and prepare for your reading 'enjoyment' one of my lengthy Summit Reports--expect it over the next 3-4 days, replete with many pictures.... 

Then its time for Alex and I to turn our attention to the challenges that Kili will no doubt present....stay tuned--it should be an excellent ride!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Some pics from Elbrus

Hi folks--RC here.  Our team is down safe and sound from our big day on the highest mountain in Europe.  Thanks to Judy for sharing with you some of the highlights of our adventure over the last few days--wish i could write as well as her.

As you know all 11 of us made it to the top.  It was especially gratifying for our lead guide, Mike Hamill, as it was his 100th professionally guided expedition--pretty remarkable in and of itself, but super special to be part of a 100% team on his 100th!  We all, for the most part meet as strangers at the start but as we work together we inevitably become much closer as a team.  It's really important to all of us on this team that we all summited.  It wasn't easy!

I'll write some more (in my usual Summit Report fashion) in the days ahead and also include a bunch of the photographic images our team captured (one of our team members Varun is an avid and exceptional photographer).  In the mean time, I thought you might enjoy a couple of photos from climb:

This first picture is one I took the evening before our climb.  The route moves up through the two sets of rocks in the foreground.  Then it basically heads straight for the Eastern Summit--the one on the right.  It then curves to the left and upward--if you look carefully you can see it in this picture.  It then curves around into the saddle or Col between the two peaks.  The final route is hidden from where we were based:

Anders getting ready--happy and raring to go!

We left at about 2:15 am and after about 3 hours of climbing, at our second rest stop above the Pastuckhova Rocks we look to the west and can see the shadow of Mt. Elbrus superimposed over the distant peaks.  We are at about 15,400 feet at this point:

Looking south from our perch above the Pastuckhova Rocks, we have a front row seat to the sunrise on the Caucasus mountains--truly an unforgettable sight!

Anders on the summit--his fifth highest continental highpoint summit.  Once again proudly displaying our family picture:

Mike Hamill providing me some guidance as we meet on the summit plateau--he had already summited with Anders, Aaron and Varun and I was still a good 45 minutes away...

Gina, Sasha, RC and Kristen on the peak!

My summit picture--earned the hard way!

Back at the hut after nearly 14 hours--tired but satisfied:

Team Christofferson--pretty great moment in my life!

Descending today we stopped for a photo with our good buddy, the V man!

Thanks for reading and your support, more to follow.  Oh, and i think we're climbing another (much smaller) mountain tomorrow!  Onward and upward!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Mentally and physically pushed to his limit, 14 hours later, Randy is back!

I honestly don't know whether to throw Randy a celebration party or lock him in a closet so he stops doing these things, but thankfully he just called and is back safe (but not quite sound) at their base camp huts.

He couldn't talk long because he was "completely wasted, dehydrated, and shaking", but he did manage to recap the highlights of his brutal day before heading inside to rehydrate, rest, and recover.

In Randy's words:
"Many times today I had to come to grips with not summiting; I really didn't think I would. But I just kept plugging on. This was so much harder than I expected. Much harder than summit day on Vinson, and up there with Aconcagua. I didn't expect that. I was lagging behind the guys, really struggling, so wasted.  I guess I wasn't adjusted enough to the altitude.  I tried every trick in the book and then invented some more.  For example, at one point on a long traverse, I would step, then say 2, 3, 4 and breath deeply on 3.  I just kept going "step, 2, 3, 4" and then doing it again. That kept me going for awhile. Then I'd try something new. We were lucky this morning because it was sunny, no intense lightening storms like the last few days.  But the wind was so strong and made it difficult the whole day.  I fell behind the guys and just could not keep up with them.  If it was just those guys and me, I would not have summited; I couldn't go that fast and would have had to turn back to not hold them up. 
But the great thing was, here I was behind the guys and ahead of the girls, then Gina suddenly showed up. She was really doing well and had moved ahead of the other girls. So we just stayed together and kept going. We were on a pretty intense part for a couple hours, basically curling around the base of the shorter peak of Elbrus, one of the two volcanoes, heading over to the saddle between the peaks and then the steep ascent to the higher volcanic peak.  You don't rope together on this traverse, but you CANNOT fall. There's a snowy platform from about 12" to 2 or 3 feet wide cutting across a steep slope with 3000 feet of exposure, and you have to stay focused.  For some reason, I ended up leading Gina and then some other scattered climbers who joined us on this traverse.  Crazy that I was leading because I was really struggling, but that's when I was doing by step 2,3 4 breathing.  We did this for a couple hours and just kept going. Gina did great, and we stayed together and made it to the steep saddle. The guys had waited for us, and at this point, Mike asked if I wanted to climb with  Anders and guys, but I knew there was no way I could keep up.  The other girls and Sasha had now caught up, so I went on the rope with the girls; the young guys and Mike went on their way ahead. It was so hard at this point; I was done.  But we kept on, and it was so awesome when we finally did summit. I was definitely crushed by then, but it was great to get up there with the girls.  The girls really helped me; we did this as a team and helped each other. It helped so much to go slower. No way I could have done this without them.

Authors (Judy's) note:  Go girls, you rock!!  Aren't women awesome?

So Randy talked a bit more, but was so depleted he really had to get off the phone and said he'll fill me in later, or more likely tomorrow when he isn't so spent.  Of course, he left me with one story that freaks me out a bit which I keep thinking about.  Not long after they summited, they had to descend that exposed, steep saddle where they rope together for safety.  Sasha, the guide, asked Randy to take the lead position, then Gina and Kristen, then Sasha would be anchor.  So Randy was first heading down the incline. Not five minutes into the descent Randy fell. He immediately drove his axe in the snow to self-arrest, and Gina, on the rope right behind him, did exactly what she was supposed to do which is get down and drive her axe and dig her crampons into the snow. So Randy didn't fall further and he didn't drag the team with him down the steep incline. Oh boy....  Then they got up and just kept going.  Just amazing.  And as described in my previous blog entry, once down to 16K, Gina and Kristen chose to take the offered snowcat ride back down to the huts, but as most would expect, Randy insisted on doing it old school and hiking back to base camp.  Sasha stayed with him, and he eventually trudged back to the huts 14 hours after departing in the wee hours.  He was physically wasted when he called, but definitely proud and thrilled to have summited.

Hopefully back at the hotel tomorrow Randy will blog and fill in more of the details and share some pictures.  In the meantime, hats off to the whole team, particularly those tenacious women, my amazing son Anders, and my unstoppable husband Randy!

Successful Summit! Anders fast and strong; Randy slower, but determined. No surprises.

"Hi Mom, We're safe, everything is good, and we summited!"

Anders just called from the huts at 13,500, having successfully endured the physically grueling climb to the top of Elbrus, at 18,500 ft, Europe's highest peak and the tenth most prominent peak in the world. While not as technically difficult as some of the other mountains he's summited, Elbrus is notorious for its brutal weather, unrelenting winds, and steep sections.  Today was definitely more demanding than Anders had anticipated.  But as usual, he was back at the huts in the first group, feeling "pretty good actually" and drinking a beer.

Phew, I (the mom) can breathe again!  Well, almost breath again because Randy is not quite back down the mountain yet, and it's currently white out conditions.  But..he should be back shortly; he's en route with an awesome guide and should show up at the huts within the hour.  More on this below.

Here's the highlights:

As I described yesterday, the 8 teammates had the option of taking a sno-cat up to 16,000 feet and start the summit attempt from there.  Two of the women opted for this route and Igor (one of the guides) went with them.

That left 6 climbers, (the 4 guys and 2 younger women) and 2 guides (Mike and Sasha).  The plan had been to leave camp at 2 am.  Anders said it took longer for the group to get going for some reason, but they set out as a group of 8, each bundled up with their headlamps and alpine gear, carrying about 20 pound packs.  Summit day they take just what they need, leaving the rest in the hut. When climbing steep slopes at altitude, a lighter pack is helpful. The wind was relentless all day, blowing at least 20 - 30 mph and higher as they ascended. It became clear early on that the climbers were moving at different speeds.  Anders and the two young guys were ahead, Randy lagging a bit behind them, and then the girls further back.  Anders' group waited for long periods of time for the rest to catch up, "massive breaks" as Anders called them.  Not that anyone minded taking a break, but it's a little challenging to stop for 45 minutes at a time after working hard and sweating, exposed to that cold, gusty weather.  It's not like there are shelters and benches.

Not surprisingly, when they approached the steepest and toughest part of the climb - in fact the only section with real exposure requiring them to rope together - the guides decided to divide the group into two.  Anders and the two younger guys went with Mike Hamill.  And Randy and the two young women went with Sasha.  On Anders fixed line, Mike was the lead and Anders the anchor.  Anders usually ends up being asked to take that position since it's prudent to have the most experienced climbers at the lead or end of the rope. And as Randy kept telling me, Anders was by far the strongest of the team.  Even before this steepest part, Randy was definitely feeling the toll of the tough day and still had much ahead to endure. Since Anders is younger and stronger, he took some of Randy's heavier equipment, like his camera and phone. One of the things about these father-son shared adventures that always strikes me is how committed Anders and Randy are to each other's success and well-being on the mountain.  In the midst of all my concern about their safety and hopes for a successful summit, I'm always just overwhelmed with this pure caring -- this synchronicity and generosity of spirit.
Anyway, back to the base of this steep climb.  In addition to some of Randy's gear, Mike asked Anders to carry extra rope and some pickets. So on this very steep, tough section, Anders was hauling about 35 pounds instead of his previous 20.  He really is strong and good at this stuff!

Both teams made it safely up this steep traverse, but at this point Anders team was much further ahead and the plan was to summit separately at their different speeds.  I will fill in more details about the actual summits later when they call back.  At this point, what I know is that it was extremely windy up there with "ok" visibility, too cold and gusty for Anders to call me from the top.  Anders was thrilled to have summited and super excited that Randy's team summited as well.  Anders team made it safely back to the huts, a total round trip of about 12 hours.  Because everyone was pretty depleted from todays efforts, the plan is to sleep in the huts tonight and recover, and head back down to what Anders calls the "sh***y" hotel in town".   He didn't mind at all staying up in the hut in his beloved mountain arena vs back to the dreary town.

So where is Randy and why isn't he back yet?  This will not be surprising to anyone who knows Randy well.  But after Randy, Sasha and the girls summited, they descended back down to about 16,000 feet and all were pretty wiped out.  They gave them the option to take the snowcat back to the huts at 13,500. Anders heard this and his reaction was, "I bet you my Dad won't do that.  Of course, Anders was right.  He knows his 13 times-Ironman stubborn Dad will persevere through almost anything to achieve a goal.  So while the girls did choose the ride down, my very determined and thankfully strong husband is still hiking down with the guide Sasha.  Anders wasn't worried about him, even though the clouds had descended and it was literally white out conditions. Sasha, the guide, is incredibly experienced having summited over 60 times.  As Anders put it, "Mom, you know Dad. He is strong and he is stubborn. He'll be here soon.  I'm really impressed with what he's pushing himself to do today. It's pretty awesome. "

So I'm impressed too, with both of them, even though a part of me thinks my strong-willed and headstrong husband is a little crazy!

Anders is so happy up in the mountains; he is in his element and he is skilled, strong, and positive. I'll feel better when I get the next call that Randy is back at the hut, but I'm optimistic it will be soon.  I'm sure he will be physically wasted, but he'll be very proud and very glad he didn't take the uber option home!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Gearing up for likely Summit Push Tomorrow!

Recap of last night and today’s acclimatization climb:

Last night was a rough night for most of the team.  For one, a 50mph wind was roaring; to be precise, “friggin' ripping” was how Randy described it.  Also, adjusting to sleeping at 13,500 isn’t easy, but that’s exactly the point of spending time at this level.  All of the climbers were struggling with altitude effects overnight. Randy said he tossed and turned; his head and stomach ached. He slept less than an hour, but the human body is very resilient and adaptable. For Randy, drinking about a liter of water overnight then waking up to coffee, breakfast, and half an Aleve was all he needed to feel refreshed and ready to go. Anders also was experiencing some milder altitude effects, but managed to sleep a couple hours.  The C boys were both feeling really strong this morning and psyched for the planned climb to 15,000 feet.

Here's the view from 13,500 feet:

The morning dawned sunny and clear, relatively mild at 32 degrees, but the still blowing 20mph at 13.5K.  Mike, their head guide, determined the team could handle this, so they donned their crampons, bundled up, wore face protection and rolled at 9am. They set off straight up the slope in what Randy called “really tough conditions”. It was a steady, steep (average 25% grade) slope.  The snow was firm, but chewed up from snowmobiles and Sno-cats, so they didn’t have to rope together. The wind gusts were up to 40mph making it feel more frigid and challenging especially for the smaller framed women.  A couple weigh less than 120, so those winds are tough to endure. Yet they all made it to 14,600 in 70 minutes. At that point, Mike decided the wind was too strong, so they descended back to the huts, as planned. 
Both Randy and Anders felt great the whole way, and notably, Randy’s bad knee isn’t bothering him at all, even on the descent.  They are ready and raring to go for the summit.

Speaking of Summit Plans:

Here's their ultimate goal, the West summit of the Elbrus:

The next three days are all possible summit days. Mike Hamill will consult with Phil Ershler, Direction of IMG and major mountaineer, consider the team and environmental conditions, and choose the timing for the summit push. There is a very strong possibility that the team will try tomorrow. (Yikes!) If so, they would get a wake up call at 1am tonight, leave at 2am to climb steep, icy slopes in very demanding conditions in the dark with headlamps.  I'm sure everyone's idea of a good time!  The goal is making it up to the summit around 9am.  It will be frigid and howling up there, so they’ll take some pictures, high five, and book it back down to the hut.  The descent back to Igor’s hut at 13,500 should take approximately 3 hours.  Once back at the hut, they may rest or decide to pack up and descend another 1000 feet back to the cable cars.  The plan would be to make it all the way back to their hotel in Terskol, so about a 15 – 18 hour day.  Of course so many things could change.  Everything is contingent on the weather, the climbers’ energy levels, any health issues or altitude problems, and, of course, whether they reached the summit.  For example, they could make it halfway up, or even close to the summit, and have to turn back because of dangerous winds.  If that happens on Day One of the three day window, they might decide to try again.   

Here’s another wrinkle: on today’s climb, everyone made it up to 14,600 but there was a clear diversity in the capabilities, endurance, and strength of the 8 team members.  Elbrus is unusual in that there is an alternative option to attempt the summit that some on the team are considering.  They can take a Sno-cat to 16,000 feet, then attempt to climb the 2500 up to the peak.  Purists might say this is “cheating” but all the climbing teams take the gondolas to 12,500 and that’s the acceptable route, so it’s all up for debate.  As you might imagine, Anders and Randy are opting to go “old school” and climb from 13,500, as are the two other male teammates.  They will climb with two of the guides, Mike and Sasha. All the women (3 in their 30’s, one 41) are considering the Sno-cat alternative.  In fact, Danielja who tried to summit last year but was unsuccessful, is definitely going on the cat with Igor, the third guide.  The other 3 women were making their decision this evening.

I imagine that is a tough call and it will be interesting to hear what they decide.  In any case, let’s all send them positive thoughts and hope they all make it up to stand on the highest point in Europe!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Made it up to Igor's Hut -- Home for the next few days

Randy called from 13,500 ft to report on a very successful day. I can always tell when they are starting to get into the thinner air because they sound just a little out of breath.  He and Anders both were feeling great, though, and not experiencing any problems from the higher altitude.

Here's a picture of the very crude, but adequate high hut where they will stay to further their acclimatization and position themselves for a summit attempt.

There are a couple of separate quarters with sleep platforms and a center room for eating.  Nothing fancy, but it's good protection from intense Elbrus weather.   The team divided up into smaller groups, particularly since a couple of the women had pretty bad colds and they were trying to keep everyone healthy for the challenges ahead.  A couple of the teammates were also feeling a little sick from the altitude so let's hope everyone gets some rest and wakes up tomorrow feeling better.

They are climbing with three guides, Mike Hamill (lead guide), Sasha, and Igor.  Igor is from St. Petersburg and has teamed up with IMG as a guide and trip facilitator.  Back in the Soviet days, he was one of the national champions in climbing and this is actually his private hut.   The other guide, Sasha, 29 and mother of a one-year old, has climbed Elbrus so many times, she said she stopped counting at 60.  Their very well-respected head guide Mike Hamill, a former D-1 collegiate skier and Junior Olympian, has been guiding since 1997.  He has climbed each of the 7 summits numerous times, and is friends with Anders and Randy from previous climbs.  Given the inherent risk in high altitude mountaineering, it certainly helps me to know they are in such capable hands up there.

The hike up today went really well.  They first took the cable car back up to 12,500.  Then they climbed another 1000 feet vertical in about 70 minutes to their base camp hut. Unlike yesterday's training hike, today they were carrying all the gear and clothes they need for the duration.  Randy gave special kudos to the woman who are all much smaller than he and Anders, and did a great job climbing with pretty heavy packs.  One of the major things that distinguishes experienced climbers from less experienced is how much "stuff" they bring on these trips.  Randy and Anders make a very concerted effort to bring as little as possible, but everything they need.  Less is more when you have to carry it - especially uphill!  They talk about gear and sort gear for hours and hours.  You should see our basement, kitchen table, and front hall the week before Randy leaves on one of these trips! (see Randy's gear list below) A couple of the women hadn't been quite as minimalist as the guys (nice way of say they overpacked), and actually had heavier packs than Randy and Anders.  Randy's pack is 65 litres, and he was hauling about 40 lbs today.  One of the women's pack is 110 liters, and he estimated she carried at least 60 lbs today, and yes, at altitude. Very impressive.

Randy's List -- Checking it Twice...

When I first spoke to Randy, winds at 13,500 feet were about 20 - 30mph and it was a balmy 20 degrees.  None of the other teams made any summit attempts today since winds at the top (18,500') were over 50 mph. And with temps up there around 10 degrees, the wind chill was well below zero.

To further acclimatize, the team plans to climb up to about 15,000' tomorrow and then back down to the hut.  Then the next three days are all possible summit windows, depending on the weather.  Summit day starts around midnight with the goal to be up on the summit around 7 or 8 am, then back down to the hut.  It is a very long and demanding day, and can only be attempted if the weather cooperates.

Here's the weather forecast at the summit for the next few days.  Of course things change all the time in the mountains, so the head guide will be keeping close watch to determine a summit window.

I spoke to Randy and Anders again at the end of the day, the skies had cleared and the view was spectacular.  For the first time, they could clearly see the imposing Caucasus Mountain Range and particularly the two peaks of Elbrus (below).  The sun was setting and the sky was pink and dramatic.  They both sounded excited and so very happy to be on the mountain, in their element.  Anders in particular had just about "tapped out" on the hotel mystery food, so he was relieved to be eating the food the guides cooked up on the slope.  He just loves being up in the mountains, telling me how beautiful it was, how awesome he was feeling, how psyched for what's ahead.  It's hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm.  They both were energized for the day tomorrow and ready to test themselves on a pretty significant climb to 15K.

Below a view of the twin peaks of Mt. Elbrus.

The picture below is from yesterday's snow training -- all practicing their self-arrest as described in the prior blog.  The guide posted this today on his blog.

Training Day and Move to the Slopes

Ok, much is happening now so I'll (Judy) fill in a little bit more about their training day and the plans ahead.

Yesterday's Recap:

Wednesday night was a huge storm with intense lightening and torrential rain, but they guys slept really well in their small cot-like beds in their Terskol hotel.  The town, a border town between Russia and Georgia, sounds a bit dismal from their descriptions. It doesn't look bad in this picture below, but it seems the locals are not very friendly, alcoholism is rampant, and the food is disappointing.
The upside, I guess, is avoiding the bad weather up on the slopes for a few days vs. the usual tent experience from Day One of a climb.  They have both been high up in the mountains in intense weather, and I know that's not fun for them, or us at home!  Another mountaineering group that Anders and Randy have climbed with before, RMI, has a team climbing Elbrus a day or two ahead of their IMG group.  I've been reading RMI's blog and they've been facing that same lightening up and severe weather on the mountain.  Their guide blogged that he hadn't seen weather this bad on Elbrus since 2002.  So let's hope Mother Nature calms down before our guys head up there for their summit attempt.
Lucky for our group, the weather cleared a bit by 7 AM, so their plans for a training and another acclimatization day were on.  They had breakfast and drove over to Azau where a third gondola was recently completed to take skiers, mountaineers, and military training groups up to an altitude of 12,500.

They spent a couple hours out on the snowy slopes reviewing basic mountaineering techniques:  duck walking, cross-over steps, ice-axe proficiency.  They put on their crampons for the first time this trip (metal plates with spikes fixed to their boots for walking on ice/snow) and practiced the all important "self-arrest" move.  For those who might not be familiar, self-arrest is a movement employed in mountaineering where a climbers who has fallen and is sliding down an ice or snow-covered slope "arrests" his or her slide by using an ice-axe and a combination of boots, hands, elbows, etc.
One thing to note here:  Anders and Randy are both well-trained and experienced using these techniques. Some of their previous major expeditions, like Vinson in Antartica, required them to submit a climbing resume to prove they know their stuff.  At a place like Vinson, there is no "training day"; they just get out there and start working as a team to make their way up the massive mountain.  But, Anders and Randy love to work on these things, so they appreciated a chance to get out on the snow and work on their movements and dexterity a bit.
 According to Randy, a few of the less-experienced group were a bit tentative trying out the self-arrest move; they would sit on the snow and push off to start a gradual slide.  In contrast, Anders would tear down the slope, leap into a slide, and quickly maneuver his body and ice axe to halt his descent.  As my kids would say, "Nice Ders".....  Needless to say, he loves this stuff.

Randy and Anders' team practicing their maneuvers on a foggy day on the mountain

The weather was pretty dismal up there today: low visibility, rain, even stinging sleet at times.  So the group only stayed up there a couple hours, a pretty mellow day in terms of effort.  In fact, after they came back down to Terskol, Randy and Anders felt great, so they walked a mile to a store to buy back pack covers given all the rain in the forecast.  Back at the hotel, they sorted gear and packed up their backpacks for the next day, had another group dinner with pretty unpleasant food, and rested for their move onto the slopes.

Now...On to the Mountain!

The plan today was to move up to the mountain and leave the hotel behind, which I know the guys will not mind at all!  They were heading back to the same cable cars to get up to about 12,500.  Then they would all climb another 1000 feet to some very basic huts which will be their home for duration of the climb. Tomorrow they will climb up to 14,500 and then back again to the huts.  Then the next three days are all possible summit days. Their head guide, Mike Hammil, will be carefully checking the weather and will choose the best day to make their attempt.  Because the weather can get so nasty on Elbrus, they try to be up on the summit by around 7 or 8 AM, which means leaving the hut around midnight or 1AM with their headlamps to light their way.  It's a very long, tough day, and we'll all be pulling for them!  Here's the guys ready for their climb.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Quick update: Headed to the higher mountains with crampons, ice-axes, and cold weather gear

(Judy here)

I spoke to Randy and Anders as they were hanging out in their room last night, getting their gear and bigger packs ready to do some real mountaineering today. 

The plan was to get up early today and drive about 2 kilometers over to Azau, where a cable car service would take them to the upper mountain so for another training/acclimatization climb.  Unlike yesterday's trek, the higher altitudes will allow them to get out on the snow and ice with their crampons, ropes, and ice axes. This is a great opportunity for the climbers to get used to higher altitudes and colder temps. Also, it's a chance for guides to see how comfortable the team members are with the more technical components of the climb.  They will be roped together later in the week when they are making their summit attempt, so everyone needs to be very comfortable with mountaineering techniques, particularly using their ice-axe to self-arrest if they happen to slip.  That's not something I love to think about, and actually not something that happens frequently, but they absolutely need to know how to do it.

They had massive thunderstorms last night, so were a bit delayed this morning waiting for the skies to clear but they did leave around 9:30.

Randy just texted with an update from their day today.  In his words: "we spent the day in snow school between 12.5 and 13K.  Pretty nasty conditions with limited visibility and large, wind-driven sleet at times.  We both feel great. Anders was a rock star and I (Randy) received a passing grade.  Moving up to the hut tomorrow."

Hopefully Randy will have time to blog and fill in some of the details, but sounds like they are doing well and heading to Elbrus tomorrow for the real fun to begin!  More later when I hear from the guys, or Randy has a chance to write. 


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Finally in the mountains! Our first acclimatization hike

Randy here.  We awoke this morning to pretty nice weather and had some butter soaked eggs and a bunch of other food I can't really describe.  Anders brought the Vias so at least we had some good Java!

The 10 of us rolled out of the hotel around 9:15 or so and spent just under 4:30 hiking up to around 10,000 feet.  The mountains around here are much prettier than I had expected and the whole team did well and we all felt strong.  Mike had predicted 5-6 hours so either we did well or he was hedging his expectations.  In any event, we had a great time hiking up to the Elbrus Observatory and then returning.  We just finished lunch which included a stroganoff thing (very good) and some sort of pink soup (less so).  

Anders and I are chilling a bit for the next few hours.  Mike will come by later to do a gear check and we have a late dinner here again at the hotel.  Tomorrow, we are to take the tram up onto Elbrus itself and practice on the snow/ice with all of our technical gear--so later this afternoon we'll need to organize our bigger packs for tomorrow.

Here is a summary of our climb today:

Some pictures from last night when we moved from St. Pete to Terskol:

The only store in Mineralyvne Vody airport:

Mike's birthday!

Your guess is as good as mine:

And pics from today:

Not the Ritz, but settled and ready to climb....

Some weary Christofferson boys called tonight after 13 hours traveling to their base for the next few days: the Hotel "Wolfram" in the village of Terskol.   First a 3-hour flight in some obscure airline to Mineralnye Vody; then a struggle to haul all their bulky packs and climbing gear through the airport with lots of Russians asking them things they didn't understand.  Then they squeezed into a small van for  a several hour twisty and bumpy ride to get to their remote destination at the base of the Caucasus Mountains.  Some of the group felt a little carsick, but Randy and Anders were doing fine and glad to finally arrive (around 11pm Russian time after leaving at 10am).  They had a quick dinner with some "mystery meat", and were finally settling into their room.

Here's an ever-positive Anders in their home-away-from-home for the next few days, from where they will make several acclimatization climbs in the surrounding mountain range.  Kind of looks like they went back to college!

Randy and Anders' Dorm Room in Terskol
Not sure those are actually beds in the background, but they don't look very large!  Randy said the hotel is a bit "sketchy", and they were planning to sleep in their sleeping bags and certainly not drink the water.  You can't just run out and buy some Evian, so they were going to use their purifier and treat the hotel water before drinking.

The plan was to hike up about 3000 feet to start getting their mountain legs and acclimating to skinny air.  Terskol sits at 7000 feet, so they'll get up to about 10K today.  They are still much lower than the peak of Elbrus at almost 19K, so they won't be hiking in snow or ice today, but they will likely get above the tree line. Unfortunately the weather forecast was rain, so they were packing their foul weather gear for the soggy day ahead. That being said, they were in good spirits, a little beat up from a long trip, but feeling healthy and strong and ready to get on with what they love to do --- challenge themselves to hike higher and higher in thinner and thinner air on steeper and steepers slopes, appreciate the beauty of the mountains, the support of the guides,  and the fellowship  of the team, while remaining strong and positive.   A piece of cake, right?

As an addendum to yesterday's blog post, here's a couple more team pictures that their climbing company, IMG, posted on their site yesterday from their time in St. Petersburg:

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Finally on their way to Mt. Elbrus - Long Travel Day Ahead

Hi from Judy, updating you all on the boys' latest escapades.

This morning they did a couple more hours of sightseeing in St. Petersburg.  Today's highlight was The Hermitage, one of the oldest and most venerated museums in the world.  It was founded by Catherine the Great in the 1700's to house her expansive collection, and Randy said it was beautiful and interesting.  But let's face it.  The guys really went on this trip to climb Mt. Elbrus, Europe's tallest mountain at 18,841'. Experiencing some of Russia's culture was certainly appealing, especially in one of it's most impressive and beautiful cities, but after a long day on their feet yesterday and a couple hours in a museum today, they are raring to get out there and climb.  So to the mountains they go!

After the Hermitage, the team flew to Mineralnye Vody (mineral waters in Russian), a town located along the Kuma River.  From there they  travel by bus, about 3 hours, to the Caucasus Mountains, their destination.

As I wrote this, Randy sent me a picture from his "tiny bus on the way to Terskol".

This expedition is a little different from their prior ones in that they will be staying in a ski village (Tersko) and spending several days making some practice climbs in the Caucasus mountains to acclimatize, train, and practice snow mountaineering techniques.  This also gives the guides a chance to get to know the team and assess the abilities of the members so they can give appropriate guidance.

The ski town of Tersko. In the winter, Tersko is a ski town.  In the summer, the cable car takes hikers up into the mountains to hike and climb.
The lodge at the base of the Caucasus Mountains.  These are some of the slopes where they will be making their acclimatization climbs. 
Speaking of the team, and since when I take over the blog I enjoy the "human interest" part of the journey, here's what I know so far.  I might be correcting a bit of this as Randy and Anders get to know their teammates better, but here's the rundown.

There are 8 climbers and 3 guides, which is a healthy ratio, since some of the group are not that experienced, and if a guide has to descend with one of the guests, the remaining group will still have two guides for a summit attempt.  Besides the guides, Mike, Igor and Sasha whom I'll describe later, there are 4 women and 4 male team members.  

Aaron: A male nurse from Seattle, in his 30's.  He's climbed Mt. Rainer in Seattle, but hasn't had a lot of mountaineering experience.  He said one of his goals on this trip is to see if this is something he wants to continue to do.

Varun:  In his early 30's, a software engineer from India.  Apparently, he's into science fiction and Porsches.  I hope he's also into mountain climbing.

Danijela:  A flight attendant from Croatia.  She's had the most experience of the women, having climbed Aconcagua and some mountains in the Himalayas.  She tried to climb Elbrus last year and wasn't able to summit, so is back for Round 2.

Joanne: A mother of two from New Zealand.  She has had a little mountaineering experience, but Randy said she's really fit and great attitude so let's hope she makes it to the top.

Gina: A 30-something from New York.  Climbed Kilimanjaro and Mt. Rainer about 6 or 7 years ago, but not much recent mountaineering experience.

Kristin:  Another 30-something from Houston.  She's relatively quiet so far, so the guys don't know much about her background.  I'm sure they'll all get to know each other better as they move ahead.

Beside that there's Anders and Randy.  Here's my observations:

1. Go women!!  These four ladies each came solo on this trip; that takes guts and I admire that. There are two Mom's, and I will be cheering for them all to summit safely. 
2. The overall mountaineering experience of the team is a bit low compared with all the other expeditions Randy and Anders have been on.  I hope this isn't an impediment to the team's progress, but the climbers seem fit. Elbrus is challenging, but not overly technical, so hopefully they will all step up and work together and have a successful and, most importantly, safe climb. 
3.  Randy is by far the oldest, as usual!  But as we know he is fit, experienced, and God knows, determined.
4.  Anders is the most experienced climber. That being said, nothing is a given on a mountain, so he'll be challenged by the steep terrain, the altitude and the cold just like everyone else.

That's it for now...more when I hear from the guys. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

St. Petersburg--seeing the sites

I had a lot of trouble sleeping last night--probably only got about 45 minutes.  Anders was able to get a solid 6 hours.  I hope to catch up tonight.  anyways, we rolled out of bed at 5:45 or so and went for a 5+ mile run around the Winter Palace (of Catherine the Great), Hermitage, the Fortress and a bunch of bridges.  We finished it off doing sprints in front of the Winter Palace in the big square there (sprints being a loosely applied term in my case).  Great, super-fun run--I felt pretty darn good...especially with no sleep!

After  breakfast we went for a very long sightseeing session--lots of walking for tired feet.  Anders and I skipped the group lunch and opted for some stir-fry as opposed to some dismal looking hotel food.  We then headed out for 4 more hours of sight-seeing including a cruise on the canals in St. Pete.  A long day, but a lot of cool sights.  My Garmin tells me I've walked 12.2 miles already today so probably some good exercise pre-climb.  Hopefully it will lead to a good sleep tonight.

We are about to head out for a team dinner and then will spend the early day in St. P tomorrow before heading down to Elbrus land tomorrow evening....

Here are some pics from this morning and afternoon...

Anders, wishing I'd leave him be....

On the metro:

At a local market inspecting the goods:

Anders admiring local Russian Orthodox art work:

Down by the water....

Me, hanging with St P's famous good luck Griffins...I think we might be related:

St P looking fine despite the gloom of the day:

Together again on another adventure--couldn't be more happy!

Classic Russian Onion Towers:

Mike and Anders yucking it up on the boat:

Lots of ducking on this cruise!