It stopped! It finally stopped! After four hours of being around the whole time, it stopped, petrified, and there was nothing left but silence. Whether you climb the Elbrus, Mont Blanc, or the Matterhorn, the wind always speaks the same language. Cold. Extremely cold.

How can the wind stop at the very top, at over 5000 meters? What is happening?

I take a few more steps, and I can see it. It’s there. The shiny metal plate appeared in front of me, and after a few minutes, I was holding the symbol of Russia’s mountains in my hands. Two pairs of gloves and the cold metal triangle was still burning my hands. The stress of the last few months and the physical tension of the previous ten days brought me to my knees, where I found out that I still had many tears left. For five minutes, at -15 degrees, on my knees, all I did was cry. I was home.

I remembered a story from the past that people are born with a limited number of tears. Some use them in times of sadness, others in times of joy. It would be such a pity to waste your tears only on bad things!

Elbrus, with an altitude of 5642 m, is the highest mountain in the Caucasus mountain range. It runs from west to east, from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, passing through Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, and represents the dividing line between Europe and Asia.
It belongs to the Greater Caucasus group, 20 km north of the main ridge and 65 km southwest of the Russian city of Kislovodsk. It is located in the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic of Russia, about 11 km north of the Georgian border and 270 km northwest of Tbilisi.

The mountain is an extinct volcano that has two peaks, “West Peak” (5,642 m) and “East Peak” (5,621 m), and both are covered by glaciers (145 km²); the distance between the peaks is 1500 m and the highest point of the peak is the crater rim.

Because of this geographical position and the convention that the continental boundary is that of the watersheds, Elbrus is located in Europe, with 5642 m of the western peak, the highest mountain, and the highest volcano on the continent.

It is also, with a prominence of 4741 m, the tenth highest mountain in the world and the third volcano of the 7 Volcanoes Circuit, after Ojos del Salado in South America and Pico de Orizaba in North America.

The exact etymology and origin of the name Elbrus is not known. One version originates in Persian, from “Al Borgia” or “Zend Alborz” – “High Mountain.” In Iran, there is the Alborz mountain range, which also has an accord with the name Elbrus. The mountain is called by the Arabs “Dschabal al-alsun” – “Mountain of different tongues,” and other peoples have called it the “King of spirits,” “Throne of the gods,” “Place of the lucky ones,” or “Holy height.”

In the neighboring Karachai-Balkarian and Kabardian Oshkhamakho republics, Elbrus is called “Mingi Taw,” which literally means “Mountain of a Thousand Mountains.” However, the meaning is different: in Karachai-Balkar, it can be translated as “The mountain around which wind spirals,” and in Kabardian Oshkhamakho, it is translated as “The mountain of happiness” (from ‘uaschhe’ – mound, hill, mountain and ‘mahue’ – happiness). In the Turkic languages of the local people, Elbrus is called “Jin-King” or “Lord of the Spirits,” and in Abkhazian, “Orfi-Tib” or “Blessed Mountain.”

The first ascent of the western peak was in 1829 by local guide Kilar Khashirov, and in 1925, Aleksandra Japharidze was the first woman to set foot on the summit.

The petrographic structure of Elbrus, a stratovolcano, consists of dacite and andesite, where a caldera with a diameter of 14×17 km was formed during the Holocene period. The last eruption of Elbrus took place 2000 thousand years ago (± 50 BC), and traces of volcanic lava were found over an area of 250 km². On the eastern peak, the crater with a diameter of 200 m can still be seen today.

The beginning. After successfully climbing Mont Blanc two years ago, I started the 7 Summits project. After that journey, I learned that Mont Blanc is actually the highest only in the European Union, not Europe. Interesting. On the one hand, I was sad that Mont Blanc wasn’t even part of the 7 summits; on the other hand, I was glad there was so much more to see.

Thinking about all 7 summits, I felt fear: the 7 summits, isn’t that a bit too much? Still, I don’t have to do them all at the same time. What if I did them in several years? What if I did one every year? Finding a way to comfort myself, I thought: if one is possible, why not all? If there have been people before, it means that it is doable.

In addition, this is what I recommend to participants in the NLP courses I teach. Fear is normal and is part of life. In the end, it is not fear that is important but attitude in the presence of fear. In short, this attitude is called courage. If I don’t apply these concepts, I should quickly find another job.

Did you know that now, Google shows you can drive to Elbrus? It takes 35 hours if you drive from Munich, and the route is… hold on… directly through Ukraine! What a huge surprise when I started looking for routes to the highest mountain in Europe.

Under the current political conditions, a direct flight to Russia was impossible. The advantage is that an alternative route is flying via Istanbul. We decided to allocate one extra day to Istanbul, stay overnight there, and fly to Russia the next day at Mineralnje Vody. In the same way, on the way back, we decided to do the trip in two stages, with a stopover in Istanbul.

Yes, I read about the trip. Not so much, but enough to know what I was getting into. The tour could also be done without a guide, but the timing needs to be right. Just a year after the opening of the borders after the coronavirus pandemic and in the middle of the military conflict, going on my own in a country where I don’t even understand the alphabet would have been a big mistake.

After deciding, I started looking for a specialized travel agency or some experienced guides, and after a few days of research and an intense email exchange, we had only two possible agencies for this expedition.

With my travel partner, I decided to work with Elbrus-Tours, a Russian company with about 15 years of experience organizing and guiding tourists on the highest mountain in Europe.

You need a tourist visa to travel to Russia as a German citizen. After my friend and I tried to make an appointment at the Russian embassy in Munich, we decided to work with a visa company. We had some extra costs of about 150 Euros per person, but after only a week, we saw the tourist visa attached to our passport.

The best season to climb Mount Elbrus starts in June and ends at the end of September. Temperatures at the summit are around -10 -15 degrees in summer, making the peak season in July and August.

As mentioned above, Mount Elbrus has two summits, the west summit at 5642 m and the east summit at 5621 m, and the ascent can be done in two ways: using the southern route starting from Azau or the northern route from Kislovodsk.

On the southern route, the peak can be reached using cable cars and mechanized sleds, while on the northern route, the summit can be reached in the classic backpacking way. After traveling so far, wouldn’t it be a shame to use the mechanized route?

Здравствуйте, Спасибо, до свидания – Zdravstvuyte, Spasibo, Do svidaniya – hello, thank you, goodbye — the most important words in Russia. Once you enter this country, it’s good to know a few words to understand these people’s lives more quickly. After all, the people of those places are also part of this trip, along with glaciers, cliffs, and mountain goats.

Day 1 – 27th July – Thursday
We left for the airport at 7:20 and took the Turkish Airlines plane to Istanbul. In Munich, on the aircraft, I asked the flight attendant which airport we were landing at just before take-off, as there are three airports in Istanbul. I found a hotel about 10 km from the landing place and booked. If I had booked at another hotel near another airport, I could have lost 2 hours just on the way.

The flight was short, and we arrived in Istanbul in less than 3 hours. The taxi ride to the hotel was another 20 minutes or so, and after eating some Turkish specialties – around 9 pm, we went to bed.

Day 2 – 28th July – Friday
We had breakfast early, around 7:30, and headed to the airport as we didn’t want to risk it. Having an extra hour in the airport is better than having one less. Luck was on our side, and we found a very well-organized airport. We quickly found the terminal for Russia, but we were surprised when we noticed that we were the only foreigners traveling to Russia. The staff also looked at us a bit surprised, and after they wrote our names on a separate list, we were left alone.

The flight from Istanbul to Mineralnje Vody was short, about 2 hours, and after landing, we met our guides: Alexei and his wife, Veronica.

The four of us drove to Kislovodsk and checked in at a local hotel.
After checking the equipment and getting advice from the guides, I rented an extra jacket, some ski goggles, and a boot protector. I don’t think I’ll need it, but let’s see… We exited the hotel, and where do you think I got one of the best pizzas in my life? Italy?.. nope. Alexei took us to a place where the pizza had five stars plus. With a full stomach that boosted our optimism, a thought came to mind: the trip was off to a good start.

Day 3 – 29th July – Saturday
Two cheese and spinach pies – that was breakfast. Not a lot, not a little. Not bad, not good. Still, it was acceptable. We got the luggage from the room and took a bus to base camp at 2500m. The bus curved on the cold asphalt road for two hours and another hour on a soft dirt road. On the edge of a highly steep valley, I thought how good it was that it wasn’t raining. If it had rained, surely the road would have been much longer. Or sorter, you never know. Finally, we reached basecamp, where we quickly set off on a short acclimatization tour up to 2850m.

Day 4 – 30th July – Sunday
What do you do when you’re on the mountain? Well, you do hike after hike. The goal is to acclimatize as best you can, and the best method is to hike up and sleep low. So, early morning, right after breakfast, we set off on a hike up to 3800 m. On that day, we went to the German Airfield and the Moon Field.

The first one is called German Airfield because this is where some German planes landed in WWII. The other important point of the hike was Moon Field, which earned this name because Russian specialists and cosmonauts tested moonwalking machines here.

After a full day, at about 5 pm, we saw basecamp once again and had one more reason to celebrate: Alexei, our guide, celebrated his birthday.

A huge fear. That’s what I was feeling. I was very upset because my stomach was hurting extremely. What had I eaten? Then, another kind of pain was making its way more and more into my eyes, where I felt the right eye pulse, with its pain spreading to the whole middle of my head.
I had planned so much, and I was so close. Could I not reach the top?
I typed that question into my phone and was scared to reread the letters I wrote.

Day 5 – 31st July – Monday
We moved from 2500m to 3800m, and at the base of 3800, we met only one foreign tourist—Clement, from France. The war and coronavirus have greatly influenced tourism in Russia, as there were only three tourists in a camp that used to host over 100 people on the good days. Incredible.

On the way to 3800m, the pain increased, and all sorts of negative thoughts came to me. This negativity was consuming all my time, and I no longer enjoyed the hike. Is this really what I wanted to do all day long? Wanting to change this, I imagined walking with my friends Maston and Ioannis. How would they react to everything? I remembered our joy when we went on hikes, and my mood changed. Everywhere I looked, Maston or Ioannis were nearby. With them by my side, I enjoyed what was around me again.

My stomach ache had reduced, and all was well until I ate a piece of candy. Then, the stomach pains started again. I wondered how long it would last because I was fed up after three days of eating rice. I hope to recover because I need all the energy sweets and bars offered on the summit day.

Day 6 – 1st August – Tuesday
In the VIP hut, it was okay, but still a bit hard and uncomfortable without a pillow. Still, it is more comfortable than the standard tents. Unfortunately, my eye was getting worse, and I couldn’t see clearly. A fog was in front of my right eye, and a giant pain was in the back of my head. After three days of taking eye medication from the first aid kit from Munich, I was willing to do anything, as I felt no improvement. So, I accepted some medication from Alexei and Veronica, which seemed to improve.

At 3800m, we changed the rocky landscape for the glacier one. The sun was on our side, and we continued our acclimatization with a hike up to 4600m. We hiked at a pace of 200-250, and in 4 hours with breaks, we reached our destination for the day.

The good news was that my stomach was much better. I hardly felt any pain, but I did not risk eating anything sweet. I’ll leave sweets for the summit day. Another day without anything sweet was fine.

Day 7 – 2nd Aug – Wednesday
Rest day. Alexei told us the weather forecast at breakfast and that we would start for the summit at midnight. He shared the plan with us: we will begin to walk all night to be back by noon the next day as the weather gets bad. Getting caught in bad weather at 5000 meters is something every sane person wants to avoid. After lunch, Alexei came, and we did the backpack check for the summit. What to take and what not to take. It would have been sad not to reach the summit because you lacked something, water or food.

The day was not only for recovery, but we also used it for ice axe training, how to stop in case of a slip. Two cases on the front, head up and down, two on the back, head up and down. It was exciting stuff, and I had no idea it was possible to stop when falling with your head first.

Day 8 – 3rd Aug – Thursday
Summit day. Have you ever had breakfast at 10 pm? Honestly, neither have I so far. However, the alarm went off like a bell from the Sunday church, and at 10 pm, we gathered in the dining room. We ate as much as we could, and after a strong black coffee at 11 pm, we set off.

Every hour, we took 5-10 min breaks at a steady pace of 200.
We went super slow, and by the second break, I already felt that 10 minutes was too much. With the blowing wind, we decided that 5 minutes for hydration were enough from now on.

Because we were walking exceptionally slowly, my toes started to get cold. Step by step, I was pushing my toes inside my shoes to have additional movement. On my hands, even though I began with regular gloves, I took the other ski pair from the second hydration break over the regular one. It started to be cold. Extremely cold.

The full moon accompanied us all night, and by 4 am, when we crossed the glacier to the west summit, the icy and powerful wind made me put on another layer.

The glacier was there, and Alexei checked every step — three kilometers in two hours. The rope between us was always stretched, feeling every move of the one in front and behind. The crunching sound of the snow and the wind whistle confirmed where we were: 5000 meters, -15 degrees, with a 50 km/h wind.

A ray of hope for the success of the ascent came when, at 5200 meters, we saw the sunrise. It confirmed once again the reason for all my ascents. It confirmed that moments of peace, balance, and clarity exist at the same time. Moments when the mind stops, the thoughts disappear, and there is only joy and stillness. Moments when you just are. And that’s all of it.

At 5200m, Klaus’s body said stop, and our guide Alexei decided he had to go back. At over 100 ascents on Elbrus, he informed us that the risk of his physical condition getting worse was too great. We looked at each other, but neither of us said anything. We hugged each other and just cried. Shit. It hurt, but my ascent continued with Veronica, the assistant guide. After a few minutes, we set off, and it was already light when we started the last part of the summit.

At the safety rope, we were lucky that there weren’t many people, and the mountaineers who were there and strolling decided to stand aside and let us pass. Although only the two of us had come by the northern route, we were the fastest.

We reached the Zombie Plateau, and for 300-500 meters, we walked horizontally. We saw the summit, and at 10 am, after 11 hours of hiking, we reached it.

We were alone on the summit, just Veronica and me. Nobody else. Tears came out one, then another, and after a few moments, I found myself kneeling next to the metal plate. I cried for everything I’d experienced in the last few days: the airport in Russia, the stomachache, the pain in my eye, the separation from Klaus, the icy wind, the cold.

We began to go back, and on the way, I started to wonder how much we walked so far. We tied and secured ourselves to each other and set off across the crevasse-filled glacier. There were many crevasses, but I searched and walked like a cat on the hunt on the tracks left by Alexei and Klaus. Step by step, we were leaving behind this mined field packed with hidden crevasses.

Silence. That’s all we heard. For three kilometers, we communicated only through the rope between us. Time stopped, and I didn’t even know when and how an hour passed. Now, in the daylight, I saw how far and where we walked. Incredible.

At the hut, we were welcomed with open arms and celebrated with cola and waffles. We ate, and I returned to our tent, where I slept, thinking what a day I had had. A few hours ago, I was sitting on the top of Europe. Incredible.

Day 9 – 4th August – Friday
We set off around 8 am, and after taking a few more photos of the big White, we started the descent to base camp. After a few hundred meters, I said, “Do svidaniya” (goodbye), and the mountain disappeared, wiped out by the grey clouds.

Day 10 – 5th August – Saturday
Today was another Celebration day! White. Warm. Clean. Silence. After ten days on the mountain, the comfort of the hotel in Kislovodsk came as a well-deserved reward. In the afternoon, Alexei and Veronica handed me the official climbing certificate for the highest peak in Europe. We greeted, wished each other all the best, and parted ways. It was a day full of relaxation, shopping, and lots of food. Alexei, Veronica, I hope you are well!

Day 11 – 6th August – Sunday
Another day had started, and we knew that the adventure would only end when we were in Munich. We left Russia at 17:35, flew to Istanbul, and left the mountains behind.

Day 12 – 7th August – Monday
Home. Finally home. After a smooth and peaceful flight mirroring my inner state, we arrived in Munich. It was finally peace.

Elbrus. A tour where uncertainty was always there, and only the continuous change between the big picture and the attention to each step made the climb possible.

Elbrus. An extremely demanding tour that taught me the importance of an assistant guide and at least three days in reserve for summit day.

Elbrus. A tour about friendship and how a few beautiful people made dreams come true. Klaus, Alexei, Veronica … thank you.

Elbrus. A tour about how to achieve extraordinary things.

Elbrus. Thank you.