Breakfast once again at 8am. Today it was a type of fried dough, fried eggs, ham, salami, cheese and cereal. It was all quite good and I ate a lot as I did not know when lunch would be or if it would be any good.
At 9:30am we boarded a van for the 15 minute drive to Ari which is a slightly bigger ski town at the bottom of Elbrus. It is a pretty rough pace with debris (mostly old construction supplies, old car parts and garbage) lying around. I’m sure it is much prettier in the winter when it is all covered with snow. We carried our back packs over to the gondola entrance and got in the already substantial line waiting for the lift to open. Ryan had to pay a fee for us to enter the National Park and a fee for the ride up. Oksana took care of all of this for us so I am not sure how much it all cost.
There are only two gondola cables and two cars and each car travels to the top and then back again (it is not loop). Each round trip is about 20 minutes and each car can hold 20-30 people. It took us close to an hour before we got onto the gondola.
The ride up was smooth and took about 10 minutes to get to the top with an elevation gain of about 1000 vertical feet. The view of the valley as it spread out below us was quite spectacular. Glaciers hang from the mountains and waterfalls of melt water cascaded off the cliffs all around. Once we got the top of the gondola ride we took a 3 minute walk to the mountain hut that would be our home for tonight.
This hut is quite nice and has an on site cook and a fixed menu. Four of us are sharing a large room and we even have an ensuite bathroom with a shower (cold water only). I think this hut will be quite comfortable for our stay.
After we had moved in we went out for an acclimatization hike. From the top of the gondola there is a small single person chair lift that rises an additional 1000ft to what are called the Barrel Huts. For acclimatization purposes we did not ride the chair, but walked instead. The walk to the Barrel Huts is on a very rough gravel and stone road that is almost a path. Really the only vehicle that could negotiate it would be a snow cat and even then it would be a very bumpy ride. It took us a little more than an hour to reach the huts and we stopped there for a lunch of sandwiches, cookies, a banana and juice (not the best meal so far).
After our lunch break we continued our walk up to the Diesel Hut. This walk was on snow the whole way. There are no more chair lifts, but you can get a snow cat ride up if you wish. There were many tourists just out for a day in the mountains and there were also several skiers and snow boarders taking the cat up high for some summer skiing. I was a little envious of them.
The snow was very soft and we were moving slowly as we acclimatized. It took us about 1.5 hours to gain an additional 1000 feet. Our high point for the day was around 4157m (13,600ft) at the Diesel hut. We saw several climbers coming down from the summit climb and many climbers in the hut getting ready to go that night. The weather is pretty warm (hovering just above freezing) with a slight wind and totally overcast with clouds.
We spent about 30 minutes at the hut and ate the remaining food from our lunch and a drink. The Diesel Hut is a pretty dirty place inside and out. I am not a big fan of most mountain huts and the Diesel Hut fits in this category. There is a small outhouse off the side of the hut. The outhouse is suspended above a 75 foot cliff and there is a hole in the floor for the toilet. We were told to be careful when there is a wind as your pee will come right back up and if you are not careful much of it will land on you (I know this may sound pretty gross and a deal breaker for many people, but this is the reality of climbing and mountain huts).
The descent was fun as we plunged and slid our way down the hill. It took us a fraction of the time to go down and we arrived back at the Barrel huts around 4:00pm. Our plan was to take the chair lift down, but it apparently closed at 4:00 and we had missed it by only minutes. Oksana tried to convince the attendant to let us ride, but he refused. We then started our walk down to the gondola which took us about 20 minutes. We arrived right at 4:30pm and just caught the last car down for the day (the gondola closed at 4:30). It would have been a very long walk down if we had missed this ride.
As we were getting on the gondola I saw a group of people getting onto the supposedly closed chair lift and I saw others coming down as well. This is what is affectionately called the Russia factor. Rules are not always rules and they can sometimes be changed by the right person or for the right amount of money. Kind of like the Pirate Code; it is really just a guide line. I guess we did not have what it took to get the ride, but these others obviously did.
All in all we were out from 11:30am until about 4:45pm for our acclimatization climb. Our total elevation gain today was around 4500 feet from Chuget at around 9,000 feet to the Diesel Hut at around 13,500 feet.
Dinner was served at 7:00pm. We started with a beef and potato soup that was a meal in itself. That was followed by pasta, a coleslaw type salad and what can best be described as metloaf. We also had bread and tomatoes and cucumbers on the table. It was a huge meal and we were all completely stuffed by the end of it.
That is then end of our day. It was a good day and we got up high for some good acclimatization. Tomorrow we will move up to the Diesel Hut and that is where we will stay until we have finished with the mountain; hopefully with standing on top.