This is my write up for my trip to Mount Elbrus in July 2014. I’ve split the article into sections for easier reading.
Back in February 2012, I was at a European sales conference in my previous company, Motorola Solutions. The EMEA Vice President was giving his “state of affairs” address to everyone assembled in the room. To end his talk, he went onto lighter matters and asked for volunteers to join in a trip to climb Mont Blanc. Without really knowing what I was letting myself in for, I volunteered. I honestly actually thought it’d be a walk in the park. I know there a number of people who, once volunteered, came to the realization that this was going to be a real challenge. So over the next month or so, the team was whittled down to 10 people.
My first undertaking was to stop smoking. I started training with running being my main sport (I was pretty bad back then as you can imagine with an ex-smoker’s lungs) and trail walking (and on one occasion, trail running) with a couple of my French colleagues. Unfortunately that year turned out to be a washout as the weather was so bad that our Italian guides didn’t want to risk a summit attempt. In 2013 we tried again and successfully completed the climb. And believe me it was very, very, very tough. All had a great sense of achievement, but it was physically very demanding.
Anyway after having completed Mont Blanc, we were still buzzing. Probably not the best time to thinking what our next challenge would be. Other higher peaks were discussed such as Kilimanjaro and some of the larger peaks in South America and we eventually decided on trying to tackle the highest summit in Europe. Mont Blanc is recognised as being the highest peak in Western Europe. So we thought we would try for the highest peak in Europe, which happens to be Mount Elbrus, in southern Russia.
Organising a trip like this was totally different to organising the Mont Blanc trip. Mont Blanc was actually quite easy from an organisational viewpoint as there were already two people living in France (including me) to be drivers, the VP had his Italian guide friends already lined up and it was just a case of getting our equipment, driving to the French/Swiss border to pick up the team at Geneva airport and getting on with the climb. Elbrus required a completely different approach.
The Technical Architect manager for Europe took the lead in trying to find a company that would be able to help us with this trip. Eventually he chose the company based in the UK called GoRussia. GoRussia (which you can find at http://www.gorussia.co.uk) were very good. It’s their business to run trips and expeditions like this. If you do think of using them for a climb, don’t be put off by their website. GoRussia provided us with all of the information and support that we needed. Our team this year only retained 4 of the original Mont Blanc team and was quite disparate, with four people based out of the UK, one coming from Germany, one from the UAE and me. For the guys in the UK GoRussia handled all of the visa requirements. For the remaining members of the team, it was down to us to get it all sorted out. We could have used GoRussia to do the work for us, but it would have meant sending our passports to the UK, so practically speaking it wasn’t a good option.
My experience, of being a Brit in France, was the following: I got the required invitation letters from GoRussia sent by email so that I could go to the visa application office. It turned out that I couldn’t just turn up at the Russian embassy as visa applications for Russia have been outsourced. So off I trundled to the visa company to get things sorted. Erring on the safe side, I made sure I had all my documents and more just in case (I’d just been made redundant, so I took additional documents such as bank statements, etc which weren’t even looked at). The process started by applying on the website of the Russian embassy to get a case number. I basically had to give my whole life history just to apply for a visa (I thought that stating I’m a member of Greenpeace would have played against me 🙂 ) Once I had this documents and the remaining pieces of paper in my hands, I handed them to the visa company in Paris. Now it was a case of just waiting.
About three weeks later, I went to pick up my passport with the Visa. I was ready to rock and roll.
I had pretty much all the equipment that was required already, having purchased this for my trip up Mont Blanc the previous year. There were a few other little bits and bobs that I needed to buy, just to refresh bits of kit that were broken, worn, or anything that took my fancy. I didn’t buy the self warming tea though. Too extravagant for my taste.
My flights were arranged from Paris to Mineralnye Vody via Moscow using my Air France air miles. All in all, before flights there and back, cost me about €30. Not bad, eh? The whole trip was to run from 4th July 2014 until the 13th July 2014 (with my birthday be in on 14th ).
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