Hike up from Terskol to the Cheget Observatory - Acclimatization for Mt Elbrus, Russia
Updated: Aug 14, 2020
Hike the beautiful western ridge of Caucasus in Treskol to Cheget Observatory. Stunning scenery, nature, wildflowers, creeks, waterfalls and crisp air.
The tribe landed into Moscow couple days ago, it was a long flight from San Fransisco. This is not a country any of us had visited before, so we didn't really know what to expect.
After initial two days settling to the time zone in Moscow, the tribe was ready to fly into Mineral Vody, the gateway to the Elbrus Region. During our initial stay in Moscow, we enjoyed few of the local spots like Red Square, Kremline and some amazing food. We also met some of our tribe who would be doing the Elbrus Expedition with us. It still felt cold in late July, and we wondered what would it be like on Elbrus.
The flight to Mineral Vody started off with some excitement as our daypacks were not considered to be carry on, no one spoke english and our google translator was not working because it did not catch a telcom connection . We had to pay at a certain office, which we could not locate easily. Subsequently we had to sprint our way onto the flight. Arriving into Mineral Vody, another of those super tiny airports, from where you can walk out in under 3 minutes. There was a van waiting for us to take us to Treskol, which is ski village at the base of Mt Elbrus. The tribe stayed at the Free Ride Hotel. In this village just about every home had a cafe, lodge or ski rental. We reached rather late, but the hosts were kind enough to make some nice fresh meals before we crashed for the day. This was to be our home for next 2 days, one day to acclimatize and the next to rent equipment for our big hike.
The second day was to be the acclimatization hike, the options were between Cheget Peak and Cheget Observatory. Our expedition leader picked Cheget Observatory. This is about at 5 mile hike where you go from 7,000 ft to 10,050 ft. The hike had stunning views, and a huge magnificent waterfall. After a hearty breakfast, the tribe met their guide for the day - 16 year old tour guide Alex, he could speak some English, which was exciting for the curious tribe who wanted to know more about the region, culture and any other stories he could share. It was going to be our first hike day and a rather easy hike compared to all else we were going to experience in Russia.
The day was bright, warm with clear blue skies. The drive to the base was short but it was beautiful to ride through the forests and along the river. Given the previous night we rode into Treskol after dark, this was such a pleasant sight to wake up and be surrounded by amazing views of the mountains and the sound of water flowing through the creek.
Before we started the hike, there was some paperwork that Alex quickly did for us. The mountain region is on the border of Russia and Georgia and its important to log all entry and exits into this region. The trailhead is right opposite a church on the main road. This is the start of the hike at around 7,100 ft. Right from the start of the hike, you come across amazing alpine meadows, with wildflowers all around. The gradient is relatively moderate, but given all of the tribe was coming from sea level, we continued to take it easy. Besides this was to acclimated, and for us to soak in the beauty of the surroundings. Our first break was under this huge magnificent tree and that tree brought the best shade ever. Everyone grabbed their yummiest snacks and as soon as you know it, it was a feast with everyone sharing their food. My favorite was my Aunt from California, a spicy nut mix.
As we started again the fast people, medium speed, and slow people started to separate. Alex was trying hard for the group to stay together in a neat single file (at the time we really didn't understand, why and what he was trying to accomplish with that drill). As we started to reach the 2.5 mile mark the glacier of Mt Elbrus, another ski village, and landslide barricades near the village was visible at a distance. The land slide barricades were very interesting to study because of how they were designed. At about the midway point we saw a huge waterfall, this is a 100 meter long detour to the base of the falls. Refilling water from the falls was something that all of us wanted to do, it surely is recommended that you add purification tablets to it, but there were some who sipped straight off the falls. We spent about 45 mins just admiring the massive waterfall, taking a break in the open, taking pictures and building memories. It was a perfect break for us to continue talking about it for the next 2 miles up.
From here we could clearly see the observatory. Interestingly we also saw some off roading vehicles chugging along on one side of the mountain. Tribe's destination for today was the observatory, so we continued to our left onwards to the top. Around the last stretch the altitude really started to hit us because the last stretch is quite steep. When we got to the top the weather was perfect, we found the perfect place to relax, and soak the views. We could even see Mt. Elbrus’s glacier, where we were headed in the next day or so. After fueling up with lunch, the way down was quite quick and fun down the same path - a lovely dinner awaited us, but before that we enjoyed the most amazing lula kabob from the local cafes in the Treskol village for a quick snack.
While this hike was primarily to acclimatize for the ascent to Mt Elbrus, but to me it was so much more. It was fun learning from Alex about how schools in Russia operated, meeting other groups of international hikers and just some local families enjoying the summer which is short lived in this part of the country. It was amazing to see some athletes on a training run and feel inspired by the dreams and passion each one of them was chasing!
Learning's from the tribe - Simplicity never fades, its delightful, mystical and immensely pure - Rural Russia, the people, the interactions and one thing that weaves everyone together is zest for life in the simplest, purest of ways forever.