Friday, March 25, 2016

RUSSIA: Elbrus, your solution to overpriced ski-trips

Tucked in the most rugged mountain ranges of Caucasus, Mt. Elbrus represents Europe in the Seven Summits (highest mountains on each of the seven continents). That being said, it is the highest peak in Europe, not Mount Blanc as most people believed it to be. Situated between the Black sea and the Caspian sea, it is a dormant volcano with 2 summits, West and East, standing proudly at 5,642 meters and 5,621 meters.  

An overview: 
Elevation: 5,642 meters
Prominence: 4,741 meters
Location: Caucasus Range, Russia. On the border of Asia and Europe.

photo credits: Cynthia Chee
During our visit to Mt. Elbrus, we chose to stay in Prielbrus. In Russian language, “Pri” means before or in front of, so it literally means  “a Village before Mt. Elbrus”. Here are the 8 things we did on our unforgettable trip to the Elbrus. 

1. Winter sports

It's tiring, that's for sure.  Photo credits: Nurul Qurratu'aini
Skiing, snowboarding, snow-tubing… there are so many activities to choose from. For travelers who first got introduced to snow, it’s okay to feel intimidated (I know, I’ve been there too), but nevertheless, don’t be afraid to try something new! I highly recommend snow tubing for beginners. Once you get the hang of it, move on to skiing or snowboarding, which you will have more control on your speed and direction (and of course, more dramatic falls).

2. Visit one of the 3 major river: Baksan, Malka, Kuban

Photo credits: Cynthia Chee
We stayed in a university hostel just across the river Baksan. So naturally that was the place to go for a morning walk before our free shuttle to Elbrus arrived. The river originated from the glaciers have an unnatural blue hue compared to the sparkling white snow around it. and this, is exactly what makes it so picturesque.  

3. Order a Shashlik

Nothing beats good food when it comes to traveling. In Elbrus, Shashliks are made to orders and if you are indecisive, order a mutton shashlik. Of course if you are not a huge fan of meats, there are still plenty of good food to choose from.

4. Journey to the top with one of the cable cars

There are 2 cable car services and a ski-lift to ferry skiers up to Mount Elbrus. Since we are not skiing that day, the most economic between 2 cable car services is the older one that starts in Azau. The whole thing is made out of wood and the cable car is bigger than the newer installation.

5. Experience Banya

Temperature reached -30 Celsius one faithful morning, making us all shuddered at the thought of going up to the peak. So instead of torturing our souls trying to reach the highest peak in Europe, we decided to spend our last day in Elbrus experiencing Russian Sauna. It was not a traditional one where you will be whipped with massive bunches of acorn branches (You won’t want to know about this), but it was relaxing. It was not my first Banya experience, I did it before in Volgograd with my closest bunch of friends and it was AMAZING, which led me to this very decision of doing it again. For those who are new to it, it is a vicious cycle of sweating (the heat is scaling hot!) in a Sauna room and jumping into freezing-cold water (sometimes, a river, and yes, they do that even during winter).

6. Buy an exquisite Elbrus Jelly

I actually have no idea what is this, but I was 101% fascinated: a kind of jelly with herbs, nuts and dried fruits beautifully arranged within. How interesting! 

7. Sample mountain honey

Traditionally, Russians love honey. I can’t believe the huge variations of natural mountain honey they offer: Some are even made/mixed with milk, butter and tea… such weird combinations but they actually taste exceptional! I bought a 500g bucket of Propolis Honey during my visit, and 2 months later I already developed the “Elbrus-honey withdrawal syndrome”. (Don’t worry, I made that up. ) And, before I forget, there is also an alcoholic drink made with honey called Sbiten, served hot during the colder months. 

8. Shop for mountain tea

A brilliant mixture of herbs, flowers, dried berries and wild fruits gives us a taste of spring in Elbrus. The tea is typically Caucasian, delivering a delicate grassy aroma and slightly spicy herbal aftertaste. Varies kinds of tea are sold in big or small collection-packets, with price ranging from 150-500 rubles. In my humble opinion, tea leaves tell a lot about the region’s climate and culture, so what is better than tea if you want to bring a piece of Elbrus home?  

Other things to do: 
Climb Mount Elbrus

Typical climbing season is May to September. Although Mt. Elbrus has a reputation of being the easiest climb of the Seven Summits, the climb should never be taken lightly as it could turn deadly! Serious training should be done prior to the expedition. There are some old barrels at the end of the chairlift which climbers can sleep in (Talk about unique accommodation! ). 

Take a day trip

Many hotels and tour companies organize day trips from Prielbrus to Mineralnye Vodu and Kislavodsk, where some of the greatest day hikes in Russia can be done.  

Thank You for Reading! 
This post is based solely on my opinion or personal experience. 
Feel free to share your experience or thoughts with me by commenting below!

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