Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Around St. Petersburg

St. Peter's Square in front of the Hermitage.

The Hermitage. Formerly Peter the Great's Winter Castle, now one of the largest art collections outside of the Louvre in Paris. And, quite impressive as well.

What's Russia without a bear? This little guy was out in the heat helping street performers make a little extra cash.

The hotbox hotel. 1960's Soviet grandeur circa 2006.


"Hello there friends, family and loved ones this is Vern Tejas with Alpine Ascents first Mt. Elbrus trip of the year. Most of the team is now assembled in St. Petersburg and we have only lost two bags so far and only two people, we are still waiting for Katharine and Ben to show up. Otherwise we had a great rendezvous and we have just gotten back from the restaurant after making introductions and getting a nice orientation. The team seems fit and they all have a great attitude so this looks to be the makings of an excellent Elbrus climb. So please stay tuned to the further adventures of Mt. Elbrus Team One, we will have a name soon enough. Stay tuned, ciao for now." Vern Tejas, Alpine Ascents International

St. Petersburg, Russia - So this is the former Leningrad? It seemed odd to be in the belly of what used to be the "Beast" - the great Red Scare. Once you meet the people of Russia, and understand their fears of being over-run by yet another aggressor, you understand why they were so afraid of us. The Swedes, the Mongols, the Tatars, the Poles, the French and, most recently the Germans who killed over 50 million Russians in World War II, have all had a hand at trying to rule Russia. In fact, the city of St. Petersburg was named for the patron saint of Peter the Great who defeated the Swedes on this very site on the Neva river. To commemorate the victory (and create a legacy) Peter built the city which really reminds one of Venice or Amsterdam with its many canals and water-ways.

That was good to know. Especially when the traveler is suffering through 98 degree (F) heat and 98% humidity. St. Petersburg is like New Orleans north. The only person on the team not suffering through the heat was Pat Post, from New Orleans. To her, it was a nice day...

The nights, though, were tough. As in many northern cities, and in many countries outside of the US, people don't see the need to waste valuable energy resources on air conditioning. Me? I could be found on top of my bed under the portable fan that was cranking on high and trying to suck the gradually cooling evening air into the room.

Arms race aside, I can vouch for having won the air conditioning race over the Ruskies.

Friday, July 07, 2006

How does one decide to travel to Russia and climb Europe's tallest peak to raise $10,000 for breast cancer research and awareness?

Good question.

I first saw the ad in Outside Magazine, but by the time I called to apply, it was too late. Being from Boulder, Colorado, I offered to put a team together for another expedition. The organizers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (www.fhcrc.org/climb) in Seattle, Washington, politely declined and offered to put me on a waiting list for this year, or for next year's expedition.

Basically, the answer was "no thank you", but send us your climbing resume. Arguably, after almost 30 years of climbing, it was one of the toughest assignments. Focusing on international climbs and routes over 14,0000 feet, I was able to get it down to a one-pager.

And I began the long slog of training. And checking in periodicaly to see if someone had dropped out. My opportunity came about two weeks before the expedition was going to leave. Linda Carlson, of the FHCRC, asked, "Can you go? Are you ready?"

Good questions.

After a quick flurry of activity, I was on my way with a $10,000 promise to raise the money sitting on my credit card, a vacation deficit at work, and a plane ticket to St. Petersburg, Russia.