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Towering over the Caucasus Mountains near the border of Russia and Georgia, Mt. Elbrus proved to be a powerful start to the USAF 7 Summits Challenge. This climb had been in the planning for some time, but was quickly launched after the April crash of “Wrath 11”, an Air Force Special Operations Command MC-130H ‘Talon II’. Capt Rob Marshall, co-founder of the Challenge, had been working and living with the fallen crew of Wrath 11 and decided the climb of Europe’s highest peak should be dedicated to the nine Airmen lost in Albania. In addition to this symbolic first climb, the team also began raising funds and awareness for military charities that would support the families of the fallen airmen.
The most difficult part of this climb proved to be the logistics of traveling in Russia. 1Lt Mark Uberuaga and Capt Rob Marshall, both pilots stationed with Air Force Special Operations Command at RAF Mildenhall, UK, arranged all transportation, shuttles, and lodging on their own, option to make this a self-guided, self-contained expedition. Everything went as planned, except 3 out of 4 bags of mountaineering gear were lost on the short London-St.Petersburg flight. Woops! As the team made their way into the interior of Russia, they were able to retrieve two of the bags, however the fourth would require a climber to descend several thousand feet to retrieve it (they drew straws to determine who went!). Once all the gear was accounted for, it was a text book ascent under exceptionally good conditions.
The summit day was sunny with calm winds. It was warmer than an average day on Mt. Elbrus, so the climbers were quite happy. After reaching the summit and completing pushups, the climbers removed skis from their backpacks and proceeded to ski down 4,000ft of soft snow on the side of Mt. Elbrus. The ski descent was the highlight of their trip!
Upon returning to the United Kingdom, the success of the USAF 7 Summits Challenge’s first peak generated excellent coverage from both military and civilian media outlets. Word spread among Air Force members that a new and exciting project had begun. Little did everyone know how successful it would continue to be over the following seven years!