"We take great pride in our rich history and honor it, continuing to be innovators and maintaining the highest western guiding standards on Mount Elbrus."
~ Vitaly Stegno
The history of RMH dates back to the heyday of the Soviet Union long before the outbreak of World War II. Mount Elbrus has always been a big mountain climbing mecca in our country. The whole structure of the mountaineering world was completely different back then. The bottom line was that absolutely every citizen of a country could come at least once a year to one of many alpine climbing camps for a few weeks, where everything was free for everyone: accommodation, food, equipment rental, mountaineering training classes, getting sports ranks, etc. It was a huge and very well organized climbing industry built for people not for making money. It was a certain plus of the communist regime in our country. Can you imagine everyone could go climbing to absolutely any mountain region in the country and become a climber free of charge, while all the expenses were paid for by the state. Climbing and big mountain mountaineering were not just expensive hobbies for people; baсk then it was simply the way of life. It was a whole outdoor era.
Soviet Alpine Climbing Camp. Pal Phil leading the group of his guests.
Chapter I - The Beginning
Pal Phil. Mount Elbrus. World War II – 1942.
During the World War II, he was the commander of the legendary valiant Reconnaissance Company of Mountain Shooters. He coached detachments of the Soviet troops that fought in the Caucasus Mountains around Elbrus against the German invaders and the Edelweiss squad. He went through the whole war as the commander of the heroes who stopped the fascists in the Caucasus and didn’t let them pass the Caucasus Mountains and go to the Black Sea. He was a legendary man, a legendary climber, and a legendary commander. After the war, he was awarded honorary military orders for bravery by the government. A few years later after the end of the war, the work of alpine camps was adjusted, and he went on doing what he really loved.
Pal Phil. The Battle for Mount Elbrus. One of the camps of the Soviet Mountain Shooters on Mt. Elbrus. World War II – 1942.
Pal Phil. The Battle for Mount Elbrus. World War II – 1942.
In 1947, he became the Champion of the first Trad Climbing Championship in Dombay Mountains. Later, Dombay Trad Climbing Championship has become one of the most famous trad climbing competitions in the USSR.
In February of 1983, on the 40th anniversary of the removal of fascist flags from the summit of Elbrus, as part of the Anniversary USSR Mountaineering Championship, Pal Phil climbed Mt. Elbrus his last time. He was 77 years old.
Also, being very passionate about photography, Pal Phil was one of the first Soviet mountain photographers. He has been photographing the Caucasus Mountains especially around Mt. Elbrus his entire life, even during the war. He had a huge archive of photos, and between his climbs when he was at home in Terskol, he organized slide show evenings, gathering together all the Elbrus climbing community at the Cheget Hotel.
Mt. Belakaya – 3861 m. One of the famous peaks in the Great Caucasus Mountains. Photo: Pal Phil. 1947.
Pal Phil guiding his guests on Mount Elbrus. 1953.
One of the hundreds of articles about Pal Phil in the famous Soviet alpine climbing magazine – “People of the Soviet Climbing Industry”
Pal Phil (Pavel Philippovich Zakharov) -
was among the best mountaineering instructors of the USSR of all times, but he was better known for being a real man of honor and kindness, who lived his life like a hero with the mountains in the heart.
In childhood, Vitaly Stegno Sr. spent a lot of time in the alpine climbing camps in Terskol with Pal Phil who was a second grandfather to him. Of course, Pal Phil influenced Vitaly’s great love for the mountains and climbing, and since childhood, Elbrus has forever become home for Vitaly as it was for Pal Phil. In the aftermath, he conveyed his love for the mountains to his son, Vitaly Stegno Jr, who soon wrote a big page in the Elbrus climbing and guiding history.
Pal Phil and Vitaly Stegno Sr. July 1972.
Chapter II - The Birth
Vitaly Stegno Jr. belongs to the third generation of climbers. The first time he came to Elbrus with his dad at the age of seven. As a child, he fell in love with these places. Feeling that Elbrus was a real unexplored mountain paradise, he understood that he wanted to spend his whole life there. The dream of becoming a mountain guide had not left him since the age of twelve. He knew what he wanted to do in his life. It was the only thing that was dearest to him. Having high school finished, Vitaly flew to Canada, to the small mountain city of Kamloops, where he entered the Thompson Rivers University (TRU) to become the first certified mountain guide on Elbrus. By the time, Vitaly returned home to Russia, the Russian Mountain Guide Association had been founded along with the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG), and he joined both of them. Vitaly was one of the very first to bring the international mountain guiding experience and standards to Mt. Elbrus climbing industry. A few years after Vitaly returned home, the company was officially founded and registered as Russian Mountain Holidays Ltd.
He has been thinking about the name of the company for quite a while, and thought that it would be important for his future guests who would search for a company on the Internet to see the word ‘Russian’ in it; since they were looking for a trip to Russia to the mountains, to climb Elbrus, and of course, the word ‘Mountain’ seemed to be appropriate as well, and as they were looking to spend their holidays climbing Elbrus, the word ‘Holidays’ appeared. Therefore, he made up the name i.e. ‘Russian Mountain Holidays’. And the rest is history.
Vitaly Stegno on the Summit of Mount Elbrus – 5642 m.
Later Vitaly created the first company website, and as he was not a programmer or a web designer, it was rather simple. A few months after the site was created, we received a call from Paris from our first client, whose name was Marc Beylier. Since it was the very beginning, we hadn’t known all the subtleties, the specifics and the pitfalls of this work yet. We didn’t know much about visa application requirements for foreign citizens, as well as how to work with the embassy in general. We had to send an invitation letter for a visa to Marc, but we had no idea what format the invitation had to be and what kind of document it was. It’s funny, but as a result, we just wrote the letter by hand, which caused Marc having problems with obtaining a visa. Of course we didn’t want to have a rocky start and lose our first customer; therefore, we asked Marc if he could get a visa to Russia on his own and we would be happy to guide him up to the summit for free. And so we did. Marc managed to get a visa to Russia and flew to the Caucasus to climb Elbrus with us. He became the first RMH client, whom we successfully guided all the way up to the summit of Elbrus for free. Thus, it all began.
Vitaly Stegno with his first guest – Marc Beylier after successful Elbrus climb on skis.
Chapter III - Going Global
Elevation Challenge. Ben Treasure and Erin Duffy at the Pastukhova Rocks – 4800 m. Elbrus South Route.
Our next guests were the next milestone for the RMH company. They wanted to realize a huge project called the Elevation Challenge, the essence of which was to get from the lowest point in Europe to its highest – the summit of Elbrus. What is more, they wanted to overcome the route from the Netherlands to the foot of Mt. Elbrus on bicycles. The young couple from London, Ben Treasure and Erin Duffy were looking for sponsors for their project at that moment and we were pleased to become the first official mountaineering partner of the Elevation Challenge. It was crazy, but we got the ball rolling, and Ben and Erin cycled across Europe from the Netherlands through Germany, Austria, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Georgia, and came to Elbrus on their road bikes, along with all the equipment to climb Elbrus via the South Route. They were our second guests, and we were so inspired by each other that worked 10 days with Ben and Erin at one go and became very close friends.
As a sign of gratitude, Ben decided to help bring Russian Mountain Holidays to a new level. As Ben was good at IT and marketing, he offered to make a new and more adaptive website, as well as work out the whole company concept to the details, and organize a good advertising campaign for RMH in the UK. When Ben and I (Vitaly) were climbing Elbrus, they created a new version of the RMH website, which was significantly better than the previous one. We worked on the design and content of the website in the evenings in the South Route High Camp, literally sitting on our knees at the mountain hut at 3900 meters, with a super intermittent Internet connection, recording all our thoughts on the phone. It was really cool! We felt a historical moment. When Ben returned back home to England, he became our first advertising agent in Europe. It was a serious step towards the future, as we had already had a well-developed concept and a clear understanding of how the company should work with foreign customers, as well as all the necessary connections for entering the global market.
Vitaly Stegno and Erin Duffy working on the new RMH web page at the mountain hut at 3900 meters, the night before Mount Elbrus summit climb.
Vitaly Stegno took a picture of the first newborn RMH jacket.
The following years, we were constantly fully loaded with work for the entire climbing season on Elbrus from May to September. We were very careful about the quality of our work, as we really wanted our guests to reach the summit, but most importantly reach the summit safely and flawlessly, and go home happy. Due to such an approach to work, we gained a good reputation pretty quickly and got more and more work, and it was already difficult to cope with it alone. There were more and more customers and we needed to expand. Over the next few years, we managed to assemble the best team of the most experienced, young and purposeful guides that had been tested over the years. Thus, our small but close-knit family of RMH guides was formed. The year when we ordered the first batch of Dynafit softshell jackets, on which our company logo and the address of our website were embroidered was another important stage for us. I remember the moment when we took the parcel with the jackets, opened the box, and were happily putting them on many times in front of the mirror. We proudly put these jackets on and started working on Elbrus wearing them as a real band. The jackets were well remembered by people, and we were already beginning to be recognized and remembered as the standard of quality on the mountain. It was definitely a significant part of our brand formation history.
The purchase of our own RMH shuttle bus was certainly a very memorable and bright event for us as we had been working with a third party company that was organizing airport transfers for our guests. As we already had loads of work, we picked up and dropped off our guests at the Mineralnye Vody Airport several times a week during the high season, and it was more and more inconvenient for us to organize transfers and logistics through a third-party partner. So finally we bought a Volkswagen Crafter. There are seven comfortable passenger seats and a huge luggage compartment in it, where all the equipment of the group can be easily placed. It is our custom shuttle van on the route from Mineralnye Vody Airport to our RMH Lodge in Terskol, and certainly, it’s a member of our team. It is always clean and cozy inside, we always play good music, and you can enjoy the picturesque scenery through large panoramic windows during the drive. You will never miss big RMH stickers on the windows in the airport parking when we meeting you on the first day of the trip.
First RMH Shuttle Bus on its way to Mount Elbrus.
Chapter VI - Dreams Come True
After years of hard work, today RMH maintains the highest guiding standards on Elbrus and is a leader in the Elbrus climbing and guiding industry worldwide. This is what we sought and continue to strive even higher. These are not just big words. This is really what we have devoted our whole lives at RMH. We have accumulated decades of rich guiding experience on Elbrus, and today RMH guarantees its guests the most impeccable service on Mt. Elbrus, best accommodation and cuisine, an exclusive individual approach, and the highest level of safety on each stage of the trip, along with absolute professionalism and unparalleled local knowledge of RMH Guides. Each RMH Guide is an internationally certified mountain guide, with many years of Elbrus guiding experience, but most importantly, every RMH Guide is a member of our family, who lives with guiding in the heart and treats you like a part of the family. Since the very beginning, we have never worked for quantity, but always worked for quality. Operating on another level only in a small group family style format with a maximum of 8 guests in the group, at RMH we deliver the best possible, the most authentic and the safest Elbrus climbing experience, and always guarantee the most up to date first-hand information and the highest chances of success.
Elbrus has always been home to us at Russian Mountain Holidays. And it always will. We are true local Elbrus yetis, and Elbrus climbing is what we have been doing for decades since 1953. Everyday.
RMH Elbrus Guides: Kate “ Super K” Belash, George “Jose” Bushuev, Vitaly “Vito” Stegno, and Pavel Baryshnikov in the High Camp at 3850 meters right before another Mount Elbrus summit ascent.
In 2018 & 2019, Russian Mountain Holidays (RMH Elbrus Guides) was awarded the Certificate of Excellence for the consistent achievement of high ratings from travellers on the world’s largest and the most trustful travel website – TripAdvisor. Check out some of the latest reviews by hitting the Certificates below.
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