Mount Elbrus


Eastern & Western Summits of Mount Elbrus taken from the Southern side

Mount Elbrus or “Mingi-Tau” the name given to the mountain by the local Balkar people (the Turkic people of the Caucasus region) which translates to “resembling a thousand mountains” is the highest mountain in Europe. One of the seven summits the mountain is actually a dormant volcano located in Russia and is part of the Caucasus Mountain Range. The mountain has two summits both of which are dormant volcano cones. Theres the Western summit which is the higher and more coveted summit standing 5,642 m/18,510 ft tall and theres the Eastern summit which stands 5,621 m/18,442 ft tall. Mount Elbrus’ Western summit was first successfully summited in 1874 during a British expedition led by Florence Crauford Grove. The expedition consisted of 5 team members; Florence Crauford Grove himself, local Balkarian guide Akhia Sottaiev, British mountaineers Frederick Gardner and Horace Walker and Swiss mountaineer Peter Knubel. The Eastern summit however was first successfully summited almost 50 years previous on the 10th of July 1829 (Julian calendar) by Khillar Khachirov. The Russian, Karachay guide was tasked with the objective of summiting the mountain as part of a Russian Imperial Army scientific expedition. Interestingly Mount Elbrus plays a significant part in greek mythology. Promethius the supreme trickster, champion against suppression and greatest friend of mankind stole fire from Zeus to give it to mankind. As punishment Zeus tied him to Mount Elbrus and sent a long-winged eagle to eat his liver. However Heracles, gatekeeper of Olympus, bastion of masculinity and protector of mankind freed Prometheus and killed the eagle.

View from the summit of Mount Elbrus

Whether attempting to summit during winter or summer Mount Elbrus is permanently covered in snow. With 22 glaciers that feed into 3 major rivers; the Baksan River, Malka River & Kuban River the mountain is the snow and ice type. Technical mountain boots, crampons and ice-axes are all required no matter what route you take. The conditions are unpredictable and can change drastically, it can quickly change from a clear sunny day to a day thats harsh, cold and windy and leaves climbers squinting to see a few metres ahead. Theres numerous routes to the summit of Mount Elbrus and the terrain you encounter is dependent on which route you take. The classic, most common and easiest route “the South route” takes climbers to the summit via the South face of the mountain. This route is considered the standard route and is pretty straight forward. It even offers comprehensive infrastructure such as ski-lifts, barrel huts and snow machines, in fact most climbers use the ski-lift to reach the barrel huts which are 3,800 m/12,450 ft high. This in conjunction with the route having no major crevasses and being easy to follow due to being marked with wands makes it a great route for less experienced beginner mountaineers. With that being said though reaching the summit is no easy task, it can take 9 hours of climbing at altitudes above 4,000 m/13,123 ft to reach the summit and another 6 hours to descend back down to the barrel huts. The slopes are steep too, and depending on the weather you get you could be up against harsh, freezing conditions and/or thigh deep snow. The second most common route known as “the North route” takes climbers up the northern side of the mountain. The Northern side is far more committing compared to the southern side; it has little infrastructure and pretty much no support structure, your also further away from local towns and potential help or rescue. This makes it more important for climbers to be self sufficient and experienced when attempting the summit via the North route. Snow camping and tents is a requirement, on a positive note the route like the South route has no major crevasses or other objective dangers. With that being said Mount Elbrus’ unpredictable and potential harsh weather conditions are particularly dangerous to those climbing via the North route. People attempting to summit via the South route have easy access to the town of Terskol, to infrastructure that offers warmth and safety such as the barrel huts and to the mountain rescue teams. These luxuries are not offered on the Northern side, climbers must be far more self-sufficient and endure the freezing, exposed, harsh conditions in their tents alone. Many climbers have died due to being stuck in these conditions; some wander off route due to poor visibility, get lost and fall into crevasses. Others have wandered off route, got lost and then died from exposure and/or hypothermia and some have just died from exposure and/or hypothermia whilst on route without getting lost. Besides the North and South routes there are many other far more difficult routes to the summit. However these routes are far less commonly used and theres very little information about them available. Some climbers attempt to reach the summit via the Southwest face or Eastern side of the mountain; these routes are far more dangerous and even more committing than the North side route. In particular the Southwest face route is considered to be very dangerous as it’s scattered with deep crevasses and icefalls.

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