Mount Elbrus – the highest mountain of the Caucasus Mountains ridge, occupies an important place in the Great Caucasus system. Geologists have come up to the conclusion that Elbrus is the cone of a dormant volcano. Its western peak reaches a height of 5642 meters whereas the Eastern peak — 5621 meters. They are separated by a deep saddle, which also reaches a five-thousand-meter height, and namely 5325 m.
This makes it the highest mountain in Europe and one of the Seven Summits, the highest mountains in each of the continents and elite climbers aspire to summit all of them. Since Elbrus is very high, it is always covered with a cap of ice and firn, from which, on all sides, 54 glaciers are falling down, the largest ones being the Big Azau, Irik and Terskol.
Meaning of the name Elbrus
“Mingi-Tau” is the name given Elbrus by the Balkars, the Turkic people of the Caucasus region. This translates to “resembling a thousand mountains,” as a homage to the mountain’s size. Before the Balkars, the mountain was known as Sobilus, which is Latin for “pine cone” This is a variation of strobilos, meaning “a twisted object,” which is an apt description of the mountain’s summit.
The mountain also has a mythological history. In Greek mythology. Zeus chained Prometheus to the mountain as punishment for stealing fire from Zeus and sharing it with mankind. The name also has Persian origins, a derivation of Harā Bərəzaitī, a mountain in Persian mythology.
The climate is most conducive to climbing in July and August, when the weather is at its most stable. Even in the summer, nighttime temperatures average 18 F (minus 8 C). Temperatures above the snowline can fall as low as minus 22 F (minus 30 C) during the day during the winter. Winter is coldest in the western part. It lasts from October to April above 6,562 feet (2,000 m). While the mountain is inland, it is positioned between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. These two large bodies of water have an impact on wind and precipitation.
Obviously attempts to conquer Mount Elbrus were made even back in the days when mountains were a point of interest of alpinists only and definitely not of skiers and snowboarders. The first one to reach the Eastern mountaintop in 1829 was the Russian explorer, the Kabardian K. Khashirov, who led the scientific expedition, whereas the Western top was conquered in 1874 by the English athletes led by F. Grove and the Kabardian explorer A. Sottaev, who was, by the way, a member of the first Russian climbing expedition.
In Soviet times, climbing Elbrus was very popular. In fact, the ascensions turned into massive «alpiniads». One of the biggest one, which took place in 1967, had an attendance of no more no less than 2400 climbers. At the altitude of 4600-4700 meters are located the Pastukov’s Rocks of the Russian military topographer, who was the first to conquer both – the Eastern and the Western summits of mount Elbrus. During the winter time an ice field stretches above these cliffs. At the 5000 m height begins the “oblique shelf”, so called by the alpinists, gently sloping reaching a flat surface, climbing to the top. Traditionally, the climbing route to any of Elbrus’s summits passes through its saddle. From there to the two peaks, remain about 300 meters.
On the north side of the mountain massif the infrastructure is still poorly developed, there are just a few huts for climbers that are used by tourists and employees of MChS (Ministry of Emergency Situations). As a rule, from the north side take place only climbs to the East top, the route passes through the Rocks of Lenz (from 4660 to 5200 m).
In Russia, Elbrus region has always been one of the most famous centers of winter sports and tourism. Mount Cheget is Elbrus’s most visited slope, which is well equipped with both chair-lifts and gondola lifts. The routes here are of different levels of difficulty, thus anyone, from beginners to experts, will find in Cheget a route on his ability level. Cheget has very attractive tourist entertainment options. Cafes, restaurants and equipment rental shops are operating on the slopes. From the top of the mountain opens up a wonderful view of the two-headed Elbrus.
With respect to Elbrus, with all its rigors and external inaccessibility, which seem indicating that there is no human presence, has a very definite infrastructure. It focuses mainly on the southern slopes of the mountain range, where the cable car road is located, with a height of 3750 m. Here you will find the accommodation, called the “Barrels”, which has more than a dozen six-bed insulated residential trailers and a kitchen.
This place serves as the starting point of today’s athletes climbing Elbrus. There is a new one, a more modern shelter, called the “Leaprus”, which was opened in 2013. It accommodates 48 people and it is located on a height of 3912 m. The highest altitude hotel of the Elbrus region is “Shelter eleven”, whose main building burned down in the 90s of the 20th century, today though on a basis of the former boiler house of the hotel, a new building was built. Besides, the shelter has a few 12-bed trailers and a kitchen. The work of a diesel-generator with supply of electricity in the cabins is organized to be running in the evenings.
To those who will find themselves at the foothills of Mount Elbrus during the summer, we recommend visiting the Valley of narzan, located close to Cheget, where narzan, the mineral water that we were used to see in bottles and cans, beats straight out of the ground in large quantities in forms of springs. The saddle of Elbrus, which is a starting point for all climbers to whichever peak they sought to reach, long needed a shelter on its own because the higher the climbers rise the harder it gets. Hence an accommodation at an altitude of 5300 is really necessary. Works on the construction started back in 2007. The accommodation will represent a hemisphere with a diameter of 6.7m, installed on a foundation. By 2009 the dome was completed and the construction works started. Nowadays it is waiting for its visitors.
Key points in Elbrus history
1829: Kabardinian Killar Khashirov, a guide for a Russian army scientific expedition, was the first to reach the east summit, which is the lower of the two summits.
1874: The higher west summit was ascended by Akhia Sottaiev, a Balkarian guide, who was working for a group that was led by Brit Florence Crauford Grove and included Englishmen Frederick Gardner and Horace Walker, and Swiss climber Peter Knubel.
1932: The first hut, called “Prijut 11,” was built at of 13,650 feet (4,160 m).
1942: During World War II, German forces had occupied all the territories north of the Baksan Valley and were gradually taking the mountain valleys in the Western Caucasus. Eventually a German Alpine division commandeered Priut 11. They retreated by early1943 and by mid-February Elbrus was back under Soviet control.
1956: A group of 400 climbers ascended the mountain to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Kabardino-Balkaria, the regional Soviet Republic.
1991: The outhouse at the Pruitt Hut — before it burned down a few years later — was named the world’s worst outhouse by Outside Magazine. While it gets a lot of use from climbers who drink a lot of water and take altitude medication, it doesn’t smell because it is completely frozen.
1997: Russian adventurer Alexander Abramov led an expedition that drove a modified Land Rover to the summit, making it the highest mountain climbed by a vehicle.
1998: A group of climbers started a fire while cooking and burned down Priut 11.