Climbing in the Caucasus will prepare you for anything. The majestic peaks have been enticing climbers from all over the world for a long time now. Their rugged beauty and promise of adventure keep on fascinating, despite the increased difficulty on some of these mountains.
Mount Elbrus (5642 m and part of The Seven Summits) is Europe’s highest peak surpassing Mont Blanc by 832 meters. It is an extinct volcano, which explains the conical shape, and it has two main summits. The Western summit, at 5642.7 meters, was first climbed in 1874 by a British expedition organized by F. Crauford Grove Frederick Gardner, Horace Walker and Peter Knubel. The East Peak was first ascended on 10 July 1829 by Khillar Khachirov, guide for an Imperial Russian army expedition.
From the Wehrmacht occupation during World War II, to the soviet days of mass climbing, this mountain has been through it all. In 1997, a team led by Alexander Abramov even made it into the Guinness Book of Records by taking a Land Rover up to the summit of the East Peak. The vehicle crashed on the way down and remains to this day stuck between the rocks.
Another example of what the region has to offer is Mount Ushba, also known as The Matterhorn of the Caucasus and considered one of the toughest ascents in the area. It is as beautiful as it is dangerous and it’s probably just that mix of elements that makes it so intriguing.
Its North summit (4690 m) has been climbed for the first time by John Garford Cokklin and Ulrich Almer in 1888 and the Southern one (4710) by a team of German, Austrian and Swiss climbers in 1903. Since then, hundreds of avid adventurers have been trying to conquer it, even though few managed to get to the very top. It is considered a great achievement to do so and, once there, you can find a memorial plate dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the renowned Mikheil Khergiani, or “rock tiger”. He was known as one the best and fastest climbers of his time, having the route “Mirror of Ushba” named after him, as he was the first and only to ever ascend it. Other challenging routes have been named after the first (and sometimes only) climbers who conquered them: Gabriel’s Route and Mushilav’s Route.
In august 2012, Andranik Miribyan got stranded on a ledge 150 m below the summit, after a heavy snowfall and thunderstorms. He spent four days trapped there, in a 50 cm space he had to dig, resulting in the loss of his ice axe. The powerful winds made it impossible for rescuers to reach him and his only choice was to try and descend by himself. He was lucky enough to make it uninjured and share his story. He recalled having spent two days lowering himself on his back and digging his crampons into the ice, occasionally slipping. His self-rescue was the result of incredible discipline and focus and, most of all, bravery. He descended 2000 m of ice crevices, scattered cliffs and snow banks that could have collapsed in an avalanche.
Setting goals is easy. Achieving them is harder. Facing the elements and your fears require extraordinary physical and mental strength when you feel like the odds are against you. The stories of those who made it through difficult situations should serve as an inspiration. Ready to make history?