Mount Elbrus, Russia

Elbrus (Karach-Balk. Mingi-Tau, Kabard-Cherk. Iuashkh'emakhue) is a stratovolcano in the Caucasus (5642 meters above sea level) - the highest mountain peak in Russia and Europe, provided that the border between Europe and Asia is drawn along the Main Caucasian ridge or to the south (in other cases, the highest peak in Europe is the alpine Mont Blanc). Elbrus is included in the list of the highest peaks of the parts of the world "Seven Summits".

Melt water from glaciers flowing down from its slopes feeds one of the largest rivers in the North Caucasus: Kuban, Malka and Baksan. Due to the well-developed transport and related infrastructure, Elbrus and the surrounding areas are very popular in recreational, sports, tourist and mountaineering terms. On the saddle of Elbrus (5416 m), separating its Eastern (5621 m) and Western (5642 m) peaks, there is the highest mountain shelter in the Caucasus.

Elbrus is included in the list of ten peaks of the Russian Federation to be awarded the title "Snow Leopard of Russia".



Since ancient times, Elbrus has been known to many peoples far beyond the Caucasus, therefore the exact etymology of the origin of its name is unknown. One of the generally accepted versions is the Iranian origin of the name from Elburz - "high mountain". Iran also has mountains with the name Elbrus consonant with Elbrus. It is interesting that the Iranian (and generally eastern) chroniclers called the entire main Caucasian ridge Elburz. Apparently, already later this name was preserved exclusively for this mountain.

Of the names of the indigenous peoples of the Caucasus, the most common are the Karachai-Balkarian Mingi-Tau and the Kabardian Oshkhamaho (Kabardian-Cherk. Huashkh'emakhue). Mingi-Tau literally means "Eternal Mountain". The Kabardian name Oshkhamaho is translated as “mountain of happiness” (from uashkhie - “elevation, hill”, and mahue - “happiness”), another interpretation is “mountain of the day”.

Among the Turkic-speaking peoples, Elbrus was called Jin-Padishah - "the lord of the spirits", among the Adyghe people Kuskh'emaf (Kuskhamaf) - "a mountain that brings happiness", among the Abkhazians - Orfi-tub - "the mountain of the blessed", among the Abazins Urym ykhimgӀva and Uryshev, in Georgia - იალბუზი (Ialbuzi) - "snow mane" or Burtsimi - "rising conically". Alberis is known in Armenia - the phonetic version of the Iranian name and the connection with the toponym Alps are not excluded. There are also names of Shat-Gora (possibly from Karach-Balk. Chat - ledge, hollow, that is, "mountain with a hollow").


Physical-geographical description

Elbrus is located in the Lateral Range of the Greater Caucasus, 10 km north of the Main Caucasian Range, on the border of the republics of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia, and is a mountain range of volcanic origin with a base diameter of 15 km and pronounced Eastern (5621 m) and Western peaks (5642 m), separated by an extended gentle saddle (Elbrus Saddle Pass, 5416 m). The distance between the peaks is 1500 m. The absolute heights of the base are 3200–3800 m. The average steepness of the slopes is 35°. For the first time, the height of Elbrus was determined in 1813 by Academician V.K. Vishnevsky and, according to him, was 5421 m.

23 glaciers flow down from the slopes of Elbrus, the total area of which is 134 km². The largest of them are Big and Small Azau, Terskol, Kyukurtlyu (possible names), Irik. The maximum length of the Elbrus glaciers is 6–9 km, which is almost two times shorter than the largest glaciers in the Caucasus, Dykhsu and Bezengi. Over the past 100 years, the total area of glaciers has decreased by 18%, and those flowing into the Kuban valley - by 33%. Elbrus glaciers feed the three largest rivers of the Caucasus and Stavropol: Baksan, Malka and Kuban.


The history of volcanic activity in the Elbrus region

Systematic studies of young volcanic rocks in the Elbrus area were started by G. V. Abikh as early as the middle of the 19th century. In the subsequent time, many well-known domestic scientists were engaged in the study of the geology of Elbrus, including V. V. Dubyansky, A. P. Gerasimov, S. P. Solovyov, K. N. Paffengolts, E. E. Milanovsky, N. V. Koronovsky and others. The work of the last two specialists summed up the first "early" stage of research on the volcano. They summarized the results of studying the geological structure of Elbrus published by that time and, on the basis of geomorphological and stratigraphic data, made an attempt to dissect young lava sequences, identify phases of magmatism, and trace the evolution of volcanic activity within this part of the Greater Caucasus.

The comprehensive geological studies carried out in recent decades have made it possible to confidently attribute Elbrus to the category of potentially active volcanoes, which stimulated an increased interest in deciphering the history and patterns of development of magmatism in this region, studying the origin of magmatic melts, and searching for traces of natural paleo-catastrophes associated with volcanic eruptions.

According to the results of isotope-geochronological studies (K-Ar and Rb-Sr dating), the earliest of the young volcanogenic formations in the Elbrus region are Pliocene rhyolite ignimbrites and tuffs of four remnants on the northern and eastern slopes of the modern volcano edifice: in the area of the Irikchat pass (Liparitovy peak), on Mount Tuzluk, on the right side of the river valley. Birdzhalysu and north of the Ullukol glacier. The age of these rocks is 3.0-2.7 Ma. The volcanic apparatus, whose activity is associated with the formation of Pliocene pyroclastic tuff formations on the northern and eastern slopes of Elbrus, apparently, was located in the area of the Irikchat pass; remnants of magma conduits are marked here by a series of felsite dikes. Small manifestations of acid magmatism were noted in the Elbrus region and at the beginning of the Quaternary period (2.0-1.6 million years ago). These include the Kyrtyk granite-porphyry massif in the valley of the river of the same name to the east of the modern cone of Elbrus and the felsite dike on the watershed of the Biitik-Tebe and Kyukyurtlyu rivers to the northwest of it. Obviously, this impulse of volcanic activity in the Elbrus region was an echo of larger-scale eruptions that took place during this period of time in the middle reaches of the Baksan River (in the area of the modern city of Tyrnyauz), a few tens of kilometers to the east.

The resumption of volcanic activity in the Elbrus region occurred in the middle of the Quaternary period 950-900 thousand years ago, in the eastern part of the region. A lava flow of basaltic andesites formed at the mouth of the Tyzyl River; a little to the south, at the foot of Tashlysyrt, a volcanic cone of the same name arose, composed of dacites. Further south, on the interfluve of the Kyrtyk and Syltran rivers, several lava cones formed, which also erupted dacitic lavas. The next impulse of Quaternary magmatism (800-700 thousand years ago) manifested itself in the western part of the Elbrus region, where several independent volcanoes of the Early Pleistocene age are known (Paleo-Elbrus, Chuchkhur, Chomartkol and Tash-Tebe). Paleo-Elbrus, the relics of whose construction with a destroyed crater are observed at the headwaters of the Kuban River, was probably the largest of them. Its activity began with fissure explosive eruptions of rhyodacitic ignimbrites, which gave way to eruptions of the central type and outpourings of dacitic lavas from the main and a number of side apparatuses. At the last stage of the volcano's activity, the formation of a subvolcanic dacite massif occurred, which has now been exposed in sections of the Kyukyurtlyu and Ullu-Kam walls.

Approximately 250 thousand years ago, the formation of the modern volcano Elbrus began [29]. The biconical stratovolcano Elbrus, which erupted dacitic lavas, is currently a rounded peak with an average base diameter of about 18 km. The foundation of the volcanic edifice has been exposed up to absolute elevations of 3000-3900 m and is composed of Paleozoic metamorphic rocks and granitoids. Thus, the relative height of the Elbrus volcano is 2000–2500 m.

The volcanic activity of Elbrus manifested itself during three discrete phases (225-170, 110-70 and less than 30 thousand years ago), separated by breaks lasting tens of thousands of years. In the first, second, and early third phases, eruptions originated from the western cone; dacite lava flows flowed south, west, and north of it. The longest was the Malkinsky stream in the valley of the river of the same name, the length of which reaches 15 km. Volcanic ash was found in the Mezmayskaya cave, related to the Elbrus eruption, which coincides in age with the Heinrich 5 cooling about 45 thousand years ago. At the end of phase III, the eastern cone of Elbrus arose, eruptions occurred from the crater at its top and fissures on the slopes (for example, the Akcheryakol stream). According to published radiocarbon data obtained from organic material from buried soil horizons, the last major eruption of Elbrus took place in 50 AD. ± 50 years. And a less intense volcanic eruption was 900 years ago.

Thus, young volcanism in the Elbrus region developed over the past 3 million years, and the latest eruptions, probably, could have taken place here in historical time. According to new geophysical data, under the Elbrus volcano at a depth of 7-13 km there is a magma chamber with an unsolidified melt. There are fumarole fields on the southern slope of the eastern peak, thermal springs (Dzhily-Su) are known in the valley of the Malka River. Based on a set of isotope-geochronological and geophysical data, the Elbrus volcano is currently considered as potentially active.



The climate of the region is formed under the influence of the seasonal circulation of air masses, characteristic of the mountainous terrain. The Elbrus region is characterized by cyclical periods of bad and good weather. In summer it is 5-7 days, and in the first half of summer the weather is usually worse than in the second. Summers are humid and cool, the maximum temperature at an altitude of 2000 meters can reach +35°С, and at an altitude of 3000 m - +25°С. Autumn begins in late August - early September. Winter at altitudes of 3000 meters and above begins in October. The average thickness of the snow cover reaches 50-80 cm, increasing with height. There is less snow on the southern slopes than on the northern ones. At around 3000 meters, the average January temperature is -12°C, and the absolute minimum recorded is -27°C. Spring on Elbrus begins in the first decade of May. Snow at 3,000 meters melts (often in the form of wet avalanches) until the end of May. At high altitudes, permanent snowfields and firn fields can remain, due to which glaciers increase their mass. But still, at altitudes of more than 5000 meters, the snow does not melt, despite the air temperature and other weather conditions.


Climbing history

The first successful ascent to one of the peaks of Elbrus was made as part of a scientific expedition organized by the Russian Academy of Sciences at the suggestion and under the general guidance of the head of the Caucasian fortified line, General Georgy Arsenyevich Emmanuel, in which prominent scientists of the 19th century, Professor Adolf Kupfer, the founder of the Main Geophysical Observatory, took part Petersburg, physicist Emilius Lenz, zoologist Eduard Minetrie - founder of the Russian Entomological Society, botanist Karl Meyer (later becoming an academician and director of the botanical garden of the Russian Academy of Sciences), artist-architect Joseph (Giuseppe-Marco) Bernardazzi (who made the first image of Elbrus), Hungarian traveler Janos Besse. The ascent was carried out from the northern side of Elbrus from the upper reaches of the Malka River through the "black mountains, among steep and rocky cliffs." At noon on July 22, 1829, one of the expedition guides K. Khashirov (Khachirov) climbed the Eastern Peak, who brought from it a piece of basalt black with greenish veins (one part of which was sent to St. ). The rest of the climbers could only reach a height of about 5300 meters. The first ascent of Elbrus was greeted with three rifle volleys. In memory of the expedition, its leader ordered the following inscription carved on a rock near the base camp:

During the reign of the All-Russian Emperor Nicholas I, the commander of the troops on the Caucasian line, cavalry general Georgy Emanuel, camped here from July 20 to 23, 1829. With him were: his son Georgy, 14 years old, academicians sent by the Russian government: Kupfer, Lenz, Menetrier and Meyer; the official of the mountain corps Vansovich, the architect of mineral waters Joseph Bernadazzi and the Hungarian traveler Ivan de Bess. Academicians and Bernadazzi, leaving the camp, located 8 thousand feet (1143 fathoms) above the sea surface, ascended Elborus on the 22nd to 15,700 feet (2223 fathoms). The top of this 16 330 feet (2333 sazhens) reached only <> Kilyar. Let this modest stone pass on to posterity the names of those who were the first to pave the way to the achievement of Elborus, which until now was considered impregnable.

"Emmanuel Rock" was discovered by Soviet climbers only in 1932. The first ascent to the top of Elbrus was reflected in the works of many Russian geographers, in particular P.P. Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky and G.I. Radde.

The second ascent to the Eastern peak of Elbrus was made in 1868 by a group of English climbers led by Douglas Freshfield, who in the same year made the first successful ascent of Kazbek. The climbers were accompanied by a guide, a participant in the first ascent A. Sottaev.

The first ascent to the higher Western (highest) peak was made in 1874 by a group of English climbers led by Florence Grove and guide A. Sottaev.

In 1890 and 1896, Andrey Vasilievich Pastukhov, a Russian military topographer and mountaineer, climbed the Western and Eastern peaks of Elbrus during scientific expeditions to map the Caucasus. In honor of the significant contribution of A. V. Pastukhov to the study of Elbrus and the Caucasus as a whole, a group of rocks on the southern slope of Elbrus at an altitude of 4800 meters is named after him.

In 1891, Gottfried Merzbacher and Ludwig Purcheller, with two local guides, climbed the West Summit of Elbrus from the south of its foot in 8 hours - the shortest time since the beginning of the climbing history.

In 1910, the Swiss climbers Gugi and De-Rami were the first to make the so-called "Elbrus Cross" - they climbed both peaks of Elbrus as part of one ascent.

In 1925, the first woman, A. Japaridze, climbed Elbrus.

In 1934, Soviet climbers V. Korzun and A. Gusev made the first winter ascent of Elbrus.

In 1939, from the top of Elbrus to the Shelter of Eleven, the Moscow skier V. Gippenreiter made the first skiing.

During the Great Patriotic War, on August 21, 1942, during the German offensive operation "Edelweiss", a group of Alpine riflemen from the mountain rifle division of the same name under the command of Captain Grotto climbed Elbrus and hoisted the flag of their unit on the Western and Eastern peaks. According to one version, instead of gratitude, German climbers received a penalty - Adolf Hitler wanted to see a banner with a swastika on the highest peak in Europe, which was supposed to be called "Hitler Peak", so the climbers had to climb it again and set the desired flag, according to another "... even a few days later, in front of everyone and everyone, he denounced "those crazy climbers" who "should have been handed over to a military tribunal." In the midst of the war, they are playing their ambitious toys,” he continued indignantly, “occupying this idiotic peak when he ordered to concentrate all forces on a breakthrough to Sukhumi.” German standards were removed from the peaks by Soviet soldiers on February 13 and 17, 1943.

Starting from the first quarter of the 20th century, with the development of related infrastructure and due to convenient transport accessibility and relative ease from a climbing point of view, climbing to the tops of Elbrus began to be massive. So, in 1928, 32 groups of Soviet climbers climbed Elbrus, in 1935 2016 people visited the summit, and in 1960 only 1395 athletes participated in the mass alpiniade in honor of the 40th anniversary of Kabardino-Balkaria.

Since 1989, Elbrus has been hosting annual championships in high-speed ascent to its peaks. In 1990, Anatoly Bukreev climbed the Eastern Peak from Shelter Eleven in 1 hour 47 minutes. In 2006, Denis Urubko covered the distance from the Azau glade (2400 m) to the Western peak in 3 hours 55 minutes 58 seconds. Until 2017, the world record for the fastest ascent to the Western peak of Elbrus from the Azau glade belonged to the Russian climber Vitaly Shkel - 3 hours 28 minutes 41 seconds. On May 7, 2017, Ecuadorian climber Karl Egloff set a new record for the fastest climb to the top - 3 hours 24 minutes 14 seconds. The women's record was set on September 16, 2016 by Oksana Stefanishina (Russia, Sochi) - 4 hours 09 minutes 39 seconds.

In September 1991, the first ecological ascent "Elbrus-1991" took place. During the ecological ascent of Elbrus-1991, about 20 tons of garbage were lowered from the landfill formed over the years of climbing near the Shelter of Eleven Hotel (height - about 4200 meters). As part of the ascent, on September 11, 1991, a group of climbers for the first time raised the state flags of Russia and Ukraine to the western peak of Elbrus.



Almost the entire service infrastructure of the areas adjacent to Elbrus from the south and east (hotels, tourist centers, catering establishments, etc.) is located along the Baksan Gorge, along which the A158 highway passes up to the very foot of Elbrus from its southern side (Azau glade). Directly on the slopes of Elbrus, infrastructure facilities are represented by several high-mountain shelters, a hotel and cable cars.

On the northern side of Elbrus, the mountain infrastructure is poorly developed and is represented by tent camps organized by various tour operators in the Emmanuel glade, and huts on one of the moraines at an altitude of about 3800 meters, which are used by tourists and employees of the Russian Emergencies Ministry.


Alpine shelters

The very first refuge for climbers on the southern slope of Elbrus appeared in 1909 at an altitude of 3200 meters. It was a stone semi-dugout for five people, built by the Caucasian Mountain Society. In 1932, at an altitude of 4200 meters, a wooden building for 40 places for tourists and climbers was erected - "Shelter of Eleven", on the basis of which a hotel began to operate in 1939. In 1933, on the saddle of Elbrus, the alpine shelter "Saddle" was built, and not far from the Shelter of eleven, the weather station "Shelter of nine". In the 1980s, 100 meters from the terminal station of the Gara-Bashi cable car, the Barrels shelter was built, which consists of more than ten six-seater insulated residential trailers and a kitchen. Currently, this is one of the main starting points for tourists and climbers climbing Elbrus.

In 2001, the restoration of the Shelter of Eleven, which burned down on August 16, 1998, began. Not far from it, a number of residential 12-seat trailers and a kitchen are installed. In the evenings, a diesel generator runs to supply electricity to the trailers.

In September 2012, work was completed on the construction of the Station EG 5300 rescue shelter on the Elbrus saddle, which became the highest mountain shelter in Europe. However, already in December the hut was destroyed by the winds. In 2013, a modest emergency hut for 4-6 people was built 300 m from the base of EG5300, which is still functioning. In 2014, on the southern slope of Elbrus at an altitude of 3900 meters, the highest mountain hotel in Europe LeapRus was built, which can accommodate up to 40 people.



The first stage of the Elbrus-1 cableway from the Azau station (2350 m) to the Krugozor station (3000 m) was launched in 1969. Its length is 1740 meters with a vertical drop of 650 meters. In 1976, the second stage of the road from the station "Krugozor" to the station "Mir" (3500 meters above sea level) was put into operation. Its length is 1800 meters, elevation difference is 500 meters. In the late 1970s, a chairlift was built from the Mir station to the Gara-Bashi station (3780) with a length of 1000 meters and a height difference of 250 meters.

In 2006 and 2009, two lines of the new modern Elbrus cable car of the gondola type were opened, which connected the lower return station on the Azau glade with the Mir station. The new cable car runs parallel to the existing pendulum cable car.

On December 27, 2015, the third line of the cable car from the Mir station to the Gara-Bashi station was put into operation with a length of 1675 meters, which made it the second highest cable car in Europe (the highest lifting point is 3847 meters) after the cable car in Zermatt (Switzerland). The capacity of the Gara-Bashi station is 750 people per hour.

The cable car is planned to be extended over time up to the Eastern peak of Elbrus.


Climbing routes

According to Russian and foreign classifiers, about ten different routes are categorized on Elbrus (at the same time, ascents to the Eastern and Western peaks are distinguished).


Classic route

along the southern slope
Is the most popular. The complexity of the route according to the Russian classification is 1B. The route starts, as a rule, from the “Bochki” shelter (the end of the cable car, 3720 m) and goes almost exactly up under the Eastern peak, past the former Shelter eleven (4050m), numerous new shelters and Pastukhov rocks (4550-4700) up to a height of about 5100 meters, from where the so-called "oblique ledge" leads to the saddle (5416). Further from the saddle, an obvious ascent to any of the peaks. As a rule, the duration of the ascent, taking into account transport costs, acclimatization exits, weather and the degree of readiness of the climbers, takes 7–10 days (the direct path from Shelter 11 to the summit takes 5–6 hours for trained athletes, excluding the time for descent).

along the northern slope
The complexity of the route according to the Russian classification 2A. The route starts from the base camp at an altitude of 2500 meters and leads through the Northern Shelter (3700) and the Lenz Rocks (which are a good natural landmark) to the Eastern Summit. In the upper part of the route it is possible to traverse in the direction of the saddle and further to the Western peak. A feature of the route (compared to the southern one) is a lower concentration of infrastructure (despite the fact that since 2012 a number of new huts and tent camps have appeared on the Emmanuel glade (2600m) and on the rocks in front of the glacier (3750m), which requires more autonomy and greater tourist qualifications. The main problem is 2000 m of vertical climb from the last stationary camp, while from the south this problem is leveled by a large number of commercial snowcats.

East ridge route
Route difficulty 2A. The ascent starts from the village of Elbrus and passes through the Irikchat gorge, through the pass and glacier of the same name to the beginning of the eastern ridge - the Achkeryakol lava flow, along which the ascent to the Eastern peak is carried out (various approaches are possible to the beginning of the ridge).

Route from the west
Route difficulty 3A. The ascent starts from the village of Khurzuk, passes through the rock "Iron" and the western ice plateau and leads to the Western peak.

Other routes
The ascent to the Eastern and Western peaks within the same ascent (route "Cross") has a difficulty of 2B. More difficult routes, climbing which is possible only for trained mountaineers (mountain tourists), include the combined routes Elbrus (Western) along the northwestern ridge (3A) and the Dome (Western shoulder of Elbrus) along the southern wall (5A).



Despite the relative ease of climbing to the tops of Elbrus, according to various estimates, from fifteen to twenty people die on it every year, which is about 80% of all accidents in the Elbrus region. Among the dead and injured are not only amateur tourists (the so-called "wild tourists"), but also, often, experienced trained athletes with relevant mountain experience.

The main objective hazards on the climbing routes are numerous glacial cracks, weather conditions - due to the specific location and its dominant position, the weather on Elbrus can deteriorate in a matter of hours, which, along with a decrease in visibility and a sharp drop in temperature (nominal and perceived), leads to loss orientation and hypothermia, as well as possible insufficient altitude acclimatization of climbers and such related factors as dehydration, a significant deterioration in well-being and, as a result, loss of concentration, etc.

There are no exact statistics on all the dead and injured on Elbrus. Of the organized climbing ascents in the period from 1929 to 2010, 29 athletes of skill level up to the “Master of Sports” died on Elbrus. Typical causes of death are hypothermia and injuries resulting from falls or falls into cracks. Of the mass deaths of climbers, the most famous are the tragedies of May 9, 2006, when eleven out of twelve tourists climbing the Western Peak froze to death on the saddle of Elbrus, and September 23, 2021, when a group of 19 amateur climbers, accompanied by 4 professional climbers, got into heavy weather conditions at an altitude of 5400 m, then 5 people died.

In July 2009, at an altitude of 5100 meters near the peak of Kyukurtlyu, which is part of the Elbrus massif, a Mi-8 helicopter belonging to the Russian Emergencies Ministry crashed upon landing. In the salon there was an expedition of Valery Rozov, a famous base jumper and climber. There were no fatalities, and the flight engineer was slightly injured. The group managed to go down to the rescuers before dark. The helicopter itself remained lying at an altitude of 5100.