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Kazbek, Caucasus

Journey to Mount Kazbek, Georgia

The best time for climbing Caucasus Mountains is August. The weather is warm at this time, there is no everyday rains or any significant temperature fluctuations. So in August we decided to climb of Mount Kazbek, which is located on the Main Caucasian Ridge from Georgia.
Kazbek is an extinct volcano of Caucasus, with five thousand meters height and located in the eastern part of the Central Caucasus, on the border between Russia and Georgia, the eastern part of Khokh Range.

As a starting point to the top of Kazbek we chose Gergeti village. You can reach it from the central bus station in Tbilisi. Usually buses depart in the morning, so the trip takes about 7 hours. The road goes along the plains, and then changes to the highlands, through the ski resort, lots of tunnels and dangerous turns over the precipice. The driver make stops at lunch places, where you can drink water from a source and take a little trip break because of roadway, which is sometimes not very high quality .
We arrived in Gergeti in evening and immediately located in the guest-house, where hospitable hosts immediately fed us with dinner. We sat in on the terrace with mountain views, discussing our plans.
The next day the weather was sunny and we decided not to waste time and take a stroll to Trinity Church ( Church of St. George). Built in the XIV century shrine is the only temple in the area of Hevy. Medieval bell tower is still preserved and situated near the Hevy. It was interesting to explore this ancient place, and at the same time locate products and supplies. Also, this walk will help us with acclimatization to the altitude. View from the terrace of our guest-house :

Mountain range in the clouds, Kazbek, Caucasus

The road to the church goes through the village. Basically, all the houses are built of stone with tiled roofs and tall fences, behind which backyard is not visible. But the path goes up steep and opens an interesting view on the old part of the village and you can see all in details:

Gergety, Kazbek, Caucasus

Then we come to the pasture surrounded by a fence. The locals here are actively engaged in farming and breeding cows, sheeps, make delicious cheeses and a variety of ethnic foods from the milk.

Road to Gergety, Kazbek, Caucasus

Pasture, Kazbek, Caucasus

After pastures we went to the forest. The road winds through the serpentine. There are many steep areas here and therefore it is very fond of tourists on huge SUVs , enduro bike riders on the and motocross bike riders, and often, almost silent, huge groups of bicycle downhill fans rushing down the hill. These places are very convenient for such extreme sports, so besides from climbing the local peaks, here is what to do .
At noon we went to the church. It stands on a hill , surrounded by vast grasslands, where tourists stroll or going further climbers before climbing to the top. We left all of the products and equipment in the woods, where no one could find and during few hours we examined the old church and just relax:

Stepantsminda, Kazbek, Caucasus

Stones, Kazbek, Caucasus

Panorama of range, Kazbek, Caucasus

A few hours later the clouds began to gather over the valley. The Caucasus in general almost always clear for the first half of the day, and in the evening is going to rain, so we filled bottles with clean and fresh water from the source and went down in the guest-house. We had to collect all the remaining equipment in large backpacks. It was tents, ice axes, safety equipment, ropes, safety hooks, sleeping bags, our mobile kitchen, photo and video equipment. So after a lunch the next day we are ready to go the route. In the guest-house we can felt national hospitality again. We gathered for a dinner with a huge group of Germans, English , Polish and Russian and taste the local cuisine. All these people were climbers and either returned from climbing , or just preparing for it . We talk about the weather at the top and difficult areas. In general, climbing Kazbek in the summer does not have much complexity , it’s mostly tracking, but dangerous areas still exist, such as the passage of annuals “Ortsveri” and the area from the old weather station to a snowy plateau. We must be careful there/
The next morning was sunny again, but we decided to go to the meadows near the church in the afternoon, because the whole climb takes about 3 hours with large and heavy backpacks. There we had planned first overnight. By yesterday, we went out on the meadows and camped. Around us were other tents and constantly wandering cows and steers that night trying to get under our tent. They break the silense and our sleep.
I woke up before dawn with a aim to catch the beautiful light. All around was covered with fog and almost nothing is visible. But I still took a tripod, camera and went on a small hill. For my luck, the fog disappeared and the rising sun add some color to the landscape:

Camp, Kazbek, Caucasus

Morning mist, Kazbek, Caucasus

Stepantsminda during sunset, Kazbek, Caucasus

Beautiful colors dawn did not last long: at one time fog overcast again and drizzling rain began. Unfortunately, today the weather was bad exactly like in the forecast. We took the equipment, which was previously brought and spread out on backpacks. Rain soaked tent and it added some weight to it . We did not use horses or porters, so we took large backpacks and slowly went up. The trail was steep enough: it was constant climb which led to the top of the glacier “Ortsveri”. Here relief flattened so we have got access to the water and plenty of space for tents, around which climbers build wall of stone for protection from the wind. In meadows grazed horses that locals used to carry all the equipment for large expeditions. At this place we came in the afternoon, the clouds were in the valley and beautifully flowed through the hills:

Tourist's horse, Kazbek, Georgia

Cloudy valley, Kazbek, Caucasus

Hills and clouds, Kazbek, Caucasus

In cloudy weather the easiest photography objects are rivers, lakes, streams. It is all because the sun glare, which sometimes does not look beautiful on picture:

Monochromic river, Kazbek, Caucasus

We were little tired of climbing, so after dinner we went to bed. The forecast for the next days is a good weather. So I awakened before dawn by the alarm call and this meant it was time to go for a morning shoot. The first minute is always difficult to get up, but interest in the beautiful photographs are always stronger. And my earl awaking gave me a good result. At that time I was not so experienced, so result is here:

Before sunrise, Kazbek, Caucasus

Clouds on the top, Kazbek, Caucasus

Morning sunshine, Kazbek, Caucasus

Rays, Kazbek, Caucasus

Kazbek, Caucasus

This photo was published in the National Geographic TRAVELER journal, April- May 2013:

Top of a Kazbek, Caucasus

This place is very suitable for those who are interested in landscape photography, because it’s variable relief you can always find a good angle.
After shooting, we began to prepare breakfast. I also make some promotional photos for our sponsors and after that we walked the route. Area of alpine meadows ended and stone trail through the hills smoothly come into the glacier. We go to the glacier with climbing crampons, which are interconnected by safety rope. These precautions are necessary because of glacier huge cracks. We move very slow, because at some area we came upon a huge rift and had to get it, making a detour. We have lost a lot of time at that moment. It was a couple of hours before sunset when we came to the trail that led to an abandoned weather station. At this place the glacier ends and begins the stone steep with a narrow path. We fully laden with equipment and very tired , moving up slowly. We were overtook by drovers on horseback, fully of equipment. In general there is not a problems with cargo transportation here.
Came to the weather station, which was not such abandoned at all. Rescuers and guides living here. Here you can buy gas and some food. Also you can rent a room. There was a lot of tents around the building with national flags on some of thems.
That evening sunset:

Rocks in the clouds, Kazbek, Caucasus

The weather station is located at an altitude about 3,800 meters. It’s like a starting point for a climb to the peak, which starts from additional 1,200 m height. This method is quite feasible, but in a climbing day you need to lost a lot of energy.
Other climbers pass from weather station on a snowy plateau, which lies at an altitude of 4300 meters . You need to overcome a very dangerous section of the left side of Kazbek. On this side of the ice-hanging stone wall , which melts during the day and all crumbles down forming a permanent blockages . Therefore it is better to pass this part of the early morning, when the wall is not as mobile or make a huge detour on the glacier .
View of one of the sections of the ice- rock wall:

High rocks, Kazbek, Caucasus

We chose the second way and went out early in the morning to the plateau. During the movement we must watch where stones falling and move very quickly and carefully. At the one moment we had to throw backpacks and quickly take refuge on a huge boulder. So if suddenly collapse on the large covered with small fragments. We’ve got to the snow plateau just at the moment when the real storm started. We had a little time to put up a tent and build a wall of snow for protection from the wind. Group from Holland did the same quickly. As soon as we finished and hided in the tent to cook dinner, the storm covered plateau. We sat on the corners and with every gust kept tents arcs, otherwise powerful wind may broke it . By the way , the tent is designed to withstand storms and more, but we had concerns. About 2 hours the wind pulled down and then suddenly fell silence. Storm clouds quickly left the plateau.

Panorama after storm and camp, Kazbek, Caucasus

After storm, Kazbek, Caucasus

Landscape near camp, Kazbek, Caucasus

Landscape near camp, Kazbek, Caucasus

Lines of the hills, Kazbek, Caucasus

Snowy top of Kazbek, Kazbek, Caucasus

Clouds during sundown, Kazbek, Caucasus

Glow, Kazbek, Caucasus

Climbing to the peak was assigned on 2 am, therefore we lay down to rest watching sunset. In the morning we got up, dressed warm and light clothes, took ice axes, camera and some hot tea in a thermo cup. It was a great luck – nice weather because of clear and windless night. Group from Holland came before us, so we were almost alone. When the sun rose, I made one shot while relaxing:

Sunrise in the clouds, Kazbek, Caucasus

There is no time to rest, but the weather was clear, the air is fresh and I wanted to stop to take a few shots:

Panorama of range in the morning, Kazbek, Caucasus

Snow and clouds, Kazbek, Caucasus

View from Kazbek, Caucasus

On lower side, from the Russia side, I saw a group that just started climbing . In my head I imagined the finished picture, so I waited a bit for them to made this. Climbers on the background of a mountain valley and Kazbek shadow:

Tourist team, Kazbek, Caucasus

Next I had to put down the camera in the coffer and catch up with my friends fast. All this time we were traveling without climbing cats, because the snow was not like the ice crust and the trail was done quite well. Just below the peak, there were about 50 meters, we fixed the cats , because of ice under feet. And so, with two ice axes and cats we climbed to the top of Mount Kazbek, 5023 meters altitude! Panoramic view from the top:

From Kazbek top, Kazbek, Caucasus

This journey came to an end, and new one started: Svaneti was the next!

Elbrus at morning time, Elbrus, Kabardino-Balkaria

Elbrus in morning time

Mount Elbrus is a dormant volcano located in the western Caucasus mountain range, in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia, the Russian Federation, near the border with Georgia. Mt. Elbrus’s peak is the highest in the Caucasus, in Russia. Elbrus has two summits both of which are dominant volcanic domes. Mt. Elbrus (west summit) stands at 5,642m (18,510ft) the east summit is slightly lower at 5,621 metres (18,442ft). I was on eastern top of Elbrus:)  Great place at any time of the year for tourism, climbing and landscape photography!

Elbrus at morning time, Elbrus, Kabardino-Balkaria

Ushba, Svaneti, Georgia

Matterhorn of the Caucasus – Ushba

Ushba is one of the most notable peaks of the Caucasus Mountains. It is located in the Svaneti region of Georgia, just south of the border with the Kabardino-Balkaria region of Russia. Although it does not rank in the 10 highest peaks of the range, Ushba is known as the “Matterhornof the Caucasus” for its picturesque, spire-shaped double summit. Due to its steep profile and unstable weather, Ushba is considered by many climbers as the most difficult ascent in the Caucasus.
Ushba’s south summit is slightly higher than its north summit, which has an elevation of 4,690m (15,387ft).
Ushba’s north summit is more accessible than the south summit: the standard route, the Northeast Ridge, ascends from the Russian side of the range to a high plateau and thence to the summit. Hence a summit ascent on this route technically involves crossing the border. The route is graded French AD+ or Russian 4a.
Ushba, Svaneti, Georgia

Journey to Mount Elbrus

 It was my first trip to the Caucasus and to such high mountains also. For me has always been native the mountains of the Crimea, which so impressive for its beauty, but difficult to compare with the Caucasus – they are much bigger and greater.

I’m with the group was planned climbing Elbrus by common ascent route. That means that we can’t use the cable cars and or adjuvants, such as porters or horses. Therefore, we carry all of the load on itself, and its been quite a lot due to the fact that the expedition assumed complete self-contained life, that means, we had a base camp and tents, we cooked in a traveling kitchen. It was quite other-worldly lifestyle from all of the people.

As a starting point and a base camp we chose wood near the Terskol village at the foot of Mount Elbrus in Kabardino-Balkaria. Suitable place was near the stream, river and mineral spring water which is very useful for health. There are many aromatic and fresh berries grew not far away from our base camp, which undoubtedly adds flavour to our gruel and afternoon tea . We had a huge, roomy tent for 4 persons . The entrance was covered with tent of the same size, with the equipment and mobile kitchen in it. Even in the mountains it is essential to organize comfort rest place.

Mist, valley of mountain Elbrus

Stones on the river Terskol, valley of mountain Elbrus

In the first days we equipping the camp and training by simple walk for acclimatization. All the climbers knows that not only a good physical preparation, but acclimatization is one of the conditions for a successful climbing to the peak of the mountain. All these days we did not climb above 3000 meters because it’s enough for the first time, as explained our instructor.

Clouds, valley of mountain Elbrus

Stony hill, valley of mountain Elbrus

Rocks, valley of mountain Elbrus

valley of mountain Elbrus

River, valley of mountain Elbrus

Our climbing route looked like this: Terskol – alpine meadows at the waterfall “Maiden Spit” – Ice Base – stopping place at “Priyut 11” – peak of Elbrus .
Stones on the field, valley of mountain Elbrus

herd of a sheeps, valley of mountain Elbrus

River on the field, valley of mountain Elbrus

Lake, valley of mountain Elbrus

To make the work easier we left our equipment and food in the ice base. This will not only facilitate our final ascent to the peak, but will also provide additional acclimatization, because ice base is at an altitude of 3655 meters. There’s already quite cold enough and you can literally jump from the summer at foot, to the winter at peak. Leaving all that was brought in a secret place , we went down to the base camp . I mean to say that at that place I take a pretty nice shots. A felt of the height of these mountains and rocks is amazing, and the light at dawn and dusk behaves quite differently than in the lowlands. And it’s good to know that you get up in a morning to make shoot and eventually get beautiful shots.

Stones, valley of mountain Elbrus

Ice base
House, valley of mountain Elbrus

High rocks, valley of mountain Elbrus

Sunrise rays, valley of mountain Elbrus

Bright sunrise, valley of mountain Elbrus

We went down to our base camp in Terskol for 2 days rest. During this time, we went to the village, to buy some souvenirs, which mostly made from sheep’s wool, ceramics and simple magnets. I get familiar with local cuisine, particularly liked the lamb kebabs and red wine, whose name i can’t remembered . In general, it is a tourist place, but in the winter Mount Elbrus serves like ski resort, which has lifts and many hotels. Locals are very friendly and always glad to answer for your question. Besides climbing and winter extreme sports it is a nice and calm place to stay.

After 2 days, we went to the familiar Ice base, arranged the night and the next day, plunging all the equipment we moved on. Our path led through the glacier “Terskol” in full fog. Glacier itself has a lot of dangerous cracks , so here it is necessary to remember about safety equipment during traveling.
Crossing in the mist always seem infinitely long but nevertheless after about 4-5 hours, we heard the sounds of snow groomers and snowmobiles, that means that “Priyut 11” is near.

Mountain in the mist, valley of mountain Elbrus

Among the rocks was not much space for a tent, it was occupied with other climbers. But we had a snow shovel, with which we have made for themselves a great place for a tent, smooth and protected from the wind. According to the weather forecast the next day promised to be clear and we decided that night to go to the peak, so after installing the camp we went to bed. At 1:00 am we were awakened by the alarm, and we decided to dress up slowly and drink tea with chocolate, which has a lot of energy. And certainly not without Ukrainian national product, such as ” fat”. We faced a serious work, so we had to eat it. At 2:00 we went out of the tent in the dark, it was around hundreds of stars and thread climbers with flashlights on the slopes of Mount Elbrus.
It is difficult to describe all the experience of climbing any mountain, it is necessary to feel by yourself. Despite the hurricane, which began at the moment when we came out, as it was the first serious mountain, we finally reached the peak of Mount Elbrus.

Mountain range, valley of mountain Elbrus

By all means try it by yourself!

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