View on Elbrus, Karachay–Cherkessia

Journey around Mount Elbrus

So it turned that my very first trip to the high mountains was a trip to the Caucasus, Elbrus.At that time we had a goal to ascend to the top of it, and we have successfully completed it. I carried a small DSLR camera and a tripod, and for a good reason humbly carrying this extra weight. At that time I made a good shots of rare event for me – time during sunrise and sunset. After that I would go back only just to walk with a camera and soon this idea was realized.

We decided to get around Elbrus on the one side, starting from Karachaevo-Cherkessia and finished in Kabardino-Balkaria, Terskol.

This idea has been successfully completed.

Sure, I again picked up a camera, and this was almost the first frame when the snow cap of Mount Elbrus appeared behind the mountains, welcoming to come closer 🙂

View on Elbrus, Karachay–Cherkessia

The first night of our trek, beside the bus, was at the sources of Gil-Su. Yes, I know they should not be in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, because the real source, which attracts thousands of people are in Kabardino-Balkaria, that very far from the place we were standing. Nevertheless, we stopped at the sulfur springs, even a plate with the name “Gil-Su” indicates that. There is no so much people here. It either tourists or elderly people, who came to bathe in the sulfur baths and recuperate. An image of peace and quiet. The endless hills with green grass and Elbrus is surrounding us, showing it top time after time. As if I did not want, he stubbornly hiding in the clouds. As a result this photo was taken – a secretive Elbrus 🙂

Elbrus in clouds, Karachay–Cherkessia

I did not want to spend the first day evening at the Gil-Su source just sitting in a tent. There dense clouds hanging above the valley and there was no hint for a beautiful light. So I decided that I have a time to soak in a warm sleeping bag and I went for a walk through the hills with my camera and a tripod. And not without a reason! Suddenly the sun was burst through the clouds, covering all with the soft light. It happens after rain: when a lot of moisture in the air and the rays of the sun became unreal soft. Grazing horses were perfectly fit in a picture.

Horses on hills of Elbrus, Karachay–Cherkessia

Next photo was taken after a sunset when the last rays illuminate through the clouds and all around for a moment. But what happened before that? A slow climb to a height of about 3600m, and this place is called the Balkbashi pass.

It’s like a two seasons in one day: summer and winter. A green meadows, sun and the warm at the bottom, and the icy wind, snow and tea, which was just poured into a cup instantly cools at the top. It must to go under the pass about 200m down to the stop place, which is protected from the piercing wind and we thoroughly frozen instantly teleported in it.

There are solid rocks is arond, cliffs and impenetrable clouds. Those who are getting to spend the night in this place before, built and finish building stone walls around camp, which creates a quite comfortable image. Sure , we make a contribution to the building of the century.

Аnother interesting day of our trek almost around Mount Elbrus was finished with this picture 🙂

Elbrus in clouds, Karachay–CherkessiaAs it typical for Caucasus – it is clear in the morning, and all in the heavy clouds in the evening.

In a typical morning Elbrus appeared with unprecedented side for me. Everybody usually looking at it from Terskol seeing familiar shapes, so quite so pleasant and familiar (I hope you understandd what I mean).

Snow and stones on Elbrus, Karachay–Cherkessia

Stones on Elbrus, Karachay–CherkessiaMorning sky was clear and the day promised to be hot. We began the descent into the valley, where it was unreal hot, especially when you suddenly get here from the permanent cold. I, as usual, walk little behind:

Tourust team in mountain valley, Elbrus, Karachay–CherkessiaWe quite quickly came to the river. The river was shallow and had a lot of areas for crossing, but its rapid flow could knock down at any moment, so we must be especially careful.

River in mountain valley, Karachay–Cherkessia

Today we had a long passage to the sources, the name of which I forget. But this is not just a place in the rock where the water flows (for example), it is specially equipped “bath” of stones where is always some amount of water. People who have any health problem should visit a “bath”. I must say that this place is very popular near close lying hills, many square kilometers of them occupied tents, camping and just cars. People come here for a long time in hope to recruit their health. Usually I don’t like to make such photos, where human presence is, therefore, to assess the extent of all the action you only have in person. Yet, in the rainy afternoon was again the ray of light and a rainbow made this shot:

Rainbow, Elbrus, Kabardino-Balkaria

For those who are going to walk this route, and it is quite popular, must take into account that a good place for tents are very difficult to find, especially if you have 5 tents for the whole group. So it will be very far from any source of drinking water, or it will be a steep slope or in the mud from cars. Therefore, it will take a time to find a good place.

By the way, since the place is popular, there is a traditionally occurred simple places, built on the basis of a body of an old truck, where you can taste the local cuisine. Inside them you may find the kitchen itself and the tables. Pretty good interior and most importantly – food tastes delicious!

The next day we decided not to go anywhere, but to make “a day’s rest.” So we slept half a day, dried wear that completely drenched yesterday, make several visits to a local restaurant for cakes with different fillings (they were really very good). Another half of the day we gather strength before tomorrow, when we have to climb to the top.

We teleported again, if you can call this movement with a large backpack, in the cold and desert. For some reason just that word I always liked to apply for transition. Because sometimes you did not really notice how everything changes dramatically. Usually you think about the trek or in search of good landscape. And in the evening suddenly you realize – here you feel different than at the bottom. Therefore I call it teleportation. It was very cold on our roost and muddy shore of the river at night covering with ice.

Cold river and Elbrus top, Karachay–Cherkessia

There is no other source of water here, so we settle the water for a long time, to precipitate more or less settled on the bottom of the pots and bottles. So it turns that a good idea is to have a portable water filter. But who will carry it was a question. After all, you always want to pack yourself the smallest possible size and weight of backpack.

Milky river, Elbrus, Karachay–Cherkessia

Overnight in these places is not very comfortable It is impossible to rest in really cold environment, so we don’t feel strong next morning as expected . Therefore, people don’t stay in such places for a long time, so what we did is to move out early next morning.

Today we had to cross the glacier and the pass. Unfortunately, I didn’t make a records in this trip and forget many names and titles. So I just introduce this photos – maybe someone recognized these places. I think I remember this rock called “peak of Kalitsky” but I could be wrong.

Nek near Elbrus, Karachay–Cherkessia

There are many streams and rivers with tasty water flows through the glacier. The pass is not hard to cross. A glacier free of fractures and big cracks.

The pass afford a fine view on both valleys. It’s wonder but someone made up a camp here. Tent place was surrounded with fence of stones, to have a minimal protection from wind, which blows almost every time. I hesitated to spend a night here and we moved down the hill.

Valley, Kabardino-Balkaria

During moving down the hill we were covered with cloud but some of the gust opened us the field with huge flock of grazing horses. From the way they playing was seen they have mating period. And sure it was a lot of moments to shot and I must to get closer. Not throwing my travel bag I moved to the horses. Once I made this shot the couple instantly and resolutely rushed to me. Perhaps I was too obsessive and broken their idyll. As a result I was like tourist with big backpack entangled in high grass with a camera in a hand and a pair of horses behind. Everything ended well, no one has been bitten or not get a hoof to the head. But what expression I had you can only imagine. So do not disturb the peace of pair with you presence – use telephoto lenses instead. 

In a place of our overnight, as it seen from fallen trees, avalanching two years ago. Flat fields, a source with fresh water and a lot of mushrooms it all you can find here.

Trees in valley, Kabardino-Balkaria

Small farms come along the way, were you may buy milk, cheese sour cream or ayran. Ayran is quite bracing drink I strongly recommend. The shepherd sold us a cream and we picked mushrooms cook delicious mushroom sauce for porridge. After a tiring day’s journey is nothing tastier. We can see shepherd’s houses on photo. 

Monochromic mountains, Kabardino-Balkaria

In the morning we left the valley and went to Treskol by car to restock food to walk through the pass VCSPS. All went well until our leader dislocated shoulder during the climb, so the pass had to be postponed for another trip.

Mountain valley, Elbrus, Kabardino-Balkaria

At the hospital his shoulder was put in place and we went to the old woman Baluzhan in Treskol We spend a few days with she dried all things and began to gather for ascent to Mount Elbrus. In general the ascent was successful: a lot of guys in our group reached the summit, they were able to find the strength. This year were a lot of people and tents places at any free place, such as in this photo. But in the morning you can enjoy the beautiful landscape without getting out of bed.

Camp on rocks, Elbrus, Kabardino-Balkaria

I didn’t go to the top because I was there two years ago and at the moment it was interesting for me to take pictures of the sunrise. We spent 3 days at the top, and one of them was wonderful morning for photography. 

The main Caucasian ridge during sunrise, Kabardino-Balkaria

So our journey came to the end but not finished. There was downhill, trip to the local market for souvenirs, walking, grand dinner but that’s completely different story.

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!

Portfolio Items