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Caucasus

About | Mountains | Glaciers | Rivers | Lakes

Western Caucasus

The western Caucasus is a part of the Main Caucasian ridge that extends from the Marukhskiy pass to the West from Elbrus. The Western Caucasus starts as a low ridge rising gently from the Black Sea, and gradually reaches Alpine character as it approaches the Central Caucasus. The warm, damp climate there is a product of the Black Sea. As the result there is thick deciduous and coniferous forest growth in the valleys and on the lower ridges. The most Western  part of Caucasus has splendid rock faces in a very beautiful setting.  The region is popular among hikers and rock climbers. The section between the Marukh and Klukhor passes where there are plenty of established routes and one can make lots of hard ascents (especially up north faces) and traverses. The highest summits of the Western Caucasus are: Dombai - Ulgen (4046m), Kukurtlu (4639m) (the western shoulder of Elbrus). A congelation of the area is insignificantly, abrupt rocky walls dominate there and their remoteness makes them difficult to access.

The most popular areas for climbers and tourists are: Dombai, Arkhyz, Usunkol. In Uzunkol the best known mountain is Mount Dalar (3979m). Dombay is the main convenient center for the climbs of this area. The only mountain reaching 4000m is Mt. Dombay-Ulgen (4046m) is located in Dombay area, where there are plenty of established routes. Mt. Belalakaja (3861m), considered the "Matterhorn of the Caucasus" is another highlight of the area.

Range Type Geographically-defined sub-range
Highest Point Dombai-Ulgen (4038 m/13,248 ft)
Countries Russia (86%), Georgia (14%)
(numbers are approxmiate percentage of range area)
States/Provinces Krasnodar (56%), Karachay-Cherkessia (16%), Abkhazia (14%), Adygea (12%), Stavropol (1%)
(numbers are approxmiate percentage of range area)
Area 62,320 sq km / 24,062 sq mi
Area may include lowland areas
Extent 353 km / 219 mi North-South
453 km / 281 mi East-West
Center Lat/Long 43� 53' N; 39� 26' E

Ten Highest Peaks

Rank Peak Name m ft Range4
1. Dombai-Ulgen 4038 13,248  
2. Gora Gvandra 3984 13,071  
3. Gora Pshish 3790 12,434  
4. Gora Chugush 3237 10,620  
5. Gora Fisht 2867 9406  
Sub-peaks are excluded from this list.
 

Map Links MSN MapPoint Map

Links Google Search for Western Caucasus

Getting there and away

The approaches are short. Almost all gorges have auto roads,  it has bus connection to some stations (from  Miniralny Vody  (Mineral Water), Cherkessk, Karachaevsk, Zelenchuksky, Suhumy, Gudauty, Adler). There are paths  in the upper of valleys and on the pasture along passes.

Geographical overview

Western Caucasus  in the geographical literature is a part of Bolshoy Caucasus to the West of Elbrus. As trek literature says Western Caucasus is  only a sub-region (till the Fisht mountain) with highland icy place  of Great  Caucasus range; the territory to the West belongs to North-Western Caucasus.

Administratively this is a region of Karachaevo-Cherkesskaya autonomous region  of Stavropolsky land, Krasnodarsky land,  Abhaziya republic.

The pivot of Western Caucasus mountain mass is the Great Caucasus Range.  The range massifs in a number of northern spurs  of Great Caucasus Range, about 20 km from it, is called Peredovoy (Advanced) ridge. To the North parallel  of Great Caucasus Range is Skalisty (Rocky) ridge. There are Kodorsky, Abhazsky (Chhaltsky), Bzbsky, Gagrsky ridges.

Mainly Western Caucasus is a wooded average mountainous massif. The line of Glavny Range (Great Caucasus Range) reaches the forest border (2000-2200 m over sea) in the middle of the district, near the Chugush mountain increase over 3000 m, and the highest peak is in the eastern part ( Dombay-Elgen mountain � 4046 m).

The typical peculiarity of Western Caucasus is a combination of dense forests along valleys and mountain slopes with sharp altitude peaks and fortress covered by snow. There are a plenty of transparent blue and green lakes surrounded by flowering alpine grasslands, gloomy rocks and falls. Among them are the famous lake Rizza, highland lakes  Kluhorskoe, Kardivach, Mira.

There are various forms of karst such as deep precipices, underground rivers, caves, craters, gullies in the limestone massifs (Kodorsky, Bzibsky, Gagrsky, Skalisty ridges). There are lots of underground water outs as well: Gegsky waterfall, Mchisht, the Blue lake, Aapsta on the southern slope.

The rivers of the  northern slope of Great Caucasus Range concern to Kuban basin which begins from Elbrus glacier and in its upper stream takes  the name of Uluukam. The greatest of them are Uzunkol, Uchkulan, Daut, Teberda, Aksaut, Maruha,  Zelenchuk, Bolshaya Laba, Malaya Laba. The main rivers of southern slope are Nenskra, Kodor, Chhalta, Bzib, Mzimta. The water in rivers is transparent and has blue and green shadows.

Western Caucasus differs from all parts of our country by the biggest natural contrasts � from alpine highlands glaciers to sub-tropics. The climate feature � high humidity.

Trekking and Mountaineering

Western Caucasus is the oldest and well-mastered region of mountaineering. Here are routs for beginners-travelers and for the sport groups. The most simple paths are in quite low western part beginning from Arhis where there are many passes of 1A and 1B complication categories (mainly fall and snow) both through Great Caucasus Range, and through its spurs. This region is more suitable for non -category  treks of 1-2 complication category.

The eastern part of Great Caucasus Range with its spurs (Gvandra district) is characterized by  1B-2A complication categories passes of different types (snowy, icy, rocky). There are wide possibilities for treks approaches of average (till the 3rd  category) difficulty.

Glavny Range in the district of Aksauta-Dombay is difficult. Most passes are of 2A � 3A complication categories here. The passes northern side is often snowy-icy, southern � rocky. The southern slope is a steep slope. Crossings of Great Caucasus Range can make the main elements the 4-5 complication category treks.

Historical monuments

There are lots of historical monuments presenting an interest for visitors: stations of the stone age; there are a great number of steps of ancient pastures � rests of koshs (a summer station-square for cattle, consisting of an enclosure and a house), enclosures, paths on the lawns; along ancient trade paths � chains of ruins of  middle centuries fortresses and temples mainly of Alansky time and Apsiliya flourishing period, another number of places are connected with the Caucasus War (19th century) events. Many distinguished arts persons were also here. Glavny Range passes keep  evidences about the Great Patriotic War battles.

Nature

The Western Caucasus, extending over 275,000 ha of the extreme western end of the Caucasus mountains and located 50 km north-east of the Black Sea, is one of the few large mountain areas of Europe that has not experienced significant human impact. Its subalpine and alpine pastures have only been grazed by wild animals, and its extensive tracts of undisturbed mountain forests, extending from the lowlands to the subalpine zone, are unique in Europe. The site has a great diversity of ecosystems, with important endemic plants and wildlife, and is the place of origin and reintroduction of the mountain subspecies of the European bison.

The western part of the Great Caucasus has no analogy in its biodiversity level among the natural systems of the Caucasus or any other mountainous area in Europe or Western Asia. The Western Caucasus is a place where endangered, rare, endemic and relic plant and animal species are concentrated. It is even more important that this territory is a place with an undisturbed natural environment that provides habitat for the most vulnerable species of large mammals including the Caucasian bison, the Caucasian red deer, Western Caucasian wild ox, chamois, wolf and Caucasian bear.

The Western Caucasus is famous with its unique wildlife biodiversity. Only its high mountain zone accounts for 967 species of vascular plants. The floras of other high mountain systems are much poorer (Eastern Saiany - 540 species; Western Saiany - 601; Stanovoye Highland - 602; the Urals - 621; the Altai - 297).

Among the most important challenges that stand in front of the Caucasian Nature Preserve is protection and restoration of one of the few bison populations living in natural conditions. Although pure bison species became extinct in the 1920s, some hybrid species have survived in captivity, including those that inherited some of the characteristics of the pure mountain bison. These animals belonging to the so-called Belovezh-Caucasus line, have composed the backbone of the modern bison population of the Caucasus Nature Reserve. After 50 years of selection work these animals have occupied the empty environmental niche that used to belong to the mountain bison. The Caucasus Nature Reserve is the only remaining habitat of the mountain bison, in other places it has been almost completely exterminated by poachers.

Both ancient and modern glaciers have played a very important part in the development of the diverse relief of the Western Caucasus. Here one can see trough valleys, moraines, mountain wetlands and glacial lakes. Multiple karst-forming processes take place in limestone massifs of the northern part of the area. Numerous caves and cavities (these are among the longest and deepest ones in Russia as some are over 1600 m deep and 15 km long) form complex underground systems of rivers, lakes and waterfalls. At rock outcrops of different age and composition one can find very interesting remains of extinct ancient organisms. For example, due to numerous findings of giant ammonite shells (some over 1 m in diameter) the valley of the Belaya River (the left tributary of the Kuban river) has become world famous.

The territory is rich in different picturesque objects including waterfalls and mountain peaks (up to 3360 m); ebbing mountain rivers with crystal clear water, clear mountain lakes, enormous trees (grandiose fir trees that are up to 70 m high and about 2 m in diameter), rare plants (orchids and others) and many other features. The Western Caucasus remains an invaluable unique and pristine natural complex.


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