|The western Caucasus is a part of the Main Caucasian
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.
most popular areas for climbers and tourists are:
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.
(4038 m/13,248 ft)
||Russia (86%), Georgia (14%)
(numbers are approxmiate percentage of range area)
||Krasnodar (56%), Karachay-Cherkessia (16%), Abkhazia (14%), Adygea
(12%), Stavropol (1%)
(numbers are approxmiate percentage of range area)
||62,320 sq km / 24,062 sq mi
Area may include lowland areas
||353 km / 219 mi North-South
453 km / 281 mi East-West
||43� 53' N; 39� 26' E
Ten Highest Peaks
|Sub-peaks are excluded from this list.
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|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.
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
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 �
|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
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.
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
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 -
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.