The Elbrus Region is the border area between two
countries - the Russian Federation and the Republic of Georgia.
Kabardino-Balkaria, as part of Russia, and the historic province of
Svanetia in Georgia face each other across the Main Caucasian ridge.
In spite of the territorial proximity of the Caucasian peoples,
their development took place in certain isolation due to he
Kabardino-Balkaria is a member of the Russian
Federation, lying in the center of the Greater Caucasus, and
occupies its highest section and adjacent plains. In an area of
12400 sq.km, mountains occupy 70% of the territory. The population
is 768,000 (1990), comprising Kabardinians, Balkarians and Russians.
The capital is Nalchik.
Kabardinians ethnically belong to the group of
Northern Caucasian peoples. Their Kabardino-Cherkess tongue belongs
to the Iberian-Caucasian languages of the Indo-European language
family. The written language is based on Cyrillic.
Balkarians are related to Turkic peoples and
speak a Turkic type of language. Their written language is also
based on Cyrillic.
Both Kabardinians and Balkarians are mostly Muslims (Sunnites).
First Ascent of Mt. Elbrus
The lower East summit of Elbrus, 5621 m, was first climbed by the
Kabardinian native Killar Khashirov in 1829 who was at the time
employed as a guide by a Russian army scientific expedition. Killar
Kashirov accompanied the expedition consisting of soldiers of the
general Emmanuel, hero of the Patric war of 1812.The expedition was
backed by the Russian Academy of Sciences. The west, slightly higher
summit, 5642 m, was only ascended in 1874 by a Balkarian guide,
Akhia Sottajev together with three English climbers: Gardner, Grove
and Walker and a Swiss climber Knubel.
of the high mountains of the Alps had been climbed and categorized,
Britain's Victorian mountaineers started to look further afield.
Interest grew in the big unclimbed peaks of the Caucasus and of the
10 highest mountains in the range. Nine were first climbed by
members of the Alpine Club.
Elbrus' lower East
summit, 5621 m, was first climbed by the Kabardinian Killar
Khashirov in 1829 who, at that time, was employed as a guide by a
Russian army scientific expedition. There remains some discussion
about this claim; in Western circles, it is believed that the East
Peak was first summited by Freshfield, Moore, Tucker, Sottajev,
Datosov, and Devouassoud in July 1868.
and slightly higher summit, was only ascended in 1874 by a Balkarian
guide, Akhia Sottajev, together with three English climbers:
Gardner, Grove and Walker, and a Swiss climber Knubel.
Prior to the 1917 October Revolution, the peaks had only seen
ascents from 20 or so groups of Russian and foreign climbers. Little
climbing took place until 1928, when German and Austrian climber
started returning to the Caucasus. In 1929, a small hut was
constructed at 4160m and was called Priut 11 (the refuge of the 11)
after the name given to their tent by a group of 11 scientists who
had earlier used this site as their base. The name stuck, and in
1932 a forty-man "Priut 11" was constructed at the same site. In the
following year, a small hut was constructed at "The Saddle" between
the two summits at an altitude of 5350m. The huts were soon
overwhelmed with climbers as the next few years were to be the
golden era of Soviet-style Mountaineering for the masses. In 1936, a
huge group of young and inexperienced Komsomol members tried to
ascend Elbrus in winter. In winter, there were large areas of
exposed ice. Descending in good weather conditions, one member of
the group slipped and knocked over other members of the party.
Several "climbers" died sliding down the icy slopes and smashing
into Pastukhova rocks.
As Mountaineering and sport became increasingly
politicized in Sovjet society, Mountaineering camps grew in the
Elbrus area. Although foreign teams continued to visit the Caucasus
over decades, entering the USSR required and expedition mentality
and a willingness to suffer endless red tape with a smile. The
majority of the climber focused on the Alps, the Andes, and Alaska
that had much fewer restrictions.
1959 - 1976, A
cable car system - The Elbrus cableway was planned and built section
by section. The final section from Station Mir to Priut 11 was never
completed, although a chairlift which works intermittently takes
visitors as far as Garabashi at 3800m from where snow-cats may be
available to take them higher. The cable car has opened up the lower
southern slopes of the mountain to skiers, who often ski above
Garabashi late into the summer. The cable car system had also opened
up the mountain to large numbers of "Mountaineers", many of whom
were poorly equipped, inexperienced, and often physically
ill-prepared. A lot of accidents happened at that time.
The opening up of Russia in the 1980s changed
everything and paved the way for an open and unrestricted Elbrus to
take its rightful place in world Mountaineering. On the 16th of
August 1998, a group of climbers were cooking up a meal in "Priut
Odinatsaty", Priut 11. Although it housed 120 visitors, the hut only
had a tiny cramped kitchen with one gas cooker with four rings. As a
result, the climbers were using their own stove, this went out of
control and in the ensuing panic, someone grabbed a nearby container
of what was thought to be water and poured it onto the stove. The
liquid in the container was not water but fuel. In the resulting
fire, several people suffered slight injuries but one person,
abseiling from an upper window, after breaking the glass, fell and
was seriously injured. Thus the Priut's fifty nine years of service
came to an end. All that remained was a skeleton of the main metal
structure. Now the burnt shell of Priut 11 stands surrounded by
piles of rubbish, below it is the "bombed out" shell of the fuel
store. You can still find it easily by following the tottering line
of electric cable posts. You can also still visit the toilet which
has survived. Few at the Priut ever visited it.
2001 - In the summer of 2001, the first basic
stage of constructing a new hut just below the ruins of the Priut
was completed. The name given to the hut is the "Diesel Hut", and it
lies beside the famous toilet where the fuel hut was once located.