Expedition: Caucasus 2017

The Caucasus is still a relatively exotic place to most of us, we have just a few romantic images and very little information. That's why we love reading about adventures of travellers, who explored this far-away region. Our friend and customer Marek Kochan fulfilled his dream to conquer Elbrus, the highest peak of the Caucasus and Europe. He sent us an interesting story he kindly allowed to us to share with you as well.


After a lot of planning and a few moments when I thought everything was lost, I managed to fulfill my dream to visit the Caucasus in August 2017. With my travel buddy Zdeněk from the Czech Republic, we took a plane from Vienna to Mineralnye Vody in Russia., the town which is considered to be the gate to the Caucasus.

The road from the airport leads us through the breathtaking valley of the wild mountain river Baksan right below the majestic Elbrus. Flat land around the airport is changing into bigger and bigger hills, the valley is narrowing and the altitude is rising quickly. We continue to the small village of Terskol, which lies at the end of the valley. We put up a tent in a local campsite and after a short sleep we set off to get familiar with local mountains.


Our first destination is Cheget mountain. We are still tired from the long journey so we opt for a cable car which takes us to the altitude of 3,000 m. The peak offers probably the most beautiful views of Elbrus rising across the valley. We are overwhelmed by its hugeness and impressive height. It's gonna be hard to conquer it, we do not even dare to say it out loud. We talk about a trial only, about the weather and our physical condition – whether they allow us to reach the summit. We feel good at the altitude of 3,100 m and we plan another adjusting hike the following day. This one leads us around gorgeous Girl's Braids – a waterfall on the hillside of Elbrus, and to the astronomical observatory situated above 3,000 m.


On the third day we combine cable cars and hiking to the base camp at meteorological station Prijut 11 at 4,100 m. For the first time in my life I walk on a glacier. It is everywhere around us, it's incredibly huge. The total area of Elbrus glaciers is around 140 square kilometers, they are continually shrinking, though. We look at the main Caucasus ridge in east-west direction. Elbrus itself is situated on the side of the ridge and among other Caucasian peaks surpassing 5,000 m it is unique not only because of its position and height, but also its origin. It is a dormant volcano and occasionally, it reminds itself by sulfur emission. Last time it erupted around 3000 BC. Twin peak of Ushba is towering just in front of us. Its name meaning the Witch, is well deserved. A lot of lives were lost there. We also see Donguz with its characteristic glacier cap and countless beautiful peaks.


In the upcoming days we take several hikes on the glacier, we test the crampons, get accustomed to the thin air and collect information by talking to other hikers. We set the date of ascend and plan the strategy – time schedule, food supplies, clothing, and consider all possible risks. Looks good! The weather is in our favour, our bodies are acclimatized and so we dare to conquer the summit.


After five sleepless hours in the camp we tiredly drag ourselves out of our sleeping bags at midnight. There is fresh snow outside. Half an hour later we start hiking in the moonlight, strong wind and cold. We reach the Pastuch rocks at 4,800 m at 2 am. We continue with a group of ten climbers and two guides. It makes it easier for us to find the way in the unknown terrain. We follow them to the traversing section under the lower, eastern peak. From there, we continue on our own. My buddy Zdeněk does not feel well and so he decides to return from 5,000 m. I keep going alone. On the dawn I meet another group of climbers, the previous one I left behind a long time ago. The traverse is endless, at least it is mild. The wind is getting stronger and the apparent temperature is falling down, it feels way below minus 10 degrees Celsius. The name of the mountain Mingitau, or the Windy mountain as the Balkars named her, is really fitting. The thin air does not allow me to take long steps and walk fast. I walk slowly and take regular breaks to catch up with breath. The sun is high above the horizon when I reach the saddle between the two peaks. An exhale before the last 400-metre ascending. The trail continues steeply, around the western peak whipped by the strong winds.  I pass some permanently fixed ropes, but I have no fastening with me so I keep going. I reach some kind of plateau that mildly rises towards the summit. Finally at the top. It's 7:30 am and I am all alone there. The wind is so strong that it steals all oxygen away from me. I cannot stay for too long, after taking two pictures I am trying to escape the freezing roof of Europe. No time for emotions, I am looking forward to the descend and I will enjoy this experience to the fullest when I get back.

On the way down I meet plenty of climbers aspiring for their own Caucasian adventure. In less than 3 hours I am back in my tent. Time to pack up quickly and let's go down. I can't wait to have shashlik and share my experiences with friends. There is so much to talk about, indeed!


Translated from the original story of Marek Kochan published on his facebbok account