The Elbrus region
The Elbrus region… these words associate with snowy tops, quaint rocks resembling medieval castles, rapid rivers, glaciers. Those, whose go to the Elbrus region for the first time, hope to see wonder. And the expectation doesn’t disappoint them. Those, who have been here, can’t wait anymore for merging with charming, immense beauty. Not by chance the Elbrus region is considered a real Mecca for mountain-skiers. Quiet, friendliness and hospitality – these are distinguishing feature of the Elbrus region.
The natureIn good weather, as soon as night’s shades disappear, snowy tops are colored into delicate colour spectrum from emerald-green and light-violet to pink, then fire red and, at last, silver.
Glacial forms of the relief are spread above 3,500 m above sea level. Surfaces, free from glaciers, are covered with moraines. Glacial cirques, morains, lakes with emerald-blue water – distinguishing features of the relief of high-mountain of the Elbrus region. At smaller heights (3,500, 2,100 m) on the slopes of the ridges there are many stone fields with white spots of thawing snowfields. Frothing waterfalls dash down from steep benches of rocks.
The Elbrus region is an area of active avalanche activity. Snowy avalanches together with huge mass of snow carry large number of stone fragments down, to the bottom of the slopes forming huge cones of losses. Avalanches of different types, size and power often descend from steep slopes of a valley of the Terskol river. Upper reaches of valley Azau, where large mass of snow is collected, are avalanche-hazardous too.
Snow avalanches develop colossal sliding speed, air wave and possess huge destructive force. Large number of active taluses, rockfalls, avalanche-hazardous slopes require strict performance of safety instructions while walking in the mountains.
Forests of small-leaved sorts: birch, mountain ash, asp, bird cherry tree, - are spread in the places of avalanching. Birch woods with rhododendron, sometimes clear rose bay shrublets, forming thick difficult brushwoods, prevail. Rhododendron is a relic of tertiary epoch, bushes with leather-like evergreen leaves, height of which is up to 150 cm. It is beautiful especially in the period of flowering – at the beginning of June. Large white-pink or cream flowers, gathered in large inflorescences, make the slope extraordinarily smart and colorful.
A thick belt of coniferous forests changes into a narrow belt of shrubbery open forests, which gradually change into a belt of subalpine and then alpine meadows. The last ones border directly upon snowfields and firn fields.
Valleys and lower parts of the slopes before 2,600-2,700 m of height are covered with high pine forests. Mixture of other sorts in them is insignificant: birch, mountain ash, willow are found. In the underbush – juniper, barberry, dog-rose, in the moister localities – brushwoods of currants.
Alpine meadows are situated at height of 2,200 m above sea level are also beautiful in their own way. The whole islets of blue gentian are seen against a background of green sedge. Their campaniform flowers sit on the very short stalks and they so approximate to each other that from far away they look like continuous blue spots. The smallest primrose is a violet primrose with umbers of delicate-violet flowers. Large-flowered viol, blue and yellow flowers of which resemble our cultivated pansy, are found here and there.
Beginning with height 3,200 m, alpine meadows disappear. Various lichens and mosses – Iceland moss, reindeer lichen, polytrichum common, cetraria nivalas, Thamnolia sinuous – grow on the slopes and rocks, non covered with snow.
Single plants, peculiar for alpine meadows, are found in the border of thawing glaciers. From the middle of august forests and groves of the Elbrus region are full of mushrooms. Mushrooms here are especially clear and fresh. Ceps, saffron milk caps, Boletus luteus grow in abundance.
The fauna of the Elbrus region is also various. Bears, wolves are met in the forests. Snow leopards – wild Caucasian cats – were found here in the 50-s.
Beautiful wild oxen are still found on the mountain slopes, on the highest crests. They usually gather in herds in 20-30. Weight of Caucasian wild ox reaches 100-150 kg (male) and 60-90 kg (female), color is light-brown, males have thick horns. Caucasian wild ox is an endemic of the Caucasian fauna.
Caucasian snowcock dwells in the higher areas 1,800-4,000 m. It resembles domesticated turkey but smaller. Snowcock is a very quick bird with keen eyesight and hearing. Feeds on grasses and buds of bushes. Chukar, mountain partridge is found in the rocky gorges. These birds hold in pods. They live in the stone fields of forests and don’t like high-grass alpine meadows. They feed on insects, seeds and cloves of various plants. In winter they dig up their food from under the snow by their legs.
Wild boars don’t ascend high. It is a gregarious animal. A female with piglets and last year’s descendants usually form a herd. Wild boar feeds on various vegetable and animal forage: acorns, nuts, apples, pears, mushrooms, worms, larvae, mouse, bird’s eggs. It is interesting that name Donguz-Orun is translated from Balkarian as place where a boar is located.
Squirrels are found in the pine forest. Such small predators as common marten, polecat, mole, shrew are often found here. Small hayricks – provisions of mouse-hares can be found in the clefts between rocks.
In the forest belt there are many birds. Black woodpecker, corn crake, titmouse, chiff-chaff, bullfinch, wagtail, chaffinch dwell here. Kites, hobbies, lammergeyer hover high in the sky. One can flush Caucasian grouses, which are rare now, in the brushwood of rhododendron.
The history of the Elbrus regionGrey two-headed Elbrus, towering above snowy tops of Caucasus, has attracted travelers, mountain lovers long since. In the 16th century travelers considered Elbrus an active volcano and were afraid of the “fire mountain” though the mountain, at least fro 20 centuries hasn’t thrown out lava on the surface. However evolution of sulfuric and chloride gases gives scientists grounds to see an active volcano in Elbrus. Also numerous mineral springs in the upper reaches of the Ulla-Khuzuk river, temperature of which reaches 24 C?, are an evidence of permanent processes. It is quite possible that Elbrus is not an extinct volcano, most likely it is a decadent volcano.
People pitted their hopes on this mountain-giant. They called it in different way – both Gene-padishah (Tsar of ghosts) and Adygei Udshkhamaho (Mountain of happiness).
Elbrus hides much in its name – Turkish Yal-buz – “mane of ice”, and Karachai-Balkarian El-burush – “rotation of wind”, and Turkic El-buz – “country of ices”. Certainly, both Yal-buz and El-buz best of all reflect the real nature of Elbrus, in the icy cap of which numerous glaciers of Bolshoi Caucasus gather. Version “El-burush” quite definitely reflects a real picture, when hardly noticeable haze on the top of the giant turns into a impenetrable snowstorm and blizzard in half an hour.
In XIX century an ancient settlement Urusbievo became a center of gravitation of foreign and Russian guests. Englishmen have been here twice: member of king’s alpine club sir Duglas Freshfield, traveler and geographer P. Grove with companion-in-arms, who accompanied by natives of Balkaria conquered the eastern and western tops of Elbrus in 1868 and 1874.
So development of alpinism and tourism in the Elbrus region – an area of the upper reach of Baksanskoe gorge of the Kabardino-Balkaria republic, directly bordering upon the southern slopes of Elbrus, - began. Real pilgrimage here began in the 30-s of XX century. By this time gorge became the most accessible. A branchy net of side gorges, leading to the mountain passes and variety of alpine routes to such famous but difficult tops as Ushba, Shkhelda and many others appears in it. Especially large tourist “boom” began in 1959 when a resolution about foundation of tourism, alpinism, sport and recreation center in the Elbrus region. A well-equipped asphalted road and began building tourist’s hotels.
Alpine routesBlanket of snow is set on November; in Alpine zone the snow lies till May-June. The routes are well-equipped and do both for sportsmen and also beginners. These routes are considered to be ones of the most beautiful in Europe. Skilled instructors will teach beginners to feel confident on the mountain slopes.
Main zones of skiing of the famous Bakanskaya valley are Tcheget and Elbrus. Height overfall in Tcheget is from 2,100 to 3,040 m, in Elbrus – from 2,300 to 3,800 m. The highest accessible point of Elbrus is Gara-Bashi, height of which makes up 3,780 m above sea level. Snowcat will help to go to this mountain from station “Mir”. Mountain Tcheget is one of the most difficult alpine resorts, total quantity of routes here is 15.
Extension of descending from Tchegeta and Elbrus may make up 5-7 km according to a selected route. Total quantity of elevators is 11. The longest routes are Azau – Stariy krugozor – 2.5 km, Stariy krugozor – Mir – 2 km, Tcheget – 1.6 km.
Amateurs of mountain descending get new alpine route on the slope of Elbrus. It stretches from the station of rope-way Krugozor to Polyana Azau and fully corresponds to demands of Skiing Sport Federation. Height overfall on the route is about 700 m, length is within 2.5 km.
SpringsBlue lakes and unique hot mineral springs rejuvenate and prolong life for tens years. In the Elbrus region springs are concentrated mostly in the upper reaches of the Baksan river and its confluents Irik and Adilsu and also in the valley Malka. Glacier water overflows from spring “Kara-Su”, located at height of over 2,000 m above sea level, at the bottom of the highest top of Europe – mountain Elbrus. Natives have used them for treating of their diseases from of old. Families used to come here, built primitive huts and sheds, drink waters and rest in the open air. Treatment methods were very simple: a sick man was put in a self-made bath with mineral water, then he was carried into a hut and wrapped up into felt cloak in order him to sweat. Glacier water is recommended under disbolism, kidney disease.
Analysis of narzans of the Elbrus region showed that they don’t yield to the famous waters of Pyatigorsk, Essentuky, Kislovodsk. Therefore in perspective Elbrus mineral water reserves may be used for treating purposes. The nature conservation on this territory is very important as mineral springs of the Elbrus region are directly connected with Caucasian Mineral Waters. It is a place of the famous narzan origin, their springs.
Tchegem waterfallsTchegem gorge with side branches, formed by numerous mountain rivers, resembles a giant tree. Unique beauty of these places arose people’s delight, pleasure and surprise.
A rapid stream of the Tchegem river creates unique pictures in each section of the gorge. Owing to warmth and moisture abundance grey steep rocks of the gorge don’t look gloomy, high grass grows and bright flowers glisten in some places, it would seem, on the absolutely naked stone, and pines, birches reach for light. It seems as if one needs only to stretch out hands and he will touch simultaneously both sides of this gorge.
The famous Tchegem waterfalls are equally wonderful both in summer and winter. Falling dawn from the rocks and flowing out of numerous clefts, water streams rush down from the height 50-60 m into whitewater of the Tchegem, forming numerous rainbows, and this delights all visitors of these places. You may throw a coin for memory to return here one more time – in these magic mountains.
Soft mountain climate of this area, imposing tops, picturesque gorges, numerous waterfalls and salubrious springs of narzan create wonderful conditions not only for active but also passive rest. Falling down by interlacing jets from the steep gorge into the Tchegem river, they represent awesome and at the same time wonderful sight.