Mount Elbrus

The Seven Summits are the highest peaks on each of the Earth’s seven continents. However, there is disagreement about where the border between Europe and Asia is located in Russia. One commonly cited boundary for the easternmost edge of Europe is the Ural Mountains, which brings the Caucasus Mountains within Europe. The Caucasus’ tallest mountain, Elbrus, is 5,642 meters (18,510 feet) high, higher than Western Europe’s Mt. Blanc in the Alps, the European contender if the Caucaucas are instead considered within Asia. Elbrus has two summits, the east summit being the lower of the two at 5,621 meters, both of which are dominant volcanic domes.

The first recorded climb of the mountain was in 1829 by Killar Khashirov, who reached the lower east summit. The higher west summit was reaching in 1874 when the guide Akhia Sottaiev led a team of British and Swiss climbers to the peak. During the early years of the Soviet Union, mountaineering became a popular sport of the masses, and there was tremendous traffic on the mountain. In the winter of 1936, a very large group of inexperienced Komsomol members attempted the mountain, and ended up suffering many fatalities when they slipped on the ice and fell to their deaths. The Germans briefly occupied the mountain during the Second World War; a possibly apocryphal story tells of a Soviet pilot being given a medal for bombing the main mountaineering hut, Pruit 11, while it was occupied. He was then later nominated for a medal for not hitting the hut, but instead the fuel supply, leaving the hut standing for future generations. From 1959 through 1976, a cable car system was built in stages which can take visitors as high as 3,800 meters. There are a wide variety of routes up the mountain, but the normal route, which is free of crevasses, continues more or less straight up the slope from the end of the cable car system. During the summer, it is not uncommon for 100 people to be attempting the summit via this route each day.

The Caucasus Mountains are the result of a tectonic plate collision between the Arabian plate moving northward with respect to the Eurasian plate. They form a continuation of the Himalayas, which are being pressed upwards by a similar collision zone with the Eurasian and Indian plates. The entire region is regularly subjected to strong earthquakes from this activity, especially as the fault structure is complex with the Anatolia/Turkey and Iranian Blocks flowing side wise, which prevents subduction of the advancing plate edge and hence the lack of volcanoes (though some minor dome structures, such as Elbrus’ peaks, do exist).