Across Europe, there are over 60 active volcanos and two of the most active volcanos in Europe are situated in Italy. We’ve all heard of Western Europe’s Mount Etna, Mount Vesuvius, and Puy de Dome, but what about Eastern Europe? In this article, we’re going to delve into the dormant volcano in Southern Russia that is not only the tallest mountain in Russia but also the tallest mountain in all of Europe: Mount Elbrus!
Situated in Southern Russia’s majestic and volatile Caucasus region, the dormant volcano that is Mount Elbrus is also Europe’s tallest mountain and number ten in the list of the world’s most important mountain peaks. The highest peak of the mountain boasts a height of 5,642 metres or 18,510 feet above sea level.
Almost entirely situated in the Russian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, Mount Elbrus has two dormant volcanic domes which also form its two most prominent eastern and western summits. They are both similar heights rising 5,642 meters and 5,621 meters respectively. The summits of this dormant volcano in Southern Russia were ascended for the first time during the Russian Empire. The summit on the Eastern side was conquered in 1829 by Khillar Khachirov a guide for an Imperial Russian army scientific expedition. The summit on the Western side was first ascended in 1874 by a British expedition led by F. Crauford Grove.
Is it One of The Most Dangerous Volcanoes in the World?
Thankfully, Mount Elbrus is far from being amongst the most dangerous volcanos in the world and the last eruption from the volcano happened around AD 50. There is, however, various evidence of various, fresh lava flows on the mountain. One of these lava flows is around 15 long and stretches down the Northeast summit. These days, the volcano is far more dangerous to climbers than to the general public. Mount Elbrus has an average yearly death toll of 15 to 30 people. But these are largely due to people making largely unorganized and poorly equipped attempts to reach the summit of Mount Elbrus.
Mount Elbrus was also the site of the highest hotel in all of Russia. It was called ‘Shelter 11’ after the 11 alpinists who, in 1909, formed a camp on the mountain at an altitude of 4,050 meters. The camp was only supposed to be temporary but before they left they inscribed the term ”Shelter 11” on a nearby rock. Around 20 years later, the Soviets turned the area into a hotel resort and called it the fitting name of Shelter 11.
The hotel was designed by Soviet airship designer and architect Nikolay Popov. Although the hotel managed to survive the carnage of WW2 during the Battle for the Caucasus, it didn’t survive the tourists that came afterward. This prime example of pre-war Soviet architecture was unfortunately burnt down in 1998 when a Russian tourist placed a pot of gasoline on a stove instead of water by mistake. The stove fell over and the hotel rapidly burst into flames.
When it comes to climbing this dormant volcano in Southern Russia, there have been various notable attempts. Some of such ascents have featured everything from an ATV and a Land Rover Defender to a squadron of troops carrying a swastika flag. All of which are bizarre and have ended badly or been met with unsavory reviews.
In August of 1942, Elbrus was surrounded by the forces of the German Wehrmacht. Gebirgsjäger troops from the 1st Mountain Division were dispatched by their commanding General to the summit of the mountain to plant the Nazi flag. Despite being bombed by a Soviet pilot on the way, they managed to do so. However, when Adolf Hitler heard about this he was said to be furious and deemed the expedition a “stunt” whilst threatening to put the General behind it on trial.
In 1997, another whacky ascent to the peak of Mount Elbrus was attempted by a team led by a Russian mountaineer named Alexander Abramov. Instead of climbing Elbrus, Abramov and his team hopped in a Land Rover Defender and headed up to the Eastern Peak. Amazingly, they managed to make it 12,500 feet up the mountain before pulling the car to the top with a pulley. However, on their descent, they lost control of the car and bailed out just as the car plummeted onto the jagged rocks below them. Thankfully, the team survived and the car is still lying where it crashed over two decades ago. Their ascent earned them a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
Conquering the Dormant Volcano in Southern Russia on Horseback
If you’re familiar with the culture of the North Caucasus, you’ll know that equestrian skills are highly valued amongst the mountain tribes of this fascinating part of the world. Thus it wasn’t long before somebody came up with the idea of conquering Elbrus on horseback and since 1998 there have been multiple attempts!
The first people in history to conquer the Elbrus on horseback were a group of climbers hailing from the Karachai-Cherkess and the Ingush Republics in the Caucasus. The men used three Karachai breed horses and fitted them with unique horseshoes that had steel spikes to grip the ice. The six-man team and their horses accomplished the Eastern Summit in August 1998. The following year, the same riders ascended the Elbrus again and reached the Western summit using a Karachai horse. Since then there have been various equestrian climbs to reach the top of Mount Elbrus almost exclusively carried out by those local to the North Caucasus republics.
“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.”– Barry Finlay
Unfortunately, due to the persistent instability of the volatile North Caucasus region which is plagued by civil war, terrorism, and insurgency, climbing Mount Elbrus has been increasingly difficult in recent years. Various Western governments have issued many travel warnings against attempting to climb the mountain and travel to the North Caucasus region in general. Thus, a volcanic eruption isn’t the main danger from this enormous dormant volcano in Southern Russia.
For further reading on the world of Russians and extreme heights, check out our article on Isaac Asimov – The Russian sci fi writer who feared heights!