Elbrus – King of the Caucasus Part I

by | September 7, 2021

The Elbrus (5642 m) lies north on the main ridge of the Caucasus and towers over it by 2000 m. It is an extinct stratovolcano with strong glaciation. The Elbrus glaciers form a mighty ice cap. The Elbrus is the western cornerstone of the Central Caucasus. The Caucasus is a young fold mountain range that acts as a climatic divide due to its high altitude. The original beauty of the mountains led to it being called the eighth wonder of the world. The Elbrus is occasionally mentioned as the highest mountain in Europe.

The Caucasus – a young mountain range between two seas

The Caucasus is a young fold mountain range that is located on the land bridge between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and extends from northwest to southeast. The Caspian Sea is geographically a lake as it has no connection with the world’s oceans. The Caucasus is sometimes referred to as the Greater Caucasus, as the name of the Lesser Caucasus also exists for the steep northern slope of the Armenian Highlands, which has many features in common with the Caucasus. Between the two runs the multifaceted Transcaucasian Depression, mostly Transcaucasia is called. In front of the northern slope of the Caucasus is the North Caucasus foreland or the North Caucasus, the former peripheral depression in the mountainous region. There is the spa triangle with thermal and mineral springs in the cities of Kislovodsk, Essentuki, Zeleznovodsk and Mineralnye Vody. In this peripheral depression runs a natural border between Europe and Asia, which is then continued as a fixed border (Manych Plain, Ural River, Ural Mountains). But this border is not without problems, and so today we often speak of the double continent of Eurasia. In any case, the aforementioned limit rejects the opinion, which is also widespread among geographers and mountaineers, that Elbrus is the highest mountain in Europe. The Elbrus would be more than 800 m higher than the Montblanc.

With a length of 1200 km, a width of 60 to 120 km and an average height of the passes of 3000 m (Mamisson Pass 2829 m), the Caucasus is a huge wall that has a particular effect as a climate divide. The Borá-like cold downwinds do not reach the subtropical coast near Sochi and Gagra. Three famous military roads lead over the passes ,the Sukhumi, Ossetian and Georgian Heerstrasse. Because of its straight line and its closedness, the Caucasus can be compared to the Pyrenees. Compared with the Alps, the Caucasus is extremely hostile to traffic, as there are no longitudinal valleys, the transverse valleys often have gorge-like narrow valley stretches in their breakthroughs, and there is only a narrow footprint on the edge of the mountains on the Black Sea or Caspian Sea.

Essentially, the Caucasus consists of a main chain with branches (side ridges) that mostly run south. Only on the northern roof, and there predominantly in the west, there are parallel chains. Two mighty volcanoes, Elbrus (5642 m) and Kazbek (5047 m), are placed on the main ridge (Fig. 1) as a result of strong tectonic stress on the mountain body. They are the cornerstones of the Central Caucasus. The West Caucasus joins to the west and the East Caucasus to the east, which is usually called the Dagestani Caucasus. In the Central Caucasus on the Elbrus lies the summer and winter sports area of ​​Itkol-Terskol (ski area on the Tscheget; 3769 m); in the West Caucasus near Teberda, the sports area of ​​Dombaj.

As with the other young fold mountains (Alps, Pamir, Himalayas), the Caucasus consists of a tertiary core of crystalline rocks (granite, gneiss, dark methamorphic slate, especially in the Eastern Caucasus) and more or less strongly folded Mesozoic layers (marl, sand and Limestones) on the flanks in the north and south. Due to its surface shape, the mountain range is divided into largely isolated valley chambers, which is reflected in the fact that it has been inhabited since ancient times by a large number of peoples and tribes (more than 40 different ethnic groups) who have not mixed.

There are legendary traditions about how the many ethnic groups came to their beautiful country. When God created the world and distributed it among the peoples, the Caucasians are said to have come too late. They were very sad about that. The Lord finally took pity and gave them what he wanted to keep to himself, Paradise. This is to say that the Caucasus is of extraordinary, largely untouched beauty.

Elbrus – King of the Caucasus

The highest mountain in the Caucasus, the Elbrus, is located on the border of Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria near the border of the Russian Federation with Georgia and is accessible from the north through the Baksan Valley. The Elbrus is an extinct volcano that, like the Kazbek, sits enthroned on the ridge of the Caucasus as an “aged patriarch”. Because of its original beauty, it has also been called the eighth wonder of the world.

Elbrus - King of the Caucasus 1