“It’s the heart, afraid of breaking that never learns to dance. It’s the dream, afraid of waking that never takes the chance. It’s the one who won’t be taken who cannot seem to give. And the soul, afraid of dying that never learns to live.” Bette Midler The Rose
Why This Mountain?
We have talked about Mt. Elbrus since the summer after Tami did Half-Dome because it is one of the seven summits (the highest point on each of the seven continents). The mountain is in Russia, but is technically the highest mountain in continental Europe. This will be the second of the seven summits that both TJ and Tami have done (they have both done Kilimanjaro). It has also been a life long dream for Tami to visit Russia.
Mountain & Route Facts
Mount Elbrus is the highest mountain in Europe, and the tenth most prominent peak in the world. A dormant volcano, Elbrus forms part of the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia, near the border with Georgia. Elbrus was formed over 2.5 million years ago.
Elbrus is believed to be the mountain in Greek mythology that Zeus chained Prometheus as punishment for Prometheus giving fire to mankind.
Elbrus has two summits. The west summit is the highest point at 18,510 ft. The western summit was first ascended in 1874 by an British expedition led by F. Crauford Grove and including Frederick Gardner, Horace Walker, and the Swiss guide Peter Knubelof St. Niklaus in the canton Valais.
We are climbing the mountain as part of an expedition by Rainier Mountaineering – RMI. After sightseeing for a day in Moscow, we head to the village of Azau (getting to Elbrus is a day’s journey). Azau is located at the base of Elbrus at 7,500 ft. The next day we do an acclimation hike on the slopes of Cheget to 11,000 ft. The next day, we begin the 4-5 day hike to the summit of Mt. Elbrus. We stay in barrel huts at 12,000 ft. each night. The first couple of days at the huts we do acclimation hikes to 1,5000 ft. and practice mountaineering techniques like self-arrest. On the fourth day on the mountain, we attempt the summit. Starting at 17,700 ft. we make our way across the snow and glacier to reach the highest peak – the West Summit. If the weather is bad, we’ll have the fifth day to try the attempt. We finish up our time in Russia by sightseeing in St. Petersburg.
Historical and Cultural Information
In terms of land mass, Russia is the largest country in the world, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth’s inhabited land area. Extending across the entirety of northern Asia and much of Eastern Europe, Russia spans eleven time zones. The capitol is Moscow. The current President is Vladmir Putin. The official language is Russian and the currency is the ruble.
The history of Russia begins with the East Slavs, who emerged in Europe between the 3rd and 8th centuries AD. The medieval state of Rus arose in the 9th century. In 988 it adopted the Orthodox Christianity from the Byzantine Empire. In the 13th century, Rus lands were overrun by the Mongol invasion and became tributaries of the nomadic Golden Horde. Ivan III (“the Great”) finally threw off the control of the Golden Horde and consolidated the whole of Central and Northern Rus’ under Moscow’s dominion, He was also the first to take the title “Grand Duke of all the Russias”. The Grand Duke Ivan IV (the “Terrible”) was officially crowned the first Tsar of Russia in 1547.
Russia continued its territorial growth through the 17th century, which was the age of Cossacks. Cossacks were warriors organized into military communities, resembling pirates and pioneers of the New World. The rapid Russian exploration and colonization of the huge territories of Siberia was led mostly by Cossacks hunting for valuable furs and ivory. In 1648, the Bering Strait between Asia and North America was passed for the first time by Fedot Popov and Semyon Dezhnyov.
Under Peter the Great (1682-1725), Russia was proclaimed an Empire in 1721 and became recognized as a world power. On the Baltic Sea Peter founded a new capital called Saint Petersburg, later known as Russia’s “Window to Europe”. Peter the Great’s reforms brought considerable Western European cultural influences to Russia. The reign of Peter I’s daughter Elizabeth in 1741–62 saw Russia’s participation in the Seven Years’ War (1756–63).
Catherine II (“the Great”), who ruled in 1762–96, presided over the Age of Russian Enlightenment. She extended Russian political control over the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and incorporated most of its territories into Russia during the Partitions of Poland, pushing the Russian frontier westward into Central Europe. In the south, after successful Russo-Turkish Wars against Ottoman Turkey, Catherine advanced Russia’s boundary to the Black Sea, defeating the Crimean Khanate. By this time, the nation had greatly expanded to become the third largest empire in history, stretching from Poland in Europe to Alaska in North America.
In alliances with various European countries, Russia fought against Napoleon‘s France. The French invasion of Russia at the height of Napoleon’s power in 1812 failed miserably as the obstinate resistance in combination with the bitterly cold Russian winter led to a disastrous defeat of invaders, in which more than 95% of the pan-European Grande Armée perished. The officers of the Napoleonic Wars brought ideas of liberalism back to Russia with them and attempted to curtail the tsar’s powers during the abortive Decembrist revolt of 1825. At the end of the conservative reign of Nicolas I (1825–55), a zenith period of Russia’s power and influence in Europe was disrupted by defeat in the Crimean War.
The last Russian Emperor, Nicholas II (1894–1917), was unable to prevent the events of the Russian Revolution of 1905, triggered by the unsuccessful Russo-Japanese War and the demonstration incident known as Bloody Sunday. The uprising was put down, but the government was forced to concede major reforms, including granting the freedoms of speech and assembly, the legalization of political parties, and the creation of an elected legislative body, the State Duma of the Russian Empire.
In 1914, Russia entered World War I in response to Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war on Russia’s ally Serbia, and fought across multiple fronts while isolated from its Triple Entente (French and the UK) allies. In 1916, the Brusilov Offensive of the Russian Army almost completely destroyed the military of Austria-Hungary. However, the already-existing public distrust of the regime was deepened by the rising costs of war, high casualties, and rumors of corruption and treason. All this formed the climate for the Russian Revolution of 1917. Nicholas II was forced to abdicate; he and his family were imprisoned and later executed in Yekaterinburg during the Russian Civil War.
The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was formed in 1922. Vladimir Lenin was the head of government from 1917 – 1924. Following Lenin’s death in 1924, Joseph Stalin, an elected General Secretary of the Communist Party, managed to suppress all opposition groups within the party and consolidate power in his hands. Leon Trotsky, the main proponent of world revolution, was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1929, and Stalin’s idea of Socialism in One Country became the primary line. The continued internal struggle in the Bolshevik party culminated in the Great Purge, a period of mass repressions in 1937–38, during which hundreds of thousands of people were executed, including original party members and military leaders accused of coup d’état plots. Stalin remained the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953.
On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany broke the non-aggression treaty and invaded the Soviet Union with the largest and most powerful invasion force in human history, opening the largest theater of World War II. Although the German army had considerable early success, their attack was halted in the Battle of Moscow. Subsequently, the Germans were dealt major defeats first at the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942–43, and then in the Battle of Kursk in the summer of 1943. In August 1945 the Soviet Army ousted the Japanese from China’s Manchukuo and North Korea, contributing to the allied victory over Japan. The 1941–45 period of World War II is known in Russia as the “Great Patriotic War“. The Soviet Union together with the United States, the United Kingdom and China were considered as the Big Four of Allied powers in World War II.
The Soviet Union abbreviated to USSR, the world’s first constitutionally socialist state and a recognized world superpower, and a rival to the United States which played a decisive role in the Allied victory in World War II. The Soviet era saw some of the most significant technological achievements of the 20th century, including the world’s first human-made satellite (Sputnik 1), and the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin). By the end of 1990, the Soviet Union had the world’s second largest economy, largest standing military in the world and the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction (the state detonated in 1961 the Tsar Bomba, which was mankind’s most powerful nuclear bomb ever built).
Following the partition of the Soviet Union in 1991, fourteen independent republics emerged from the USSR; as the largest, most populous, and most economically developed republic, the Russian SFSR reconstituted itself as the Russian Federation and is recognized as the continuing legal personality (the sole successor state) of the Soviet Union. In June 1991, Boris Yeltsin became the first directly elected President in Russian history.