Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains is the highest point in Europe at 5642m. Of course there will always be those who say that this doesn’t count as Europe, and consequently drop a point in the pub quiz by saying Mt Blanc. But the official definition of the boundary between Europe and Asia, certainly for the current purposes, is the Ural Mountain range a further few hundred miles to the East.
Climbing Mt Elbrus is technically straight forward. Certainly on the South side there is no real Climbing in the rocks-and-cliffs sense of the world. However, its upper reaches are still well within what is physiologically defined as extreme altitude and you are walking on a permanent ice cap. The weather, as always, plays a leading and slightly unpredictable role in the climb. Factors such as wind, visibility, precipitation and even ambient air pressure all conspire to work against the unlucky or un-prepared mountaineer. It is here that using an experienced and knowledgeable guide and in preparing yourself physically, mentally and in equipment terms is essential. This includes preparing yourself psychologically for the chance that you may have to turn around in order to safely return as a result of factors outside your control.
One or many of the factors above, can sometimes lead to climbers facing an emergency situation high on the mountain. It is in acknowledgement of this that between 2007 and 2010 an emergency shelter was built in the saddle between the twin peaks of Elbrus at around 5375m. The idea was to provide a refuge and rally-ing point for those in distress which would provide temporary emergency shelter.
However, it seems that something was either over-looked or under-estimated as it was not long before the superstructure of the shelter was found to have slid off its steel base into the adjacent snowfield following a strong blizzard.
Earlier this year, however, a much smaller emergency shelter was erected in its place. A news item from Russia Today explains….
This one certainly does not offer the same amount of space or give such a space-age look for that matter. It is effectively a polymer box strapped down to the rocks with steel cables. The inside is spartan, beyond the double-doored airlock is a single rectangular space with a couple of platforms as beds. The polymer construction is currently still giving off some pretty fruity chemical smells, presumably as it is still very new. But if you find yourself needing its facilities it is likely that its simplicity and odour will be more than eclipsed by the shelter it offers.
Inevitably mother nature will dispense with latest structure eventually.We can only hope that the latest shelter weathers the conditions on Elbrus and offers a safe refuge for mountaineers who may get into difficulties on the mountain in the future. We applaud the efforts of all those volunteers who have been involved in the projects.