Northern Elbrus region: stone mushrooms, clay castles and warm baths
Elbrus is a kind of center of attraction for the Caucasus. In clear weather, this majestic giant is visible for many tens of kilometers. It is not surprising that Vereshchagin, Kuindzhi, Konchalovsky and Roerich depicted him on their canvases. The northern Elbrus region, unlike the southern one, is practically uninhabited, but it is quite popular with tourists, attracted here by numerous natural attractions.
The two-headed giant Elbrus, the highest peak of the Caucasus, Russia and Europe (5642 m above sea level), at all times struck the imagination of man, and many legends and traditions are associated with it. For thousands of years, the Sumerians, Etruscans, Scythians, Sarmatians, Bulgarians, Khazars and Alans built and developed their states at the foot of Elbrus, where they first began to extract iron and domesticate animals.
This explains the many names of the legendary mountain. According to one version, the word Elbrus comes from the Iranian “albar” or “albors” – “high mountain”. The ancient Zoroastrians, struck by the greatness of this mountain, considered it the center of the universe, the road to heaven. In the views of the ancient Persians, Elbrus was the main decoration of the Kabk emerald ridge, which, according to their beliefs, encircled the earth, “like a finger ring.” According to other myths, the omnipresent prophetic bird Simurgh has been sitting on the top of Elbrus for thousands of years, with one eye looking at everything that has passed, and with the other looking at the future of the Earth and people.
The peoples of the Caucasus from ancient times have preserved oral legends about the legendary Narts – the distant ancestors of the Caucasians, the first inhabitants of the Elbrus region. In the Karachay-Balkar epic, Elbrus is called Mingi-tau (“eternal mountain”) and is characterized as a world mountain with a source of immortality on top and the original place of residence of the Narts.
In July 1829, on the initiative and under the leadership of the general of cavalry, head of the Caucasus region, commander of the troops of the Caucasian line and the Black Sea coast Georgy Emmanuel (in the old spelling – Emanuel), a military scientific expedition to Elbrus was organized. The main goal is to study the area and its natural features, as well as the culture of the Caucasian peoples and establish ties with them.
The expedition made a great contribution to Caucasian studies, and one of its significant results was the emergence of Russian mountaineering. Starting from Pyatigorsk, it was of an exclusively peaceful character. However, for the purpose of protecting her, she was accompanied by a detachment consisting of 600 infantrymen, 400 Cossacks and two gun crews. Along the way, the general checked the fortifications, posts and redoubts.
Prominent scientists, members of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, were invited to the expedition: Academician A. Ya. Kupfer, who headed the group of scientists, physicist E. Kh. Lenz, botanist K. A. Meyer, and entomologist E. P. Menetrier. Mining engineer Vaisovich was involved in geological and mineralogical studies.
Kupfer, Lenz, Meyer, Menetrie, Bernardazzi, 20 Cossacks and a group of guides from local residents, including Killar Khashirov and Akhiya Sottaev, participated in the first ascent to the top of Elbrus. However, only four went to conquer the peak: Emily Lenz, Cossack Lysenkov, Killar Khashirov and Akhiya Sottaev. At an altitude of 5350 m, Lents, due to lack of strength, and Lysenkov and Sottaev accompanying him, were forced to turn back. Ascent alone continued Khashirov. At 11 am on July 10, 1829, he was the first to climb the eastern peak of Elbrus.
General Emmanuel watched the ascent through a telescope from a camp located at the foot of the northern slope of Elbrus, on the Surkh plain, on the left bank of the Kyzyl-Kol-Suu River. When Khashirov climbed to the top, the general ordered that this great event be celebrated with a drumbeat and a three-time rifle salute.
The next conquest of Elbrus took place only 40 years later, on July 31, 1868. The expedition of the Royal Alpine Club led by Douglas Freshfield with a guide, a local Balkar from the village of Urusbievo (the modern name is Upper Baksan) Ahiya Sottaev, climbed the eastern peak of Elbrus.
Six years later, in 1874, Akhiya Sottaev climbed Elbrus again, but this time to the western peak, accompanying another group of climbers from England, consisting of Grove, Walker, Gardner and Knubel. F. Grove wrote about Sottaev: “This is a wonderful hunter from the village of Urusbievo, in all likelihood, more than anyone else managed to get acquainted with the surrounding valleys and mountains … Thin, strong and strong, he … climbed the slopes of the mountains completely freely, while in fact, his path was so difficult that an ordinary person was hardly able to follow him, but in case of need, without slowing down his step, he could make a rather long transition. The Caucasian long-liver Ahiya Sottaev lived for 130 years, and in memory of him a memorial boulder was erected on the banks of the Baksan River.
In honor of the first climbers to Elbrus, a memorial was erected along the Baksan highway at the entrance to the Elbrus region. The glade from which the first ascent of Elbrus began is named after General Emmanuel.
The northern Elbrus region is a vast area covering the northern slope of Elbrus. The most popular place, where a whole constellation of natural attractions is concentrated, is the area of the Dzhyly-Suu tract.
An asphalt road from Kislovodsk with a length of 90 km leads to the tract. The road is considered one of the most beautiful in the Caucasus. Dzhyly-Suu has long been famous for its mineral springs, majestic waterfalls, bizarre remnant rocks. In the vicinity of Dzhyly-Suu, on the Surkh plain in the valley of the Kyzyl-Kol-Suu river, there is a starting camp for climbers to climb the northern slope to the top of Elbrus.
The Dzhyly-Suu tract (from Karachai – “warm water”) is located at the foot of the northern slope of Elbrus in the zone of alpine meadows at an altitude of over 2400 m, in the upper reaches of the Malka River. On all sides, the tract is surrounded by mountain peaks over 3000 m high. It is 6 km away from the top of Elbrus.
Since ancient times, the tract has been known as a natural resort – there are sources of mineral waters saturated with carbon dioxide, mainly narzan ones. The first mentions of the sources of Dzhyly-Suu are noted in the medieval Georgian medical book “Karabadini”.
The central place in terms of power and popularity among the sources of the tract is occupied by the warm narzan spring Dzhyly-Suu, the temperature of which is about +23 °C. It has a small swimming pool around it. In addition to it, other mineral springs are found in the tract and its environs. Some are used exclusively for drinking, others for bathing.
On the territory of the Dzhyly-Suu tract, the Malka River, 210 km long, originates – the main tributary of the Terek. Melting water from the glaciers of the northern slope of Elbrus flows down in the form of small rivers, merging together in the area of the Kayaeshik pass.
After the confluence of the Kyzyl-Kol-Suu and Karakaya-Suu rivers, the Malka proper already begins. As a result of the outcrop of rocks, the bed of the sources of the Malka is stepped, forming several spectacular waterfalls.
The most powerful waterfall with a height of about 40 m is called Sultan-Suu, or Syltran-Suu. It was formed at the main source of the Malka – Kyzyl-Kol-Suu – and is located near the springs of Dzhyly-Suu.
The second most powerful waterfall, Kyzyl-Kol-Suu, about 25 m high, is located on the same river, but 400 m lower than the first one. hanging over a deep canyon. Unlike the first waterfall, which has a vertical jet, this one pours out of the canyon at a certain angle.
Valley of Castles
The valley of castles, or the Kala-Kulak beam, is located in the Dzhyly-Suu tract, not far from the warm Narzan spring Dzhyly-Suu at an altitude of about 2500 m. On the slopes of the beam rise moraine remnants formed from a conglomerate containing volcanic ash, pumice, boulders, blocks and crushed stone of andesites, cemented with a strong clay mass.
In the process of water and wind erosion, the remains acquired a bizarre shape. The height of the remnants reaches 15–17 m. Most of them have pointed conical peaks, sheer walls and outwardly resemble castles or temples of early Christianity.
In some places, the remnants form a kind of battlements, reminiscent of the remains of fortress walls. Many small remains are similar to the statues of monsters, idols and people, silently frozen at the foot of the “temples” or standing on guard on the walls of the “fortress” …
This is a historical place in the Northern Elbrus region, associated with the legendary expedition of General Georgy Emmanuel. It is located at the foot of Mount Surkh, on the left bank of the Kyzyl-Kol-Suu River, at an altitude of 2500 m.
At the site of the base camp of the expedition, from where the ascent began, an engraved inscription has been preserved on the nearest rock: “1829 from July 8 to 11, the Camp under the command of the General from the cavalry Emanuel”. It was in this place, from where Elbrus is clearly visible, that the camp was located, and it was from here that the members of the expedition watched the ascent of climbers along the northern slope to the very top of the mountain.
On the right bank of Kyzyl-Kol-Suu there is a starting camp for climbers to Elbrus and a base of the Ministry of Emergency Situations. In the vicinity of the starting camp there is a popular Serebryany stream, the purest water of which contains silver.
Glade of stone mushrooms
The glade of stone mushrooms on the northern slope of Elbrus is a cluster of remnant rocks that are unique in their shape.
Climbing to it starts from the starting camp of climbers, located on the Surkh plain in the Kyzyl-Kol-Suu valley, next to the base of the Ministry of Emergency Situations. The glade is located in the middle part of the northern slope of Elbrus, near the Mikelchiran glacier, at an altitude of 3500 m. It is a terrace-like area of about 2 hectares, plowed and smoothed by glaciers. Retreating, they left behind loose water-glacial deposits that overlapped the thickness of volcanic tuffs.
The activity of water, wind and temperature changes led to the fact that fragments of volcanic rocks, freed from loose sediments, were modified in the form of small remnant rocks resembling mushrooms in shape. Their flat, rounded “caps” are composed of dense sintered tuffs, and thick and stocky “legs” are composed of looser layered varieties of these rocks.
In appearance, these “mushrooms” resemble milk mushrooms. Their height reaches 4–6 m, and the diameter of the “caps” is 4–5 m. The total number of stone mushrooms on the plateau is more than 20. This is the rarest natural formation.
Menhirs – the lost treasure of Dzhyly-Suu
Literally 10 years ago, in the vicinity of the Dzhyly-Suu tract, one could see unusual stone pillars dug into the ground and standing on the tops of low mountains and hills. Archaeologists call such stones partially processed by man menhirs. The last three menhirs in these parts stood on the side of the Essentuki-Dzhyly-Suu road under construction at that time on the Kharbas-Syrt plateau, not far from Mount Tuzluk, in front of the entrance to the Malka river valley. At present, these menhirs are lost.
The most famous of them was distinguished by the fact that in its upper part the head of a warrior in a helmet was clearly visible, as well as arms crossed on his stomach.
The most likely purpose of menhirs is cult, and they were installed in different places of the Caucasus long before the advent of Islam. Menhirs are of great scientific and cultural value and are currently preserved only in a few museums.
Despite the ancient history, numerous expeditions, tourist and climbing routes, Elbrus, this ancient volcano of the Jurassic period, still keeps many secrets that are waiting for their discoverers.