Dykh Tau – Europe’s second highest after Mount Elbrus

With the altitude of 5204 meters, Dykh-Tau is the second highest mountain in the Caucasus and the whole Europe after Elbrus. That’s why it’s a must-visit destination for those who aim to stand on the highest Caucasus summits or the mountaineers who have set the Second Seven Summits list as a target.

The Second Seven Summits list

Dykh Tau is on the list of the Second Seven Summits. This is an alternative list to the well-known and more popular Seven Summits quest. This list includes the second highest mountain peaks on every continent and is regarded as more challenging and difficult than the traditional list as it includes ascents of K2, Mount Kenya and Dykh Tau, three climbs that are harder than the highest peaks on the continents. Though not as popular as the Seven Summits list, it is a often set goal for experienced mountaineer who lack the popularity of the Seven Summits and the huge tourist-mountaineer traffic that comes along with it. And it makes a bigger challenge.

Dykh Tau versus Mount Elbrus

Even though elevation is less, there are more climbing skills required to summit Dykh Tau than for Elbrus, making it a more difficult climb than the highest mountain of Europe. Among 10 available climbing routes to the top, not one is easier than 4A by the climbing classification. However, the real danger is a high possibility of avalanches. The safest period to climb is from July to September.

Route options for a Dykh Tau climb

This mountain located in the western end of the Northern massif in Bezengi is famous for its technical difficulty. The level of climbing and the frequent avalances make it a huge challenge for every mountaineer as there is no easy route to the summit During the first ascent in 1888, Mummery and Zarfluh used the route up the SW ridge which was a great accomplishment at that time. However, nowadays it’s not longer used as the normal route. Mountaineers climb via the North Ridge route instead which is graded 4B. This route starts at Misses Kosh where one crosses the West Ridge before reaching the Russian Bivouac. From this camp, it takes about two days to climb the peak.

How to get there?

Dykh Tau is located 5 kilometers from the border with Georgia. The nearest airport is Mineralny Vody, which has domestic flights going to from Moscow and St Petersburg. From the airport you will need transport to the Bezengi Village in the national park. Your best option is to contact Bezengi Camp as they can help you getting picked up from the airport. Another option is renting a minibus in Nalchik and drive to Camp Bezengi. Along the route you will pass many military checkpoints, so make sure you have all proper documents. Again, Bezengi Camp’s Head office in Nalchik can help you with this. Camp Bezeng is situated at an elevation of 2180 meters. This is the last of the alpine bases dating back from the Soviet era. From the camp it takes about two days to reach the base of the climb.

What documents do you need?

If you are using the services of Bezengi Camp, the head office in Nalchik will help you get all documents required. For a visit to Russia, a visa is required, as well as an invitation letter to Russia (often given by hotels, tour agencies or climbing companies). Visa requirements differ widely in every country, so it is best to check at the embassy what the requirements for your country are. Also make sure that ‘Bezengi’ is written on your invitation letter to Russia. There is no summit fee or permit required for any of the peaks in Bezengi National Park. You do have to register at Camp Bezengi however and pay an entrance fee to the National Park, costing 3 euros per day. This fee includes free camping, the rescue service and the free access to Camp Bezengi, which is the main spot for mountaineers and mountain lovers. You can also use all facilities at Camp Bezengi, which includes training room, optional storage of your gear, sauna, etc. If you consider to make an attempt of climbing a mountain which is graded 5A/TD or harder, you are obliged to borrow a walkie-talkie from the administration in Camp Bezengi and use it to report to base every three hours. The only exception is made if you are part of a large party consisting of well-experienced mountaineers. Since all routes on Dykh Tau are considered dangerous, this use of walkie-talkies is also obligated. The walkie-talkies are given to you free of charge.

When to climb Dykh Tau?

Despite the fact that summer is the best season to climb the mountain, it is climbed in all seasons. Winter season can be extremely cold in this. Avalanche danger is a treat all year long. Still, because of the difficulty level of the mountain, it attracts mostly very experienced mountaineers who like the extra challenge of rough winter conditions.

How dangerous is it to climb Dykh Tau?

Anyone who takes a look at the north face of the mountain will see the technical challenge of the climb. For those who still doubt, this mountain is not for novices, it is for the most experienced mountaineers. Hence, this is why most fatalities on Dykh Tau are caused by a human factor. Allthough it should be said that the frequent avalanches have their share of the deaths as well. Besides the technical difficulty and the avalanche danger, there is the risk of getting altitude sickness, a syndrom caused by a lack of oxygen. Altitude sickness starts with symptoms similar to a hangover (nausea, vomiting, headache) and can result in serious conditions such as high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) which can prove to be fatal if not threatened. However, since a basic expedition on Dykh Tau takes only about ten days, altitude sickness isn’t that common as a death cause. Also it should be mentioned that the Northern Caucasus has some safety issues as well. Eventhough it is no longer the case that tourists are getting kidnapped or get shot in a civil war, there are still some dangerous border areas that are best avoided. Organized crime, separist activity and government counter-actions against radical Muslims are still possible in this region. However, since the highest mountain of Europe, Mount Ebrus, is located in this same region, it hasn’t made a stop to the traffic of mountaineers willing to complete the Seven Summits challenge. And so far, accidents or violence to them are very rare, making it not a risky region for mountaineers. The Bezengi Area and almost all areas west from there are considered as safe. However, there is a big chance you will see armed forces protecting the area. Especially when getting closer to the Georgia border, they will make sure you don’t end up in dangerous areas.

Basic itinerary for the Dykh Tau climb

Your expedition starts when flying into the Northern Caucasus area via Mineralny Vody and a drive to the Bezengi
Bezengi Camp
Base Camp at the altitude of 2180 meters. This is a first stop for getting acclimatized to the altitude. Those who feel strong enough will find two milestones on the way to the very top – the Russkie Nochevki Camp at 3500 meters and VCSPS Camp at 4650 meters. The following day you will be ready to climb the summit. Plan to spend at least 10 days for the whole climb.

The cost of a Dykh Tau expedition

Since Dykh Tau is the second highest mountain in Europe and part of the Second Seven Summits, it’s a very common goal set by experienced mountaineers. Due to the level of difficulty (and not being the highest on the continent) it is less popular than Mount Elbrus though. There are a few commercial expeditions every year offering this climb in the Bezengi region. The cost however varies from 2000 to 2500 euro (excluding flights) which is more expensive than Mount Elbrus. The main reason for this is that these commercial tours offer a 1:1 guide ratio, making the cost higher. Some organizations offer the combination of climbing Dykh Tau and Mount Elbrus in a 15-day itinerary. Mountaineers who have extended experience in mountaineering might be able to climb Dykh Tau on a budget. There are no permits needed or cabins to pay. The only real cost is your logistics such as transport to the base and the entrance fee to Bezengi National Park. Adding up your food , it might be possible to minimize your expenses to 1000 euros (excluding flights to Russia).