Dykh Tau – Europe’s second highest after Mount Elbrus

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Dykh-Tau

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Dykh-Tau 43.052500, 43.135000

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).

 

 

 

 

 

Koshtan Tau – Fourth highest peak on the European continent

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Koshtan-Tau

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Koshtan-Tau 43.050000, 43.216700

 

Located in the Caucasus mountain range, Koshtan Tau (Коштан-тау,  is one of the two ‘Brothers of Bezengi’, the other one being Dychtau or Dykh Tau which is the second largest mountain in Europe. Koshtan Tau marks the eastern end of the Northern Massif and is with an elevation of 5151m the fourth highest mountain in Europe. Its pyramid shape is an impressive view admired by mountaineers as well as photographers, while the NW face of the peak gives a good insight on how difficult mountaineering in the Caucasus can be.

History

The first ascent of Koshtan Tau was made in 1889 by H. Woolley, who climbed Mizirgi (5025m) as well that same year. What makes the ascent remarkable is that is was done all with very basic equipment. It is claimed that he climbed along the North Crest of Koshtan Tau, which is the easiest route up to this day. The name of the mountain is derived from ‘kosh’ which means dwelling. A term that isn’t surprising as the pyramid shape of the summit is so impressive it is adored by all mountain lovers.

How to reach Koshtan Tau?

The closest airport to this part of the Caucasus region is Mineralny Vody, which is often reached with direct domestic flights from Moscow. Camp Bezengi, located in the Bezengi National Park is the destination to reach. The best way to reach it is to contact Camp Bezengi directly and let them arrange your transport from the airport. Another option is to arrange transport from Nalchik, a small city at the base of the Caucasus mountain range. The ride will lead you through all the checkpoints on the way to the camp. Military checkpoints are common in this region, so make sure you have the proper documentations with you.

What documents do you need?

Bezengi Camp

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 Koshtan are considered dangerous, this use of walkie-talkies is also obligated. The walkie-talkies are given to you free of charge. Climbers on the Northern Crest route are excepted from the rule of having to report every three hours.

When to climb Koshtan 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 region and is best avoided due to avalanche danger.  Still, because of the difficulty level of the mountain, it attracts mostly very experienced mountaineers who like the extra challenge of rough winter conditions.

Route options to the top

There are three main routes leading to the summit of Koshtan Tau, depending on the climbing skills, experience and stamina of the climber. If you are planning on climbing this peak, be sure to read this first, before deciding which route to take.

Northern Crest route

Despite the steep snowfield of about 60 degrees, this is the easiest way to the very summit. According to the post-USSR Climbing Classification, its complexity is the only 4A, which can be achievable for average climbers. Be careful during the first part of the climb – it can be really dangerous because of the snow-made cornice. As the rest of the route is less hazardous, you can put up your tent there.

North Buttress route

Climbed by Michalski for the first time in 1964, this route is more dangerous than the Northern Crest. With the complexity of 4B, it is laid through the Mizhirgi Glacier.

The North Face route

If you are looking for a true adventure, choose the North Face route.It starts from the Mizhirgi Glacier and goes via a right-hand pillar of North Face to West Ridge. The complexity of the North Face way is 5B. Even though the North Face route is more dangerous, it’s still very popular among brave climbers. The mount of Koshtan-Tau teaches climbers to overcome real obstacles. Dare to climb it!

Koshtan Tau Death rate

By numbers of Death, Mount Elbrus is by far the deadliest mountain in Russia and even one of the deadliest in the world. Reason is it is one of the coveted Seven Summits, and it attracts more climbers than Koshtan Tau. Exact numbers are lacking as with many Russian mountains, but it is fair to state that the percentage of deaths on Mount Koshtan is higher than on Elbrus (around 0.15%). Its routes are extremely difficult, treacherous and dangerous, even for experienced mountaineers. However, despite this difficulty of routes, many alpinists still have set Koshtan Tau as a goal since it is the third highest peak in Russia and the fourth highest in Europe.

How dangerous is it to climb Koshtan Tau?

The North Caucasus region ( the Russian part of the Caucasus mountain range) is considered as a volartile and underpredictable region. Though many people still see the whole Caucasus as a synonym for extreme danger of getting kidnapped or getting shot in a civil war. This is no longer the case, but there still are some dangerous border areas. 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.

Itinerary of a Koshtan Tau climb

Climbing Koshtan Tau takes about 9 to 10 days as with all 5000 meter peaks. This includes time for acclimatization, training and rest.

Day one would be your flight to Mineralny Vody and transport to the Bezengi Camp. There are no huts above the Bezengi Camp making it necessary for climbers to built high camps on their way to the summit. The days following up are used for acclimatization with the climax being a stay at an elevation of 4000 to 4500 meters. Russian companies often have the habit of having a rest day before the final summit push.

The cost of a Koshtan Tau expedition

There are few commercial expeditions for the Koshtan Tau mountain. Those who do organize climbs often combine several 5000’ers in the Bezengi region, or combine it with Mout Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe located nearby and therefore more popular. It is fair to say that an expedition to Koshtan Tau isn’t expensive as several other mountains since there are no permits 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 and guiding costs (if needed), it might be possible to minimize your expenses to 1000 euros (excluding flights to Russia).

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