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.
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?
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).