Mount KAZBEK climb 5033 m – South route – 9 days trip

Mount Kazbek, Mkinvartsveri, 5033 meters – an extinct stratovolcano, is the most eastern five thousand meter mount of the Caucasus, located in the eastern part of the Central Caucasus, on the border between Russia and Georgia, in the eastern part of the ridge Khokhskiy. The last eruption occurred in 650 year b.c. (written in wikipedia). As on Elbrus, here also hundreds of climbers in summer season, and like Mount Elbrus, Kazbek has its own views and plans and can make severe unforgivable corrections to ANY plans and desires of people. Even lesser height than the Elbrus, Kazbek has other inimitable “surprises”. In general, it is physically easier then Elbrus (it is less for 600 m, and it is a strong factor), but technically – more difficult. There are cracks and crevasses on the glacier route, there is a talus conglomerate, shooting stones and clouds of dust on track, there may be very severe wind forces on the summit camp and on route of climbing. Here climbers were lost in bad weather even equipped totally with all different kits like GPS and satellite phones. But here people survived in conditions where could die. Kazbek – a good, serious mountain that rewards everyone as deserved, but also takes from each what rightfully owed to it.
The entire route from village Stepantsminda to the top is very diverse and beautiful. In the beginning steep lifting through the pines to the church Gergeti – Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, it’s the highest Europe Monastery, ascent to the pass Sabertse, spending the night on the moraine of glacier Gergeti, crossing the glacier, seracs of the glacier, Kazbek weather-station hut, the altitude chapel, a long transition to Kazbek ice plateau where the landscape is changing quite significantly if compared with the usual changes of mountain landscapes, the Plateau – a harsh place, a place not for the amateurs, here can sleep only real mountaineers in the condition of classical wind, and, of course, climbing, in good weather – awesome views from the top to the expanses of North Ossetia, on the Main Caucasus Ridge, the mountain waves of Georgian landscapes, if you’re lucky, here you can see Elbrus, straight only 185 kilometers from here, but in summer thick atmosphere, even in clear day, its usually not seen.

Mount Kazbek

Short description of the tour

Kazbek from the South.
Mount Kazbek 5033 m. The most eastern Caucasian five thousand meters mount, the highest point in Georgia, stratovolcano.
Route: from Georgia, from the South, from the village of Stepantsminda.
The actual itinerary:
Day 1: Arrival at the airport Mineralnye Vody or Nalchik. Transfer to the hotel in Nalchik 3* in the center and the park area.
Day 2: Transfer from Nalchik (Russia, KBR) to Kazbegi (Stepantsminda, Georgia) 1750 m – Church Gergeti 2170 m, hiking behind pass Sabertse 2800 m to moraine of glacier Gergeti 3000m. Camp-1. Tents bivouac.
Day 3: Camp-1 3000 m – Camp-2 3675 m. The former weather-station (Camp-2), accommodation in hut. Radial ascent to 3900 m.
Day 4: Climbing till 4300 m to Kazbek ice-field plateau, installation of tents for Camp-3, return to Camp 2.
Day 5: Go to Camp-3, overnight.
Day 6: Climb to the east (main) summit of Kazbek 5033 m, descent on a plateau 4,300 to camp-3, the removal of the camp, the descent into Stepantsminda 1750 m.
Day 7: Reserve day in case of bad weather, or reserve intermediate night on descent (in weather-station hut), if the strength of the group will not allow to descend from the summit till Stepantsminda 1750 m.
Day 8: Transfer: Stepantsminda, Georgia – Nalchik, Russia.
Day 9: Transfer to airport. Departure flights.

Mount Kazbek

The detailed description of the tour

DAY 1
Meeting in airport Minvody or Nalchik. Transfer to hotel in Nalchik. The road from Min Vody to Nalchik takes about one and half hour. Hotel accommodation 3* in park area. Meeting with the guide. Preparation of equipment, leaving unnecessary stuff in Nalchik, registration copies. We take all camping equipment (tents, gas, food etc), on necessity – cook/porter.
Evening excursion around the city. Dinner in the park.

Mount Kazbek from Nalchik
Mount Kazbek from Nalchik
Mount Kazbek from Nalchik
Mount Kazbek from Nalchik
Mounts from Nalchik
Mounts from Nalchik
Mounts from Nalchik
Mounts from Nalchik
Mounts from Nalchik
Mounts from Nalchik
Mounts from Nalchik
Mounts from Nalchik

DAY 2
Early transportation Nalchik – Verkhniy Lars – Stepantsminda 1750 m – Church Gergeti 2170. Here beginning of the route – overnight behind Sabertse pass 3000 m (Camp-1) – radial hike to climb easy ridge nearby. The distance from end of road near church to the night place is not long, have some spare time, we can set up camp and even go to the radial ascent to a nearby ridge, climb, views.

At night, early in the morning departure from Nalchik, driving through North Ossetia till border with Georgia. Crossing the border in Verkhniy Lars which can take 3 hours or more and arrival in Stepantsminda in the afternoon, where should begin the path to the mountain. Cars may go through the border fast, or can probably slower. If we leave early from Nalchik, this factor can be minimized, to have reserve time. Because that day we will have to climb to 3000 meters. From Nalchik to the Borders, in general, not too long, about three hours driving. This is a very convenient way of communication between Russia and Georgia – Georgian Military Road, it passes through the Daryal Gorge (by the way, through this gorge passes the river Terek, here it starts), this road connects Europe and Asia for many centuries. Then it goes to the Cross Pass, behind it – Gudauri, Pasanauri, Ananuri, and if you go further, Tbilisi.

From the road we can already see Kazbek, and no less attraction of these places – Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi – Church Gergeti.

Start of route from Stepantsminda
Start of route from Stepantsminda
Kazbek from Stepantsminda
Kazbek from Stepantsminda

Gergeti – a small village just above the village of Stepantsminda, located on the right bank of river Chkheri – tributary of the river Terek. View of the village Stepantsminda from the road to Gergeti :

village Stepantsminda

On the way to the Gergeti Church. (Women just go home to Gergeti, we go far beyond and above) :

Church Gergeti
Church Gergeti
road from Stepantsminda
road from Stepantsminda

The temple can be reached by two ways: either by good dirty road laid in serpentines (about 5 km from vill. Gergeti), or by a steep winding path, which begins on the edge of the village and goes straight to the church. Every day, many pilgrims from different countries make this mini-climbing, most of them by cars that you can hire in Stepantsminda, the driving will take something around half an hour. Either walk this way by foot on the path, it takes something like two hours, but, apparently, it is possible faster – we got to the church from the beginning of our journey in Stepantsminda in forty-five minutes. The trail passes through pine forest and the air is simply gorgeous, you breathe deeply and freely..

The difference in height of the transition about 450 m (Stepantsminda – 1750 m, Church – 2170 m).

Church Gergeti


The main building of the Temple – Tsminda Sameba (Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi) is the Georgian name for “Holy Trinity”, all of the Trinity Churches of Georgia are called so, but Tsminda Sameba in Gergeti – the oldest of them. The temple was founded in the 14th century near the road through the Daryal Gorge at an altitude of 2170 m. During the invading of the Persians in the 18th century here was hiding the precious relics of Georgia. Anyway here periodically was hiding anything needed to hide, in the times of trouble eras.
The Church is functioning and worth to visit to see and to buy souvenirs.

Church Gergeti

Inside the church and in the surrounding areas, in spite of not very comfortable weather, there are many tourists speaking different languages, from Polish to Japanese. Next to the temple – a spring with holy water, inside the church you can buy souvenirs, light a candle, try to ask heaven’s for blessing before going to Kazbek.

Church Gergeti
Church Gergeti
Church Gergeti
Church Gergeti

From the Church opens stunning views of Mount Kazbek and the spaces surrounding it, it is visible the track going to the pass Sabertse, which is our current path :

Church Gergeti
Church Gergeti
Church Gergeti
Church Gergeti
Church Gergeti

After resting a little bit near the Church, we go further. Our task today is to reach the night place above pass Sabertse. To the pass leads a well-trodden path with a slight gradient for the most part.

Church Gergeti
Church Gergeti
Church Gergeti
Church Gergeti

Only near the pass, it becomes less comfortable, there are stones and sand dust. It is getting colder. Noticeably colder, and somewhere at the bottom of everything comfortably lying Stepantsminda :

Church Gergeti

In two hours we reach Sabertse Pass (2800 m), from here opens stunning views of Gergeti Glacier and Kazbek.

Church Gergeti
Church Gergeti
Church Gergeti
Church Gergeti

After another forty minutes we get to the place of overnight stay on the moraine of the Gergeti glacier. From the pass – traverse the grassy slope and then across the stream. (The photo shows the trail and the pass itself, the view from camping place).

Camp-1 - 3000 m

Here – convenient site for the tents, somewhere even was built walls of stones. Water – nearby in the stream. Here, too, it is wind blowing very strongly, but the moraine and the slopes lying next make a little harbor for us. Moving from church to Camp-1 at 3000 m takes about 3-4 hours. In the morning on 3000 m :

Camp-1 - 3000 m
Camp-1 – 3000 m
Camp-1 - 3000 m
Camp-1 – 3000 m

DAY 3
Camp-1 3000 m – Camp-2 in the hut – 3675 m (weather-station), radial hike to 3900 m.

Breakfast and collecting the camp. Moving through the glacier Gergeti, a slight rise on the glacier till the cracks, transition of cracks, climbing up the moraine to weather-station (from Camp-1 – 3-4 hours). At the meteostation its not necessary to establish a camp, because its building does not work now as the weather-station and used as a hut for climbers in summer season.
Conditions – not the best, but a roof and wooden bunks with mattresses – present. I.e. it’s possible to set up a camp, or locate in the building of weather-stations.
Lunch. A small radial acclimatization to the height of 3900 m to the building of the chapel. From where excellent views of the glacier Gergeti. Descent.

Kazbek route

Approaching to the glacier Gergeti :

Kazbek from glacier Gergeti
Kazbek from glacier Gergeti
from glacier Gergeti
from glacier Gergeti

After three hours from the Camp-1 we are on the station…

Kazbek hut on station
Kazbek hut on station
Kazbek hut on station
Kazbek hut on station

Weather-station, view from the glacier :

kazbek-meteostation

Actually, the station, as the meteorological is not working for a long time, it is now – a shelter for climbers and other wanderers of the universe in this part. In summer season you can stay next to its walls in tents or put your own tent for an additional fee or you can stay inside.

View to the station from the top :

kazbek-meteostation

DAY 4
Ascent to 4300 m – Kazbek ice plateau (takes about 4 hours), set of the summit camp (Camp 3), return to Camp 2.

Here it is necessary to explain the point. There are two options of summit climbing: from ice plateau 4300 m, or directly from the meteorological station 3700 m. Everyone has its own pros and cons. Overnight on the plateau could be a hard trial in case of strong wind that blows there periodically. But if there is a well-established good tents severity can be minimized. In general, it is the only negative, which is more than covered by positive sides – “fast” ascension and good preparation in terms of acclimatization. Climb from the plateau to the top can take from 3 to 5 hours. No need to go out in dark, there is a possibility to sleep enough and not to walk at night with exhausting, long night and day.
Climbing from weather stations has only one advantage – stable overnight in conditions more comfortable than a tent on the ice plateau. But the ascent will take much more time and much more tiresome for physical and psychological forces. From here to the top at least 7-8 hours, and approximately 3-4 hours for descent. Leaving at night in the dark, despite the best conditions for sleep, but time for it much less and ascent with the lack of sleep harder much more than from plateau with more sleep.
This option is better to have as a reserve, in case of failure to camp on a plateau, because of the current extremely unfortunate weather conditions, with strong wind and the inability to dig adequate “hole” under the tent. In the case of this variant, day 4 will go as acclimatization to 4300, with the return at the meteorological station. Day 5 will be a day of rest. Day 6 – summit day with the start from the meteorological station at around 2 o’clock in the morning.

Setting of camp on the ice plateau on 4300 m. It is necessary to jointly (which is useful for all in order to acclimatize) prepare a place for tents – dig a hole deep enough (so that even the wind could not affect the health of the tents), can be put windproof walls from small snow bricks for each tent. Setting the tents (not difficult). In summit camp stay one of the guides in order to monitor the safety of the camp.

Food. Breakfast before leaving, lunch – in the summit camp (snacks, or, if there is the cook, quite a good lunch due to bringing stove and gas, all others will be busy installing camp), dinner – on returning to weather-station.

On the way to the plateau. Height already above 4000 m.

way to plato

Kazbek from the side. The wind at the top :

on the way to plato
on the way to plato
on the way to plato
on the way to plato

After two and a half or three hours from weather-stations we reach the plateau and set the summit camp. Snow is deep but pressed. The height is about 4300 m. The empty field, no trace of human only the trail traverses the slope just above.

kazbek-ice-plato-4300m
Kazbek ice plato 4300 m
Kazbek ice plato 4300 m
Kazbek ice plato 4300 m
Kazbek ice plato 4300 m

DAY 5
Ascent to Camp-3 – 4300 m, small training in the snow with an ice pick, overnight.

As already mentioned, with a well-established camp overnight here quite safe. It happens winds that can carry or break a tent, but it is mainly due to poor-quality installation of the camp, hope for good weather, not suitable tents quality for these conditions. It would be nice to have earplugs just in case, because of the wind which somehow makes the tent to “noise”, it can interfere to sleep and force to wake up.

Kazbek plateau. Summit camp.

Kazbek ice plato 4300 m
Kazbek ice plato 4300 m
Kazbek ice plato 4300 m
Kazbek ice plato 4300 m

DAY 6
Climbing the eastern (main) summit of Kazbek 5033 m, descent on a plateau 4300 m to camp-3, the removal of the camp, the descent into Stepantsminda 1750 m.

Wake up – at the earliest time with the expectation that we can have time to eat breakfast and get out when it is already possible to go without lamps.
The rise to the east, main summit of Mount Kazbek can take only three hours with condition of the well-being of all in the group and good weather. Technical difficulties on the route may be few, but as a rule, they are not so global insurmountable. This is – a couple of cracks in the gap “plateau – saddle”, the rise from the saddle to the top. It’s not so long, and in summer season well-trodden path, with steps in the ice. To have an ice ax, however, is necessary for each of the climbers.
Descent to the camp. Lunch (the guide contacts cook by the radio station in advance so that to the coming of the group the food must be ready, to save time). Climbing Kazbek from the plateau does not take a lot of energy (relatively) so today we can still have time to go down, if all in the group feel well – down till Stepantsminda. Overnight at the hostel in Stepantsminda.

map

Part of the route goes in the shadow of the mountain, can be cold and windy :

way to the top

Traverse to the saddle – not difficult but deep snow in some places. On the saddle – can be windy, blowing strongly. From here to the top not far through ice slope. Moving up the slope. In some places – open ice. The slope is maximum forty degrees in some places. Of course, if “skate” and fly, this degree is enough to fly non-stop. Soon appears our Eastern peak, with its ice slope :

Kazbek to the saddle
to the saddle
Kazbek to the saddle
to the saddle

On the horizon appears Elbrus and five thousand meters Bezengi mounts – Koshtan-Tau, Dykh-Tau, visible Bezengi Wall.

Kazbek 5033 m
Kazbek 5033 m
Kazbek 5033 m
Kazbek 5033 m

Elbrus – seems so close, but its 185 km distance straight away :

way to the top

Below us – the total Caucasus. On West stretches Main Caucasian Ridge. We see all and everything. Bezengi Massive at a glance and to them about 110-115 km.

way to the top
Kazbek 5033 m
Kazbek 5033 m
Kazbek 5033 m
Kazbek 5033 m

The descent to the plateau 4300 meters takes about an hour :

Kazbek 5033 m
descent
Kazbek 5033 m
descent
Kazbek 5033 m
descent
Kazbek 5033 m
descent
plato

DAY 7
Reserve day in case of bad weather, or reserve intermediate night on descent (in weather-station hut), if the strength of the group will not allow descending from the summit till Stepantsminda 1750 m.
DAY 8
Transfer: Stepantsminda, Georgia – Nalchik, KBR, the Russian Federation.
DAY 9
Transfer to airport.


Necessary personal equipment :
Mountain boots
Crampons
Harness + two or three carabiners
Ice-axe
Helmet
Trekking poles
Sunglasses (it is better to have two, one spare if breakage of main because the lack of it means no climbing).
Headlamp with spare (and preferably two) set of batteries.

If compare two volcanic five thousand meter Caucasian giants – ELBRUS and KAZBEK – mount Kazbek is more interesting. Mount Elbrus is big, but still like a hill. Kazbek more like a mountain, though lower for 600 meters. A diverse and multi-faceted.

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