I am looking through the old photos. I see the rough faces of the people who risked their lives for the sake of the real friendship and common victory, indivisible to pieces. You see that common victory as the true friendship doesn’t know nor state nor national differences or borders. Some of this people are not among us anymore. But their deaths are not shroud in shameful wiles and vague explanations. All was clear and easy. They knew where and for what they were going. They knew what price they could pay. And they paid. Completely.
This story, linked in elaborate knots with the mountain of strange and disturbing name Ushba, began long time ago. From time immemorial this mountain overhangs with its gloomy rock cliffs above Svanetian town Mestia, by its austere highness giving valour to the hearts of mountaineers and pride for their people. It is mystery how it works, but maybe "how" it is not so important. The most significant is that when some mere traveler, who got by chance to the dirt road which cuts steep rocky slope and serpentines down to ancient towers of Mestia,
even the person from outside can feel clearly some strange tension in the air. And it is not so difficult to find the source of it – austere and lofty mountain of awesome correct outlines, which black basalt basement seems to rest upon the outskirts of Mestia, where half ruined ancient towers for nearly thousand years take after this mountain the example of majestic inaccessibility.
For Svanetia Ushba is not a usual mountain. Every men of this tiny country grows up with deep feeling of respect and awe for the most worthy personal trial - Ushba. The challenge for a man lays in the mere appearance of this mountain. Majestic and overbearing Ushba works as eternal reminding which provokes the most courageous to the impudent act, which doesn’t fit the scheme of needs of average narrow-minded way of life.
Without any lucrative impulse Svanetian men risk their lives for the sake of clear victory, senseless in the common point of view, but demanding to do utmost of human abilities and more for climbing the top of Ushba. Svanetians go to Ushba neither for money nor for rewards. There are no household or hunting interests. Climbing mountain of such difficulty by poor local people is the unique fact in its own way, amazing as all the past and present of Svanetia – small mountain country, the proud and independent character of which the Nature expressed in the form of the Mountain.
In Svanetia there is no other reason for the supreme honor and people estimation as climbing Ushba – the mountain looking impossible for mortals. Especially for that unique quality I respect and esteem Svanetian people.
For us – Russian climbers who are used to look at Ushba from another side -from the North, this mountain has no such a metaphysical meaning as for the people of Svanetia, but nevertheless its appearance attracts people’s sights and makes them tremble. Stately two-summit mountain rightly dominates the whole line of Main Caucasian mountain Range. There cannot be any doubts – you are looking at Queen. The Highest. The most Well-shaped. The most Inaccessible.
None of the mountains of Caucasus does not bear such aureole of legends, stories and dramatic facts as Ushba. This mountain is the Legend itself, not less famous as Matterhorn - European symbol the Alpinism. There is something very similar in the appearance of these two mountains, some strange inside resemblance unites them...
There is also historical parallel between them. There wouldn’t be such dramatic tension and self-sacrifice in the birth of Alpinism in Alps if it were not Matterhorn. And who knows, how soviet mountain climbing was developing if it were not Ushba?!
For nearly ten generations of mountain climbers Ushba has become the base of their mastery, served as a criterion for their sporting maturity. By the stories of the legendary Ushba ascents young climbers were taught to love the mountains and pushed to perfect their climbing skills. But this desired goal didn’t yield to all of them. Cruelty and treachery of Ushba also were parts of this mountain’s fame. Many lives were broken here...
And as always I can hear this silent question – was it really worth of such price?! Woe to dear ones, sorrow to friends. For the sake of what?!
Rock and ice, madness of mighty elements... But those who accepted the challenge and stand the test would not hesitate with the answer. The gain was worthy of the game. This that we keep in our hearts authorizes the risk. It costs the price. And even more.
There are not so many values in this world, which do not depreciate in ages. But from the moment of the first Ushba ascents in the end of XIX
century when Austrian climbers conquered unknown heights of the highest mountains of Caucasus until nowadays when alpinists climb Ushba risking get to Russian jail for the crime of crossing border and without any hope to get rescue help in case of accident – the value of the thing did not change for a jot – definitely, the game is worth the candle.
To the two summits of Ushba many routes were climbed, but among them there are no easy ones – only for the strongest and most experienced climbers this mountain is accessible. Names of the Ushba first climbers had become a legend long ago – Cockin, Khergiani, Myshliaev, Abalakov... In the former USSR there was no climber who became Master without knowing all the meaning of this two-syllable word - Ushba. Among Russian climbers, people who climbed Ushba were called Ushbists and it was a reason for particular respect – after all they have the unique experience, to get which was possible only in confrontation with the Queen of Caucasus – Ushba. Even the categories of difficulty, so well systematized in Soviet mountain climbing, didn’t work well for Ushba routes which were not allowed for the sportsmen without experience of other mountains of the same category. Ushba always was the one of the most famous technical mountains in Soviet Union and in Russia.
Most likely you have already understood that for me Ushba is not "mere mountain". From the very beginning of my acquaintance with the mountains, Ushba for me was some kind of criteria by which can be measured purity of aspiration, power of fortitude and inflexibility of will. It is The Mountain. May be I am a bit Svanetian in my soul. But after my first Ushba ascent I felt myself another man. And success of our memorial International Ushba climb in 2002 also based on the common for all the participants understanding of exceptional importance of Ushba and sincere devotion to it.
But this Legend Mountain, cherished dream of so many climbers, has become outlawed today.
One more striking fact about Ushba, quite well matched with the others. How was it possible that world famous mountain, inseparable part of the history of Russian and International Mountain climbing suddenly became forbidden, and climbing of it – grave crime? Nevertheless, it is the situation of today.
Ushba is located in the short South spur of the Main Caucasian Mountain Range. For Russia it means the territory of Georgia the border with
which goes by the line of the Main Range. And our politics are at the terms of personal insults – for countries it results in been at war.
The state is to protect its borders. But from whom they are to be protected? From the enemy, it is clear, from criminals, smugglers and terrorists. But Ushba has no interest for any of these people. It is hard even to imagine more fantastic, difficult and tricky way to encroach the border.
No. Hundreds of the armed to the teeth Russian border guards protect Ushba only from alpinists. For what is it done? Who is interested in taking
away from harmless people their clear joy of the victory? How it happened that the people who were saving my life without thinking of theirs and
cried afterwards on the summit in exultation of common victory – how is it possible that now, as propaganda says, they have become my enemies? No,
something is totally wrong here. It cannot be so. May be I don’t understand or making a muddle of it. Is it possible that the people became
the enemies of their own country?
I just look through the old photos from Ushba expedition. Bygone climb of the mountain, forbidden now.
P.S. If this text will strike occasionally an eye of somebody from those empowered to resolve the affairs of the state, please think, just think – what is wrong if the mountain climbers have a legal possibility not only to look and listen the old people stories of Ushba but to climb it as well?! Is it really political deadlock without any solution – the possibility of access to the majestic towers of Ushba from the Russian side, as it was for more than 100 years? Is it really impossible for politics to make one friendly step even not to each other but to their own people at least, to the sportsmen, who dream of climbing the impossibly beautiful mountain and to enjoy with the friends the common victory, gained so hard?! Is it really so difficult and seriously threats the State interests?