OverviewIf the place of birth of the technical mountain climbing is Matterhorn in the Alps, so concerning Russia it can be said without doubts that technical mountain climbing got its beginning on Mount Ushba in Caucasus. The majestic outline of this mountain fascinates, rivets your sight. The geometric accuracy of the forms and tremendous proportions of this world wide famous Caucasian mountain do not leave any place for doubt - here She is, The Queen of Caucasus, majestic, inaccessible, wilful and proud mountain - Ushba.
Ushba - the most beautiful and difficult mountain of Caucasus, the Queen, which is proudly reigning above the Main Caucasian Mountain Range. More than the one hundred years history of ascensions of this mountain keeps many heroic and dramatic episodes. All the history of Russian mountaineering is deeply connected with this strange word - Ushba, the mountain with strange and somehow disturbing name, which even local people - Svanetians, who live at the foot of it, can not explain clearly...
One version of translation of this name from Svanetian language is "The road to nowhere", the others are "The wretched place" or "The place of the witches Sabbath". SP member PeterN added this variant: ush = terrible, ba = mountain.
Climbing Ushba is difficult both technically and psychologically, the mountain gets on the climber, tries to break him, to force him to give up before the Summit. It is impossible to tell, what the climber feels standing on top, among curling clouds there, where two worlds are merging - reality and eternity..
For the long time the Normal North Ushba route (4a Russian Grade) was the most popular and frequently climbed route of Ushba - it is going trough the Ushba Icefall from the North (Russia). Now this exceptionally beautiful route became outlawed - as Ushba is located in the South Spur of the Caucasian Mountain Range, climbing this mountain is trespassing the Russian border and violating the Law.... Severe form of marasmus if to be more precise. As the border in the unaccessible mountain zone is not marked and from Georgian side can be climbed by ED routes only... Normally climbing Ushba from Russia took 5-7 days.
All the South Ushba routes from South are much longer and more difficult, they require much more time and serious preparation, but on the other hand, attempting Ushba from the South makes it possible to undertake unique travel to Svanetia - forgotten mountain world, which until our days keeps the authentic atmosphere of the ancient time.
The most accessible South Ushba climbing route is Gabriel Khergiany route (5б Russian Grade), this climb takes not less than 12 days.
Climbing historyNorth Summit of Ushba (4690 m) has been climbed first time in 1888 by John Garford Cokkin and mountain guide Ulrich Almer.
South Summit (4710 m) has been climbed 15 years after the North One - in 1903 by the joined team of German, Swiss and Austrian climbers under the command of B. Rickmer-Rickmers.
Getting There!!August 2010. At the moment there is no possible access from the Russian side!! The Ushba icefall from the middle to upper plateau has collapsed and attempting to climb it will surely come to death.
Until now there was two basic ways to get to the base of Ushba - the first and most popular was from Russia (although it is illegal - doing so you cross the Russian-Georgian border), and the other way is from Georgia.
From Mineralnye Vody (Russia) take a taxi or regular bus to Adyl-Su valley (approx. 200 km). Some camping and hotels are located in the valley from cheap to quite expensive, camping in any other place is free, but you should keep your eye on your bags or tent all the time. The trek begins from the Shkhelda BC. You can get all necessary information on the nearby rescue station but if you inform them of your decision to climb Ushba most likely this information will be passed to the borderguards. The area can be dangerous for foreigners.
From Tbilisi (Georgia) by car or regular bus 400 km to Mestia by a bad road 8-10 hours.
If North Ushba is you goal, take a taxi from Mestia to Maseri village, then by a good marked trail which trekkers use to go to the waterfalls, climb to the Ushba glacier. the last place for bivouac is "Hunting place" 3200m. From this bivouac look for the passing between the crevasses and via the Ushba Pass climb to the upper Ushba plateau.
Another variant if you go for South Ushba is to go by taxi to Chohuldi village, then follow the trail to the "Gul bivouac".
Red TapeAs Ushba is located in the South Spur of the Main Caucasian Mountain Range, by which the Russian - Georgian border is going, formally the climbing Ushba from the North is violating the Russian Law and, consequently, (in case of getting caught and inculpatory evidence) will be punished.
The new Russian border regulations (2009) require both from foreigners and Russian visitors getting the border permit for entering the Adyl-Su or Adyr-Su valleys. The time necessary for fixing all the formalities of this permission is 60 days.
When To ClimbIt depends on the route you choose. The Normal (Illegal) from Russia to the North Summit is better to climb until the Ushba Icefall is still covered with snow as it is becoming more and more crevassed and dangerous in the last years. But there is another problem - more snow is good for climbing Ushba Icefall but it can make the Summit Ridge unclimbable. So, all depends on the present conditions and your luck. June, July, August and September are ok.
To climb Ushba from Georgia is better in the most stable weather period - July - August.
Winter climbs are possible but are extremely tough.
CampingNo huts, no fees. Camping is free
Good guesthouse on the way to Ushba climb www.ushbahomestay.com
Mountain ConditionsUshba has its own local weather conditions. Normally it is worse than somewhere in the nearby area. Ushba massif is one of the highest and most glaciated parts if the Main Caucasian mountain range and somehow it attracts the bad weather. The area is called by climbers The Rotten Corner because of its unpredictable and difficult weather conditions.
The weather is comparable better and stable in full moon periods.
No web-cams or weather related websites.
External LinksInformation on the organized commercial tours and technical climbs in Caucasus (Elbrus, Kazbek, Ushba, Shkhara, Koshtan and Dykh-Tau) you can find here
Fresh photos from the recent AlexClimb Caucasus expedition here
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