Import Photo
Get PeakVisor App
Search by GPS coordinates
Latitude
Longitude
Latitude
° ' ''
Longitude
° ' ''
Go to object
Latitude
Longitude
Units of Length
Сontact us

Caucasus

There are 7,742 named mountains in Caucasus. The highest and the most prominent mountain is Mount Elbrus (West Summit).

The Gem, the Jewel, the Grand-Spa, whatever the grandeur name is it is fit for the Caucasus. Don’t get me wrong or biased but this great California-size divide between the Middle East and Asia deserves every positive superlative one can think of. The Caucasus stretch over 1,100 km between the Black and Caspian Seas, and cover the territory of 160km between Iran, Turkey and the southern flank of the Russian steppe. It is home to the countries of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the feisty Russian republics of Chechnya, Adygea, Kabardino-Balkariya, Karachaevo-Cherkessiya, Dagestan (not that violently gloomy as some wikitravel describes it), Ingushetia, Abkhazia and Ossetia, Stavropol and Krasnodar territories.

The Caucasus is a fractured region that houses from 50 to 62 different ethnic groups and nationalities which have managed to hold on their identities despite all the minglings with the Russian, Ottoman and Persian empires. What is surprising, most of them live in harmony and peace with one another. This is paradise for hikers, mountain climbers, the physically challenged who need some health treatment and linguists, especially linguists because the number of Caucasian languages has not been counted yet and the scientific studies give an approximate number of 60 languages (not ideolects!).

Elbrus

What’s in the name

The name Caucasus is a Latinized form of Kaukasos, which the ancient Greek geographers and historians used; the Russian Kavkaz is of the same origin. The ultimate derivation is thought to be from Kaz-kaz, the Hittite name for a people living on the southern shore of the Black Sea. This ancient nomenclature reflects the historical importance of the region: in Greek mythology the range was the scene of the sufferings of Prometheus, and the Argonauts sought the Golden Fleece in the land of Colchis (the modern Kolkhida Lowland of Georgia), which nestles against the range on the Black Sea coast.

The land north of the Greater Caucasus is called Ciscaucasia (Predkavkazye, or “Hither Caucasia”) and that south of it is Transcaucasia (Zakavkazye, or “Farther Caucasia”). The whole region, which has an area of 170,000 square miles (440,000 square km), is nevertheless predominantly mountainous.

The MakeUp

The Caucasus are beautiful mountains filled with forests, snow-capped peaks and Alpine lakes. A member of a British expedition that explored the mountains in 1874 wrote that in "in appearance and inaccessibility and in boldness of form they are beyond the Alps, and probably when they are better known, they will be thought grander and more majestic than the Alps."

The Caucasus Mountains are rugged, of volcanic origin and young. They are believed to be about 25 million years old. The range is relatively small in term of the area it covers but in terms of the relief they are one of the highest mountain ranges in the world.

The Caucasus Mountains are technically considered to be a continuation of the Himalayas as well as either part of Asia or part of Europe. They have historically served as a geographic barrier at the convergence of the continents of Europe and Asia, and due to specific tectonic processes, it has been hard to determine the exact course of the continental borderline, causing the border to change throughout the turbulent history of the region. While there continues to be disagreement over where the border lies in relation to the range, there is a general acceptance of assigning the Caucasus to Asia due to the strong Asian influences throughout the region.

As there is no clear agreement on whether the Caucasus Mountains are a part of Europe or Asia, depending on the varying perspectives, Europe's highest mountain is either Mount Elbrus 5,642 m (18,510.5 ft) or Mont Blanc in the Alps, at the Italian-French border, with a height of 4,810 m (15,780.8 ft).

The Caucasus Ranges

This range is traditionally separated into three parts from east to west:

Western Caucasus, from the Black Sea to Mount Elbrus

The Western Caucasus has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site based upon its diversity of geology, ecosystems, and species. It is recognized as the "only large mountain area in Europe that has not experienced significant human impact, containing extensive tracts of undisturbed mountain forests unique on the European scale."

Central Caucasus, from Mount Elbrus to Mount Kazbek.

It features Europe’s highest peaks by a considerable margin. There are 200 peaks over 4,000m, 30 over 4,500m and seven over 5,000m, including the granddaddy, Mt Elbrus (5,642m). Mont Blanc, the highest in Western Europe at 4807m, is exceeded by 15 Caucasus peaks.

Kazbek

Eastern Caucasus, from Mount Kazbek to the Caspian Sea

The highest range in the Eastern Caucasus is the Lateral (Bokovoy) Range, which is divided by the rivers Terek, Sulaka, and Samura into several separate ranges. The major Eastern Caucasus ranges from west to east: Ohkur, Ardjelom, Makhismagali, Mutzosskiy, Tebulosskiy, Tushetskiy (Pirikitelskiy), Ortloban, Snegovoy, Bogosskiy and Samurskiy. The highest summit of the Eastern Caucasus is Tebulosmta (4,492m).

And the range is divided into Greater and Lesser Caucasus if you go from north to south.

They are divided into smaller ranges that look like steps of a gigantic staircase if you look from the north to the south. So, there is Forest (Lesistiy) Range, Pasture Range, Rocky Range, and Lateral Range preceding a lower Great or Greater Caucasian Range (aka Dividing Ridge).

Great or Greater Caucasus is the major mountain range of the Caucasus Mountains system. It stretches from west-northwest to east-southeast, between the Taman Peninsula of the Black Sea to the Absheron Peninsula of the Caspian Sea and from the Caucasian Natural Reserve in the vicinity of Sochi on the north-eastern shore of the Black Sea and reaching nearly to Baku (Azerbaijan) on the Caspian.

Lesser Caucasus, also called Little Caucasus, Russian Maly Kavkaz, is a range of folded mountains in the southern part of the Caucasus region, connected with the main Caucasus Mountains by means of the Likhsky Mountains, which form the divide between the basins of the Rioni and Kura rivers. The range covers portions of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. To the south, the Lesser Caucasus, which runs northwest-southeast, merges almost imperceptibly with the Armenian Highland, which covers much of the southern part of Armenia and adjacent areas of Turkey and Iran. The western ranges are intensively folded and are much affected by volcanic action; the central and eastern portions are slightly less folded. Few peaks in the range exceed an elevation of 2,400 meters (8,000 ft).

Anapa

Mount Ararat, the star of the Bible and the destination point of the lucky Noah and his Ark as well as historians and archaeologists seeking fame, is in the Lesser Caucasus as well. Ararat is a dormant volcano; the last eruption was on June 2, 1840.

The story of Noah's ark, as it is told in the Bible, is a reworking of an earlier Babylonian myth recorded in the Gilgamesh Epic. The hero of the earlier version is one Utnapishtim, the favourite of Ea, the god of wisdom. It seems probable that the Babylonian story was based on an unusually devastating flood in the Euphrates River basin, and that the ark in it grounded on the slopes of one of the Zagros mountains. The biblical word that we read as "Ararat" could as well be read Urartu, which was a historical kingdom, but the word also meant "a land far away" and "a place in the north."

The Ciscaucasia or the North Caucasus is also worthy mentioning because this territory is lying to the north of the Greater Caucasus between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea on the west and the Caspian Sea on the east, within European Russia. It is geographically rich in steppes, semi-desert and tropical territories and low-rise laccolith mountains (Mashuk (992m), Beshtau (1402m), Zmeika (994m), Zheleznaya (852m), Razvalka (926m), Tersko-Sunzhenskoe plateau etc.).

The notable peaks

  1. Elbrus - 5,642m (prominence: 4,741m) - Russia
  2. Dykh-Tau - 5,205m (2,002m) - Russia
  3. Shkhara - 5,201m (1,365m) - Georgia
  4. Koshtan-Tau - 5,152m (822m) - Russia
  5. Jangi-Tau (Janga) - 5,059m (300m) - Russia/Georgia
  6. Kazbek - 5,047m (2,353m) - Georgia
  7. Pushkin - 5,033m (110m) - Russia/Georgia
  8. Katyn-Tau - 4,979m (240m) - Russia/Georgia
  9. Shota Rustaveli - 4,860m (~50m) - Georgia
  10. Tetnuld - 4,858m (672m) - Georgia

The seismic activity

The Caucasus is a highly seismic territory with possible earthquakes reaching 6-7 Richter scale zones. There are currently no active volcanoes in the Caucasus, but the dormant ones (Elbrus, Kazbek, Ararat etc.) might still stir some trouble. Also, the Caucasus have some ‘stillborn’ volcanoes which look like a volcano, have geological parameters of a volcano, but the Earth’s forces were not strong enough to push the lava through the earth’s crust and lava solidified inside the mounts. So, these stillborn volcanoes have and will never come into life. There are 17 of such geological losers in the Caucasus, the biggest and most beautiful laccolite is Beshtau (1,400m), at the foot of which there is Pyatigorsk city.

The roads

The Georgian Military Road (Darial Gorge), Ossetian Military Road, and Trans-Caucasian Highway traverse this mountain range at altitudes of up to 3,000 meters. Unfortunately, the avalanches sometimes cut off any traffic for several days.

Georgian Military Road

The SPAs and resorts

Being mountainous, the area is rich in hot springs that can cure any disease imaginable. The Caucasian Mineral Waters Region is the biggest balneotherapeutic spa in the world. You name a malady, they can find a treatment in the Caucasus. To name a few spots:

  • Kislovodsk treats mainly nervous system and cardiovascular system disorders
  • Digestion problems are best cured in Essentuki
  • Zheleznovodsk solves peeing problems if you have issues with kidneys or urinary system
  • Pyatigorsk renders the widest range of health services: apart from muscle-skeleton disorders and nervous breakdowns, you can pamper your digestive system, skin and reproductive organs, make your gynaecological system work again.

There are hot spring lakes accessible and available to the general public for some symbolic fee. The most famous are Aushigerskiye hot springs which were discovered by a geological expedition hunting for oil in Kabardino-Balkariya. The most picturesque and unusual is probably a hot spring in selo Kazminskoe, Stavropol Krai. The water there is over 100 degrees Celsius, that is why it is dilluted by cold spring water so that you don’t boil yourself. The composition of water is similar to that in Kamchatcka and has the richest healing properties. The hot spring in stanitza Suvorovskaya (Stavropol Krai) is also a must-visit for the physically-challenged, or if you just want to relax after some awesome trekking in the area.

Actually, any Caucasian republic and country can boast of hot springs. In Dagestan, visit Akhtynskiye Hot Springs and Talga sulphurous springs. Chechnya has several spots as well: Sernovodskiye, Goryachevodskiy, Bragunskie, Isti-Suiskiye. Apart from Aushiger, Kabardino-Balkaria can boast of iodine-bromine waters in Yantarnoe, thermal waters in Kishpekskoe, warm Narzan of Djily-Su. In North Ossetia, Biragzanga and Karmadon are in vogue, especially the latter because it is situated in beautiful Karmadon gorge.

Borjomi is a trademark of Georgia. It is located in the River Kura Gorge at 810-850m a.s.l, 152 km west of Tbilisi. According to an old Georgian legend, the name “Borjomi” comes from the combination of two words: “borj” (fortress) and “omi” (war). In the past, wars were frequent there, and Borjomi town had an advantageous location in the Borjomi Gorge. In 1900, the production output of Borjomi mineral water, for the first time, exceeded one million bottles a year. The signature bluish-green color of the Borjomi bottle is patented and has its own name: Georgian Green. During Winston Churchill’s visits to the Soviet Union, Borjomi bottles were always placed on the table beside him as part of the official protocol. The bottles even found their way into movies: Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris features the bottles with the labels clearly visible, because the director believed that Borjomi would definitely exist even in the distant future.

Borjomi is more than 1500 years old by natural standards, but its mineral composition remains the same. Regular laboratory tests performed since 1890 confirm that. This water is closer to ‘every-day-drinking-mineral-water’ than to harder and more medical stuff like as Essentuki No. 4 or No. 17 or Narzan. Borjomi is used for treating digestive system disorders, liver, biliary tracts. Borjomi is now more of a cluster of several spas, such as Tzagveri, Tzemi, Likani, Patara-Tzemi, Akhaldaba, Daba, Dviri, Tba, Tzikhidjvari etc.

Hiking & Trekking

The Caucasus are a trekker’s paradise, lest you hike in lousy weather. The amount of trails to take, routes to wander and encounters to enjoy are numberless. You can find anything in the Caucasus: medieval villages, natural wonders, great cuisine across the region and much more. Unfortunately, the development of the region international tourism has been hampered by some turmoil in the 1990s. Luckily it is over now and travelling is quite safe, the only drawback though is there is not much information available online in English, but many tour agencies see a world of opportunity and start providing English-speaking guides or at least have their sites in English.

If your main premises are a SPA resort make sure you take one-day trips, there are plenty of opportunities here, just check at the reception of your SPA / hotel and you’ll find good offers. Many towns have marked territories called terrenkur (терренкур in Russian) meant specially for treating people by leisure walking in pine forests.

Kislovodsk Terrenkur park has 6 routes with 3 categories of difficulties, the length is from 1.7 to 6 km with slope angles varying from mild 5 to steep 20 degrees. The park started in 1823 and now houses over 250 types of trees and over 900 types of smaller plants. If you are into flora, this is the place to visit, even more so that it has a staggeringly beautiful Valley of Roses (35 types of roses).

Lago-Naki

Lago-Naki or Lagonaki is a famous Western Caucasian Plateau about 2km up in the mountains. Alpine meadows, lakes that appear and disappear by some rules known only to them, solutional caves, relict forests, fast rivers and waterfalls, you name it, you find it here. If you are fond of flowers, this is a place to be. You can see posh rhododendrons, valleys of thyme and valeriana, the smell alone will make you tranquil for a long time.

Lago-Naki

The Plateau is located between two rivers: The Belaya (White) and the Pshekha and at the foot of three mountains: Fisht, Oshten and Pshekha-Su. The sea is not far away, that is why there is enough precipitation all year round, which allows snow to form well enough for skiing purposes. Lagonaki is heaven for free riders and snowboarders, and families with kids who crave for some sledging or tobogganing. You can go climbing, rafting, trekking, paragliding, hang-gliding, caving etc. There are 125 caves in the south of the Plateau. The temperature in them hardly ever rises above 5 degrees Celsius (41 F), so make sure you dress appropriately. The surreal experience of the caves can be doubled by the Stone Sea (Kukarta) with its huge rocks.

Lago-Naki has been a tourist attraction since the Soviet times, the most popular route #30 called ‘Through Mountains to the Sea’ used to take 20 days to cover. It starts in Adygeya, goes through Dagomys and ends at the Black Sea. As you go you see various climatic zones, climb a glacier on Mount Fisht, tread through mountainous areas and breath thin air for three weeks, what can be better to clear your lungs, blood vessels and mind? Now this route is called ‘Ecologo-touristic route No.1’ and you can cover it in 5 days. But please, don’t cheat and take a longer version. By the way, the majority of the time you traverse the lands of the Caucasian Reserve, and this is not free of charge, tourists pay per day.

Speaking of the treks to Mount Fisht, there are several ranging from the simplest 1B through the Fisht Glacier to the most difficult 5A route through Mount Fisht eastern wall (ice-axes and crampons are a must). The things not to miss as well are the Guamskoye Gorge, the Granite Canyon, Mount Trezubetz (Trident) etc.

There is one more resort in Lagonaki, unfortunately not available for the humble hikers, that is President Putin’s residence called Lunnaya Polyana or Moon Lawn. There has been a lot of controversy over it regarding its impact on the ecology and its accessibility to the general public.

Trekking in Georgia

Georgia

Longer journeys for up to a week:

  1. Mestia to Ushguli, the center of Svaneti in Georgia is rich in great scenery, historical sights, it is accessible, and not very long (58 km, 4 days). It is not very populated by tourists or hikers, so you can enjoy truly pristine nature in comfortable solitude. You can deviate from the traditional route and to to a route crossing the Zuruldi massif with the sleepover in Tsvirmi (instead of sleeping in Zhabeshi village).
  2. Omalo to Shatili, a 70-km track between historical centers of mountain regions Tusheti and Khevsureti. It’s intriguing not only by natural sights but also by several ancient fortresses and villages, dominated by stone towers. The highlight of the trek is a crossing of the 3431m high Atsunta pass. You can use a higher, more scenic trail traversing the Pirikita range and later on connect to a classic trail in Parsma.
  3. Several treks in Kazbegi district that lies in the Caucasus mountains north of Tbilisi, beneath the famous Mount Kazbek. Due to its combination of easy accessibility and natural beauty, it is the most visited mountain area in Georgia. The center of the region is Stepantsminda village, still known under its other name Kazbegi. You can have a one-day trip to the Gergeti Glacier, walk in the Truso Valley, see the Gveleti waterfalls, or explore the Keli volcanic plateau, barren, rocky piece of land lying west of Georgian Military Highway on a trek to Kelitsadi Lake.
  4. Chaukhi pass is for those who have already seen Kazbegi region and wishes to explore more. The region is also called Georgian Dolomites for the ragged rocks you see. The trek is 21 km (one-way, 1-2 days), 36 km (returning by Sadzele pass, 3-4 days) or 52 km (with return through Arkhoti, 5-6 days). It runs between Juta village in Kazbegi region and Roshka, the Khevsureti. You will find meadows with intriguing rock formations (Roshka stones) and Abudelauri lakes - three beautiful alpine lakes with different colors (green, blue and white). It is Attractive due to a proximity of the imposing the Chaukhi massif with its seven sharp peaks and a necessity to scale 3338 meters high Chaukhi pass. If you have more time, you can turn north and visit communities of Arkhoti. Especially upper part of this remote valley is worth a visit - you can expect to find there nice gorges, waterfalls, and the complete solitude. The next day you can cross Arkhoti pass and return to Juta - however, this last section lost a lots of its appeal since a few years ago, an original trail got replaced by a car road. The another option is to return from Roshka to Juta via Sadzele pass - this route also takes a day but is much easier. In a few years, government plans to build here a road so it’s worth seeing while it’s still "unspoiled".
  5. Trek to Tobavarchkhili lake. This beautiful 80km trek crosses Egrisi mountains which separate Svaneti from Samegrelo lowlands. You will not come close to the highest mountains of Caucasus, but this small drawback is fully compensated by a very diverse environment. High passes with great views, magical lakes, rocky gorges, waterfalls, shepherds huts, remote valleys - this trek has everything. Or almost everything. There are no medieval stone villages, so typical for many Georgian regions. It is considered to be one of the most difficult and dangerous hiking routes of Georgia. You need several days to hike up to the lakes and the same amount of days to come back. However, the beauty of those crystal-clear waters is worth every step.
  6. Mestia to Koruldi Lakes. If you’re visiting Mestia, the central city of Svaneti and are up for a small hike, consider Koruldi Lakes for a great day hike from here. The alpine lakes lie at the bottom of Ushba mountain, creating a stunning view of the surroundings. The trek takes approximately seven hours and is considered to be of moderate difficulty.
  7. Hike to the Shkhara Glacier starts from Ushguli village. The trail goes along the dirt road and might not be that pleasant, but the views of the highest point in Georgia (Mt. Shkhara, 5,201m) are worth every step. This could easily be a day hike as it takes only five hours in total – however, you can shorten it by hiring a jeep.

If you are tired of walking, take a car and have a good drive up and down serpentine roads.

Tbilisi to Kazbegi by famous Georgian military road should you wish to hire a car, this is a good 420-km-long route. You can cross the Great Caucasus range at Jvari pass and spend unforgettable days surrounded by high mountains and narrow gorges. Kazbegi region, former Khevi province is the easiest to access from Tbilisi highland region.

A two-day trip Vardzia in Samkskhe-Javakheti starts in Tbilisi and goes through Kvemo Kartli and Shida Kartli. The Central point of the tour is Vardzia cave monastery complex in upper valley of the river Mtkvari, which used to be main transit road between central Georgia and Turkey, earlier Byzantium. So this places used to play important role in medieval Georgian politics, economics and culture. That’s why here are located so many historical monuments on a comparatively small area.

Some many more places to visit and enjoy, just to give you a few:

  • Khor Virap the most photographed place in Armenia, a spectacular monastery atop a huge rock, right at the border, at the foot of Mount Ararat.
  • Davit Gareja Monastery — a cave monastery in a desert in Georgia. It is full of beautiful old cave frescoes, and overlooks the vast empty expanse to the south in Azerbaijan
  • The Gates of Alexander at Derbent, Dagestan
  • Breathtaking Tsminda Sameba Monastery on the slopes of Mount Kazbek, Georgia
  • Mt. Ara in Armenia has a crater inside it which is a technically easy climb, and if you head left you can sit upon the nose.
Ararat and Khor Virap monastery

Skiing in the Caucasus

Krasnaya Polyana, Russia

Krasnaya Polyana, Sochi, Krasnodar Krai is located in the Western Caucasus, it is home to GorkiTown, Gazprom Touristic Centre, and of course, the new Rosa Khutor alpine ski resort, with a base elevation of 560 meters (1,840 ft) along the Mzymta River, 39 kilometers (24 mi) from its influx into the Black Sea in Adlersky City District of Sochi. The lift-served Rosa Khutor summit climbs to 2,320 meters (7,610 ft), giving a vertical drop of over a mile at 1,760 meters (5,770 ft). The ski-pass pricing can be found here. The resort hosted the Alpine and Nordic events of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi (Russia hosted winter Olympic games for the first time in history, there were some amazing records set), having previously hosted World Cup alpine events from February 2012, two years earlier and is also the ashes of Canadian skier Sarah Burke were spread. Krasnaya Polyana today offers many chalets, hotels, and restaurants. Its reputation owes a lot to the development of heliskiing (which is by the way now banned in Germany and France, Austria has only two landing pads available for it) in the middle of the 1990s, which provides access to an important skiing domain. Amateurs can ski downhill through a not-too-dense birch forest as well. In general, this is a must-see, must-visit, must-ski. If you can’t ski or it is summer time, you are welcome to explore the trekking trails and see the dolmens, ancient pagan holy places, each of them has a cool legend attached.

Dombai, Russia

Dombai is Russian ski resort that hosts international competitions in freestyle riding, slalom, giant slalom, snowboarding. It is also a cool place for paragliding, there are annual national competitions held here. Skiing is very comfortable and diverse, there are gentle and hardcore slopes available for off-piste riding as well. The ski-runs are at 1,800-3,200 m a.s.l, with the maximal drop in elevation of 1,400 meters.

Dombai is 190 km away from Pyatigorsk, the highest point of the ski resort is Dombai-Ulgen at 4,046m a.s.l.

Georgia

Gudauri is the youngest and the most promising ski resort in Georgian Caucasus. It is in Kazbegi region of Georgia, 120 km from Tbilisi, at the height of 2,196 m (about 7,200 feet) near the Cross Pass. The unique landscape offers great opportunities for backcountry skiing, there are only 4 ski lifts but innumerably tracks down the wide fields, apart from the specially cleared routes (8 pistes, 16km in total, there are runs for slalom, giant slalom etc. they are all FIS-certified) there are also some venues beautifully suited for freeriders. The guaranteed snow cover is from November till May, but the skiing season officially lasts from December to April, the height of snow on the slopes is 1.5m. Despite being high in the mountains, the weather is warm and sunny with almost no winds.

Even if you are no skier, go to the top of Sadzele (3,258m) and enjoy the breathtaking panorama of the Caucasus.

Bakuriani is one of the most famous Georgian ski resorts, yet it is also a balneo therapeutic spa. It is located 1,700m a.s.l. on the northern slope of Trialetski Range, not far from Borjomi Gorge, hence the mineral waters available to drink and to bathe. The skiing season in November to March, the winters are cold, but not too severe and with lots of snow. The avalanches are extremely rare. Presently, there are two two-stage runs Kokhta-1 (1,500m, with quite challenging first 400m with a 52 degree angle), and Kokhta-2. If you want to see the girls skiing in swimming suits, Bakuriani is the place.

If you are not an adamant mountain skier, go trekking or cross-country skiing to Tzhratzkaro /Цхрацкаро (13km from Kakuriani, elevation 2.780m). Bakuriani is conveniently located at the cross of Caucasian ranges and various geographical zones with rich flora and fauna. One-day trips can include going up Kokhta (2,155m) or Sekvelomta with a drop to Tabatzkuri Lake, a trip to monastery site Timotesubani (11th century church and a monastery in a cave), hot springs in Tzikhisdjvari or mineral water springs in Mitarbi. If you go down the Borjomi Gorge, there are several hot spots to see. Daba is a small village with a chapel hidden in a huge cave (just 500m off the road), and there is a historical yew (2000 y.o.). Tzagveri with mineral water. For extreme climbers, once you turn towards Patara Tzemi into Bakurianistzkali gorge, there are relict crystallic ores - the bottom of the gorge is filled with gigantic ‘pencils’ - 20-30m long hexahedral crystals. The view is gorgeous, and you can also devour some wild berries (brambleberries and dewberries) on the slopes of the gorge.

Tsaghkadzor is a city in Central Armenia, known for being a ski resort, with forests and an ancient monastery. In the summer, people go there to get away from the city life of Yerevan, and the heat, for the fresh air in the mountains. In the winter, the town is completely overtaken by skiers and people who just want to relax and enjoy the snow and scenery. The ski lift takes you up the Biblical Ararat Mountain and off you go down the crispy snow.

Mountain Climbing

Mount Elbrus

Mount Elbrus is one of the world seven summits – the highest point on every continent – and is raved for mountaineers, which may come at a costly price. On average 26 people die trying to climb Elbrus every year, which is a higher death toll than that of Mt. Everest, the highest peak in the world.

Climbing Mount Elbrus, Europe’s watchtower is a perfect immersion into expedition climbing and gaining experience with the acclimatization process. Lack of oxygen, deep cold and pure exhaustion take their toll, but all this will be forgotten beneath the joy and adrenaline of summiting Mt Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe. Magnificent views await on this great outdoor adventure – at 5,642m, Elbrus and its double-coned volcano is 832m higher than Western Europe’s highest mountain, Mont Blanc.

You will have to expect tricky terrain, evil weather and some acclimatisation. Snowfields of blinding white ascend gradually, allowing climbers to see far and wide. The snow can be deep and soft or, in peak season, firm and crunchy underfoot. In one section, climbers must use fixed ropes. Here, the gradient is steeper with a vertiginous drop to the basin below. Like on all mountains, the weather on Elbrus can be harsh and unpredictable. It’s quite normal to start a climb sweating beneath clear skies and minutes later be pulling on protective clothing under lashing wind and snowfall. Already icy temperatures regularly drop to well below freezing, particularly at night. On the mountain most climbers stay at a refuge, in simple huts located at 4000m. These are accessed by a series of cable cars and chair lifts or a day’s trek from Garabashi.

Shkhara

Shkhara is the highest point in Georgia. Located in the Svaneti region along the Georgian-Russian frontier, Shkhara lies 88 kilometres (55 mi) north of the city of Kutaisi, Georgia's second-largest city. The summit is quite difficult to climb Clasical way is a 5B grade by Russian grade. First ascent was made in 1888 by English and Swiss climbers.

Shkhara

Kazbek

Kazbek lays on the border of Georgia and Russia, approximately 100 kilometres northwards from Tbilisi. Startpoint of the climb is village Kazbegi (1730m), laying on an important road connecting Tbilisi and Vladikavkaz in Russia. Kazbek is an inspiration for poets and writers, steeped in Greek myths and Georgian legends. Climbing this beautiful perpetually snow-covered peak of the Caucasus is sure to be an unforgettable experience. Kazbegi Climb – UIAA grade II.

Dykh-Tau

Dykh-Tau (Дых тау in Russian) that is derived from Turkic "dik dagh" which means Jagged Mount is a mountain located in Kabardino-Balkaria, Russia; its peak stands about 5 km (3 mi) north of the border with Georgia. Dykh-Tau is the second highest of the Caucasus Range, after Mount Elbrus and is the second highest mountain in Europe. It is also not for the faint-hearted. The most popular climb is via the northern edge, category of the climb is 4B according to the Russian classification.

Dykh-Tau is prone to frequent rockfalls, avalanches and requires a well thought-over strategic climbing. You can conquer it any season. In winter time the temperatures may be unbearable, but it is compensated by the increased safety of the route because the frost holds fast some treacherous patches. The best time to climb though is August to September.

How to get to the Caucasus

You can get a Russian visa or a Georgian visa and enjoy most the Caucasus have to offer. Border crossing is not very difficult throughout the Caucasus. Both the Russian-Georgian border near Kazbegi and the Russia-Azerbaijan border used to be only open for citizens of CIS countries and closed for non-CIS citizens. However, now both the border crossing at Verkhniy Lars (near Kazbegi, using the Georgian Military Road between Tbilisi and Vladikavkaz) and the border crossing between Azerbaijan and Dagestan, have been reopened for non-CIS/ex-Soviet citizens, providing at least two land based entry/exit points to/from Russia.

Aside from flying, there are ferries between Sochi, Russia & Trabzon, Turkey; between Odessa, Ukraine and Batumi, Georgia; and Baku, Azerbaijan & Aktau, Kazakhstan.

The Armenian-Azerbaijani border is closed because both countries remain at war. The Armenian-Turkish border is also closed due to tensions between both countries. To travel overland between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Armenia and Turkey, it is necessary to go through either Georgia or Iran.

Georgia's borders with Turkey, Armenia, Russia (only in Upper Lars) and Azerbaijan are all open, making the country somewhat of a regional transit hub for the Caucasus. Since 2003's Rose Revolution in Georgia, bribes are absolutely not necessary for foreign travelers entering Georgia. However this cannot be guaranteed for Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Entering Azerbaijan with a used Armenian visa or vice versa could likely cause problems (suspicion) with border guards, but shouldn't prohibit entry. Nevertheless, it is recommended to visit Azerbaijan first and then Armenia, to avoid potential problems and a refusal of entry to Azerbaijan. However, you will not be allowed entry to Azerbaijan with a Nagorno-Karabakh visa (you can ask to get the NKR visa on a separate piece of paper, though), otherwise it would result with a permanent ban of entry to Azerbaijan.

Naxchivan (Azerbaijan) can be entered from Turkey and Iran.

How to get around the Caucasus

Rail services are pretty good, there are overnight trains between Moscow-Kislovodsk, Pyatigorsk, Tbilisi-Yerevan and Tbilisi-Baku etc. When traveling by rail, you have the option of rooms containing 4 beds (coupe, pronounced koo-peh') or 2 beds (SV, pronounced es veh). SV is a bit more expensive, but more comfortable and generally considered more safe from pickpockets.

There are direct bus services between all major cities.

If you would prefer a more social mode of transport, minivans (marshrutkas) operate across all open borders and throughout the entire Caucasus region.

There are direct flights between Tbilisi, Baku, Yerevan, Moscow, Saint Petersburg. Expect no trouble at the airports--they are small and efficient.

Car rental is more expensive in the Caucasus than in the West, but car hire with a driver is quite affordable. For international travel, however, it will be necessary to pay for your driver's lodging unless he was already planning to make the trip.

Have a great trip in the Caucasus and share your precious moments with us at PeakVisor.