Mount Elbrus is the highest peak of the Caucasus Mountains in southwest Russia. This dormant volcano also finds a position among the Seven Great Summits of the world, representing the highest peak in the European continent. The mountain is located near the Russian-Georgian border in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay–Cherkessia of Russia. Mount Elbrus hosts two summits, both of them being dormant volcanic domes, with only a minor difference in their heights. The western summit is the taller among the two, being 18,510 feet in height, while the eastern one is 18,442 feet in height. The Prielbrusye National Park encompassing Mount Elbrus was established in 1986 to protect and conserve the Caucasian Mountain ecosystems in and around Mount Elbrus.
Mount Elbrus’s most volcanic happening dates back to around 50 A.D., the year when the last major eruption occurred on this mountain. Scientists have predicted that the volcano was formed around 2.5 million years ago and had been especially active during the Holocene Epoch. Mount Elbrus is associated with a number of ancient legends and folklore. The mountain was named as ‘Strobilus’, Latin for ‘pine cone’, by the ancient peoples due to its twisted shape. In 1829, the eastern, lower summit of the mountain was first ascended by a Russian named Kabardinian Killar Khashirov. The highest point of the mountain, the western peak, was first summited in 1874 by Akhia Sottaiev, a Balkarian guide. During the Second World War, German forces captured Russian territory encompassing Mount Elbrus in 1942. Then, in 1943, Elbrus was back again under Soviet control, and has remained a part of Russia since.
Mount Elbrus hosts around 22 glaciers which feed three rivers. Namely, these are the Kuban, Baksan and Malka Rivers of Russia. Every year, thousands of mountaineers, skiers, snow-boarders, and general tourists visit the mountain region and the Prielbrusye National Park, generating substantial income for the local economies of the surrounding mountain regions. Several winter sports facilities exist in this region to encourage tourists to participate in their thrilling winter activities. The Prielbrusye National Park also hosts a wide and diverse variety of flora and fauna, including a number of which are counted among those on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species.
Mount Elbrus has a generally cold climate, with nighttime temperatures in the summer averaging around negative 8o Celsius, while temperatures in the snow-capped areas can be as low as negative 30o Celsius. Winter temperatures are even lower, and weather is more harsh on the western side of the mountain. The Caspian and Black Seas influence the wind and precipitation patterns of the mountain. The diversity of the flora and fauna of the Prielbrusye National Park is driven by the altitudinal variations in the ecosystem. Mostly coniferous pine forests cover large tracts of land on the lower slopes and river valleys of the park. Juniper, Wild rose, and Barberry also grow in these coniferous forests. The sub-alpine zone, on the higher slopes of the mountain, are occupied by sparsely distributed broad-leaved trees and shrubs, above which lie Alpine meadows and, finally, Alpine deserts, comprised by mosses and lichens. No vegetation grows in the permafrost-covered regions surrounding the peaks of the snow-capped mountains of the park, including Elbrus. Chamois and West Caucasian tur (both of which are species of goat-antelope) graze in the alpine meadows and forests of the park. Brown bears, foxes, weasels, and lynxes are some of the carnivores of the Prielbrusye National Park. Other mammalian species of the ecosystem include wild boars, Roe deer, hares, and small rodents like wood mice. A large number of rare bird species can also be spotted on Mount Elbrus and in its surrounding habitats, including the Peregrine falcon, the Caucasian Black grouse, the Parrot cross-bill, the Tawny owl, and the Eurasian dipper. The Banded newt, Caucasian viper, European Spade-foot toad, and European tree frog are some of the amphibian and reptilian species of the ecosystem. Brown trout and northern pike are but some of the aquatic fish species thriving in the streams and rivers of this region.
Threats and Disputes
Changing climatic conditions and heavy tourism pressures are taking their tolls on Mount Elbrus. Scientists surveying the mountain for decades have proof exhibiting the retreat of glaciers, like the Bolshoi Azau Glacier tongue, on the mountain. This has led to an increase in the incidence of avalanches in the mountain, which have killed 50 individuals since 2002. Nearly 350,000 tourists visit the Elbrus mountain region each year, many leaving behind a trail of waste, including plastic bags and plastic bottles, as they go. Tourism has also driven the unregulated development of hotels, buildings, shops, and parking lots in the mountain region, all of which are disturbing the peace of the region, and destroying vast tracts of wild habitat. Another major threat to the Mount Elbrus ecosystem is the possibility of volcanic eruptions in the near future. Following the discovery of mosses associated with vulcanism near the Mount Elbrus peak, scientists claim that a major eruption may be on its way within the next 50 years.