Welcome to Bezengui, majestic and virgin region of the Central Caucasus

Text by S.Kalmykov
Photos by S.Kalmykov, C.Kondo, A.Moshnikov, T.Sakata.

(click on pictures to zoom)

Shkhara (5180m) from the North

CET Neva agency "opens" beautiful and majestic region in the Central Caucasus for its foreign clients. Retain this name in your mind: BEZENGUI! Of course, many of us was making their climbs in the Bezengui region many years ago and once a group of our clients visited it. But it was just the summer'98 when we gave start for our regular guided tours there.

First, Serguei Kalmykov, CET Neva guide, with small group of five Japanese trekkers had come in Bezengui in the first week of the June. The region met them with glaring effulgence of snows not yet melted off after the winter (on the right, against Shkhara background). They were vanquished with the mountain glory, with comfort of the "Alpinist Camp Bezengui" and hospitality of its personnel. Tsunee Sakata, EURAS tourist agency chief, had been among the group members to estimate the region potential for his firm. Result of the inspection appeared to be positive: two weeks later another group of 22 members had again been directed by EURAS to Bezengui. This time the group was led by Anatoly Moshnikov, CET Neva director, and his guide team. It's worth to be mentioned that both the groups included many aged persons and some of them were more than 60. However, in spite of the long ways at the altitude higher than 3000m above the sea, in deep snows and on moraines (or, who knows, may be just owing to this), all trekkers were leaving Bezengui with souls overwhelmed with joy of rendezvous with the fascinating mountain world.

And finally in the August, Kalmykov again came in Bezengui with a group of five British climbers. They had climbed up three summits here and one more in the Baksan Valley along routes of grades PD/AD. Ascent of pic Ukiu Main in lateral gorge closest to the "Camp Bezengui" was the first of them. It was made along the D.Freshfield route which had been discovered 110 years ago by British mountaineers. Another summit was fine pyramid of Guestola (4860m) in the "Bezengui Wall" (on the right: the British group on the Guestola top)... At the end of last November an e-mail had come to Petersburg from Oxford. Colin Roach, organizer of the British group, wrote: "...Howard has just found a copy of Mummery's book on the Caucasus, and has lent it to me.... it should be very interesting to read about his exploits on Dykh-Tau...". Thus, these British mountaineers could discover for themselves a part of their national history in the Bezengui mountains. It were just the C.Roach words that turned out to be the most pleasant appreciation of the guide efforts.

So we are now ready to say "Welcome to Bezengui, the heart of the Caucasus! CET Neva agency will be glad to help you in organizing hike and climbing tours in this fantastic place."

Bezengui is a part of the Central Caucasus next to the East from Baksan Valley and Elbrus. Except for Elbrus this is the most elevated region of the Caucasus. The segment of the Main Caucasian Range of 12km length situated here is called "Bezengui Wall" (see scheme of the region). It contains two five-thousanders, Shkhara and Dzhangui-tau, and several other summits close to this altitude. This immense two kilometer height barrier of rocks, ice and snow towers over the Bezengui glacier, the longest one on the northern side of the Main Range. Three other five-thousanders of the region, Koshtan-tau, Mizhirgui and Dykh-tau, stand in the Lateral Ridge to the North of the Main one (on the photo: Mizhirgui, 5020m, on the left and Dykhtau, 5200m, taken from the North). The region, often called "Himalaya in miniature", is very attractive for sportsmen. More than hundred routes of grades from F to ED are available here providing a wide variety of mountain reliefs: from short, one day alpine style rocky routes in lateral gorges to severe many day mixed climbs on north walls and butresses of five-thousanders. Experienced trekkers explain the allure of Bezengui with the fact that giant rocky and icy walls towers up by two kilometers to the sky practically just from the path in contrast with, for example, trek itineraries in Nepal.

This region, populated by Balkarians, was known in russian capitals even in the second half of the last century: moscovian journalist and writer V.Guiliarovsky mentioned his travels to "aoul (mountain village in caucasian languages) Bezengui" and higher, to the lower plateau of Mizhirgui glacier ("below the Koshtan snow hat") in late 1870s or early 1880s. However these were British climbers-explorers who "discovered" Bezengui in sportif sense of the word: first ascents of Skhara, Dzhangui and Dykh-tau had been realized by A.Mummery and J.Cockin during two expeditions of 1887-88 led by Sir D.Freshfield. In 1998 "Alpinist Camp Bezengui" celebrated 110th anniversary of these climbs. In 1959 Sir John Hunt (head of the British expedition 1953 which reached first the summit of Mt. Everest) visited these mountains and described them in his "Red snows".

Local mountaineering center, "Alpinist Camp Bezengui" (2200m above the sea level), was founded in 1959 (on the photo: the Camp Bezengui, Guestola is behind). At the present it consists of a dozen of buildings including three cottages for about 20 persons each with only double and triple appartments, hot shower and flush WC being in each of appartments. First-aid medical post, sauna, dining house with three meals a day, bar and coffee room, services of route experts and rescuers, maps of the region are available in the Camp as well. Communication to the Center may be realized via e-mail - rare thing in the Caucasia! It is easily reached from Nalchik (the capital of the Kabardino-Balkarian autonomy which is part of the Russian Federation) airport by bus or car (3-4 hours) or from Mineral'nye Vody (Mineral Waters) airport (6-7 hours).

Three high mountain huts are maintained in good state by the Camp personnel providing a refuge for climbers. The lowest of them, "Musos-kosh" (2600m, 2-3 hours by feet from the Bezengui Camp) is in a placid grassy moraine "pocket" near the middle of the Bezengui glacier mainstream. It is here where climbers' cemetery is situated, a sacred place where many russian and foreign climbers are buried. Another hut, "Austrian bivuac" or "Dzhangui-kosh" (3200m, 8-9 hours) is installed at the upper end of the Bezengui glacier east branch. And finally, one more hut, "Ukiu-kosh" (3300m, 4-5 hours), is constructed of stones in the closest to the Camp lateral gorge (see the photo).

Typically the Camp functions for 3.5 months yearly, from June 1 till the middle of September. Hundreds of trekkers and climbers from different parts of Russia and from different countries visit this beautiful and majestic places during the summer period. Stable and quiet social and political situation is characteristic of the Kabardino-Balkarian autonomy in general, but owing to its relative isolation from other parts of the Caucasia, the Bezengui region shows up even in this hospital republic in comparison with, for example, Elbrus region and Baksan Valley being more virgin, much less crowded, cleaner and safer (on the picture a goat is posing, the Bezengui Wall is behind).

Bezengui region scheme

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