The Seven Summits are the highest peaks on each of the Earth’s seven continents. However, there is
disagreement about where the border between Europe and Asia is located in Russia.
One commonly cited boundary for the easternmost edge of Europe is the Ural Mountains, which brings
the Caucasus Mountains within Europe. The Caucasus’ tallest mountain, Elbrus, is 5,642 meters (18,510 feet)
high, higher than Western Europe’s Mt. Blanc in the Alps, the European contender if the
Caucaucas are instead considered within Asia. Elbrus has two summits, the east summit being the lower
of the two at 5,621 meters, both of which are dominant volcanic domes.
The first recorded climb of the mountain was in 1829 by Killar Khashirov, who reached the lower
east summit. The higher west summit was reaching in 1874 when the guide Akhia Sottaiev led a team of
British and Swiss climbers to the peak. During the early years of the Soviet Union, mountaineering
became a popular sport of the masses, and there was tremedous traffic on the mountain. In the winter
of 1936, a very large group of inexperienced Komsomol members attempted the mountain, and ended up
suffering many fatalities when they slipped on the ice and fell to their deaths. The Germans briefly
occupied the mountain during the Second World War; a possibly apocryphal story tells of a Soviet
pilot being given a medal for bombing the main mountaineering hut, Pruit 11, while it was occupied.
He was then later nominated for a medal for not hitting the hut, but instead the fuel supply, leaving
the hut standing for future generations. From 1959 through 1976, a cable car system was built in
stages which can take visitors as high as 3,800 meters. There are
a wide variety of routes up the mountain, but the normal route, which is free of crevasses, continues
more or less straight up the slope from the end of the cable car system. During the summer, it is not
uncommon for 100 people to be attempting the summit via this route each day.
The Caucasus Mountains are the result of a tectonic plate collision between the Arabian plate moving
northward with respect to the Eurasian plate. They form a continuation of the Himalayas, which are being
pressed upwards by a similar collison zone with the Eurasian and Indian plates. The entire region
is regularly subjected to strong earthquakes from this activity, especially as the fault structure
is complex with the Anatolia/Turkey and Iranian Blocks flowing sidewise, which prevents subduction of
the advancing plate edge and hence the lack of volcanoes (though some minor dome structures, such as
Elbrus’ peaks, do exist).
This image was acquired by
Landsat 7’s Enhanced Thematic Mapper plus
(ETM+) sensor on September 12, 2000. This is a true-color image made using red, green, and blue
wavelengths (ETM+ bands 3, 2, and 1).