[Photo] Mt. Elbrus courtesy of Mountain Madness/Savejko Photo.
Alpinist reported a preliminary news flash on terrorist activity around Mt. Elbrus on February 23, 2011, stating that authorities had closed the mountain to tourists and climbers in response to terrorist activity. Several events have developed since our initial report, but the situation in Russia’s Kabardino-Balkaria region has not improved. Russian authorities amended the initial report that three militants had been killed, stating instead that eight to ten well-armed militia escaped police raids and air strikes on the mountain by fleeing to the surrounding foothills. Police have seized an eight-person shelter stocked with food, weapons and police uniforms, driving terrorists off Mt. Elbrus. The situation in the region is still considerably dangerous. The tourism ban will remain in effect indefinitely.
A local guide working in the Elbrus region for 15 years describes the situation on Elbrus:
After the accidents everything became a total mess in the resort… [P]eople got stuck in the high-altitude refuge [huts] without cable cars or electric power. People are trying to get away from the region as fast as possible… The local people are shocked as such a thing happened in the middle of a high winter season means, for them, a 100-percent jobless spring and summer season. Presuming that the tourism is the only source for people’s income in the Elbrus region. It sounds very painful.
This violence on one of the Seven Summits comes as a shock to many people around the world. One local mountain guide we talked to expressed reservations over the source of the attacks, questioning the root of the events and the steps needed to restore a safe environment for tourists in the region.
Alpinist cannot make any definite statements as to the political climate in Russia, but we feel it is important to inform the climbing community of the potentially dangerous situation on such a high profile mountain. One source stated that despite the situation tourists are still going to the region, with roughly 5,000 people vacationing in the area currently. As always, prudence is advised for all expedition planning.