Culturally, Mt. Elbrus represents an immovable beast of a mountain, and the Russians and Soviet Union have taken full advantage of this image when using it in propaganda campaigns (Shklarov, 2010). After the Nazis captured Priut 11 in 1942, the Russians sent a bomber to destroy the structure, which was a few thousand feet below the summit. The Nazis that took the Priut had climbed Elbrus and hoisted a giant Nazi flag at the summit, further emboldening the Russians to take back the mountain and the hut as both a propaganda action as well as a way to visibly defeat the Germans. According to official records, the only bomb to have landed near the hut destroyed the fuel tank (Shklarov, 2010). But the Nazis and later, archaeologists studying the event disagreed that the fuel depot was even significantly damaged during the bombing. The Russian pilot was none the less awarded one of the countrys highest honors for his bravery, and the event was used as a propaganda springboard for helping to drive the Germans from Priut 11 and ultimately in defeating the Nazis in World War Two (Shklarov, 2010).
Currently, Mt. Elbrus represents an excellent draw for tourists, climbers, and skiers. The locals have begun to cash in on this attraction and besides the cable car system, have also constructed other climbing huts as well as outhouses and structures to aid in climbing the mountain and in other various recreational activities. Russia has spent millions of dollars in a campaign to help attract more people to the region, and according to many climbers, there are as many as 100 people who attempt to summit Elbrus on a daily basis (Horton, et. al., 2006). This number has been increasing, and will likely continue to do so as the snow and ice begin to recede from the mountains flanks and glacial moraine.
Environmental Condition and Threats
Mt. Elbrus is said to be home of the “worlds nastiest outhouse.” This small structure is located nearly 14,000 feet above sea level and incorporates a small pipe to direct the flow of human waste onto the rocks and glacier far below the cliffs it rests on. Besides this anecdotal evidence for lack of environmental concern, Mt. Elbrus is subject to glacial shrinkage as well as other issues that threaten the very fragile ecosystem and surrounding flora and fauna (McColl, 2005).
Since the Russian government has not put any restrictions on climbing the mountain through issuing permits or limiting the number of visitors, the human footprint on Elbrus is enormous (Helman, 2005). Starting with the climbing hut built in 1929 and then Priut 11 and the cable car system, the mountain is host to myriad human intrusions which attract large crowds.
These crowds tend to leave large amounts of garbage and human waste and destroy much of the very fragile glacial ecosystems that exist on the mountain (Helman, 2005). The sheer amount of refuse and the human impact on the mountain and the surrounding areas have led to pollutants showing up in streams, lakes, and rivers as well. Many of these pollutants are extremely difficult to remove and the Russian government has show very little effort or interest in cleaning the area up (Hurley, 2009). Crowds and human waste are a problem on many of the worlds tallest peaks as climbers, skiers, adventurers, and tourists flock to these areas to enjoy themselves and their surroundings.
Even the museum that houses many of the Priut 11 artifacts from the World War Two era has been abandoned. The power was shut off two years ago and the structure and all the artifacts inside stand rotting at the top of the cable car system. This is but one example of the waste and mistreatment of Mt. Elbruss environment. Mt. Elbruss glaciers have also been shrinking at an alarming rate. Much of the mountain is covered with snow and ice year round, but these areas have been shrinking over the past 30 years as weather patterns and conditions have changed, signaling a possible period of warming.
Helman, Adam. (2005). The Finest Peaks: Prominence and Other Mountain Measures.
Trafford Publishing: Victoria, Canada.
Horton, Patrick; Simon Richmond; Mark Elliott; and Steve Kokker..