Exploring southern Russia’s wild west, Chris Raven and Simon Raven pay a little visit to Mt Elbrus considered to be the tallest mountain in Europe.
|Mt Elbrus, South Ossetia-Alania, Russia. By Simon Raven
By Chris Raven
The rain thunders down as a veil of thick cloud swirls around the body of Mt Elbrus. Si flicks on the squeaky windscreen wipers, and on the glass I draw a smiley face in the condensation. Rising 5,642 metres above sea level, Mt Elbrus is a double-coned volcano with a permanent icecap that feeds twenty-two glaciers. This majestic fortress of rock and ice is located on a moving tectonic area, and was formed more than 2.5 million years ago. The name Elbrus “Alborz” is believed to have roots in Middle Persian and derives from a mountain in Iranian mythology called “Hara Berezaiti”, meaning “High Sentinel”. Located at the crossroads of cultures at the axis of migrating civilisations, Elbrus has names in many other languages including “Mingi Taw” in Turkic, meaning “Eternal Mountain” and “Oshkhamakhua” in Circassian, meaning “Mountain of Happiness”.
During the Hellenistic period the mountain was known as “Strobilus” (pine cone) in Latin; in reference to the volcanoes twisted peak. According to the curse of Zeus, everyday a giant eagle was to descend from the skies and devour Prometheus’s liver. During the night, his wounds would heal and the torture would begin again. The Titan was eventually saved by Hercules who defeated the eagle. In local Balkar mythology, they believe Mt Elbrus was trapped in ice by Allah as punishment for being too proud to bow in prayer to the Muslim holy site of Mount Arafat, east of Mecca.
Refusing to let the weather dampen our spirits, we drop by the 7Summit climbing shop and tour office in Terskol. We meet the assertive manager named Anna, who has shoulder length jet-black hair and rosy cheeks. We sip coffee and watch a group of climbers trying on hiking boots and choosing their ice axes and ski poles. There is an air of excitement in the shop, an anxious anticipation. Si sparks up a conversation with a ruddy-faced chap from Moscow, who strides around and tests out his new hiking boots. He tells us they hope to climb Elbrus in two days’ time when the weather is forecast to improve. Two women from Norway inspect their poles, while a young couple debate about whether a blue or orange jacket looks better on the mountain.
I join Si outside and we meet a local guide who is chatting to his wife and young son on his laptop. I leap in front of the webcam and sing “dobryy vecher!” The guide named Pavel laughs, he has a great sense of humour. When he hears about our quest to drive full circle around the Black Sea, he tells the story about the Russian adventurer, Alexander Abramov, who drove a Land Rover to the top of Elbrus in 1997. The vehicle had become stuck on the way down, and still remains on the mountain to this day. Mt Elbrus is considered to be Europe’s highest summit, with regards to the seven highest mountains of each of the seven continents. F. Crauford Grove and a Swiss guide, Peter Knubel, made the first recorded ascent of Mt Elbrus in July 1874. Grove was one of the best British climbers of his time and wrote a book ‘The Frosty Caucasus’.
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Driving the Trans-Siberian
by Chris Raven, Simon Raven
Ever had the desire to jump in your car and keep driving, to wave goodbye to routine and commitment; to drive into the unknown hungry for adventure? Well, that is precisely what overland travel writers, Chris Raven and Simon Raven, decided to do whilst stacking boxes of frozen oven chips in a -30 degrees freezer. Not being petrol heads and having zero knowledge of the internal combustion engine, the brothers fired up their rusty Ford Sierra Sapphire and headed east.
After clocking up over 11,000 miles, quite literally living in the car, they miraculously arrived in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok in Siberia on the Sea of Japan. What they had in fact done was to drive the entire length of the new Amur Highway before it was finished, which crosses Russia and the notorious Zilov Gap in a 6,200 mile swath of cracked tarmac and potholes. Along the way our trusty heroes drink vodka with Chechen criminals, escape highway robbery, trade banana flavoured condoms with Russian cops, meet the eccentric and plain weird at truck stops in darkest Siberia, endure torturous road conditions and have a race to the finish with the Germans. Surviving this insane journey by the skin of their teeth the brothers are forced to confront their worst fears in this toe-curling comedy of extreme road trip adventure.
Order your copy online from Amazon and all major book retailers.
Black Sea Circuit
By Chris Raven, Simon Raven
The legends of Jason and the Argonauts, Noah’s Ark and a tribe of fierce female warriors known as the Amazons all originate from the Black Sea.
Gripped by curiosity, Simon and Chris fire up their twenty year old Volvo that looks, “as rustic and weather-beaten as a Cold War tank” and embark on a quest to drive full circle around this ancient body of water at the birthplace of civilisation.
In the shadow of rising tension in Ukraine, the brothers get up close and personal with the fascinating people who inhabit the six nations that surround these colourful shores. Living on the road like the nomadic horse bowmen who once ruled the steppe grasslands, they explore Crimea, the Caucasus region of southern Russia’s “Wild West”, the Georgian kingdom of Colchis, Turkey’s Pontic coast, the megacity of Istanbul and complete their journey in Romania at the outfall of the mighty River Danube.
A career in overland adventure travel was launched when Simon and Chris coaxed a rusty Ford Sierra across Siberia from the UK to Vladivostok. Priding themselves in going it alone, the brothers have been noted by Lonely Planet for their talent to portray an “accurate view of what to expect”.
Order your copy online from Amazon and all major book retailers. ISBN 9780954884284.
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