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Stories from Ushba (4710m) | Georgia, Caucasus

Ushba - the infamous beauty of the Caucasus. The meaning of the name is unclear, but has been translated from the Svan language as "terrible mountains" or " place of the Witches Sabbath" or from Karachay-Balkar into "three peaks" (North, South and small Ushba). It is perhaps the most beautiful mountain in the Caucasus, but also one of the most difficult and dangerous, and few climbers who see it can escape its draw. Ushba is the source of many climbing tales, histories and tragedies.
I attempted the mountain first in 2010 with Boris Avdeev, after our successful ascent of Shkhara (5193m). We ran out of time, food and motivation on the summit day...and turned around, despite sunny weather and being already past the most difficult sections; but on Ushba you better step back when you feel things are not right.
In June 2012 I returned. Robert Koschitzki and I attempted the easier and lower north summit (4694m). Still early in the season, we climbed to about 60 m below the summit, but needed to turn around due to treacherous, loose snow on the summit ridge. Ushba was on my mind again. Inevitably, I returned to Ushba in August of the same year, and finally summited Ushba with the Georgian climber Tato Nadiradze.


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A Matter of Balance

After every difficult climb or ski descent I am momentarily filled with joy and relief, but as time passes, a certain emptiness takes over. When you have put everything into reaching that one goal, what is left when you reach it? It’s a matter of balance – the harder and higher I climb, the more important becomes returning to the valley and to home, to friends, loved ones and family, and embracing the life outside the mountain world. All that is just as much part of alpinism as the mountains themselves.

Image taken at the high camp of Ushba (4710m), one of the most famous, difficult and dangerous mountains in the Caucasus.
Climber: Tato Nadiradze
(Published as Leica Fotografie International Photo Story)


Tato Nadiradze taking in the view at Ushba's high camp.
Leica Fotografie International M-Analogue Mastershot}


Moment of Relief

In August 2012 I diagnozed a young alpinist high on Ushba (4710m, Caucasus) with accute pulmonary edema, a form of accute altitude sickness. After a night of first aid, phone calls and long waiting, finally a rescue helicopter arrived in the early morning. Ushba almost would have claimed another life (like so many times before), but the young climber survived, miraculously without permanent damage. He fully recovered and has become a close friend. But I lost the camera I took this photo with during the hectic moments of the rescue.
A year later, in August 2013, an Armenian climber found the camera and brought the SD card down. I picked the card up two weeks ago in Tbilisi and found this image.
(Published as Leica Fotografie International Photo Story)


Signalling the rescue helicopter that arrives to rescue a young altitude-sick climber.
Climber : Tato Nadiradze.
Leica Fotografie International X1 Mastershot.}