Mount Fisht is the highest peak within the Lago-Naki plateau and northern portion of the Caucasus Mountains and has a massive glacier and incredible views stretching to the Black Sea. Difficulties encountered on the hike include route finding for all foreigners (as there are no trail signs and no park hiking maps), dealing with sudden extreme changes in weather at the summit including fog, mist, hail, and snow, and crossing a major glacier which requires the use of crampons, ropes, ice axes, and glacier experience. A Google Earth map of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the button above. GPS coordinates for the beginning of the trail are 43° 58.155'N, 39° 55.457'E. GPS coordinates for the edge of the glacier are 43° 57.497'N, 39° 54.025'E. GPS coordinates for the summit of Mount Fisht are 43° 57.213'N, 39° 54.182'E.
Despite having traveled to Russia on four previous trips (2002, 2007, 2009, and 2011), I had never heard of Mount Fisht prior to 2014. This despite the fact that I had twice visited Sochi and had once visited the Lago-Naki plateau, of which Mount Fisht is the centerpiece mountain peak. I ended up first hearing about Mount Fisht while watching a broadcast of the 2014 Winter Olympics. The broadcast was showcasing the brand new Fisht Olympic Stadium which would be hosting the opening and closing ceremonies of the games, and it was mentioned that the stadium was named after nearby Mount Fisht. That made me curious, so I began doing research on Mount Fisht and found out that it was one of the most beautiful and famous peaks in the western Caucasus Mountains at 9,406 feet. The western Caucasus range extends from the Black Sea to Mount Elbrus near the border with Georgia. Mount Elbrus is the highest peak in the range (and in all of Europe) at 18,510 feet. But within the northern half of the Caucasus Mountains, Mount Fisht is the highest peak. In the Adyghe language, Fisht literally means "White Head", which is an appropriate name in view of what the summit block looks like. When I found out that Mount Fisht was located at Lago-Naki (part of a UNESCO World Heritage site) which I had been to before and wanted to visit again, I knew that Mount Fisht would be a destination on my next Russia trip. Thus, the next thing that I researched about Mount Fisht was routes to the summit. I found out that there are several routes that climbers use which are technical and involve the use of ropes. There was also a non-technical route for hikers. The only catch about the hiking route was that a glacier would have to be crossed. Being from California, I didn't have a lot of experience when it came to crossing glaciers. I did know that crampons and ropes were generally used in such endeavors. Unfortunately, there was not a whole lot of information available online in the English language which covered summit hikes to Mount Fisht. One of the few that I found stated this: "Although some climbing is required it can be done by children. Just below the white rock summit you must cross a glacier. In some parts the snow is steep and everywhere it is slippery, so be sure you take good shoes and perhaps a walking stick with a pointed end." Based on that description, it didn't sound to me like crossing the glacier would be a big deal, as long as we had "good shoes and perhaps a walking stick" with us. Another site suggested that only "trekking boots, a telescopic stick, sunglasses, and a first-aid kit" were necessary to accomplish the summit hike if done during the summer. As additional preparation, we decided to bring crampons with us, but we did not have ropes or ice axes. As we would find out during our hike of Mount Fisht, that would prove to be a mistake.
After two days of backpacking in Lago-Naki, we woke up early at Fisht Camp and left for our summit day hike of Mount Fisht before 6:00am. To begin, we had to hike partway back up toward Fisht-Oshtenovsky Pass and turn off onto the faint Mount Fisht spur trail. The trail was unmarked and unsigned, so you either knew where it was or you didn't. We did, thanks to spotting the junction on the previous day while hiking down from the pass and then confirming that with other hikers. As we started out, there was one larger group of five people ahead of us by about 30 minutes and one smaller group of two behind us about the same distance. The spur trail crossed a large rockslide area, passed underneath the face of a monolith boulder, and then reached the bottom of a climbing section. The climbing section didn't seem too hard but there was a rope hanging down for additional safety. I didn't appreciate the value of the rope while climbing up, but I sure did on the hike back later in the day when it was pouring down rain. We climbed up the steep section of rock and then climbed a rock staircase section shortly thereafter. These back-to-back sections contain the most difficult part of the hike with the exception of the glacier crossing. We continued climbing up a ravine, partly on an obscure dirt trail through grass and partly on solid rock by following cairns. I did notice as we gained some elevation and reached more of the solid rock that cairns began cropping up at various spots which charted several possible routes. So we just tried to stay on what felt like the most central route possible. About halfway up, we had to walk along a ledge and then hop from one giant slab of rock onto another. We soon had amazing views of neighboring Mount Pshekha-Su. A short time later, we reached the fault canyons. The fault canyons are exactly what they sound like -- an area of slot canyons which have been created by earthquakes. But the fault canyons are below the surface of the ground, not above it. It was a very interesting area to check out and made for a few nice pictures. We continued to follow cairns and the occasional paths up the mountain and eventually arrived at a truly breathtaking overlook point. It featured a perfect view of the summit of Mount Fisht with a massive glacier underneath it. The glacier is known as Big Fishtinsky Glacier and was a great deal wider and bigger than I had ever imagined that it would be. Measuring it on satellite imagery reveals that it is 7/10 of a mile in length and 4/10 of a mile in width. I wondered how we were going to cross such a big glacier as we continued hiking along the trail on a hillside of loose scree. The trail and rock cairns guided us to a solid rock peninsula which stretched out to the narrowest portion of the glacier for the crossing. After putting on our crampons, we followed previous footprints on the ice and began hiking up the gradual slope of the glacier. It was straightforward at first, although I felt an uneasiness inside over the fact that I was walking across a glacier without the safety precautions that I thought were usually necessary. The scenery was incredible, seeing glacial ice all around us with the summit of Mount Fisht directly in front of us. We began seeing cracks in the glacier and soon were walking next to long, narrow crevasses which were easy to avoid but likely hundreds of feet deep. Off in the distance, we could see the group of five people who were ahead of us finish their glacier crossing and scramble up onto solid rock at the other side. We continued to walk in the general direction that they had crossed and reached the part where there is some black staining on the glacier and we had to turn to the right. Everything had been fine up to this point and we didn't have any real safety concerns, otherwise we would have turned back. But as we neared the end of the glacier, there was a short section where the slope of the ice was significantly steeper. This made me nervous because my crampons and trekking pole alone were not enough to prevent me from slipping a bit as I walked. As I neared the very end, I did end up slipping onto the ice and sliding downwards just briefly. I wasn't in any major danger, but it was enough to shake me up a bit and wonder what I had been thinking in crossing the glacier without being roped up properly and without an ice axe. I got back up and we climbed onto the solid rock just as the earlier group had done. We began following what felt like a bypass route with minor exposure until we finally reached the spot where the trail to the summit resumed. We had successfully crossed Big Fishtinsky Glacier and were not far from the Mount Fisht summit now. When I turned around and looked back at the glacier, I was shocked to see that just below the final steep section of ice that we had crossed was a massive crevasse. I then started to think about how I had slipped on the ice earlier and although it was very brief, it could have had disastrous consequences. I began dreading the time when we would have to cross back over the glacier and the steep, scary section once again. There was nothing I could do about that, though, so we resumed our climb toward the summit. As we reached the final summit ridgeline, the group of five were returning from the summit and heading back downhill toward the glacier crossing. I looked over at the summit of Mount Fisht which was now only 1/4 mile and 300 feet of elevation gain away, and I could see that a blanket of fog had rolled in and covered it. There would be no good views from the top. It was at this point that Konstantin and I made the decision to head back down instead of going to the summit. I had this idea that perhaps if we caught up to the group of five, that they would help ensure that we got back safely across the glacier. As we headed down, the group of two who had been hiking behind us all day passed us up on their way to the summit. They had been ill-prepared for the glacier crossing as well. In fact, we had even given them a pair of our extra crampons since one person didn't have any. We reached the group of five just as they were roping each other up to head back across the glacier. Konstantin explained our concerns with them in Russian and they were happy to rope us up with them and help us. With their assistance, the glacier crossing back was easy and I didn't even feel even a hint of worry. Upon reaching the other side of the glacier, we thanked them and got a picture with them which you will see in the included photos. The hike back to Fisht Camp proved to be something of a nightmare, as a storm system moved in and it began pouring down rain, which made the trail treacherous. I took a very bad fall which my right foot is still feeling to this day. And trying to get down the rock ledges and the rock rope climb was downright scary with the wet conditions. But we made it back to camp eventually. Later on, the group of two arrived back at camp and remarked that when they crossed back over the glacier an hour after we did, golf ball sized hailstones rained down upon them in the midst of heavy fog with no visibility. Upon hearing that, we were even more glad that we had skipped the summit. As Konstantin said to me, "there is no glory in doing something that is unsafe." His words are very true and that is why we made the very smart decision to skip the summit in favor of crossing the glacier with the experienced group and putting safety first. We rested a while back at camp and then backpacked out in the dark, as mentioned in my Lago-Naki report. And with that, our amazing time at Lago-Naki and Mount Fisht had come to an end. And we had been given a valuable lesson in glacier safety that we will never forget. If anyone reading this report ends up doing this hike, make sure you are fully prepared and have the proper experience to carry out the crossing of Big Fishtinsky Glacier. Otherwise, you can simply hike out to the glacier overlook point at the end of the rock peninsula and still have an outstanding day. Our hike took place on September 16, 2014.
This hike contains a major glacier crossing which requires the use of crampons, ropes, ice axes, harnesses, and glacier experience in order to complete the entire hike. Those without the proper training, experience, additional hikers to form a rope team, and safety gear should stop at the foot of the glacier and not proceed any further.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT