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knowledge of its highest ranges than was previously possessed; but the results of these recent explorations were wholly unknown in England when Mr. Freshfield set out on his journey; it was not till his arrival at Tiflis that he was able to procure a copy of the Government map: and valuable as its assistance undoubtedly proved, the errors with which it was found to abound sufficiently showed how little the Russian engineers had troubled themselves with the examination of the peaks and glaciers of the central range. It was this portion of the chain, on the contrary, that formed the main centre of attraction to the English travellers; and richly were their exertions rewarded by the glorious scenery which it was found to present.
In its general character and conformation the range of the Caucasus may be considered as presenting more analogy with the Pyrenees than with the Alps. Like the former chain, it preserves the same general direction unchanged, extending across from the Black Sea to the Caspian in one unbroken line, nearly 700 miles in length. It is only in its central portion that it attains to the great elevation which has given it so much celebrity; but throughout its whole extent it forms a continuous mountain barrier, separating the vast steppes of Southern Russia from the hilly and broken regions of Georgia and the adjoining provinces, and constituting the natural limit between Europe and Asia. It is indeed a singularly welldefined chain, descending at each extremity to the sea, and united on the south with the mountains of Armenia only by a low range of hills, which form the watershed between the streams flowing into the Black Sea and those that descend eastwards towards the Caspian. It is thus, in fact, wholly unconnected
with any of the other great mountain systems, either of Europe or Asia.
Another point may be mentioned in which also the Caucasus resembles the Pyrenees rather than the Alps. In both cases the highest, or at least the most important, summits are in some measure detached from the main range; and, just as the Mont Perdu and the Maladetta both lie south of the central ridge of the Pyrenees, and are, consequently, included in Spain, so Mount Elbruz and Kazbek--the two best known summits of the Caucasus—are situated decidedly on the north side of that chain, and must, therefore. be geographically assigned to Europe, if the line of demarcation be drawn along the watershed of the range. Both these mountains are, in fact, of volcanic origin, and, geologically speaking, unconnected with the granitic masses which constitute the central axis of the chain.
Throughout its whole extent the chain of the Caucasus is traversed only by one natural pass, which has, consequently, formed in all ages the line of communication between the countries to the north and those to the south of it. This passage, commonly known as the Pass of Dariel, from the remarkable defile of that name, cuts across the main chain nearly in the middle, and in the immediate vicinity of some of its highest peaks. It is now traversed by a regular high road, recently constructed by the Russians, and engineered in the same style as the modern highways across the Alps. The task was not an easy one, as the summit level attains the height of very nearly 8,000 feet, thus exceeding all the carriage roads across the Alps, with the single exception of the Stelvio; and the defiles to he traversed were of the most formidable description.
But, notwithstanding its natural difficulties, the Pass of Dariel has, undoubtedly, been frequented in all ages, and was already well known to the Romans under the name of Pylæ Caucasiæ.
The only other line of communication—it can hardly be called a pass—is that along the shores of the Caspian, between the last offshoots of the mountain range and
But here also the mountains descend in one place so close to the water's edge—in the neighbourhood of the town of Derbend—that the passage has been closed with a wall, while the numerous rivers to le crossed present so many difficulties, that this line of route has been much less frequented than the more central Pass of Dariel. It was, however, known to the ancients as the Pylæ Albaniæ—from the adjoining tribe of the Albanians—and was, according to Herodotus, the route followed by the Scythians who pursued the Cimmerians into Western Asia—the earliest inroad of the northern nations of which we have any historical account.
The highest portion of this great range is that extending from Mount Elbruz on the west to Mount Kazbek on the east; and it is to the exploration of this part of the chain that our Alpine travellers exclusively devoted their attention. But when we consider that the portion thus selected extends more than 120 miles as the crow flies—considerably more than the distance from Mont Blanc to the St. Gotthardit is evident that there was work enough to occupy the most energetic mountaineers. Throughout this distance the main chain rises almost continuously above the limits of perpetual snow, and is clothed with vast masses and fields of snow, sending down on both sides glaciers equal in extent, and even superior in beauty, to the finest of those in the Alps. Mount Elbruz itself, the giant of the whole range, rises far above his compeers, attaining the height of 18,526 feet—more than 2,700 feet higher than Mont Blanc. But, among the snowclad summits to the eastward, three, at least, including Mount Kazbek, surpass the monarch of European mountains; while several others rise above 15,000 feet, a height attained by Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa alone among Alpine peaks. Towards the west, on the contrary, the chain sinks rapidly. None of the mountains west of Mount Elbruz attain to the level of perpetual snow; and this part of the range consequently presents comparatively little attraction to Alpine travellers. But the case is otherwise as we proceed farther towards the east, where the chain, though cut by the deep depression of the Pass of Dariel, soon rises again to nearly the same elevation as before, and presents (as viewed by our travellers from the summit of Kazbek) 'group "beyond group of snowy peaks, stretching away to the 'far off Bazardjusi, the monarch of the Eastern Caucasus.' All these peaks, some of them exceeding the Matterhorn in height, are still virgin ground for future explorers.
The ascent of Mount Kazbek was “the first piece in the programme of our adventurous travellers. This mountain has always occupied a prominent position amongst Caucasian summits, and, as Mr. Freshfield remarks, has somewhat unfairly robbed its true sovereign, Elbruz, of public attention. The explanation is obvious. Kazbek stands close to the Pass of Dariel, and rears its giant form in full view of the traveller along the high road from Europe into Asia, while he
sees Elbruz only from a distance as a huge white 'cloud on the southern horizon,' as he jolts wearily along across the endless steppes to the northward. The two other summits, which, in reality, exceed Kazbek in height, the Koschtantau and Dychtau, though visible also from the plain to the north, are eclipsed by the more imposing mass of Elbruz, and appear never to have attracted the attention of anyone, except the Russian engineers engaged on the trigonometrical survey. It is doubtless owing to this favourable position that repeated attempts had already been made to ascend Kazbek before the visit of the Alpine travellers. None of these, however, had proved successful; and hence they found, not unnaturally, on their arrival in the Caucasian provinces, a wide-spread belief in the inaccessibility of the peak, and were regarded with a mixture of amusement and pity as “the Englishmen who were trying to get up Kazbek, and had the audacity to 'expect to succeed, where captains, colonels, and even 'generals, of the Imperial Russian Service had failed." In justice to these unsuccessful aspirants, it must be remembered, that not only were they accompanied only by timid and inexperienced native guides, but they were unprovided with that 'mountaineering gear?—especially ropes and ice-axes—without which no member of the Alpine Club would attempt the ascent of any formidable peak. Even with all these means and appliances, and the invaluable aid of their experienced Chamouni guide, Mr. Freshfield and his companions found the task by no means an easy one. After passing the night in a favourable situation, at a height of 11,000 feet, on the southern slope of the mountain, they left their Caucasian porters behind them, and the three travellers,