British Army team train with Georgian Army on Mt Kazbek (5,047m) in the Southern Caucusus
In September 2018 a team from 6 RIFLES deployed to the Southern Caucasus to conduct a high-altitude Mountaineering expedition alongside the Georgian army. Their objective was summitting the renowned Mt Kazbek (5,047m) in Georgia. This celebrated peak was first climbed 150 years ago, in 1868, by a pair of British explorers Douglas Freshfield and Adolphus Warburton.
The British Army team successfully reached the remote summit on the Russian border at 10am on Wednesday the 5th September after five days of training, preparation and acclimatisation. Due to un-forecasted adverse conditions it was a gruelling climb with limited visibility and wind chill taking the temperature to below -20 degrees for most of the climb. After a 2am start the team ascended the mountain from base camp (3,650m) and climbed the glacier, avoiding large crevasses hidden by snow drifts. The climb required a good deal of grit, stamina and physical courage from the team to overcome the conditions and successfully reach the summit. Rifleman Graham Beer from Gloucestershire later said “the climb took everything I had both physically and mentally”. Fortunately, as the team reached the summit (5,047m) after the challenging climb, the clouds momentarily cleared and they were rewarded with far reaching views across Georgia and into Russia.
This year’s expedition builds on 4 years of mountaineering experience in Georgia for 6 RIFLES (a reserve infantry unit from the South West of the UK) and sees the first time the unit has worked together with the Georgian Army. Captain Joshua Axford of Devon who led the team said:
“It was fantastic to work together with our partners in the Georgian Army. Their spirit, hospitality and courage were truly inspiring. I look forward to working together with them again in the future.”
At the instigation of the Georgian Army team Commander, Major Shota, the two teams shared a celebratory meal at base camp to toast the partnership between the two nations. Major Shota attended the Royal Academy Sandhurst in the UK in 2011 and now heads up training for the Mountain Warfare School in the Georgian Army. During the expedition the two teams exchanged skills and stories, which only served to strengthen ties. Lt Colonel Dave Ethell (UK Defence Attaché to the Central Caucasus) praised the teams, congratulating them on their efforts and said that he “looks forward to seeing how the partnership between the two units can grow.”
- 3 reserve soldiers gained the Alpine Mountain Foundation qualification
- 4 UK soldiers gained experience climbing at high altitude in remote region not often visited
- Diplomatically significant defence engagement occurred between the British Army and Georgian army.