Priut Hut Second to Burn on Mount Elbrus
Use of Hut Considered a Necessary Risk
priut hut
Priut Hut before and after the fire

photo: Isabelle Meyer
Monday, August 31, 1998

priut hut
[click to zoom] photo: Isabelle Meyer

The fire that destroyed the Priut Hut at 13,800' on Russia's Mount Elbrus (18,481') was not a complete surprise. This second hut, built on the standard high camp location, stood only 20 yards from the burned-out remains of the first.

Three stories high with dormitory style accommodations for up to 60 people, the hut was generally acknowledged by climbers as a "fire trap." Its wooden structure and aluminum shell were designed to act as a sort of bombproof shelter against winds that can rip tents out of the snow. Its windows were sealed shut and only two exits were built into the hut, one of which was on the third floor and involved crossing two rickety planks over 15 feet of air.

priut hut
Climber hurt in fire
photo: Isabelle Meyer
A kitchen on the second floor served as the main dining room. Expedition cooks routinely had several compressed gas canisters burning simultaneously in an ongoing effort to make enough food and boil enough drinking water for a steady stream of climbers. A common sight in the hut was climbers running their own personal stoves outside of the kitchen. Colorado climber Steve Bonowski reported in the September '97 edition of Thin Air that during his stay at the hut, "two Russian climbers staying on the first floor used too much primer in their stove and managed to engulf most of their room in large flames." That fire was quickly extinguished and relatively little damage was done.

Few climbers choose to forego the Priut Hut in favor of tents when climbing Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain on the European continent. Todd Burleson of Alpine Ascents International says he's been at the hut in 80mph winds when his group "had to rope up just to get to the bathroom" 20 yards away. Burleson remembers a climb on the mountain when his contacts were blown out of his eyes while wearing goggles. He says that if the Russians don't rebuild the hut for next summer's climbing season, his expeditions will bring Weather Haven tents generally used on Antarctica.

"It's just too windy up there," agrees Eric Simonson of International Mountain Guides. "They have to rebuild that thing."

Anya Zolotusky, Mountain Zone Staff

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Original News Report: Mount Elbrus Hut Burns
At least 42 climbers in residence, one feared dead
Monday, August 24, 1998

The venerable metal-clad Priut Hut at approximately 13,800 feet on Russia's Mount Elbrus (18,481 ft.) burned on August 16. At least one climber is seriously injured and another feared dead. The hut was totally destroyed.

A French climber in residence at the time of the fire said the blaze began in the kitchen section of the multi-story structure at approximately 4:30 p.m. local time. No alarm was sounded, but most climbers smelled smoke and evacuated safely. The French group was sleeping on the second floor and escaped by smashing the windows and dropping to the ground, and one of their party was seriously injured. A Dutch climber is missing and believed to have died in the fire.

The unusually large hut, famed for its bizarre appearance and unkempt condition, was totally destroyed. Mount Elbrus is in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia.

Peter Potterfield, Mountain Zone Staff

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