Altogether, roads are in a reasonable condition on the N side of the range, ie in Russia proper, but have been neglected and are sometimes impassable for traffic on the S side, in Georgia. map indicates roads normally served by public buses (symbol), though some of these may be suspended at present (1993), and frequency fluctuates according to local circumstances and conditions The following notes deal with access valleys from W to E, first from the N in Russia, then from S in Georgia.
Mineralnye Vody - Piatigorsk, 23km. Alternative electric railway.
Piatigorsk - Malka - Baksan town, 60 km. Turn off for Baksan valley.
Baksan - Chegem Pierviy, 14km. Turn off for Chegem valley.
Chegem Pierviy - Nalchik, 9km. Turn off for Chegem valley, Western Cherek (Bezengi) valley, Eastern Cherek (Balkariya) valley. Rail spur from Prokhladniy (see below).
Nalchik - Urukh, 48 km. Turn off for Urukh valley.
Urukh - Ardon - Alagir, 55km. Turn off for Ardon valley and Mamison pass/Ossetian road.
Alagir - Ordzhonikidze (Vladikavkaz), 44 km. Junction with Georgian Military Highway S for Kazbek area. To Kazbegi, 48km.
It is possible to go from Mineralnye Vody/Nalchik to Vladikavkaz by rail, a more roundabout over the steppe but quicker means of transport, through Georgiyevsk and Prokhladniy, rejoining the road route between Urukh and Ardon; branches to Alagir (railhead) and via Beslan to another railhead at Vladikavkaz.
Piatigorsk. More of a resort town than Nalchik, with 15 warm sulphur springs, 24°-35°C. App to nestle within 5 irregular hills (hence its name), and stands below S side of the most prominent of these landmarks, Beshtau (1398m). Hotels, etc, all main services. Serious food shortages. Pop. 98,000.
Nalchik. Capital of Kabardino-Balkaria. Rebuilt as a sanatorium town in the late 1930s (notably squalid before that) but altogether less attractive than Piatigorsk and of workaday appear with many factory sites. Comprehensive services; limited supplies and serious food shortages. Pop. 130,000.
Baksan valley. Direct daily bus services from Mineralnye Vody and Nalchik to Terskol (2133m),4 km from end of tarmac road at the Azau/Elbrus cableway terminus. Bus journey takes 4h according to conditions. In the upper Baksan valley and adjoining side valleys, hotels and hostels, campsites and alpine centres, good facilities and provisioning, all main services. Only basic foods and vegetables are available in the Baksan valley. Distances: Baksan - Tyrnyauz 63 km. Tyrnyauz - Elbrus village, 29 km. Elbrus - Terskol, 14 km (from Mineralnye Vody, 189 km; from Nalchik, 129 km).
Chegem valley. Splendid remote site, unspoiled; expedition tactics still needed. From Nalchik, unreliable bus service to Nizhn. Chegem with possible continuation towards Vierkh. Chegem and Bulungu (1460m), 65 km. The road becomes a broken track some distance before the latter hamlets (hostel) and may be impossible to all but farm vehicles. No provisioning, minimal services. Higher up the valley, operation of the permanent alpine camps Bashil and Chegem needs to be verified in Nalchik before departure. Priut 7 hut is probably in ruins. Centre most notable for serious climbing routes on Adyrsu chain and Tikhtengen (4617m).
Bezengi valley. This stark, barren inroad leads to the most formidable array of mountains in the Caucasus. It is advisable to buy and transport, if available in current short-ages, a number of foodstuff/provisions in Nalchik; vehicle hire often possible. Limited services and rough accommodation in Bezengi village (1390m) at end of regular bus. From here a lorry track continues up the valley for 20 km to the large permanent camp of Bezengi (2180 m); good facilities at this long established base centre.
Cherek valley. From Nalchik, bus to Vierkh. Balkaria (1160m) 69 km. Latter part of road probably in poor condition although this village is one of the largest rural communities in the region. Virtually no facilities at this roadhead; 14 km before village, a summer alpine camp may be found near a small lake. This valley was depopulated in the 1930s and a poor track only suitable for farm vehicles continues S towards the Karaul junction (1670m) where streams join from the three mighty mountain massifs of Sugan - Ailama/Digora - Dykhsu/Koshtantau. A potentional first-class site for development.
Urukh valley. Entered either from the village of Stariy Lesken or Urukh, both ways arriving at Chikola to follow E bank of the Urukh stream. A depopulated valley until recent times; bus service from Nalchik along road probably in bad condition though supposed to be feasible up to Faraskatta village at a prominent fork. Theoretically negotiable bus track in main branch SW to Stir-Digora (1495m), 105 km from Nalchik. Near this site are 3 alpine camps, the status of which should be ascertained In Nalchik. Probably minimal local provisioning and no beds in villages.
Ardon valley. Major alpine valley in the heart of North Ossetia, currently beset with political unrest. Mining/mineral extraction, light industry, agriculture, cattle grazing and forestry have flourished in the valley. The road up to the Mamison pass on the main Caucasus watershed, called the Ossetian military highway, was constructed in 1889 and improved several times since. Regular bus service Nalchik-Buron village (1195m) via Alagir, 130 km. Hotel, lodging house, basic provisioning. Better services at Alagir. In the great Tsei (Tsei means damp, wet) valley above Buron to the W, main access into the Adai Khokh massif. Public transport service to former Rekom sanatorium and long established alpine camp bases at 1850 m (13 km).