Elbrus Russia

“One of the Seven Summits”

Mount Elbrus is the highest peak in Europe, and is a non-technical climb but requires good physical conditioning and use of crampons on the hard snow slopes.

Elbrus expedition

 TRIP OVERVIEW

We begin our adventure in Moscow with a city tour of this beautiful European city, then transfer to the Baksan valley where we spend several days acclimatising on the mountain slopes before making our ascent of Elbrus. Our itinerary is well thought out as we have ample time for acclimatisation and weather delays. The summit provides amazing views of the Caucasus mountain range. This is an excellent peak to train on if you are intending to climb in the Himalaya or Alaska ranges.

The Expedition will be personally led by highly experienced high altitude mountaineer Jason Black.

I am very proud of our Russian team who have been working with me for a long time now and are highly experienced and safe. Sasha Lebedev is our Russian lead guide he is also an award-winning author and photographer. Our support team guides are Jura Lutsak and Sasha Schukin and Dima Schukin, plus we access a pool of local guides and mountain rescue personnel who are very well known to us.

Expedition cost

€2995

Contact Jason@jasonblack.ie for 2023 dates.
Deposit €399 on booking.
Full payment required six weeks before trip departs.

See more about the payment policy Here

Mountaineers climbing the Mt. Elbrus

 COST INCLUDES

  • Airport pick up and transfer to the hotel upon arrival in Moscow.
  • City tours of Moscow.
  • All accommodations and transportation in-country during the program on regular itinerary.
  • Visa application papers (please note that some nationalities are charged an additional amount for travel papers)
  • Municipal registration in the administrative centre of Tyrnauz which covers the Baksan Valley
  • Minibus transfers to and from the Baksan Valley from the airport
  • Hotel in Cheget with drying rooms, sauna, restaurant and twin rooms
  • All hotel and restaurant meals and local taxis
  • Mount Elbrus National Park fees
  • All cable cars and chair lifts on the mountain
  • Accommodation in the National Park hut
  • All meals on the mountain and our own cook
  • Snow cat (option) to Pastukhov Rocks on the summit morning (to 4700m) and use of snow machine for transfer of equipment to / from the hut
  • All equipment necessary to make a strong and safe attempt for the summit.
  • All expedition staff including mountain guide and local support staff
  • Moscow guide and translator, office administration
  • Stress free experience

 COST EXCLUDES

  • International air travel to and from Russia
  • Dining outside of the climbing period
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Personal clothing and equipment
  • Trip insurance or the required medical insurance
  • Any rescue costs or costs of early departure from the expedition
  • Customary gratuities to local expedition staff, porters and guides
  • Personal climbing equipment (see equipment list)
  • Incidental expenses such as telephone, bar, laundry, or other personal expenses

Day 1

Arrive Am into Moscow. After retrieving your bags and clearing customs, our representative, identifiable by a Jason Black Mountaineering sign, will transport you to our hotel. We will gather together as a team have lunch and in the afternoon a Moscow city tour with our Russian guide. Highlights include Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, and the Kremlin Armoury.

Day 2

Arrive into Mineralnye Vody (MRV) airport in the morning and met by staff. Transfer by minibus to Terskol (4 hours). Accommodation in local Hotel Nakra, full board.

Day 3

Day hike 6-8 hrs to Cheget Mountain (3000m), lunch enroute and return to hotel where your guide will check your kit before our evening meal.

Day 4

Day hike to Terskol Observatory (3090m) with lunch enroute and return to hotel for evening meal and Russian sauna.

Day 5

Drive to the Azau Glade (2350m) and hike up to Mir station (3500m) – 4hrs up and 2hrs down. Lunch in the meadow and back to hotel. Collect any rental gear in town.

Day 6

Ascend on foot to our basecamp Hut (3900m). The equipment and bags will be going ahead by cable car. That Afternoon we will climb up to Priut Hut (4100m) and do some alpine training exercises at altitude, weather dependant. Dinner and overnight in our basecamp hut.

Day 7

Hike to Pastukhov Rocks (4670m) for more acclimatisation and return to Basecamp Hut 3900m. Weather dependent, could be rest day as below.

Day 8

Rest and 2nd alpine advanced training day in high altitude climbing personal movement on the mountain advanced crampons and ice axe techniques, tips and tricks on dealing with cold, winds and altitude. Back to hut for dinner and overnight.

Day 9

1st possible summit day – Big day ahead, awake at 3am head torches on and it’s a summit push. Return to basecamp hut.

Day 10

Return to Terskol Hotel or 2nd summit attempt. (extra days in Terskol, in the case of an early summit allow for further hikes around Mt Elbrus).

Day 11

Return to Terskol if summit attempted on day 10. Or hikes and rent in valley.

Day 12

Early Breakfast in the hotel and transfer to Mineralnye Vody airport. Flight to Moscow and onward travel, or stopover in Moscow for trip extension.

FAQs

Base Layers

  • Synthetic Short Underwear: non-cotton style underwear
  • Lightweight Long Underwear: long sleeve shirt and long pants
  • Heavyweight Long Underwear
  • Short Sleeve Synthetic Shirt

 

Mid Layers

  • Soft Shell Jacket: to be worn over other layers
  • Soft Shell Pants: very breathable and water repellent
  • Lightweight Nylon Pants (optional)

 

Windproof/Rain Layers

  • Hard Shell Jacket with hood: waterproof and breathable shell jacket
  • Hard Shell Pants: waterproof and breathable shell pants

 

Insulation Layers

  • Insulated Down or Synthetic Jacket with hood
  • Insulated Pants (optional)

 

Headwear

  • Warm Hat: synthetic or wool hat (ski hat)
  • Balaclava: to protect your neck and face in high winds
  • Baseball Cap or other sun hat: to shade your face/neck from the sun on a hot day
  • Bandana or Buff: to protect your neck/face from the sun

 

Eyewear

  • Glacier Glasses: full protection with side covers or wrap around
  • Ski Goggles: to be worn in the event of high winds

 

Gloves

  • Lightweight Synthetic Liner Gloves: for wearing on warm days
  • Soft Shell Gloves: to wear for moderate cold/wind
  • Shell Glove with Insulated Liner: to wear for severe cold/strong wind

 

Footwear

  • Liner Socks (3 pairs)
  • Wool or Synthetic Socks (3 pairs)
  • Mountaineering Boots
  • Hiking Shoes/Boots: comfortable hiking boots
  • Gaiters

 

Sleeping Equipment

  • Sleeping Bag: rated to at least 20°F
  • Self-inflating Sleeping Pad: full length is preferred
  • Closed-cell Foam Pad: to be used in conjunction with the inflating pad for warmth and comfort when sleeping
  • Earplugs

 

Mountaineering Gear

  • Expedition Backpack: approximately 65L
  • Compression Stuff Sacks: for reducing the volume of the sleeping bag, down parka, etc. in your pack
  • Trash Compactor Bags: to line backpack and stuff sacks as well as for separating gear
  • Backpack Rain Cover (optional)
  • Trekking Poles with Snow Baskets: adjustable
  • Ice Axe: general mountaineering tool (~60cm)
  • Crampons: general mountaineering crampons
  • Climbing Helmet: must be able to fit over your warm hat
  • Alpine Climbing Harness: mountaineering harness, with adjustable leg loops. Not a rock-climbing “sport” harness
  • Carabineers: 2 regular and 4 locking
  • Belay/Rappel Device
  • Headlamp: with 2 extra sets of new batteries

 

Travel Items

  • Large Duffel Bag with Lock: for transporting gear and storing street clothes, etc. at hotel/car
  • Travel Clothes: for days in cities and towns
  • Lightweight journal, sketchbook, pencils, pen

 

Additional Food Items

Snack Food: bring a few days’ supply of your favorite climbing snack food such as bars, gels, nuts, beef jerky, etc. variety of salty and sweet is good

 

Other Equipment

  • Cup: plastic 16 oz. minimum cup or mug
  • Bowl: large plastic bowl for eating dinner or breakfast
  • Spoon: plastic spoon (Lexan)
  • Water Bottles (2): wide mouth bottles with 1-liter capacity
  • Water Bottle Parkas (2): fully insulated with zip opening
  • Thermos (optional): 1-liter
  • Water Treatment
  • Sunscreen: SPF 40 or better
  • Lip Screen (2 sticks): SPF 30 or better
  • Toiletry Bag: include toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, baby wipes and hand sanitizer (2 small bottles)
  • Pee Bottle: 1-liter minimum bottle for convenience at night in the tent
  • Female Urination Device (FUD)
  • Knife or Multi-tool (optional)
  • Small Personal First-aid Kit: include athletic tape, band-aids, Ibuprofen, blister care, etc.
  • Medications and Prescriptions: bring antibiotics (Azithromycin, etc.), and altitude medicine such as Diamox, etc.
  • Handkerchiefs/Bandanas (optional)

 

Optional Electronics

Travel Insurance
We advise you to take out your insurance as soon as possible to cover potential events that might cause you to cancel your trip. Because Elbrus is in a region which has an FCO warning against all but essential travel you may find that your normal policy is void.

We advise clients from Europe to buy their insurance for Mt Elbrus from Campbell Irvine Specialists. If you are outside of Europe you may need to research a local provider or contact us for details.

You need to ensure that you have a policy which covers trekking to high altitude, but it does not need to cover technical climbing. You should bring with you a copy of your policy and ensure that other people knows where you keep it. It is also worth bringing a photocopy of your passport and to keep it separate to your own documents just in case you lose your passport.  

Visa process in Russia:
The visa process happens in 3 stages:
1) 6 weeks prior to entry we apply for your visa support papers (invitation letter and voucher) and to do so we need a photo of your passport ID page and your flight details
2) 5 1/2 weeks prior to entry we email you your papers and a guideline for applying for your visa
3) You apply for your visa through your local Russian Visa office

You will need to have had your visa issued prior to travel and it will consist of a full page insert into your passport. Please bring a couple of copies of this page and of the main page of your passport. Sasha may need to take at least one of these copies for official registrations at the various government checkpoints and you should also keep a copy with you somewhere safe. The visa is virtually impossible to alter or extend so make sure that it is correct well before you travel.

There is additional information on obtaining visa etc in the FAQ section below

Visa Support Papers – possible extra costs:
The cost for producing the visa support papers is included in the trip fee, however for some nationalities the producers charge an extra premium, which is not included in the trip fee. This extra fee usually applies to Asian, African and Arabian passport holders and is currently $100. 

The majority of Russian visa offices around the globe are happy to accept a digital pdf / print out of your visa support papers, however occasionally some will request the original copies. If this is the case then they will need to be sent by courier to you and this cost is not covered in the trip fee.

In 2016 it was made mandatory that tourists coming from the UK, Denmark, Myanmar or Namibia must visit the Visa application centre in person to apply for the Russian Visa as they have started to collect biometric data of foreign nationals (finger prints). If you are applying for your visa in the UK this means that you will need to go to the London, Manchester or Edinburgh Visa office in person. In other countries can usually do everything by post / mail.

Money
The local currency in Russia is the Rouble. You can obtain roubles prior to travelling and this is probably the best option although there are ATMs in Moscow which takes Visa and Mastercard and banks with forex facilities.

If you bring currency do remember to have small denomination notes because many local places will not be able to offer change for large notes. You can change small quantities of sterling, euro or dollars at the hotel desk in Cheget but there are no proper facilities in the town.

When most people think of the highest mountain in Europe, their thoughts likely turn to Mt Blanc in France. However, Mt Elbrus in Russia takes the prize at 5642 metres because its many glaciers extend onto the European continental plate. Situated in the rugged Great Caucasus mountains, this mountain is actually a dormant volcano. It has two summits, west and east, with a gentle saddle in between them.

Mount Elbrus dominates the Central Caucasus like a twin-peaked icy giant. A circular lava massif, it has a diameter of 18 kilometres and more than 70 large and small glaciers flow from its slopes. The entire mountain is covered by an immense sheet of ice that takes up 145 square kilometres and in some places is 400 meters thick.

elbrus panorama.jpg

The two peaks correspond to two different volcano vents: the western peak (Zapadnaya) is the tallest one, while the eastern peak (Vostochnaya), 5621 meters high, still has a gigantic crater 250 meters in diameter. The mountain is quite symmetrical so the contours for climbing the north and south side are very similar.

We get a lot of first time trekkers in our groups so even if you don’t have experience you will be in good company. Your fitness level should be such that your comfortable walking all day. Previous, hiking or trekking experience is always a plus.

Mt Elbrus from May through September. July and August typically have the most stable weather. The mountain is inland, situated approximately midway along the Caucasus Range at the southern border of Russia, between the Caspian and Black Seas. These two huge bodies of water impact the wind and precipitation on the range and on Elbrus, but the summer months offer the best time to climb. Even in the summer, temperatures at night average minus 8 C (15 degrees F) but in winter temperatures at the higher altitudes can drop to minus 30 C during the day.

Winter climbs of Elbrus are possible, but the higher slopes are hard ice and the temperature is extremely cold. Many people ski on the mountain up to an altitude of about 3800m where there are cable cars, but above this the climber would be in dangerous territory and require very sharp tools and crampons.

The climate on Elbrus is dominated mostly by the humid westerlies and the altitude of the mountain, although the influence of the winds are moderated by the nearby mountains. The area is officially classified as arctic climate. The Caucasus range acts as a barrier to Elbrus against the northerlies, while the warm winds from the Mediterranean blow warm winds from the South.

Spring and summer months are mainly dry and warm with an average temperature during the day of 20C, with frequent thunderstorms. Autumn and winter are generally cold, dry and clear with day time temperatures dropping to several degrees below zero. Winter lasts from December to February, but above 2000m it is from October to April, with frequent snowfall and snow cover reaching around half a metre on exposed ground and 3m in sheltered areas. Avalanches are common in winter and during early spring thaws.

Warm dry winds descending from the mountains into the valleys can cause thaws followed by snowfalls. Precipitation is annually around 600mm in the valleys, but south of the main ridge the humid westerlies can increase this to 1000mm.

Don’t underestimate the weather on Elbrus, it is unpredictable and even in the stable summer months of July and August it’s possible to experience a wide variation, everything from windless days out to  really cold, windy with low visibility.  Prepare for winter conditions with the right clothing and boots. Double boots, mountain quality down jacket, goggles, down mitts and top and bottom shell layer are necessary, and you will need an ice axe, crampons, a harness with slings and karabiners, and a helmet. The guide will bring a rope, but there is a fixed line on the steepest section to the summit plateau. For the early days of trekking, expect warm sunny alpine days.

This trip is perfect for learning basic alpine skills like self arrest, but a good foundation of winter walking skills will be very helpful, as will some expedition experience on other mountains like Mount Toubkal in winter and Kilimanjaro. For this trip on summit day, especially on the north side and on the traverse, you will want to be competent in moving on glaciated terrain and knowledgeable about altitude acclimatisation and managing yourself in the cold.

There are no major crevasses or objective dangers on the main routes on either the north or south sides, but the weather is very temperamental and visibility can drop rapidly. Sudden storms and extremely cold weather are common, even in the height of the summer season during July and August. It is easy to become disorientated when the cloud comes in and wander off route, and there are many stories of frostbite and cold weather injuries on the mountain every year.

Altitude is high enough to need proper acclimatisation and increased liquid intake during the climbing period. Summit day is a long day on the hill with a significant gain in elevation so it is vital to take plenty of liquid and lots of snacks and energy gels. Even on a day of fine weather, the ascent is exhausting and very challenging. Success will depend a lot on hydration, plenty of good food and rest, good acclimatisation and a lot of willpower.

elbrus south side, russia.jpg

South side of Elbrus on summit morning. The gradient is not steep but the wind and cold and 1000 metre ascent to the top makes it a long day, and in winter conditions. Think a cold Scottish winter day at altitude.

elbrus facts.jpg

Climbing on the rising traverse above the Saddle and up to the summit plateau. Objectively this is probably the most dangerous section on the south side because of the distance you might fall in a slip without a successful self arrest. A confident team with training and good equipment, well hydrated and rested and acclimatised, should not find this too difficult. 

The south face route is the most popular with huts above the snowline extending from 3800m to 4100m. Most people make use of a ‘ratrack’ or piste groomer to transfer up to Pastukhov Rocks at 4650m which still leaves a long summit day ascent of 1000m which takes around 7 – 10 hours.

The north side is not as facilitated, it’s a wilder more remote experience. It’s not technically difficult, about a PD alpine grade, but it’s a 1900m ascent on summit day which is commonly between 12-16 hours. There are a few huts on the moraine at 3750m, and a small higher campsite at Lenz Rocks which is 400m higher.

To get to the higher west peak, climbers have to traverse through the long col between the two peaks and join the south route, or potentially ascend directly to the summit plateau.

Consider Mount Elbrus to be a winter climb needing basic alpine skills on a non-technical but snow-covered slope at altitude. You will need crampons, a walking axe, a helmet, mountaineering boots, a harness with slings and karabiners to clip into a rope, a proper mountain down jacket and down mitts as well as your layers of fleece and shell. 

Crampons are needed once you go above the snow-line and a walking axe is necessary for self arrest and walking poles with snow baskets are also a must. A climbing helmet is recommended; the danger is not from falling rock, but a head injury occurring during a slip or fall. A harness with locking carabiners and a sling is necessary so you can clip into the fixed-line above the Saddle, and we would recommend an alpine harness because it is easier and safer to put on with boots and crampons.

The guides will carry ropes in case of an emergency or if they feel that someone would benefit from being roped up, particularly on the descent.

For north route expeditions, you will additionally need a four-season sleeping bag (a three-season bag would suffice on the south side because the huts can be quite warm) and a sleeping mat but the equipment otherwise is much the same.

elbrus rescue.JPG

Treat summit day on Elbrus with respect and as a winter climb. Visibility can drop very fast, as can temperatures. Be prepared for different snow conditions too, the route can be be hard packed and ice at 4am on the way up, but soft snow on the descent.

On the South face route above the Sedlowina Saddle – the huge snow basin between the east and west peak – there is a fixed line in place for added safety on the rising traverse up to the summit plateau. This means that you can clip in and be held in the event of a slip on that section which is the steepest on the mountain. It’s also potentially icy.

To clip in you will need your harness and a sling and two screw gate karabiners. Use one karabiner to attach the sling to your harness, and use the other karabiner to attach the sling to the fixed line. When you come to an anchor point on the fixed line make sure you are safe and stable, and then move the karabiner across the anchor to the line and screw it shut again. It’s a simple safety system but you will also need your walking axe and pole for support.

On the North route there are no fixed lines, but the guide might lead the group through the Saddle to ascend by this way. Or the guide may make a direct ascent from the other side of the saddle up to the plateau and would likely rope everyone together on a man rope.

Climber on Mount Elbrus

A climber attached to a fixed line on Mount Elbrus. Note the walking axe in the uphill hand and the pole in downhill hand (extended to its full length so you don’t have to bend over). The slope angle is just under 45 degrees at it’s steepest point

In the event of a rescue or an emergency, the guides will manage the situation along with the mountain rescue team (on the south side only) using mobile phones, as there is some signal on the mountain. However above the Saddle there is no signal so any situation above that point has to be self-managed. 

A rescue will involves an assisted descent down the mountain using primarily the tracked vehicles and manpower on the south side, and only manpower on the north side.Snowmobiles and ratracks can get up to 5000m in the right conditions and take casualties to the chair lift. Theoretically someone could be down in the valley in a matter of a few hours.

If climbers on the north side have travelled through the col then it would be sensible to descend the south side to the village. Otherwise, an injured person would need to be assisted all the way back to the snowline at the top hut which would be very difficult.

Casualties are generally taken to the nearest hut and kept warm and safe until a decision is made to move further down the mountain. On the south side, this can be done with the ratrack vehicles and then transferred to the cable cars to get to the village in less than an hour. On the north side, an injured person would need carried or assisted with manpower to the base camp and then taken by car to the nearest town and hospital which adds further hours to the evacuation.

For all of these evacuation scenarios there is no external assistance, and a helicopter is not a possibility because of the difficulty of landing on the mountain at high altitude. Every rescue becomes a group responsibility and other mountain guides will help. On Elbrus the mountain rescue team is made up from all the local mountain guides and during the season there will always be other people to help and rely on. Inevitably the snow cats play a big part in rescues.

Common reasons for rescue are exposure due to the cold, exhaustion and collapse due to a combination of the cold, tiredness and altitude.

If an accident occurs in the saddle, or people become benighted for some reason, between the two peaks there is an emergency shelter with room for two or three people to sleep if necessary and a group to rest if the weather is bad. This hut is painted a bright orange. There are no supplies inside but it offers shelter and is a useful place to gather resources before descending. 

Emergency shelter Elbrus.JPG

The emergency shelter has enough room for about four or five people.

Location of the old Saddle Hut on Mount Elbrus at 5500 metres.jpg

Location of the emergency shelter, which is quite easily reached for climbers on the south side. Note the length of the saddle coming from the north side, which is often full of deep snow.

Snowcat used on Mount Elbrus.jpg

The snow machines or ‘ratracks’ on the south side of Elbrus are often used to help casualties off the mountain but they charge for the service. The amount depends how high they have to try and reach, which can be 5000m in the right conditions. Otherwise it is possible to get this high with a snowmobile.

On both sides of the mountain the summit day is long and arduous, cold and demanding, but not technically difficult. Mount Elbrus is quite a symmetrical volcano so the gradients on each side are similar, but the north side has none of the facilities of the south side so it’s more committing. The pictures below show each route and the altitudes.

Summit day on the south side is usually made shorter because a snow machine drops people off at Pastukhov Rocks (4700m), while on the north side there’s no choice but to walk all the way. There is more on this subject on the Preparing for Elbrus page.

Main huts on the old route up Mount Elbrus.jpg

Weather should always be considered as cold and windy and changeable on Elbrus. You may be lucky and have a sunny windless day, but always prepare for worse and hopefully be happily surprised.

It is possible sometimes that the guide can manage for some people to come down with one of the guides if they are tired or unable to continue. However if there is an accident or someone becomes incapacitated then he will require that everyone in the team assists with the descent, and he will likely call a snow machine to come up as far as possible to help evacuate the casualty. 
 
The ideal aim is to keep everyone together. The guide will make his or her decisions based on safety, and cannot allow ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ teams just for the sake of it. Neither should the guide succumb to any calls from clients for the group to split up on summit day, however close to the summit, if he deems that it will affect the safety of any individual in the team. 
 
If some people want to go down because they are too tired or exhausted and it is possible to split the team safely, then one guide will descend with those people and the rest can continue to the summit with the other guides. However the aim is to maintain a safe ration of guide to clients, and not end up with too few guides on the summit ascent. So the number of groups can descend is limited. If it reaches a point that the ratios become unworkable and safety is threatened then everybody will have to descend. This is why generally the guide will mention certain points on the mountain where a turnaround is possible, for example in the Saddle.

On the south side, the nearest hospital is in Nalchik, about an hour and a half by car from Terskol, although there is a small clinic in the village of Azau at the base of the mountain. There are several local Doctors in the villages but they are limited in what they can do to assist. A casualty would have to be taken by vehicle to Nalchik.

On the north side, the nearest hospital is in Pyatigorsk which is close to Mineralnye Vody. To get there would mean driving a 4×4 from base camp back across the river and along the off-road tracks to the road and then to the city, a total journey time of about 5 hours.

In all situations, any payments for use of the snow machines would need to be made in cash and recovered later from insurance. The insurance company can help with the repatriation of somebody from the airport to get home but they would be unlikely to make direct payments to a Russian hospital, so therefore you should expect to pay with cash or perhaps a credit card. 

On the south side there is mobile phone signal from the high huts down to the phone towers in the valley but only generally in clear weather and with good line of sight. Above the Saddle there is no signal at all. However in the huts at about 3800m now there is wifi.

There is some mobile signal on the north side from the top hut but none at all at base camp and nothing from the higher points on the mountain.

Jason Black will make all decisions about summit day in discussion with the other Russian guides on the mountain and taking into account all the factors. They will always work together for the benefit of everyone and often collaborate on summit day in order to keep teams together for safety.

Whether you want to climb Elbrus by the south or north routes, the first step is to get to Mineralnye Vody airport and in almost every case this means flying initially to Moscow and then taking the four hour flight directly south on either Aeroflot or S7 airlines.

From the UK or Ireland or indeed most places in Europe the best timing is to take an overnight flight to Moscow and then a morning flight to Mineralynye Vody, aiming to arriving late morning.

For people on the Elbrus South trip, you then take road transport to the Baksan Valley and the village of Terskol where there are plenty of hotels and restaurants. The journey takes about four hours and arriving early evening leaves plenty of time for settling in, having a meal and an early night.

For people on the Elbrus North or Traverse trips, the minibus takes you to the nearby town of Pyatigorsk about an hour from the airport. We overnight in a hotel and the next morning a more robust minibus will drive the four or five hours to the mountain, half of which is off road.

On the return, it’s a good idea to take an early afternoon flight out of Mineralnye Vody. and then the evening flight out of Moscow. This means departing Terskol village or the north side base camp after breakfast at around 8.00am. For the North siders we often leave the campsite the day before, depending on the height of the river which needs to be crossed in the vehicles. 

It’s important that everyone gets travel insurance as soon after booking the trip as possible, specialist companies do offer policies and i recommend is Campbell Irvine who we have used for many years. 

The process is not difficult but it is a bit time consuming, and it begins about six weeks prior to the trip when we ask for your passport information so that we can process an invitation letter for you. The visa is quite specific with dates and places to be visited so if you plan to stay in Moscow or travel longer in Russia then we need to know the dates.

There is more information on our Practical Information Question section regarding the process itself. Be aware though that some nationalities require original visa invitations to be posted to them rather than soft copies which adds to the cost, and some nationalities require a more stringent process. In the UK now for example, every applicant must go in person to the nearest Russian visa office to submit their biometrics, and the three offices are in London, Edinburgh and Manchester. This means an additional cost to factor this visit in. 

Elbrus is at a latitude of 42 degrees North, similar to that of Rome. However, due to its altitude and its surrounding mountain range, it can produce some extreme weather conditions and very low temperatures. During the climbing season from June to August expect warm sunny days with little precipitation in the valleys and progressively colder days and nights as you go higher on the mountain, with lows of minus 20 Celsius on the summit with windchill. Prepare for a wide diurnal temperature range which is tiring, and rapid change in weather conditions and especially visibility on the mountain.

Treat the Elbrus expedition as a winter climb, even if you are going in the stable months of July and August. The variation in weather is one of the main objective dangers on this mountain and it’s important to be prepared for a wide range of weather and extreme windchill on the summit.

You can buy or rent the cold weather gear and the climbing equipment, but what you buy depends a lot on what other climbing you intend to do in the future. You can discuss with us any time about specific brands or models but the general requirements are below.

Boots – this climb requires plastic mountaineering boots but a high quality hybrid boot will be adequate. Take normal hiking boots for the acclimatisation treks but once on snow you will need to have good quality warm ‘double’ mountain boots. Also take hut shoes or sandals. Heavy wool socks for the days on snow and trekking socks for lower sections.

Hands – a good pair of waterproof, lined mountain mitts, fleece gloves and liner gloves.

Head and face – warm hat with ear covers if possible, and a sunhat. A buff or balaclava, high quality mountain sunglasses or glacier glasses, and goggles.

Body – You need good quality waterproofs, and a good quality down jacket with a hood and preferably long enough to cover the backside. Layering with several fleece layers and normally a single thermal layer is enough for summit day. Please note that the lightweight down jackets are not enough for the cold on Elbrus, they have to mountain quality down jackets which you can rent in the village if needs be.

Legs – trekking trousers and shorts and leggings for the valley walks, lined trousers or soft shell for up high with shell or over trousers against the wind and snow. Take a pair of thermal bottoms for summit day.

Rucksack – on the north route and traverse you will be doing carries of kit from base camp to high camp so a 75 litre sack is necessary plus you will need to use the larger rucksack to carry gear up like tents, food and stoves. On the south route a 40 litre day pack for the summit day is all you need, since your main kit will go up to the hut in the cable car. You also need a good duffle bag, especially the north siders, and a travel bag for leaving in the hotel.

Sleeping bag – on the north route it’s best to opt for a four season bag since there is much more camping, whereas the warmer huts on the south side mean a 3 season bag will probably be enough.

Climbing equipment – for both routes on Elbrus you will need a pair of crampons, a walking axe, harness, slings and karabiners, trekking poles and a climbing helmet. All these can be rented from us.

Miscellaneous – water bottle, thermos flask, wash kit, personal first aid kit, trekking poles, plenty of sun cream and lip salve and moisturising cream, travel clothes and bag for leaving in the hotel, power bank and charging items for phone, tablet etc.

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Low visibility on the lower slopes of the mountain. This photo is in the height of summer in July, but it could winter in Scotland.

The new National Park huts on the south side are heated and comfortable with bunks and mattresses in small dormitories. There is wi-fi and phone signal. A communal area for eating and relaxing is next to the kitchen. We would recommend a 3 season sleeping bag. We have an expedition cook who will prepare all the food for everyone throughout the trip but do bring some snacks and sweets from home.

On the north side the accommodation is in tents at base camp and in a fairly rudimentary hut at the snowline. Sometimes the team camp at the high Lenz Rocks before summit day, but only if the weather allows it. We would recommend 4 season sleeping bags and you will need a good quality sleeping mat.

The food in the restaurants in the Baksan valley restaurants is lovely and there’s quite a range, but there’s no doubt that they do not cater very well for vegetarian or vegan diets. There are plenty of soups and salads and breads though, but not many vegetarian recipes. Russians are meat lovers and the local dish of shashlyk – a lamb kebab roasted over an apple wood barbecue – is the national dish.

On the mountain we have a cook who prepares all the meals which again are quite limited in the range of ingredients, because the shops in the valley don’t have a great stock. Plenty of soups and stews, potatoes and vegetables with some meat (tinned mostly, but sometimes chicken), sweets and snacks. Breakfast is mostly porridge, eggs and bread with cheese and sometimes muesli.

We won’t be able to cater very well for some specific dietary requirements, for example celiacs. Gluten free food is not possible to buy. We would also advise you bring your own summit day snacks and foods, the shops locally don’t sell any specialty energy bars or drinks. We will provide things like glucose biscuits and orange juice.

Leaving the hut in the dark on summit morning you are likely to be in mountain boots and crampons, soft-shell or mountain trousers with base-layer tights, probably over-trousers, a base-layer and fleece mid-layers plus a down jacket. You’ll also have a balaclava or buff, warm hat, liner gloves and thick windproof insulated gloves.You’ll be carrying a pole and a walking axe and most likely have headtorch on.

In your day pack bag carry goggles, sunglasses, flask of hot drink, water bottle, snacks and harness/sling/karabiners/helmet which you will use for tying into the fixed line or into a man rope. For groups on the traverse you will have a bigger pack and include a sleeping bag and travel clothes for going over to the south side.

Leaving the hut at around 4am, most climbers on the south side opt for taking a ratrack to Pastukhov Rocks to start the day, while on the north side the hike begins from the tent at Lenz Rocks. Depending on weather the route could be icy and hard or soft with deep snow.

The day will be long on either route, estimate a twelve hour day and plan in terms of snacks and drinks. It’s almost impossible to avoid getting dehydrated on a day like this and inevitably with such a big height gain you will feel the effects of altitude. Try to leave the hut as hydrated and well rested as possible and take plenty of snacks for the day.

Mount Elbrus South Route (6) Mount Elbrus South Route (1)

Left: Icy ground on the open slopes up to the Saddle require sharp points on your crampons and a walking axe.
Right: A clear beautiful morning on Elbrus, every person has the right kit and clothing and enough to cope with significant changes throughout the day. 

Toilets

All the huts and the campsite on the north side have outside latrines which are wooden huts with a floor and a long drop. Some latrines are worse than others, and it is not the job of the Rangers to clean them. Company staff can do this job, but under duress, since many of the problems are caused by people who miss the hole and don’t clean up afterwards.

Sometimes a visit to a latrine can be a dispiriting experience. It is important to take a torch with you at night and take a responsibility to keep the huts clean. Going to the toilet behind a rock is strictly forbidden and the authorities have the power to send people off the mountain if they are caught, and fine the company. We will provide toilet paper but by all means bring your own.

Rubbish Disposal

All rubbish is collected by the staff and carried down the mountain. Do not throw rubbish down the long drop (toilet paper is fine) and make a habit of picking up litter that you see on the trail. The responsibility for keeping the mountain clean is on the shoulders of every visitor. 

Water

We do not bring bottled water on the mountain; we boil all water which comes from the rivers and glacial streams. The staff will fill your water bottles every evening. Do bring some water purification tablets for yourself if you would like the extra reassurance or something like a steripen.

The process to gain a Russian Visa is straight forward but does require some procedure and submission of papers done in plenty of time before your visit. You can apply for a visa six weeks prior to your arrival. Please note that the rules often change every year, sometimes with little warning. The followings is the procedure and time frames involved:

1) 8 weeks prior to your arrival in Russia you must ensure that you have entered the required information into ‘your booking profile’ page on our website. The required information is your passport details (ensure your have at least 3 months remaining on your passport expiry after returning home and a blank page for the visa) and your flight details. 
2) 5 or 6 weeks prior to your arrival in Russia we will send you a ‘travel voucher’ and ‘invitation letter’
3) Using your Travel Voucher and Invitation Letter you fill in an online application form on the Russian Embassy website. We will send you details to assist.
4) You then need to submit your passport, online application form, travel voucher, invitation letter, visa fee and a photograph to your local Russian embassy. This can be done in person (1-2 days processing time) or by post (7-10 days processing time). Some years it is necessary to submit your papers in person only and this may mean a visit to the nearest city where there is a Russian visa consulate. 

Use online websites offering to help you get a visa with some caution. There are sites that have outdated information; the visa form and some of the application processes changed so be wary. There are also agencies that present themselves in a way that makes them look like an official government office when they are in fact a middle-man that will charge extra for their services. A good general rule would be to google and follow links to  ‘The Embassy of the Russian Federation’ in your home country.

Although you cannot apply for your visa more than 6 weeks before your travel date you should look at the supporting information prior to this date so that you can send off the application as soon as the 6 week window opens. For example, you need to have all the countries and dates that you visited them ready to put into the online form, plus full details of your work place and your place of education (for yourself and your parents). 

The personal data supplied to the office for the invitation letters and on the visa application needs to be precisely as it appears on your passport. Please do double-check the invitation letter very carefully as any inconsistencies may lead to rejection of your application by the consulate. Do also check that you have enough validity remaining on your passport – this depends on your nationality but is usually 3 months validity remaining after your departure date from Russia to home.

The visa form will require you to specify the exact entry and exit dates so really you need to have your flights booked before filling out the form. You need to have planned your whole itinerary, in terms of duration, before applying for the visa. It is not possible to extend your visa whilst in Russia, and nor is it possible to travel freely about Russia without having the arrangements put into your visa application prior to arrival. 

Some nationalities are required to send their papers into the Russian consulate – including the invitation letter that we supply – in original format only. This will require posting the documents by a courier service which will cost extra money. 

Nowadays the visa is digitally entered into the Russian database so when you arrive your passport is scanned and there is no longer any need for a paper migration card. However, all visitors are still required to register with the local authorities in the area you visit, and this is something our staff will do when you arrive in the republic of Kabardino Balkyrie if you are climbing Elbrus. Do keep your passport with you at all times, it is a law for all foreigners to have their papers with them.

Cash withdrawal from ATMS are widely available in Russia. The Ruble is the official currency of Russia and there is no benefit to having any other currency on hand. ATMs in country offer the best rates for currency exchange. Withdrawal limits are limited to 10,000 to 25,000 Rubles per session.

In more rural areas there are still ATMs but bring enough cash to make it through a stay in a more rural area. 

Credit cards are also accepted at major shops and stores in big cities. However, cash is still king for the majority of smaller shops and in towns and villages. Always have cash on hand for transactions while traveling in Russia. We advise that you bring Rubles with you prior to your arrival.

Russian time is GMT/UTC plus 2 hours in the west to +12 hours on the far east. Russia’s country code is +7. International calls while in Russia are extraordinarily expensive. Consider downloading WhatsApp, a free internet-based texting and calling service to keep in touch with loved ones. Wi-Fi is available in most hotels and some public spaces in major cities. Cellular services quickly dissipate as you leave major urban areas. Also, local SIM cards are local to the city you are in. If you plan on bouncing around the country, you will want to get a new SIM card in each city.

WiFi is widely available in urban areas throughout Russia. In fact, the Moscow subway system was the first to offer free WiFi to travellers. However, when traveling to more remote areas, WiFi, like cellular service, will be tough to come by. Be prepared to go off the grid for a bit when you are camping or trekking in remote areas.

You need a border permit or visa from Moscow that allows you to travel to the Kabardino Balkyrie republic and Elbrus region. You also need a local registration or permit for the region that comes from the nearby town of Tyrnauz, and you need an unofficial permit for the Prielbrusie National Park that will allow you access to the mountain huts.

In short, yes. Mount Kilimanjaro requires hiking skills, albeit to a higher altitude, but Elbrus requires you to be able to use crampons and have basic axe skills. The weather is significantly colder and windier than Kilimanjaro, and it is permanently snow-covered. A slip on snow or ice could have worse consequences than a slip on Mount Kilimanjaro.

The Elbrus region in the republic of Kabardino Balkyrie is a popular destination for domestic and international tourists, especially during ski season. The Russian Olympic teams often come here to train. It is considered a safe area, despite some history of controversy between Balkarians protecting their businesses from Moscow speculators.

The proximity to the Georgia border has never caused a security issue, and this region is safe from any issues in Chechnya or Ossetia. Despite it looking close on the map, in reality this is an alpine region at the head of a long valley which rarely sees any problems.

The ascent is a moderate non-technical snow climb that poses few technical challenges but the weather and the altitude make this into a winter mountaineering challenge. The north and south side are much the same in terms of terrain but the north side is harder in many ways. There are objective dangers on both sides, small crevasses mainly, but as long as you stay on the route it is safe.

For a mountain of this height, you will need a proper programme of acclimatisation lasting three days before spending six days on the mountain ‘climbing high, sleeping low’ and training. With travel days, estimate a minimum of eleven days for the Elbrus expedition. This is the same for both sides of the mountain.

The profile charts below show that the elevation gain is much the same for both sides, assuming our itinerary including acclimatisation hikes and summit days plans which include sleeping at the high huts on the south side, and at Lenz Rocks campsite on the north side.

 

In hotels and cafes off of the mountain you can enjoy a wide variety of Russian foods, including stews such as Solyanka or borscht, homemade breads and pancakes with fillings, and the national dish of shashlyk or skewered lamb roasted on apple wood fire. It’s a must to try the local wines and cognac from Georgia and of course the Russian vodka and beer.

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A traditional Russian dinner. The region of Kabardino Balkyrie is influenced by Georgia next door, so make sure to sample the Georgian wine. The local national dish of the mountain region is lamb shashlyk, lamb kebabs roasted on an apple fire.

Food on the mountain is prepared by our camp cook and dishes will include stews, lots of vegetable dishes, pasta dishes, cheese and breads, salads, breads and plenty of sweet dishes.

If you have any dietary restrictions like being gluten free or preferences for vegetarian or vegan food, we do need to know in advance.The shops do not sell gluten free foods and vegetarian meals are not so common in Russia, so we would need to discuss with you what items to bring from home.

For summit day we recommend you bring your own supplies of preferred snacks, energy bars and gels, additives to your water bottle (like Nuum) and sweets or mixed fruits. We will provide summit day food but the range is limited to biscuits, chocolate and standard cordial drinks. 

For our Elbrus itineraries, we take a few extra days upon arrival in the Elbrus region to go on acclimatisation hikes around the valleys and up to about 3500m. These are mountain walks on paths and will acclimatise you before going to the mountain itself.  It is extremely enjoyable, there is an abundance of wildlife and plant life to see, and you can enjoy the comforts of a hotel, complete with relaxing Russian saunas to relax muscles after a day of alpine walking.

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Acclimatising on Elbrus on easy paths in sunny warm conditions. It’s possible to see golden eagles and the hikes approach amazing waterfalls on basalt columns and there are always fine views of the mountain range.

Once above the snowline safe acclimatisation continues by following the mountaineering principle of ‘climb high, sleep low’. Staying in the huts and climbing up the mountain by day to train on alpine skills and gain further acclimatisation, is important to allow enough time for a safe summit day. 

Don’t underestimate the weather on Elbrus, it is unpredictable and even in the stable summer months of July and August it’s possible to experience a wide variation, from a benign windless day out to a really cold, windy experience with low visibility. Similarly the snowpack can be hard nevee with ice patches on the exposed slopes to sections in deep soft snow.

Prepare for winter conditions with the right clothing and boots. Double boots, mountain quality down jacket, goggles, down mitts and top and bottom shell layer are necessary, and you will need an ice axe, crampons, a harness with slings and karabiners, and a helmet. The guide will bring a rope, but there is a fixed line on the steepest section to the summit plateau. For the early days of trekking, expect warm sunny alpine days.

This trip is perfect for learning basic alpine skills like self arrest, but a good foundation of winter walking skills will be very helpful, as will some expedition experience on other mountains like Mount Toubkal in winter and Kilimanjaro. For this trip on summit day, especially on the north side and on the traverse, you will want to be competent in moving on glaciated terrain and knowledgeable about altitude acclimatisation and managing yourself in the cold.

It is certainly beneficial to have experience of moving on snow and ice for this trip to Mt Elbrus although we provide on-site training in alpine skills such as moving on crampons and self-arrest with a walking axe. This trip tends to attract a wide range of abilities, from people with Seven Summits aspirations who have climbed Kilimanjaro, to experienced hill walkers. This does mean that we have to be sure that everybody has the necessary skills for safety on the hill such as personal movement, understanding of layering and personal climate, handling a slip, being familiar with all the equipment and working in a team.

Elbrus is often sold as a walking holiday, but the weather means it can often turn out to be a proper winter mountaineering experience even in the height of the summer season. Comparisons to Kilimanjaro don’t work really; this is a lower peak but much colder and requiring movement over permanent snow-covered slopes. Even though the normal route is clear and safe, the mentality towards experience has to be focussed on winter skills.

I recommend you work towards this trip with the aim of being capable of multiple days out on the hill carrying a pack up to 10kgs. People who are active in the hills generally have few problems on Mount Elbrus, but extra work on the calf muscles and thigh muscles will help. Cardio-vascular fitness can be assisted by swimming, circuit training and working on a HIIT programme.

Altitude is not such a problem on Elbrus because of my acclimatisation programme but summit day is still a big jump in altitude and a long day on the hill in the cold. Eating, drinking and sleeping well and keeping healthy at altitude are equally as important. Our programme allows everyone to build their ‘mountain fitness’ before going high and acclimatising not just to the height but also the climate and new surroundings. Fitness is mental as well as physical, so we like to promote a happy and positive team spirit before rushing to the top!