Mount Elbrus - North Route - Russia
Mt Elbrus is the highest peak in the Caucasus and in Europe, and one of the fabled Seven Summits.
The North route is more remote and more committing than the South route as it has less in the way of infrastructure on the lower reaches of the mountain. However, this reduction in facilties is balanced by the lack of human intrusion onto the landscape. There is little in the way of mechanical support, and the trip is mostly camping, and the summit route is harder than the south side, being longer and involving an interim camp at 4600 metres (if the weather allows) which requires winter camping skills and good teamwork.
With an elevation of 5642 metres, Mt Elbrus is a fine ascent which requires mountaineering skills, although altitude and unpredictable weather make for a challenging and adventurous trip. It is perfect for people who wish to gain ice and snow experience as full training is given, for those wishing to climb the Seven Summits and for people who have aspirations of going on to climb higher peaks in the Himalayas and S. America.
This expedition lasts thirteen days including travel and allows for travel days, several days of acclimatisation hikes in the stunning valleys and a five day climbing period on Europe’s highest peak.
Groups are normally around ten in number, and on this route we use a ratio of 1 guide to three members, plus some porters to help move gear up to the high camp ( a hut) and then onto the final camp at Lenz Rocks (if the weather allows; if not, then the summit bid starts from the hut, which means a very long summit day of around ten hours).
The guides do the cooking and arrange the campsites, but this is a trip where everybody chips in and helps with making camp and especially cooking in tent groups up high.
Mount Elbrus stands between the great masses of Europe and Asia, dynamic in both region and terrain. It presents a strenuous and rewarding climb, but also includes a full experience of Russian culture, history and character. The ascent of Mt Elbrus by the north route is a long climb over a moderate incline (average 35 degrees, with some sections on the summit day increasing to 40 degrees) that requires good acclimatization but present few technical difficulties. However, despite the apparent simplicity of this route, it can be dangerous. The altitude, variable weather, and often low temperatures can transform the ascent into a real mountain adventure!
Good times for climbing Mt Elbrus are from June through to August, with perhaps the best month for stable weather being July. Each trip is 12 days unless you have opted for the 8 day trip and we can also organise a stopover in Moscow if you wish. We provide all the accommodation, food and logistics for this trip, and there are no kitties or hidden extras. You only need money for some drinks in the hotel and souvenirs.
Mount Elbrus is not technically difficult but there is the danger of weather and exposure, making it cold and committing; it is necessary to have crampons, warm clothing, and good boots for summit day (preferably plastic or at least capable of taking a crampon – these are available to hire in Terskol. Ropes are not necessary on the northern route and the team will need to be roped up from the top hut to the summit and back.
Adventure Alternative runs a subsidiary organisation called Russian Adventures based in Moscow. We look after all the bureaucratic details to ensure a problem-free trip.
Sasha Lebedev is our trip organiser and translater on our Mount Elbrus trips. He is a reputable author with published books covering Mount Elbrus, the Altai Republic and Mongolia. His English is excellent and he is an experienced and safe guide for Mt Elbrus. Together with Gavin Bate, Director of Adventure Alternative, they have achieved a 100% safety track record on the mountain, largely due to the careful acclimatisation programme which allows for a suitable summit period and time to work on familiarisation with being on the snow and ice.
Dates and Itinerary
Dates: Aim to arrive in Mineralnye Vody around lunchtime on Day 1 (the advertised date hence you will depart from home the day before the advertised date). Most flights go via Moscow, enabling you to catch an overnight flight to Moscow and then a morning flight from Moscow to MRV. For the return, book a flight from Min Vody around lunchtime or early afternoon in order to make the link with the international flight back home.
Trip Extension: Since most flights go via Moscow it is possible to spend some time in the city before or after the trip. Andrey Panin in Moscow can organise airport pick-ups, hotel bookings, local tours or bookings for any shows you may like to see. Have a look at Moscow Weekend for further details.
Climbing Period: The itinerary below allows a five day climbing period on the mountain above base camp. If the weather is favourable, there may be two summit attempts but the decision will be made by the guides, depending on normal mountaineering decisions and the ability of the group.
|23rd August - 3rd September||24th August - 4th September|
|1||320m||2.5 hrs||Arrive into Mineralnye Vody, arriving in the morning or lunchtime. On arrival at MRV you will meet the Adventure Alternative team and transfer to a hotel in the local town of Pyatigorsk. We use the Intourist Hotel. Pick up any rented gear, and sightseeing in the city.|
|2||2250m||6 hrs||Early departure for a four hour drive to base camp at the foot of Elbrus. The first part is by asphalt road then the second by dirt track in all-terrain vehicles. Camping. In afternoon possibility of acclimatisation walk to Mushroom Rocks (3500m).|
|3, 4, 5,||2500m - 3800m||4 hrs||Acclimatisation walks in the area of basecamp exploring the volcanic landscape of lava sculptures, and making carries up to the high camp (hut) at 3800 metres. There should be time here for a rest day to visit the energising springs which are famous in this area and see some amazing waterfalls. Every night camping at base camp, where there is a mess tent for eating.|
|6, 7||3800m - 4600m||5 hrs||Move to the high camp (hut) and make an acclimatisation hike up to Lenz Rocks (4600m) and deposit gear (tents, food, gas, stoves and pots). Sleep at the hut.|
|8, 9||3800m - 5642m||6 - 12 hours||Move to Lenz Rocks for overnight and next morning go to summit and come back to a) Lenz Rocks for another overnight, or b) all the way back to the hut (this depends on timing and weather. The other option, if the weather does not allow a camp at Lenz Rocks, is to use these two days to summit the West Peak all the way from the hut. This is a longer option and undeniably harder in terms of strength required, but it is possible. If you leave from Lenz Rocks, the start time is about 6am, if you leave from the hut the start time is about 1am.|
|10||3800m - 2500m||3 hours||Move everybody and all gear back to base camp for rest and celebration dinner|
|11||4 hours||Drive to Pyatigorsk to hotel. Sightseeing and dinner.|
|12||Travel day. Drive to Min Vody airport (45 minutes), fly to Moscow and then home, or stay in Moscow for a few days.|
Mount Elbrus - North Route cost: £1,495.00
- Visa application papers
- Municipal registration
- Intourist hotel in Pyatigrosk - twin room for two nights
- Road transfer to basecamp
- National Park fees
- All meals on the mountain and our own cook
- Staff: Sasha Lebedev and other local guides, cook and administrator in Moscow.
- Accommodation in the top hut
- Camping equipment
- Flights - to Mineralnye Vody
- Russian Visa - £35/€45 (depends on speed of delivery and nationality)
- Travel insurance – estimate £75
- Personal expenses – estimate £50/€65 for drinks and souvenirs
- Equipment hire
- Single room supplement - £80
Cost of Add-Ons and Some Optional Extras
Black Diamond Contact Strap lightweight crampons - C1 articulated and flexible attached with simple straps. These Crampons have 10 points, two front and 8 at the backside.
Walking Axe: £20.00
60 cm walking axes with basic adze and a straight pick predominantly used to arrest a fall in the event of a slip.
Moscow City Tour: £0.00
If you’re interested in staying in Moscow for a few days after Mt Elbrus this can be organised on a ‘pay as you go’ basis due to many differing tour options. Hotels can be self booked or organised through Adventure Alternative; Andrey Panin will meet you at the airport, transfer you to the hotel and act as your guide. Costs for guides, tours, entries, food etc are ‘pay as you tour’ payable to Andrey. We can give you a cost estimate upon application for your own or a suggested itinerary. Please do contact us if we can be of assistance.
Not all about money
Our prices are competitive and good value, and we offer quality, professional service and security. We know that many people hate to arrive into a country and be surprised by hidden costs or find that essential trip elements have not been included in the expedition fee , so we offer a comprehensive expedition with no hidden fees or kitties. All food, land travel, accommodation, park fees, staff fees are included. The only thing you need to pay for on the ground is items of a personal nature such as souvenirs and drinks.
Additionally our itinerary is long enough to give excellent acclimatisation and two summit attempts, less days are dangerous for a peak just short of 6000 metres (equivalent to Camp 1 on Mount Everest). Reducing the number of days may make the price cheaper but the chances of summiting reduce to around 25% and it is potentially dangerous. We also aim to camp at 4600 metres, which involves the use of more staff and local porters, because trying to summit from the hut involves a 2000m ascent in one day, which brings the success rate down and is very difficult. This camp at Lenz Rocks essentially splits the summit journey into two, and is a great experience in itself.
We are well aware of other companies which offer Elbrus at a cheaper price, but we cannot condone paying our guides less than what they deserve and in accordance with European rates of pay for International Mountain Leaders. The north side of Elbrus is a challenging expedition and requires good mountain decision-making, determination and experience; we believe these are skills worth paying for, and this is borne out by the quality of our staff and the enjoyment of the trip. Additionally we train our staff in risk assessment procedures common to mountain trips assessed by the British Standards 8848 criteria, and we work hard to invest in this standard.
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 to buy their insurance for Mt Elbrus from Campbell Irvine Specialists.
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.
Adventure Alternative is a member of AiTO (Association of Independant Tour Operators), which ensures complete protection for your money.
Type of Terrain
The normal summit route is a long committing climb over a moderate incline that requires good acclimatization but has no technical difficulties. However, despite the apparent simplicity of this route, it can be dangerous. The altitude, variable weather, frequent violent storms and low temperature transforms the ascent into a real high altitude adventure. The average time is ten hours for the ascent from the top hut and about five hours from the camp at Lenz Rocks. The route heads towards the Saddle between the two peaks and then follows the normal route on a rising traverse with an average gradient of 38 degrees (occasionally exposed) and then across the large summit plateau to the summit. The descent is about about four hours to the Lenz Rocks camp, and a further hour and half to the top hut. Crampons and poles (or walking axes) are necessary for this climb.
There are a few crevasses around the Lenz Rocks which can be quite wide depending on the time of season and local conditions, but they are largely visible. Other objective dangers on the route are the exposure to cold and wind, and the weather is very temperamental and visibility can drop rapidly. Sudden storms and extremely cold weather are common. It is important to be well equipped and experienced in the use of your equipment, and to be confident on prevention of cold weather injuries.
Elevation of main huts and points
Base Camp 2250m (camping near a river)
High Camp 3800m (there are several huts)
Lenz Rocks 4600m (exposed camping)
West Summit 5642m
It is highly beneficial to have experience of moving on snow and ice for this trip to the north side of Mt Elbrus but we do provide on-site training in basic alpine skills such as moving on crampons and self arrest before the summit day. 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. Predominantly these skills are to do with personal movement, understanding of layering and personal climate, handling a slip, being familiar with all the equipment and working in a team. For the north side, where there is little infrastructure and a higher reliance on self-management, we prefer that the people who apply have experience in alpine walking and winter camping.
Elbrus is unfortunately often sold as a walking holiday, but Elbrus is a big mountain that requires a mountaineering approach to ensure safety and success and enjoyment. A good preparation would be to do a winter hillwalking course in Scotland or an alpine skills course in the Alps, but this is not mandatory to join the trip. We would ask that people apply common sense to their decision to climb the mountain and understand that you cannot make comparisons to Kilimanjaro. This is a lower peak but colder and requiring movement over permanent snow covered slopes which are glaciated and crevassed. Even though the normal route is clear and safe, the mentality towards experience has to be focussed on winter skills.
Our trip to Mt Elbrus promotes good mountaineering practises for an enjoyable trip, a memorable holiday and one that may lead in the future to more mountain adventures. Our programme is safety-conscious and our staff purposeful in teaching you about issues like altitude sickness, and what it actually means. Most worries are borne of ignorance; but with knowledge comes calm, and with that calm comes the ability to prepare mentally and to prevent unnecessary stress.
Adventure Alternative Support
The expedition is fully catered for you. We also provide lessons and practical training in the safe use of ice axes and crampons, and personal movement skills on snow and ice. Our trip organiser will provide all logistical preparation during the trip, from hotels to meals and booking of all facilities. He will also be your translator and help you with local knowledge of flora and fauna.
Before the trip you will have access to experienced guides in the office who have climbed Elbrus many times and can offer practical advice on everything, such as kit which you might want to use for future trips to the Greater Ranges. We guide all of the Seven Summits so this expertise is invaluable.
We provide full support prior to the trip for your visa application and flight process, and we ensure that you will be met and picked up in Mineralnye Vody for the journey to the mountain. Our staff in Russia have many years of experience working with foreign groups and in 13 years we have never had to cancel a trip.
We provide financial protection for your money through our membership of the Association of Independent Tour Operators.
- Thermal base layer
- Fleece pants or warm lined trousers (preferably windproof, eg soft shell)
- Fleece midlayers
- Fleece or pile jacket (heavyweight eg Polartec 300)
- Down jacket with hood.
- Shell trousers and jacket with hood
- Hiking clothes for low level stuff
- Sunhat and wool or fleece hat
- Balaclava or neck warmer
- Headlamp with spare bulbs and batteries
- Glacier or sunglasses (100% UV)
- Leather walking boots for low level walks and carries
- Plastic boots for high up
- Heavy socks and trek socks
- 2 karabiners - screwgates
- 1 sling
- Fleecy gloves
- Mitts with waterproof shells
- Rucksack (minimum 65 litres)
- Day pack (35- 40 litres)
- Duffle bag (can be left at BC)
- Sleeping bag, 3 to 4 season
- Water bottles + insulating covers
- Sunscreen and lipscreen (SPF 30 at least)
- Personal first aid kit
- Walking Axe w/leash
- Ski or trekking poles
- Dry bags
- Travel Clothes
Additional Kit Info
Boots - this climb requires plastic mountaineering boots but a very high quality hybrid boot will be adequate. If you are renting then make sure there is some movement for your foot since it will swell at altitude. For the high sections it is not possible to use leather boots, and even the top hybrid boots still can get wet.
Mitts - a good pair of waterproof, lined mitts will protect against cold hands, and a good idea is to wear a pair of liner gloves inside.
Down jacket - not a lightweight synthetic variety, but a good quality down jacket is necessary
Socks - take heavy socks for the summit days and trekking socks for the walks.
Bag - it is more convenient to have a duffle bag which you can leave stuff in at base camp
Day sack - this should be around 40 litres for some day hikes and even for summit day.
Water bottles - take two and a thermos for summit day if you have one, and note that the bladders or camelbaks are no good on summit day
Trekking poles - on summit day you will use a walking axe and one pole, on lower sections you can use two poles
Sleeping bag - the hut can be warm, but we will be camping in some locations so a good quality 3 season, or a 4 season bag should be used.
Harness - any type will do, but the alpine style (with leg loops that clip open and shut) is most convenient. We use this for ascending on a rope above the hut and all the way to the summit.
Karabiner - screwgates or self locking, used for attaching yourself to the rope
Slings - medium sling (180cm) is adequate, used in an emergency for an anchor in the snow to hold a person.
Ice axe - standard walking axe or general use, not a technical axe, with a leash and long enough to hang just above the ground when you hold it in your hand. Please read up on the use of an axe for self arresting in the event of a slip or fall. We will practise this on the mountain.
Thermos or flask - up high we tend to only drink hot liquids, so use the bottles for lower down and the thermos for summit day (you can still a water bottle on summit day, and drink the cold liquid on the descent when the sun is up. Earlier on, it is far better to drink a cup of hot tea).
Helmet - it is not necessary to use a helmet on this trip, there being no overhead danger of rockfall, but some people do like to bring a lid for routine and additional safety.
For rent from Adventure Alternative, see 'Cost' tab (paid in advance, price is for whole trip):
Walking Axe: £20
For rent locally in Russia: (normally 8 days, paid only in roubles cash at the hotel when everyone meets up, and all orders must be made in advance so that Sasha can arrange the hiring company to bring all the gear from the shop (a four hour drive).
Plastic boots: 300 roubles per day, we must know your size in advance (boots are normally the Koflach style)
Down jackets: 300 roubles per day
Mitts: 100 roubles per day
Gaiters 30 roubles per day
Goggles 150 roubles per day
Thermos 70 roubles per day
Headtorch 70 roubles per day
Goretex jacket: 200 roubles per day
Sleeping bag: 150 roubles per day
Trekking poles: 150 roubles per day
Harness: 70 roubles per day
Note: as an estimate, use 50 roubles to GBP£1 or check online for latest exchange rate.
Links to Retailers
At Expedition Kit Hire our aim is to provide a seamless, first class customer service for our clients, offering top quality clothing and equipment to fit the demands of any expedition from Polar, high altitude, desert or tropical treks across the globe. If we don't stock a product, we probably can so please get in touch.
- We provide excellent guides who we pay well and who will look after you well.
- We offer the option of camping at Lenz Rocks, which makes the summit day easier.
- We have our own company in Russia with guides who have worked with us for over ten years.
- We have an excellent network of contacts in the Elbrus area, from drivers to mountain rescue personnel.
- Our price is all-inclusive, with no kitties or hidden extras.
- We provide training on the mountain on the use of walking axe and crampons.
- Our trip allows for good acclimatisation and adequate climbing period.
- We can combine your climb with a holiday in Moscow.
- AA guide Sasha Lebedev is an author of many books, including one on Elbrus, and is a recognised authority.
- We have experienced people in the UK who can advise you before the trip on what to buy and what to expect.
- We have never cancelled a trip.
- Adventure Alternative is fully bonded.
- Our booking pages allows you to create your own booking page into which you can put all the information regarding your trip, which you can change at any time.
- We guide all the Seven Summits and have experience of how to manage the challenge from start to finish.