Mount Elbrus - South Route - Russia
Mt Elbrus is the highest peak in the Caucasus and in Europe, and one of the fabled Seven Summits.
The South route is the most common ascent route offering more infrastructure and access to ski lifts for carrying equipment and more developed mountain hut accommodation.
With an elevation of 5642 metres, Mt Elbrus is a fine ascent which requires basic 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.
Adventure Alternative has a subsidiary organisation called Russian Adventures based in Moscow. We look after all the bureaucratic details to ensure a problem-free trip and we have never had to cancel a trip since 1999.
Sasha Lebedev is our trip organiser and translator 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.
We also employ local guides and mountain rescue personnel and after so long, we are very well known in the region as a safe and reputable company. Despite the fact that it is not a very technical peak to climb, a lot of people get into trouble on this mountain largely due to carelessness, forgetting basic mountaineering principles of going to high altitude and making things cheap by cutting corners. A well paid guide who is not doing back-to-back trips all season will be motivated and aware, and we work hard to provide a good salary, equipment and training for our Russian mountain staff.
An Elbrus trip with Sasha is truly an alternative adventure! Lots of laughs, local knowledge and overall a great sense of achievement and satisfaction. I highly recommend this trip!
We’re back from a fabulous trip to Elbrus and the top of the mountain. We had a really great experience with the Adventure Alternative team…
The guides – Sasha was a fountain of knowledge about the local area and was a very good guide that I trusted. It was particularly helpful to have his guidance as we had some very skilled mountaineers on our trip but he always ensured the hikes catered to all levels of hikers in our group. The Ukrainian guides Oksana & Igor were super too and you could tell they had a wealth of experience. We were both with Igor on summit night and he kept a great pace and kept us going when the weather closed in on us. He created a video of the trip which everybody loved.
On the mountain – We were told by Sasha that we were staying in the best huts up the mountain and we could see that for ourselves as they were very clean & warm. Everything was organized very well – moving the gear, the guides telling us about the plans ahead etc. All the rental equipment was of good quality and we felt comfortable that we knew about the route we were taking on summit night and the challenges.
The food – I can’t say enough about how the healthy food that was prepared made all the difference to our trip. I was prepared to be slightly sick due to altitude & a different diet but our cook Gaila prepared the food to a very high standard and we were almost turning away the food there was so much of it and so good!
Moscow – Andrey is awesome! It was super to have him guiding us around Moscow and he had loads of info and knew all the best places to go. We’ve had a really good experience and want to thank you, and all the team in Russia, for your help.
Dates and Itinerary
Dates: The start date refers to your arrival into Mineralyne Vody Airport (code: MRV). Aim to arrive in the morning of the start date. Most flights go via Moscow, enabling you to catch an overnight flight to Moscow from Europe and then a morning flight from Moscow to MRV.
The end date is the day you should book your return flight from MRV; an afternoon flight is best, because the minibus journey from Elbrus is about four hours.
North Side: We also offer climbs on the North Route of Mt Elbrus which offers less infrastructure and a different type of expedition. It would be deemed more difficult and perhaps a purer a mountaineering challenge with accommodation mostly in tents, the need to do carries of gear to higher camps and cooking. For details click here
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 for two day hikes in the valleys and a six day climbing period on the mountain. If the weather is favourable, you may have up to two summit attempts but the decision will be made by the guides, depending on normal mountaineering decisions and the ability of the group. With good weather and snow conditions, and a strong team, the trip provides ample opportunity to climb the West Peak.
In the itinerary below, the following indicators apply: ST = Starting altitude, HP = High Point for the day and SL = Sleep Level
|7th June - 17th June|
|21st June - 1st July|
|12th July - 22nd July|
|26th July - 5th August|
|10th August - 20th August|
Arrival and travel to mountains- 1 day
Acclimitisation walks on lower slopes and valleys- 2 days
Climbing and sleeping in Mountain Huts- 6/7 days
Return to airport and Depart- 1 day
|1||SL:2125m||4hrs||Arrive into Mineralyne Vody airport in the morning and be met by our staff. Transfer by minibus to Terskol (4 hours). Accommodation in local 3* Hotel Nakra, bed and breakfast. Dinner in local cafe.|
|2||ST:2125m HP:2800m SL:2125m||6 - 8hrs||Day hike to Cheget Mountain (2800m), lunch enroute and return to hotel for evening meal.|
|3||ST:2125m HP:3000m SL:2125m||4.5hrs||Day hike to Vertoletny (Helicopter) Pass (3000m) with lunch enroute and return to hotel for evening meal and Russian sauna.|
|4||ST:2125m HP:3300m SL:2950m||3 hrs||Drive to village of Azau and walk to Old Vista Hut (2950m). Bags go by cable car. Lunch and afternoon walk to Glacier Lake (3300m). Overnight in Old Vista Hut, 2950m.|
|5||ST:2950m HP:4050m SL:2950m||5 hrs||Acclimatisation hike to Priut -11 Hut (4050m). Training in use of clothing and equipment such as crampons and ice axe, personal movement and dealing with cold and altitude. Back to Old Vista for dinner and overnight.|
|6||ST:2950m HP:4050m SL:3900m||4 hrs||Ascend on foot to National Park Hut (3900m) with all equipment by chair lift and snow machine. Afternoon training on personal movement skills. Possible afternoon walk up to Priut Hut and exercise at altitude.|
|7||ST:3900m HP:4670m SL:3900m||5 hrs||Hike to Pastukhov Rocks (4670m) for acclimatisation and further use of all equipment. We will look at teamwork and fine tune use of equipment for summit day. Overnight at National Park Hut.|
|8||ST:3900m HP:5642m SL:3900m||~ 12 hrs||1st possible summit day (depends on weather, group strength and terrain safety) - awake at 3am. Snow machine to Pastukhov Rocks (this ground has already been covered on foot in previous days) and continue on foot to summit. Return to National Park Hut.|
|9||3 hrs||Reserve summit day if we were unable to leave the hut for the summit the previous day due to poor weather or slow acclimitisation. If the previous day's attempt was successful then we descend to Cheget this day and have an extra day in the valley. Possibly a gentle trek up the beautiful alpine Terskol Valley|
|10||ST: 3900m SL: 2125m||3 hrs||Descend to Cheget hotel. There is a slight chance of this being a third summit day in the case of bad weather over days 8-9 but the cable cars stop working in the afternoon, so practically this option is difficult because of the need to summit and descend to the valley floor with all gear. We will discuss options with the team at the time.|
|11||ST:2125m||4 hrs||Breakfast in the hotel and then transfer to Mineralnye Vody. Flight to Moscow and onward travel, or stopover in Moscow for trip extension.|
Mount Elbrus - South Route cost: £1,395.00
- Visa application papers
- Municipal registration in Tyrnauz
- Coach transfer to the Baksan Valley
- Hotel in Cheget with drying rooms, sauna, restaurant and comfortable 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 New Vista Lodge and National Park hut
- All meals on the mountain and our own cook
- Snow machine to Pastukhov Rocks on the summit morning and use of snow machine for all transfer of equipment, plus use of cable car and chair lift for gear.
- Staff: Sasha Lebedev – Mountain guide, English-speaking, 13 years with Adventure Alternative
- Andrey Panin - Moscow guide and translator, office administration
- Additional guides depending on numbers
- Flights - to Mineralnye Vody, Russia (usually via Moscow)
- Russian Visa - £50 - £85 (depends on speed of delivery, nationality & postage return option)
- Some consulates (usually Middle-Eastern & Eastern) require original visa travel papers. The cost of sending these by courier is not covered.
- Travel insurance – estimate £75
- Personal expenses – estimate £50/€65 for drinks and souvenirs
- Equipment hire
- Single room supplement in Cheget - £120
Cost of Add-Ons and Some Optional Extras
Black Diamond Contact Strap lightweight 10 point crampons - C1 articulated and flexible attached with simple straps.
Walking Axe: £20.00
60cm walking axe with basic adze and a straight pick.
Not all about money
Our prices are competitive and good value, and we offer quality, service, security and an ethical stance on tourism. We know that many people hate to arrive into a country and be surprised by hidden costs or essential trip elements not being included in the expedition fee so we offer a comprehensive expedition with no hidden fees or kitties. All meals, land travel, accommodation, saunas, park fees, rattrack and staff salaries are included. The only thing you need to pay for on the ground is additional hard drinks or other items of a personal nature such as souvenirs or phone calls.
Additionally our itinerary is long enough to give excellent acclimatisation and two summit days. 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.
Russia is full of red tape and only experienced companies that know the right people and have the right contacts and history in the region smoothly run expeditions in the region. We have years of experience and an excellent team to look after you so that you get the best out of your time in Russia.
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.
There are many reports of instability in the region and we advise all clients to read the FCO website. We make our decision to run our trips based on continual fact-finding from many different sources. Sasha, our Russian Director, is always in touch with local people in the region and every year before the season begins he will visit and assess the local situation. We carry out our threat analyses and risk assessments and make our decisions. In thirteen years we have not yet cancelled a trip, and none of our groups have ever run into any problems.
Clearly however the decision about whether to go or not is yours, and all we can do is assure you that we do not enter this lightly and we have many years of comparison and experience to draw on.
Clearly being fit is always going to be important on a mountain expedition and we strongly 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 a bit of extra work on the calf muscles and thigh muscles will help. Cardio-vacular fitness can be assisted by swimming, circuit training and working on a programme that intersperses high level intensity with breaks to allow your heart rate to go back to normal. Check the time it takes to recover between each burst, and dont overdo it. Allow yourself a break before the trip rather than intensifying your regime, since it is easy to suddenly get a strain.
Don't let the altitude worry you, your metabolism will look after you and adapt if given the time. Although people like to use chemicals like Diamox to help, in truth a good acclimatisation programme along with eating, drinking and sleeping well is more valuable. Our programme allows everyone to build their 'mountain fitness' before going high, 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!
Type of Terrain
The normal summit route is a long 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 from eight to ten hours for the ascent and about four hours for the descent. Crampons and ski poles (or walking axes) are necessary for this climb. In autumn, winter and spring the face between the Pastukhov rocks and the col is covered with ice.
There are no major crevasses or objective dangers on the main route, but weather is very temperamental and visibility can drop very rapidly. Sudden storms and extremely cold weather are common. It is easy to become disorientated and wander off route, and there are many stories of frostbite and hypothermia injuries on the mountain every year
The ascent of the West Peak (Standard Route, South Face) follows the broad slope as far as the small rock islands known as Pastukhov Rocks. We continue straight up for 400 metres towards the East Peak, gradually bear left and traverse until reaching a huge basin below the West Peak. This leads to the saddle or col and is a good place to rest and eat (5-6 hours from Priut-11). We then head west and to the left side of the saddle, ascending the steeper snow slope on a rising traverse to the rocks of the shoulder of the West Peak and a short distance up to the plateau. After we cross the broad plateau over easy ground we have a short ascent to gain the small summit pinnacle.
Azau Valley: 2350m
Old Vista: 2900m
Glacier Lake: 3300m
Bockha Barrels: 3750m
National Park Hut: 3900m
Priut – 11 Hut: 4050m
Pastukhov Rocks: 4670m
West Summit: 5642m
It is certainly beneficial to have experience of moving on snow and ice for this trip to Mt Elbrus but we provide on-site training in basic alpine skills such as moving on crampons 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.
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 at all. 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.
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 such as taxis, cable cars and huts. 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 most 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 and a bond provided through the Association of Bonded Tour Operators (ABTOT).
- Thermal base layer
- Fleece pants or warm trousers
- Midlayer fleece
- Fleece jacket
- Down jacket with hood
- Shell trousers and jacket with hood
- Trekking clothes
- Sunhat and warm hat
- Balaclava or neckwarmer
- Sunglasses (100% UV)
- Goggles or sunglasses with protective edges
- Walking boots
- Plastic mountain boots or good quality hybrids.
- Harness, 120cm sling and karabiner
- Crampons - 10 or 12 point
- Fleece gloves
- Main bag - rucksack or duffle
- Day sack for treks and summit (35-45 litre is adequate)
- Sleeping bag, 3 season
- Water bottles
- Sun and lipscreen (SPF 30)
- Personal first aid
- Ski or trekking poles
- Dry bags
- Travel Clothes
Additional Kit Info
Boots - this climb requires plastic mountaineering boots but a 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.
Mitts - a good pair of waterproof, lined mitts will protect against cold hands, and it is a good idea to wear a pair of liner gloves inside.
Down jacket - if you opt not to take this in July or August then you still need a good quality warm jacket such as a synthetic lightweight down, a heavy duty fleece or lined soft shell jacket. Without down, you will need to have four layers - base, fleece, heavy jacket and shell - at the very least. Ski jackets are not really acceptable since they do not breathe.
Warm hat - should have ear flaps if possible and be fleece lined or woollen. You might want to take a lightweight beanie and a thicker fleece hat to put on top if it gets cold.
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 will be taken up on the cable car. Put a lock on it and also bring a very lightweight bag for leaving your travel clothes in the hotel.
Day sack - this should be around 40 litres for day hikes and the summit day.
Water bottles and a thermos for summit day if you have one, and note that the bladders tend to freeze up easily. If you don't have a thermos then take insulated covers for your water bottle, since you will want to put hot liquid in it. The bladders can't be used early in the morning on summit day but sometimes they have melted enough to use on the descent.
Trekking poles are very useful although more experienced people may prefer to use one pole and a walking axe. We like people to take a walking axe if only to spend time learning how to use it properly for future trips. A big part of this trip is learning skills. Furthermore, if there is a section of icy ground then an axe will be of more benefit than a pole.
Sleeping bag - the huts are quite warm, so a 3 season bag will be adequate.
In Terskol you can rent plastic mountain boots easily and there are plenty of gear shops for buying last minute items. We have a stock of crampons for rent, and we have axes for people to learn some alpine skills on the mountain. If you are hiring from a local shop then you can only pay cash in roubles and it works out for six days.
Plastic boots - £5 - £8 per day depending on quality
Down jacket - £3 - £6 per day depending on quality
Mitts - £2 per day
Gaiters - £1 per day
Goggles - £2 per day
Thermos - £1 per day
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.
You can buy a climbing map of Elbrus from Climbing-map.com
- We have our own company in Russia with guides who have worked with us since 1999.
- 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 proper training in alpine skills on the mountain which will enable you to continue your mountaineering exploits with confidence!
- We do not attempt the summit in too short a time, our trip allows for good acclimatisation and adequate climbing period.
- We can combine your climb with a holiday in Moscow.
- Sasha Lebedev is an author of many books, including one on Elbrus, and he is a source of great knowledge on the region.
- We have experienced guides in the UK who can advise you before the trip on what to buy and what to expect.
- Adventure Alternative is financially protected and bonded and we have all the correct insurances as a tour operator.
- Our booking pages allow 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 most of the Seven Summits and have experience of how to manage the challenge from start to finish.