Mount Elbrus is one of the Seven Summits and the highest mountain on the European continental plate and one of the most famous climbs in Russia. When you climb Mt Elbrus you can do so by two different routes and we offer guided climbs on both sides as well as a traverse of the mountain from North to South.

All of the expeditions include several days of acclimatization hikes in the region, mountain training plus a suitable climbing period to get to the summit. The trip totals eleven days for the South route and twelve days for the North and both routes require you to fly into and out of Mineralynye Vody in southern Russia which is best served via Moscow.

Trips

As an international guiding company you will find we provide proper itineraries with good acclimatization and excellent full-time guides and staff. We  have always run our own operation in Russia with the same guides since 1999, and we don't outsource to other local companies.

We only run six or seven trips each season, which allows time for the guides to rest and recuperate, and we provide training in mountain first aid and altitude illnesses.

From the outset you will find experienced guides to talk to in our head office who can assist with questions about kit and clothing, choice between the north or south route, preparation for Elbrus, and pragmatic advice on whether this is the mountain for you.

Read our Elbrus review page for what our clients say. This one below makes us particularly proud:

"I feel very fortunate to have been a client on a trip last week to the summit of Mt. Elbrus in Russia. Our guide, Sasha, led us on an excellent adventure. The organization, food, stories, hotel, training trips, etc., all exceeded my expectations.

Despite inclement weather on the mountain, all five of us made it safely to the summit and back, under the leadership of Sasha's assistant guide. Great attention was paid to the specific needs of each individual, in terms of required equipment, training, food, guidance, and preparation, leading to our summit success. I highly recommend Adventure Alternative to all interested climbers."

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. The tallest summit is to the west, the left peak in this photo below which is taken on the south side.


Elbrus Routes

elbrus preparation.jpg
The snowcapped twin headed summit of Mt Elbrus, taken from the South, which is the most popular route. The volcanic mountain is virtually symmetrical so the north and south routes are quite similar in terms of gradient and terrain. However the north side is more remote with fewer facilities, therefore needs more commitment and experience.

South Route

The South side is a ski resort in the winter and has a few villages with facilities like hotels and restaurants and a cable car and chairlift up to the Barrels Hut (Garabashi) at around 3000 metres. For those with less experience it is best to go on this side because in the need of speedy descent this side has snowmobiles and 'ratracks' to assist. The South Route therefore provides an excellent training ground for those looking to gain experience with snow climbing.

However, this is still a demanding climb and harder than Kilimanjaro, the summit day is 1000m ascent over 9 hours. Unpredictable weather and high altitude make for a challenging excursion.


North Route

The north side on the other hand has no villages nearby and during the season there are just some tented camps run by local outfits. The journey to the mountain is off road and facilities are few. It is necessary to be more self-sufficient and capable of dealing with any problem without any support.

For those who have a bit more mountaineering experience and are seeking a more traditional climbing experience, the North Route on Mount Elbrus is a good option. Although the mountain is broadly symmetrical, the summit day on the north side involves passing through the whole length of the col between the two peaks and this section is often choked with snow. Therefore summit day is longer and harder than on the south side. The route through the col between the two peaks is nearly a kilometre which is quite substantial at that altitude. So we therefore recommend only people with good alpine experience to consider the north side.


Traverse

For a third option consider the Mount Elbrus Traverse. Aesthetically you have the challenge and joy of climbing the mountain from the more remote side, but then descending to the hubbub of the south side valley with all the restaurants and mountain life. However the ascent involves carrying some extra personal equipment such as clothes to change into once you get below the snowline, and potentially your sleeping bag in case we don't make it all the way to the hotel but end up in one of the mountain huts.

Logistically the challenge is in bringing all the personal bags from the north side around to the south side by vehicle and also employing extra people to clear the high camp at Lenz Rocks of camping equipment and taking everything off the mountain. This is the reason the traverse is slightly more expensive.

We offer trips up 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.


What is the climate on Elbrus?

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, 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. There's a full kit list on the Elbrus South Route page. 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 you will want to be competent in moving on glaciated terrain and knowledgeable about altitude acclimatisation and managing yourself in the cold.

We take acclimatization seriously. For our Elbrus itineraries, we take a few extra days upon arrival in the Elbrus region to go on acclimatization hikes. These are mountain walks on paths and will acclimatise you to over 2000 metres before going to the mountain itself.  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. We are below the snowline. It's possible to see golden eagles and the hikes often approach amazing waterfalls and there are always fine views of the mountain range.

Once above the snowline 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 for preparing for a safe and enjoyable summit day.

elbrus south accommodation - Barrels..jpg
The famous Barrels accommodation on the south side, also known as Garabashi. From here the teams explore the mountain, learn skills and prepare for the summit day.

In hotels and cafes off of the mountain, you can order staple foods such as Solyanka or Vorscht, various delicious homemade breads, pancakes with various fillings, Shashlyk or skewered lamb roasted on charcoal and Sturgeon. It's a must to try the local wines, vodka and cognac.

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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. We carry our own food with us on the North route and use a large gas stove for cooking delicious group meals. If you have any dietary restrictions, we will try to cater to your needs but the variety of foodstuffs in the supermarkets is limited. In some cases it may be necessary to bring items with you, for example gluten free and vegan products.

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. 

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. There's a full kit list on the Elbrus South Route page. 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.

Footwear is arguably the single most important piece of gear on the mountain. Having properly broken-in trekking boots and double mountaineering boots is essential. It’s also important to bring sandals for the huts.

We have some advice pages on what climbing equipment to choose, including trekking boots, mountain boots and crampons, and sleeping bags.

Also, look after your skin; at this altitude and with the suns rays bouncing off the snow into your face, it's very easy to get sunburn, heatstroke and also dry cracked skin in the thin air. Take very good quality sun creams and lip salves and moisturising cream.


Mount Elbrus altitude profiles

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.

Climbing and Mountaineering

  • Travels in the central Caucasus and Bashan, Freshfield. ISBN-10: 1117959651, ISBN-13: 978-1117959658
  • My Climbs in the Alps and Caucasus, Mummery. ISBN-10: 0543890430, ISBN-13: 978-0543890436
  • Climbing in the Caucasus - A Collection of Historical Mountaineering Articles. ISBN-10: 1447408470, ISBN-13: 978-1447408475
  • The Caucasus: An Introduction, de Waal. ISBN-10: 0195399773, ISBN-13: 978-0195399776
  • As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me, Bauer.  ISBN-10: 1841197262, ISBN-13: 978-1841197265
  • Seven Summits, Bass. ISBN-10: 0517227509, ISBN-13: 978-0517227503

Elbrus Guides

  • The Mount Elbruz Region, West Col Productions, ISBN-10: 0906227526, ISBN-13: 978-0906227527
  • Trekking in the Caucasus, Cicerone, ISBN-10: 185284129X, ISBN-13: 978-1852841294
  • Trekking in Russia and Central Asia: A Traveller's Guide, Mountaineers Books, ISBN-10: 0898863554, ISBN-13: 978-0898863550
  • Russia, Lonely Planet, ISBN-10: 1741047226, ISBN-13: 978-1741047226

Elbrus Maps

  • Elbrus, 1:50,000, Climbing Map, ISBN 13: 9783952329436
  • Elbrus, 1:50,000, Russian Army Cartographic Unit,
  • Elbrus and Environs, 1:100,000, Russian Army Cartographic Unit,
  • Mount Elbrus, various scales, West Col Productions
  • Caucasus Central: Elbruz to Kazbek 1:200,000, West Col Productions, ISBN 10: 0906227542, ISBN 13: 9780906227541

 Altitude

  • Travel at High Altitude, Medex, ISBN 0-901100-76-5 (free to download from Medex)
  • Altitude Illness: Prevention & Treatment, The Mountaineers Books, Bezruchka, ISBN 0-89886-685-5 (pocket sized guide)
  • Medicine for Mountaineering, The Mountaineers Books, Wilkerson et al, ISBN-10: 1594850763, ISBN-13: 978-1594850769
  • UIAA - International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation website

How much does it cost to climb Mount Elbrus?

Prices range from £1595.00 to £1895.00 pp depending on south or north route or a traverse. This would be an all-inclusive price with excellent quality before and during the climb and professional guides on the expedition. Cheaper trips generally operate kitties for key items like meals, and they have fewer days on the mountain.

How many days does it take to climb Elbrus?

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.

Is Mount Elbrus a technical climb?

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.

How do I get to Mount Elbrus?

The nearest airport to Mount Elbrus is Mineralnye Vody which is 200km from the Elbrus area. Most people fly there via Moscow, although you could take the train. For the south side, the drive takes about four hours which crosses the border into Kabardino Balkyrie and goes up the Baksan Valley to the village of Terskol. For the north side the drive ends up going off-road for several hours and crosses a river to reach a campsite by a river.

How dangerous is Mount Elbrus?

The weather and altitude present the main dangers on Elbrus, as there are few objective dangers on the main climbing routes. The north side is more dangerous because is it more remote and there is none of the infrastructures that you find on the south side.

Statistically Elbrus represents a high number of fatalities out of the Seven Summits, and the reason appears to be an underestimation of the challenge of this mountain compared to the likes of Everest, Denali and Aconcagua. With such temperamental weather, ill-equipped and complacent groups are often caught out in low visibility. A lot of the accidents occur because of exposure, exhaustion and falls having come off the route and not been prepared.

Is it safe to travel to Mount Elbrus?

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.

Is Elbrus easier than Kilimanjaro?

In short, yes. 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 Kilimanjaro.

What permits do I need to climb Elbrus?

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.