North Route on Mount Elbrus
News update 3 March 2022: due to the current situation in Ukraine we have decided to not take any more bookings for our upcoming Elbrus trips.
Climbing Mt Elbrus on the North Route
The North route of Mount Elbrus is more committing than the South route as it has less in the way of infrastructure and support for climbers. It requires a greater knowledge of self-sufficiency and skills in the mountains and is therefore only for more experienced climbers.
However, less facilities means less human intrusion onto the landscape. This is a more remote experience than the south side with fewer people on the mountain. There are no cable cars or chair lifts, 'ratracks' or skiddoos or even rescue teams to assist in the event of an emergency.
This expedition lasts thirteen days including travel and allows for travel days, several days of acclimatisation hikes in the beautiful surrounding valleys and lower slopes of the mountain and a five day climbing period. We allow for two potential summit days depending on weather.
Groups are normally around five to ten in number, and on this route we use a ratio of 1 guide to three members on summit day, and less for the acclimatisation days. It is possible to hire porters to help move personal clothing and kit up to the high camp which is a hut on the edge of the snowline but this is not guaranteed, better to prepare for the job of self carrying.
Read our blog on the differences between the north and south route on Elbrus to help you decide which is for you.
Route map of Elbrus North
The route starts at the base camp next to a river and the first section is four to five hour hike up to the hut at camp 1 which is right on the moraine at the snow line. Camp 2 is Lenz Rocks at 4600m where we erect tents.
The route continues straight up towards the Saddle between the two peaks. Two options to summit are available; one is to pass through the saddle or col and ascend to the summit plateau via the usual route on the south side, the second option is climb directly up to the summit plateau. The decision of which route to use depends on weather, snow conditions and the ability of the group.
In this picture you can see the length of the Saddle. Coming from the north (left side of the picture) means either passing through the whole saddle to reach the south side route, potentially in deep snow, or ascending directly up to the summit plateau.
Summit day route on Elbrus North
The summit route is a long ascent with a big elevation gain from 4600 metres to the summit at 5642 metres. The north side has an average incline of 35 degrees but there are some sections of 40 degrees which require careful movement on crampons if the ground is hard and icy and the wind is strong.
Despite the relative simplicity of this route and the non-technical nature of the terrain, the altitude, variable weather and low temperature transforms the ascent into a high altitude mountain challenge.
The average time can be 8 to 10 hours for the summit day from the top hut at 3800 metres or 6 to 8 hours from the camp at Lenz Rocks. The route heads directly upwards to the Saddle between the two peaks, then either navigates the Saddle itself which can take an hour or more depending on the snow, or heads directly on a rising traverse to the summit plateau. From there it is another forty minutes to the summit.
The descent is about about four hours back to the Lenz Rocks camp, and a further hour and half down to the top hut.
There are a few small crevasses and slots around the Lenz Rocks and more nearing the entrance to the Saddle. If the guide chooses a direct route to the plateau rather than going through the saddle itself, then it is likely you will be crossing numerous small crevasses and slots. The route up onto the plateau is not particularly difficult but the guide may suggest everyone clipping into a climbing rope for safety.
Camps used on Elbrus North
Base Camp 2250m (camping near a river)
High Camp 3800m (this is a hut at the snowline with some glacial lakes nearby)
Lenz Rocks 4600m (camping)
West Summit 5642m
Om arrival we stay at the Intourist hotel in Pyatigorsk which is about half an hour from Mineralnye Vody airport. The drive to the mountain is in off road vans as most of the route is across the land and the last part involves crossing a river.
Base camp – the transport to base camp is in ex army 4x4 vehicles, very sturdy for the off road section which includes crossing a small river. From the hotel it will take about four or five hours to reach base camp, which is near to a stream and in open ground. There are lots of cows! The campsite is enclosed by a fence but it’s a temporary camp. There are toilets and mess tents for eating, and sleeping tents and the whole site normally has about 40 people there at any one time. It’s very pleasant in sunny weather and Sasha will probably take you to visit the hot springs nearby.
The top hut – this is a metal structure right on the snowline. The route is quite easy but starts from the grassy fields at base camp and ends up on snow and ice. So be prepared with crampons, warm hat, gloves, windproofs and boots. Initially the route is a walk up through some side valleys and then a zigzagged path which climbs steeply to a rocky plateau. From here the path continues on scree and rock for quite some time, and the wind can really pick up. There can be snow and ice, so keep together and don’t forget to eat! The final section to the hut is on snow and can be quite slippery from other people coming and going, be really careful and wear crampons if necessary. A pole will be very useful. The hut itself is pretty basic but dry and warm and there are fantastic views of the mountain from here. There’s a glacial lake nearby for water, and there are toilets which are long drops.
Lenz Rocks campsite – this is a high campsite set amidst some rocks at about 4600 metres. If the weather is good enough then the team can camp here for the night before going for the summit. We will look for a wind speed of less than 25 mph before allowing the camping at Lenz Rocks. The tents need to be put up by yourselves and everyone is responsible for preparing their own meals, melting ice and boiling water and managing their own tent routine.It is also vital that everyone contributes to carrying the group equipment up to the camp and also back to the hut on the descent.
Clearly this night at Lenz Rocks is critical to the success of summit day because it's important to be well fed, hydrated and rested. The noise of the wind and the difficulty of managing yourself in a tent at high altitude should not be underestimated. There is an option to start summit day from the hut but this adds several hours to an already long day.
In the hotel and cafes of Pyatigorsk you can sample traditional soups and stews like Borscht (meat or vegetable) or Salyanka, home made breads or hichiny (cheese bread), salads, and delicacies such as shashlyk (skewered lamb roasted on a charcoal fire), fried sturgeon, pancakes made with different fillings, fruit and vegetables. It is very wholesome and accompanied of course with vodka, local wines, beer or soft drinks.
On the mountain we have a cook who prepares all the food for our groups and we carry our food with us and cook on a large gas stove at base camp and in the top hut. We prepare stews, salads, potatoes, vegetables, fruit, bread, hot drinks, porridge (kasha), eggs, dried meats like salami and dried fruits with sweets, fresh milk, juice and local produce. Dietary preferences need to be discussed in advance because there is not a lot of variety in this part of Russia and it may be necessary to bring your own supplies if necessary.
Camping at Lenz Rocks means having to bring up mostly dried foods and 'pocket food' like biscuits and sweets and chocolate and dried fruit. We will have soups to make on the gas stoves and easily prepared meals like pasta. These will be boil in the bag type meals if possible, otherwise noodles and dried food like salami and cheese.
What permits are needed for Elbrus north?
Apart from your visa, we also need to obtain a local registration from the nearest town which is Pyatigorsk, allowing you to visit the mountain on the north side.
What is the hut like on the north side of Elbrus?
There is only one hut on the north side of the mountain, actually a collection of basic metal structures for eating, cooking and sleeping. You can see pictures of them on our blog Huts on Elbrus.
How are accidents managed on the north side of Elbrus?
Because this route has none of the infrastructure of the south side like cable cars and snow machines, any accident on the north must be self-managed by the team and with the guides. Any descent would have to be man-managed all the way to base camp and then a vehicle ordered to evacuate the person to the nearest town of Pyatigorsk. You can read more here about safety and rescue on Elbrus.
How many summit days on this Elbrus trip?
We try to allow for two potential days for summitting the mountain, the guides will decide based on weather and their interpretation of the conditions. If an attempt failed then it's extremely unlikely that another attempt could be made the following day, because you would be so exhausted from the first attempt. Of course, this depends on what height was reached, but in general, anticipate one attempt being made on the summit over a period of several days.
How much does it cost to climb Elbrus by the north side?
The cost of a guided climb of Elbrus by the north side is £1895.00 per person and is an all-inclusive land only package which excludes the flights to Mineralnye Vody, travel insurance and personal expenses.
Is it safe to travel to Elbrus?
Yes it is safe to travel to this northern region of the mountain. The area is known as Karachay-Cherkessia and is quite remote with no villages nearby except a camping area down the valley frequented by Russian holidaymakers who want to take advantage of the hot mineral springs (Mineralnye Vody means 'hot springs'.
Why Climb Mount Elbrus with us?
- We provide excellent guides who have worked with us since 1999, who we pay well and who will look after you well. Sasha Lebedev speaks excellent English and is a noted guide, photographer and author. Our other guides are highly experienced on the mountain and have all proved their safety and competences over many years working for us.
- Our price is all-inclusive, with no kitties. We don't offer cheap trips with lots of hidden extras.
- Our trip allows for good acclimatisation and adequate climbing period based on a proper mountaineering assessment of the route and time needed.
- We have experienced people in the UK who can advise you before the trip on what to buy and what to expect. Gavin Bate has climbed the north and south side of Elbrus many times and can offer excellent climbing advice. Chris Little has been managing Elbrus logistics for ten years and is very professional in putting the programme together.
- Adventure Alternative is financially protected and bonded and Here's an article from adventure film maker Elia Saikaly giving some advice on climbing Mount Elbrus in which he mentions Adventure Alternative we have all the correct insurances as a tour operator, which in turn means you are protected.
Other Mount Elbrus Routes
Mount Elbrus North route itinerary
|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.|
Dates: Aim to arrive in Mineralnye Vody on the morning of 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. In reality the summit day on the north side is much harder than on the south side and therefore in all likelihood only one attempt is possible because the first attempt would be exhausting.
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 North Route cost £1895.00
- Visa invitation letter - see below for additional costs depending on nationality
- Municipal registration
- Intourist hotel in Pyatigrosk - twin room for two nights
- Road transfer to base camp
- 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 for Lenz Rocks
- Flights to Mineralnye Vody
- Russian Visa - £85.00 to £110.00 for UK nationals. See more information below.
- Travel insurance - estimated £75
- US $250 cash, local payment to our guide on arrival (this covers various cash payments made on your behalf, by our staff during the trip)
- Personal expenses estimate £50/65 for drinks and souvenirs
- Equipment hire from Adventure Alternative
- Single room supplement - £80.00
Visa invitation letter - possible extra costs:
Six weeks prior to the trip the office in Moscow will prepare your invitation letter and receive a voucher which you need for the application through your local Russian Visa office.
For some nationalities the producers charge an extra fee which is not included in the trip fee. This extra fee usually applies to Asian, African and Arabian passport holders and is currently $100.00.
The majority of Russian visa offices around the globe are happy to accept a digital pdf of your visa invitation letter and voucher, however occasionally some will request original papers. The courier cost of sending these to you is not covered in the trip fee.
It is currently mandatory for nationals from the UK, Denmark, Myanmar and Namibia to submit biometric data in person to the Visa application centre. In the UK this means travelling to London, Manchester or Edinburgh and the cost for this visit is extra.
The all-inclusive price
Our trip price includes all the necessary land costs for this trip. 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 have no hidden fees or kitties.
Our price reflects the correct number of days to follow sound mountaineering principles for acclimatisation, plus we pay our guides a salary which reflects the level of responsibility and difficulty that leading a group on this mountain requires. While it is not at the level of UIAGM qualified guides, it is higher than most Russian guides would receive and we have found this translates to long term loyalty and a better experience for the clients.
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 not applicable. Therefore we advise clients from Europe 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.
News update 3 March 2022: due to the situation in Ukraine we are not taking any more bookings for our trips to Elbrus.
- Duration 12 days
- Numbers 5 - 10
- Altitude 5642m
- Challenge Strenuous
- Accommodation Camping and huts