Elbrus facts - under the gloss

Organisation and services in Russia can be very unpredictable. Adventure Alternative guide Sasha and Andrey in the Moscow office will be spending a large amount of time prior to your trip and during its course in contact with various other people trying to ensure that everything runs smoothly. However, the Russian organisational and political culture is different to that in the West and the rules are sometimes changed at the drop of a hat with no explanation or chances for appeal.

Do not be too surprised if a routine check of papers at a small deserted town in the middle of nowhere takes 3 hours rather than the 15 minutes that it would appear to need. No amount of badgering the authorities will speed up this process and be assured that Sasha will get the process over with as quickly as possible. He is very good at this after a lifetime of dealing with these issues. To a Western eye however, it may look like he is not pushing for service, this may sometimes be the worst possible thing to do and will result in an even longer wait. Please do trust Sasha's judgement on this.

You’re on a mountain for several days, living in a hut with up to 20 other people and sharing time and space with a group of like-minded people to summit a high mountain. It’s a fantastic experience in team dynamics and finding out a little about yourself but it can also be frustrating. The smallest things can assume the biggest proportions! Generally people possess social skills to manage it all very well, but occasionally not. In a very few cases one person can really dominate a group to its detriment. Diplomacy and tact are necessary tools on a mountain trip! 

There are no showers on the mountain sadly, but you can wash in water from a bowl. You will feel rather dirty after just a few days, the dust is everywhere and you may also get a bit sunburned and wind burnt. Make-up is not a option, and nor are hair dryers, and even shaving is rather fraught with difficulty. Thank heavens for the joy of standing on the summit because by the time you come back down there will be only thought on your mind – visiting a shower.

There is no getting away from the fact that the toilets are basic. ‘Long drops’ describes it adequately, but does not do justice to the smell and the occasional ‘surprise’ waiting for you, courtesy of the last person who missed. That and having to balance over a small hole in a state of undress, holding a loo roll and keeping a keen ear for a sudden unwanted visitor (did I mention there’s no door?).

We’re very proud of our staff and you will find them very attentive and courteous, but occasionally they may not understand you or make a mistake. Do be patient with them. English is not their first language and they sometimes find it hard to pick up on our western idiosyncrasies and habits. It is very unlikely that the mistake will have been deliberate.

It goes without saying that for many people climbing Elbrus is the biggest challenge they will have tackled, and thankfully the summit provides ample reward for the effort. But it is hard. Summit day is unrelenting in terms of cold, altitude, mental pressure, emotional stress and physical effort. Some people revel in it, some people have to dig deep. For everyone it is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, made all the more poignant because you climb through the night. Dawn will not come too soon, and with it comes a lifting of the spirit. There is no point in saying it’s an easy stroll but when you do get to the top all that hardship seems to dissipate and for the 30 minutes you are on the summit of Europe, the world is right and you could be on top of a hundred Everests.

Coming down is as hard as going up. On the one hand it is easier to descend than to ascend, but the knees are now ready to go home and just rest quietly on a cushion by the fire for about a day, so it seems unfair to remind you that the summit is only halfway! And after the sheer unadulterated atavistic joy at summiting, coming down seems like a chore. Hang in there though; the shower and ceramic toilet is now only 24 hours away.

Should you be unhappy with some aspect of your trip to Elbrus and Russia then please take your point up directly with Sasha Lebedev as soon as it occurs, rather than waiting until you get home when there is nothing that can be done. Russian Adventures is equally as responsible for your welfare as AA UK, and Sasha is well experienced and qualified to assist with most issues and enquiries.

Some people feel embarrassed about ‘complaining to the locals’ but it is the only way they can learn and improve. There are significant cultural ‘gaps’ that exist between a paying Western client and a Russian tour operator or local guide, and we do work hard to ensure that these gaps are accepted as part of the holiday, and treated with equanimity and respect. This is within reason, since we have high standards ourselves, and there can be no compromise for safety when on a high mountain. Sometimes the guides find it hard to understand people, and we do ask that you are patient.

We would also like to ask for your feedback after the trip, which is a standard procedure for tour companies, and this will also give you a chance to give us your thoughts about the trip.