Elbrus is at a latitude of 42 degrees North, similar to that of Rome, however due to its altitude and its surrounding mountain range it can produce some extreme weather conditions and very low temperatures and should not be underestimated by potential climbers.
The main climatic peculiarities of the region are related to altitude and the dominant westerly airstream. Adjacent ridges and mountains moderate the influence of northerly and westerly winds of the climate of the valleys in the Elbrus Region.
We visit the mountain during the optimum period of the year in terms of conditions but as with all weather, and in particular in mountain regions, it has a large amount of unpredictability to it. This of course includes the possibility that very bad conditions may cause a summit attempt to be delayed or even cancelled.
During our climbs of Elbrus we will need to be prepared for a very broad range of conditions. These vary hugely as we progress from our initial acclimatisation walks in the green alpine valleys up to the permanent snowfields of the summit.
For the initial days of walking lower in the valleys we can generally expect still air temperatures in the region of 15-20 degrees C. However, these temperatures could be accompanied by either, very strong UV sunlight and clear skies, requiring shorts, tee-shirts, sunhat and glasses, or by more overcast skies and breezes coming off the adjacent snow-caps probably requiring trousers, soft or hard-shell jacket and maybe even light hat and gloves.
There is also of course the chance of precipitation as rain or even light snow. We will therefore always need to carry a hard-shell jacket, spare warm layer, hat and gloves as a minimum.
As we move up close to and onto the permanent snow fields the temperatures will inevitably drop by around another 10 degrees per 1000m as a result of the increased altitude. Also, the closer proximity of the snowfields and the greater exposure to the wind will mean that it may feel much colder.
Even on our first forays from the lowermost hut on the mountain, we are likely to be dressed for temperatures of around 5 degrees C and prepared for considerably lower. We will probably be in long trousers, base-layer top, mid-layer top and soft or hard-shell jacket. We may very well also be walking in a warm hat and thin gloves but also with sunglasses due to the glare off the snow. Until we venture onto the snow its self we are likely to still be wearing our general trekking boots, although these do need to be reasonably warm and also to provide good ankle support.
As we make our way beyond the first hut we will be further layered-up for low temperatures of perhaps 0 degrees C and well prepared for still-air temperatures down to perhaps -10 or -15 degrees C and effective temperatures with wind-chill of more like -20 degrees C. Our clothing will include stiff-soled boots that are compatible with at least C1 grade crampons. Due to the potentially low temperatures higher up we will need either warm 4-season hybrid boots or full plastic double-boots.
As an example of what to expect; when we leave, in the dark, on summit morning we are likely to be in; Warm boots and crampons, warm leg-layers of either insulated soft-shell or mountain trousers or base-layer tights and walking trousers, probably with hard-shell over-trousers. On our top we will probably have on a long-sleeved base-layer or thermal underwear, a couple of mid-layers such as fleece or soft-shell, a very warm insulating layer such as thick, hooded, down jacket and with a hard-shell for protection from the wind and possibly snow. We will also inevitably be wearing ski goggles, balaclava/buff, warm hat covering ears, thin liner gloves and thick windproof insulated mitts. We will certainly want to have the facility to keep every inch of skin covered.
Of course, by the time the sun has risen and we are descending in the afternoon, it may have warmed up considerably and we will have to make sure there is space in our day-sack to potentially store half or even three-quarters of the clothing we started off in.
Throughout the trip, our clothing needs to be adaptable to variation in conditions and levels of exertion. The best way to achieve this is through a layering system, preferably with zips in the front and even armpits. These zips can be opened and closed as we move to regulate temperature without needing to stop and physically remove garments. Another very useful way to regulate temperature is simply by putting on or taking off a hat and gloves. A couple of pockets in your outer layer can be invaluable for this, or even stuffing them down the front of your top.
For sleeping arrangements, this will vary slightly depending on whether you are doing the North Route or Traverse (and hence sleeping in tents) or if you are doing the South Route (and hence sleeping in huts).
If you will be in tents then we would suggest that you have a 4/5 season sleeping bag with a lower comfort rating of -15 degrees C or lower. You will also need to insulate yourself very well from the snow on which you will be camped, using a closed cell foam bedroll and thick self-inflating bedroll.
If you will be on the south side only and hence in huts, you will still need at least a 4-season bag with a lower comfort rating of -10 degrees C or lower. You will not need a bedroll although some people do still bring one to put over the foam matresses in the huts higher up.
The kit list provided can be used as a guide but you may have clothing systems that you have found to best suit your own preferences. The general idea is to be equipped with shell layers for wind and precipitation, insulating layers for temperatures down to perhaps -10 or even -20, base and mid layers for layering flexibilty and good quality 4-season hybrid or plastic double boots with fully compatible crampons.
You can see the overall trend of annual average temperature for the general Elbrus region at weatherspark.com although you should bear in mind that the temperatures were recorded at Nalchik, some distance away and only at 450m altitude. They will not therefore reflect the summit conditions which will be around 6-10 degrees lower for every 1000m of altitude gain (ie 30-50 degrees lower at the summit!).
You can also see more specific 6-day weather forcasts and temperatures for the mountain its self, at different altitudes, at Mountain-Forecast.com. A good way to interpret the wind speeds given in the forecasts is to refer to the Beaufort Scale which gives descriptions of what you might observe at different wind speeds. Things like how trees would move and whether using an umbrella would be difficult!
We appreciate that it can be hard to visualise what the conditions may be like, and therefore what to bring. Hopefully the information and examples above will help you to plan. However, if you have any queries or questions on kit, then please do get in contact with us to discuss it further.