North Route on Mount Elbrus
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.
With an elevation of 5642 metres the north route on Mount Elbrus requires mountaineering skills such as moving efficiently on a climbing rope, moving confidently on hard pack and ice, self arrest, self-management in an extreme cold and high altitude environment, dealing with objective dangers like crevasses or slots, good teamwork and contribution to putting in and breaking the camp.
Fitness is also important on this route because summit day on the north side involves being on foot the whole way up and down, compared to the south side which has the option of using a ratrack to ascend to 5000m and snow machines which can get as high as 5500m. It is a long day, ten to twelve hours and a big altitude gain of 1000 metres to the summit. With packs on and in the cold, this is a significant physical challenge.
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.
Read our blog on the differences between the north and south route on Elbrus to help you decide which is for you. The video below follows one of our groups ascending the north route.
Route Description on summit day
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 Mount Elbrus north route
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
Accommodation and facilities
Om arrival we stay at the Intourist hotel in Pyatigorsk which is about half an hour from Mineralnye Vody airport. On the mountain we sleep in shared tents at base camp and sleep in a hut at the high camp and then camp again on the snow at Lenz Rocks.
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 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 provide a cook who prepares all the food for our groups and we carry our food with us and cook on a large gas stove. Tinned meat is best and 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.
Clothing and equipment
Please follow the kit list which we have on the south route page. For the north route the additions and comments to this kit list are as follows:
- Sleeping mat - for maximum warmth and insulation we would recommend an inflatable mat (thermarest or exped for example) on top of a closed cell camping mat. Make sure both are full length.
- Sleeping bag - this must be a four season bag for the high camps.
- Rucksack - a large 75 litre rucksack is needed for doing the carries to the high camps and for all the group equipment. This can do in place of a day pack on summit, or you could take both.
Please look at our page on Elbrus Safety which describes more about using the equipment and managing risk on this mountain trip.
We offer crampons, harnesses and walking axes through Adventure Alternative when you book. Also the outdoor shop in Pyatigorsk (where you are staying for your first night) also rents plastic boots, poles, goggles, jackets but availability can't be guaranteed as they come from a third party source. The shop will ask for a cash deposit to secure any rental and if the equipment is new this can be the full purchase price. A pair of plastic boots can cost USD$700.00, which is a lot of cash to carry with you just for a deposit.
Alternatively if we have your sizes and requirements we can rent the items for you from the shops on the south side of the mountain and bring them to base camp on the north side.
A guideline to local prices are below:
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
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.
- We provide basic alpine training on the mountain with the use of walking axe and crampons and how to self arrest.
- Our trip allows for good acclimatisation and adequate climbing period.
- 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
- 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.
Choose a scheduled date or contact us to set up private dates or a bespoke itinerary. The minimum deposit is £100.00 and the balance is due six weeks before travel.
- Duration 12 days
- Numbers 5 - 10
- Altitude 5642m
- Challenge Strenuous
- Accommodation Camping and huts