South RouteMount Elbrus
Mount Elbrus South Route
Mount Elbrus is the highest peak in the Caucasus and in Europe, and one of the fabled Seven Summits. The South route is the most common ascent route offering more infrastructure and access to ski lifts for carrying equipment and more developed mountain hut accommodation. With an elevation of 5642 metres, Mt Elbrus is a fine ascent which requires basic mountaineering skills, although altitude and unpredictable weather make for a challenging and adventurous trip. It is perfect for people who wish to gain ice and snow experience as full training is given, for those wishing to climb the Seven Summits and for people who have aspirations of going on to climb higher peaks in the Himalayas and S. America.
Adventure Alternative runs climbs of Mt Elbrus every year from May through to September. Our team provide an excellent service and also assist you with your visa application. Below you will find further details but do also look at our dedicated 'More Information' section further down this page on the right hand side.
Adventure Alternative has a subsidiary organisation called Russian Adventures based in Moscow. We look after all the bureaucratic details to ensure a problem-free trip and we have never had to cancel a trip since 1999.
Sasha Lebedev is our trip organiser and translator on our Mount Elbrus trips. He is am award winning author with published books covering Mount Elbrus, the Altai Republic and Mongolia. His English is excellent and he is an experienced and safe guide for Mt Elbrus. Together with Gavin Bate, Director of Adventure Alternative, they have achieved a 100% safety track record on the mountain, largely due to the careful acclimatisation programme which allows for a suitable summit period and time to work on familiarisation with being on the snow and ice.
We also employ local guides and mountain rescue personnel and after so long, we are very well known in the region as a safe and reputable company. Despite the fact that it is not a very technical peak to climb, a lot of people get into trouble on this mountain largely due to carelessness, forgetting basic mountaineering principles of going to high altitude and making things cheap by cutting corners. A well paid guide who is not doing back-to-back trips all season will be motivated and aware, and we work hard to provide a good salary, equipment and training for our Russian mountain staff. We also give you proper time to acclimatise with enjoyable day treks prior to the climb, multiple summit days and we have no hidden costs or kitties.
Mount Elbrus south side programme
The first few days of acclimatisation in the valleys are very enjoyable and give a taste of the region. Some people say it is a combination of the Alps fifty years ago with a Wild West flavour. This is an important time and is very enjoyable, staying in the hotel at night and having Russian saunas after a days Alpine walking to a maximum height of around 11,000 feet.
Once acclimatised the group will move onto the mountain, carrying only daysacks (main bags are taken by cable car and snow machine) and staying in the huts which are quite comfortable with eating areas and either bedrooms or dormitory areas. Toilets are 'long drops' and there are no showers. After a few days practising with crampons and further acclimatising to the height of Pastukhov rocks, it is simply a matter of waiting for the weather to allow for a summit period.
From the final National Park Hut to the summit is completed in one day but there will be a prior acclimatisation trek up as far as the Pastukhov Rocks which is around 16,000'. This is a very broad slope which ascends steadily over easy ground. On the summit morning we then take a snow machine or ratrack to these rocks which allows plenty of time to summit by about midday and descend in good time. Most other operators require a summit attempt on foot from the Bochka Barrels, but this means an ascent of over 1700 metres; the success rate on this programme is very low and we would consider it to be dangerous. Our programme allows for several summit days, maximum acclimatisation and enjoyment, and a more appropriate summit ascent.
Summit day can be long and demanding, taking anything from 7 to 10 hours. Stamina is required and the climb starts in the early hours, normally around 3 or 4am. You will have two opportunities to summit the mountain if weather is bad, depending of course on acclimatization and the group itself.
For an entertaining read here is an article on climbing Mount Elbrus by our friends at Sleeping Wild, and the summit days on Elbrus.
Adventure film maker Elia Saikaly offers salutary advice on climbing Mount Elbrus and mentions Adventure Alternative.
Mount Elbrus South Route Itinerary
Arrival and travel to mountains- 1 day
Acclimitisation walks on lower slopes and valleys- 2 days
Climbing and sleeping in Mountain Huts- 6/7 days
Return to airport and Depart- 1 day
The itinerary below, the following indicators apply: ST = Starting altitude, HP = High Point for the day and SL = Sleep Level
|1||SL:2125m||4hrs||Arrive into Mineralyne Vody airport in the morning and be met by our staff. Transfer by minibus to Terskol (4 hours). Accommodation in local 3* Hotel Nakra, bed and breakfast. Dinner in local cafe.|
|2||ST:2125m HP:2800m SL:2125m||6 - 8hrs||Day hike to Cheget Mountain (2800m), lunch enroute and return to hotel for evening meal.|
|3||ST:2125m HP:3000m SL:2125m||4.5hrs||Day hike to Vertoletny (Helicopter) Pass (3000m) with lunch enroute and return to hotel for evening meal and Russian sauna.|
|4||ST:2125m HP:3300m SL:2950m||3 hrs||Drive to village of Azau and walk to Old Vista Hut (2950m). Bags go by cable car. Lunch and afternoon walk to Glacier Lake (3300m). Overnight in Old Vista Hut, 2950m.|
|5||ST:2950m HP:4050m SL:2950m||5 hrs||Acclimatisation hike to Priut -11 Hut (4050m). Training in use of clothing and equipment such as crampons and ice axe, personal movement and dealing with cold and altitude. Back to Old Vista for dinner and overnight.|
|6||ST:2950m HP:4050m SL:3900m||4 hrs||Ascend on foot to National Park Hut (3900m) with all equipment by chair lift and snow machine. Afternoon training on personal movement skills. Possible afternoon walk up to Priut Hut and exercise at altitude.|
|7||ST:3900m HP:4670m SL:3900m||5 hrs||Hike to Pastukhov Rocks (4670m) for acclimatisation and further use of all equipment. We will look at teamwork and fine tune use of equipment for summit day. Overnight at National Park Hut.|
|8||ST:3900m HP:5642m SL:3900m||~ 12 hrs||1st possible summit day (depends on weather, group strength and terrain safety) - awake at 3am. Snow machine to Pastukhov Rocks (this ground has already been covered on foot in previous days) and continue on foot to summit. Return to National Park Hut.|
|9||3 hrs||Reserve summit day if we were unable to leave the hut for the summit the previous day due to poor weather or slow acclimitisation. If the previous day's attempt was successful then we descend to Cheget this day and have an extra day in the valley. Possibly a gentle trek up the beautiful alpine Terskol Valley|
|10||ST: 3900m SL: 2125m||3 hrs||Descend to Cheget hotel. There is a slight chance of this being a third summit day in the case of bad weather over days 8-9 but the cable cars stop working in the afternoon, so practically this option is difficult because of the need to summit and descend to the valley floor with all gear. We will discuss options with the team at the time.|
|11||ST:2125m||4 hrs||Breakfast in the hotel and then transfer to Mineralnye Vody. Flight to Moscow and onward travel, or stopover in Moscow for trip extension.|
Dates and Descriptions
Dates: The start date refers to your arrival into Mineralyne Vody Airport (code: MRV). Aim to arrive in the morning of the start date. Most flights go via Moscow, enabling you to catch an overnight flight the day prior to the start date to Moscow and then a morning flight from Moscow to MRV.
The end date is the day you should book your return flight from MRV; an afternoon flight is best, because the minibus journey from Elbrus to the airport is about four hours.
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 allows for two day hikes in the valleys and a six day climbing period on the mountain. If the weather is favourable, you may have up to two summit attempts but the decision will be made by the guides, depending on normal mountaineering decisions and the ability of the group. With good weather and snow conditions, and a strong team, the trip provides ample opportunity to climb the West Peak.
Mount Elbrus South side HEIGHT GAINED
Mount Elbrus South Route - cost £1,595.00
- Visa application papers (please note that some nationalities are charged an additional amount for travel papers)
- Municipal registration in Tyrnauz
- Coach transfer to the Baksan Valley
- Hotel in Cheget with drying rooms, sauna, restaurant and comfortable twin rooms
- All hotel and restaurant meals and local taxis
- Mount Elbrus National Park fees
- All cable cars and chair lifts on the mountain
- Accommodation in the New Vista Lodge and National Park hut
- All meals on the mountain and our own cook
- Snow machine to Pastukhov Rocks on the summit morning and use of snow machine for all transfer of equipment, plus use of cable car and chair lift for gear.
- Staff: Sasha Lebedev Mountain guide, English-speaking, 17 years with Adventure Alternative
- Andrey Panin - Moscow guide and translator, office administration
- Additional guides depending on numbers
- Flights - to Mineralnye Vody, Russia (usually via Moscow)
- Russian Visa - £50 - £85 (depends on speed of delivery, nationality & postage return option)
- Some consulates (usually Middle-Eastern & Eastern) require original visa travel papers. The cost of sending these by courier is not covered.
- Some nationalities are charged an additional premium for their travel papers which is not included (details below)
- Travel insurance estimate £75
- Personal expenses estimate £50 for drinks and souvenirs
- Equipment hire
- Single room supplement in Cheget - £120
Optional Extras (can be hired from us during booking)
- Crampons: £20.00 per trip
Black Diamond Contact Strap lightweight 10 point crampons - C1 articulated and flexible attached with simple straps.
- Walking Axe: £20.00 per trip
60cm walking axe with basic adze and a straight pick.
Visa & Visa support papers:
The visa process is relatively easy and generally happens in 3 stages:
1) 6 weeks prior to entry we apply for your visa support papers (invitation letter and voucher) and to do so we need a photo of your passport ID page and your flight details
2) 5 1/2 weeks prior to entry we email your papers and a guideline for applying for your visa
3) You apply for your visa through your local Russian Visa office
Visa Support Papers - possible extra costs:
The cost for producing the visa support papers is included in the trip fee, however for some nationalities the producers charge an extra premium, which is not included in the trip fee. This extra fee usually applies to Asian, African and Arabian passport holders and is currently $100.
The majority of Russian visa offices around the globe are happy to accept a digital pdf / print out of your visa support papers, however occasionally some will request the original copies. If this is the case then they will need to be sent by courier to you and this cost is not covered in the trip fee.
A deposit of £250 is required on booking to secure your place and we ask that the remaining balance (trip price minus the deposit) is paid in full 4 weeks prior to your departure. When you book with us you're given your own secure online account which you can access 24/7. Through this account you can edit your booking, add flight, health, insurance and dietary details and also make interim payments. We make payments as flexible as possible and you can choose, if you wish, to pay a bit off your trip fee whenever it suits you.
Not all about the money
Our prices are competitive and good value, and we offer quality, service, security and an ethical stance on tourism. We know that many people hate to arrive into a country and be surprised by hidden costs or essential trip elements not being included in the expedition fee so we offer a comprehensive expedition with no hidden fees or kitties. All meals, land travel, accommodation, saunas, park fees, rattrack and staff salaries are included. The only thing you need to pay for on the ground is additional hard drinks or other items of a personal nature such as souvenirs or phone calls.
Additionally our itinerary is long enough to give excellent acclimatisation and two summit days. Less days are dangerous for a peak just short of 6000 metres (equivalent to Camp 1 on Mount Everest). Reducing the number of days may make the price cheaper but the chances of summiting reduce to around 25% and it is potentially dangerous.
Russia is full of red tape and only experienced companies that know the right people and have the right contacts and history in the region smoothly run expeditions in the region. We have years of experience and an excellent team to look after you so that you get the best out of your time in Russia.
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 void.
We advise clients from Europe to buy their insurance for Mt Elbrus from Campbell Irvine Specialists. If you are outside of Europe you may need to research a local provider or contact us for details.
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.
Adventure Alternative is a member of AiTO (Association of Independant Tour Operators), which ensures complete protection for your money.
There are many reports of instability in the region and we advise all clients to read the FCO website. We make our decision to run our trips based on continual fact-finding from many different sources. Sasha, our Russian Director, is always in touch with local people in the region and every year before the season begins he will visit and assess the local situation. We carry out our threat analyses and risk assessments and make our decisions. In thirteen years we have not yet cancelled a trip, and none of our groups have ever run into any problems.
Clearly however the decision about whether to go or not is yours, and all we can do is assure you that we do not enter this lightly and we have many years of comparison and experience to draw on.
Mount Elbrus South Route - experience and terrain
Clearly being fit is always going to be important on a mountain expedition and we strongly recommend you work towards this trip with the aim of being capable of multiple days out on the hill carrying a pack up to 10kgs. People who are active in the hills generally have few problems on Mount Elbrus, but a bit of extra work on the calf muscles and thigh muscles will help. Cardio-vacular fitness can be assisted by swimming, circuit training and working on a programme that intersperses high level intensity with breaks to allow your heart rate to go back to normal. Check the time it takes to recover between each burst, and dont overdo it. Allow yourself a break before the trip rather than intensifying your regime, since it is easy to suddenly get a strain.
Don't let the altitude worry you, your metabolism will look after you and adapt if given the time. Although people like to use chemicals like Diamox to help, in truth a good acclimatisation programme along with eating, drinking and sleeping well is more valuable. Our programme allows everyone to build their 'mountain fitness' before going high, acclimatising not just to the height but also the climate and new surroundings. Fitness is mental as well as physical, so we like to promote a happy and positive team spirit before rushing to the top!
Summit day is long and often debilitating, starting in the early hours and sometimes finishing in the late afternoon. During the day you will most likely experience different weather patterns and the condition of the snow will change. Physical fitness should be accompanied with mental fortitude and preparation for a big mountain day. In the early part of the season when it is colder it can be particularly challenging.
TYPE OF TERRAIN
The normal summit route is a long climb over a moderate incline that requires good acclimatization but has no technical difficulties. However, despite the apparent simplicity of this route, it can be dangerous. The altitude, variable weather, frequent violent storms and low temperature transforms the ascent into a real high altitude adventure. The average time is from eight to ten hours for the ascent and about four hours for the descent. Crampons and ski poles (or walking axes) are necessary for this climb. In autumn, winter and spring the face between the Pastukhov rocks and the col is covered with ice.
There are no major crevasses or objective dangers on the main route, but weather is very temperamental and visibility can drop very rapidly. Sudden storms and extremely cold weather are common. It is easy to become disorientated and wander off route, and there are many stories of frostbite and hypothermia injuries on the mountain every year
The ascent of the West Peak (Standard Route, South Face) follows the broad slope as far as the small rock islands known as Pastukhov Rocks. We continue straight up for 400 metres towards the East Peak, gradually bear left and traverse until reaching a huge basin below the West Peak. This leads to the saddle or col and is a good place to rest and eat (5-6 hours from Priut-11). We then head west and to the left side of the saddle, ascending the steeper snow slope on a rising traverse to the rocks of the shoulder of the West Peak and a short distance up to the plateau. After we cross the broad plateau over easy ground we have a short ascent to gain the small summit pinnacle.
Azau Valley: 2350m
Old Vista: 2900m
Glacier Lake: 3300m
Bockha Barrels: 3750m
National Park Hut: 3900m
Priut – 11 Hut: 4050m
Pastukhov Rocks: 4670m
West Summit: 5642m
It is certainly beneficial to have experience of moving on snow and ice for this trip to Mt Elbrus but we provide on-site training in basic alpine skills such as moving on crampons before the summit day. This trip tends to attract a wide range of abilities, from people with Seven Summits aspirations who have climbed Kilimanjaro, to experienced hill walkers. This does mean that we have to be sure that everybody has the necessary skills for safety on the hill. Predominantly these skills are to do with personal movement, understanding of layering and personal climate, handling a slip, being familiar with all the equipment and working in a team.
Elbrus is unfortunately often sold as a walking holiday, but Elbrus is a big mountain that requires a mountaineering approach to ensure safety and success and enjoyment. A good preparation would be to do a winter hillwalking course in Scotland or an alpine skills course in the Alps, but this is not mandatory to join the trip. We would ask that people apply common sense to their decision to climb the mountain and understand that you cannot make comparisons to Kilimanjaro at all. This is a lower peak but much colder and requiring movement over permanent snow-covered slopes. Even though the normal route is clear and safe, the mentality towards experience has to be focussed on winter skills.
Our trip to Mt Elbrus promotes good mountaineering practises for an enjoyable trip, a memorable holiday and one that may lead in the future to more mountain adventures. Our programme is safety-conscious and our staff purposeful in teaching you about issues like altitude sickness, and what it actually means. Most worries are borne of ignorance; but with knowledge comes calm, and with that calm comes the ability to prepare mentally and to prevent unnecessary stress.
Adventure Alternative Support
The expedition is fully catered for you. We also provide lessons and practical training in the safe use of ice axes and crampons, and personal movement skills on snow and ice. Our trip organiser will provide all logistical preparation during the trip, from hotels to meals and booking of all facilities such as taxis, cable cars and huts. He will also be your translator and help you with local knowledge of flora and fauna.
Before the trip you will have access to experienced guides in the office who have climbed Elbrus many times and can offer practical advice on everything, such as kit which you might want to use for future trips to the Greater Ranges. We guide most of the Seven Summits so this expertise is invaluable.
We provide full support prior to the trip for your visa application and flight process, and we ensure that you will be met and picked up in Mineralnye Vody for the journey to the mountain. Our staff in Russia have many years of experience working with foreign groups and in 13 years we have never had to cancel a trip.
We provide financial protection for your money through our membership of the Association of Independent Tour Operators and a bond provided through the Association of Bonded Tour Operators (ABTOT).
Mount Elbrus South Route - Kit List
The clothing and equipment that you take on a climb of Mt Elbrus can make a huge difference to your entire mountain experience and also ensure your safety and enjoyment of the climb. We run climbs from early June through to early September, which is the most stable time of year, however at any time of year Elbrus can have challenging and extreme climatic events that require you to have good and proper mountain clothing at hand. It is very possible to summit in a fleece jacket and hat, however it's also just as possible to summit in full down jacket, goggles and mitts! Therefore you need to be prepared for the worst possible conditions.
If you were to go out and buy all of this kit it would be expensive but an investment if you plan on more peaks in the future. Most people aren't sure of future plans as yet so it's cheaper to hire the kit and equipment needed either from us, or from local shops when you're in Russia, or from home (down jacket, boots, axe, crampons, harness etc).
Kit lists can be ambiguous - what one person regards as a 'mountain' mitt, another wouldn't. If you have any questions about kit please do email or call us. You will find lot's of information below and also under the 'More Information' section, which can be found on the lower right hand side of this page. In the 'More Information' you will also find guides to boots, crampons and sleeping bags.
- Thermal base layer
- Fleece pants or warm trousers
- Midlayer fleece tops (polartec 200)
- Fleece jacket (heavy pile, or good quality soft shell with hood)
- Down jacket (good quality mountain down jacket, with a hood and covering the bum - not a fashion model)
- Shell trousers and jacket with hood - shell is a water and wind proof jacket that acts as a shell to your layers underneath
- Trekking clothes (shirts, trousers, shorts, jumpers)
- Sunhat and warm hat (good quality warm hat for summit day)
- Balaclava or neckwarmer / buff - in cold conditions this is essential to protect the face from cold conditions
- Headtorch, with spare batteries for the summit morning
- Sunglasses (100% UV, with good side protection against snow reflection)
- Goggles or sunglasses with protective edges
- Walking boots - these are normal boots for the acclimatisation walks in the valleys.
- Plastic mountain boots or good quality hybrids. These must be of good quality 'double boot' standard and offer good insulation
- Harness, 120cm sling and 2 karabiners (screwgate)
- Walking axe
- Socks - trekking socks and several pairs of heavy duty mountain socks
- Crampons - 10 or 12 point
- Liner gloves - thin base layer gloves which can be worn under your outer gloves
- Fleece gloves, a few pairs are best in case some get wet
- Mitts - waterproof and windproof and warm
- Main bag - rucksack. holdall, expedition bag or duffle are fine(main bags are carried up by snow machine)
- Day sack for treks and summit (35-45 litre is adequate)
- Sleeping bag, 3 season for use in huts, 4 season if you get cold easily
- Water bottles and flask. Bottles for low levels, flask for hot drinks at high levels.
- Sun and lipscreen (SPF 30)
- Personal first aid kit and medicines
- Trekking poles
- Dry bags
- Travel Clothes
Additional Kit Info
Boots - on the climb (not the acclimatisation section) you'll need plastic mountaineering boots or a high quality hybrid boot will also be adequate. If you are renting them make sure there is some movement for your foot since it will swell slightly at altitude. You can take normal hiking boots for the acclimatisation treks but once on snow you will need to have good quality warm 'double' mountain boots. If you are planning to buy a new pair do look at our High Altitude Boot Blog, and take into account what you will be using the boots for in the future.
Mitts - a good pair of waterproof, lined mitts will protect against cold hands, and it is a good idea to wear a pair of liner gloves inside.
Down jacket - if you opt not to take this in July or August then you still need a good quality warm jacket such as a warm synthetic fill jacket, a heavy duty fleece or lined soft shell jacket. Without down, you will need to have four layers - base, fleece, heavy jacket and shell - at the very least. Ski jackets are not really acceptable since they do not breathe. Down jackets should be mountain quality with a hood and preferably long enough to cover the backside.
Warm hat - should have ear flaps if possible and be fleece lined or woollen. You might want to take a lightweight beanie and a thicker fleece hat to put on top if it gets cold.
Socks - take heavy socks for the summit days and trekking socks for the walks.
Bag - it is more convenient to have a duffel bag which will be taken up on the cable car. Put a lock on it and also bring a very lightweight bag for leaving your travel clothes in the hotel.
Day sack - this should be around 40 litres for day hikes and the summit day.
Water bottles and a thermos flask for summit day, note that the bladders / camel packs / platypus tend to freeze up easily. If you don't have a thermos then take insulated covers for your water bottle, since you will want to put hot liquid in it. The bladders can't be used early in the morning on summit day but sometimes they have melted enough to use on the descent. You will need to carry up to two litres of liquid with you. Liquid intake should increase to at least 3 litres per day, which includes soups, tea/coffee, water, juice.
Trekking poles are very useful although more experienced people may prefer to use one pole and a walking axe. We like people to take a walking axe if only to spend time learning how to use it properly for future trips. A big part of this trip is learning skills. Furthermore, if there is a section of icy ground then an axe will be of more benefit than a pole.
Sleeping bag - the huts are quite warm, so a 3 season bag will be adequate.
You can buy a climbing map of Elbrus from Climbing-map.com
We rent equipment, which can be selected when you book, or at a later date (crampons and axes) and you can organise for additional items to be hired when you're in Russia from one of the rental shops in the town of Terskol. A guideline to local prices are below. Other items are available and do email us with any specific requests.
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
You can also hire from home and bring kit with you. If you are based in the UK or Ireland then our clients receive a discount from the Outdoor Hire shop. If you would like to visually compare your own kit you'll see what kit we refer to on the Outdoor Hire site.
The photos below are all taken around the same time of year but notice the difference in clothing - here you can see that you must be prepared for all conditions!
Why Climb Mount Elbrus with Adventure Alternative?
- We have our own company in Russia with guides who have worked with us since 1999.
- We have an excellent network of contacts in the Elbrus area, from drivers to mountain rescue personnel.
- Our price is all-inclusive, with no kitties or hidden extras.
- We provide proper training in alpine skills on the mountain which will enable you to continue your mountaineering exploits with confidence!
- We do not attempt the summit in too short a time, our trip allows for good acclimatisation and adequate climbing period with multiple summit windows.
- We can combine your climb with a holiday in Moscow.
- Sasha Lebedev is an author of many books, including one on Elbrus, and he is a source of great knowledge on the region.
- We have experienced guides in the UK who can advise you before the trip on what to buy and what to expect.
- Adventure Alternative is financially protected and bonded and we have all the correct insurances as a tour operator, which in turn means you are protected.
- Our booking pages allow you to create your own booking page into which you can put all the information regarding your trip, which you can change at any time.
- We guide most of the Seven Summits and have experience of how to manage the challenge from start to finish.
Choose a date from the drop down box below or choose custom dates.
- Duration 11 days
- Numbers 5- 12
- Altitude 5642 metres
- Distance 25 kms
- Challenge Difficult
- Comfort Hotels and huts