Mount Elbrus Traverse
North South Traverse of Mount Elbrus
This is a superb mountaineering expedition to traverse the mountain, ascending from the north side to the highest point in Europe to claim one of the coveted Seven Summits, and descending the South-side. This expedition requires you to be a strong climber as the summit day is very long and challenging and requires passing through the col between the two peaks of the mountain.
The traverse is a long committing ascent that requires good acclimatization but has no specific technical difficulties or objective dangers. However, the altitude, variable weather and low temperatures make for a real high altitude adventure. The average time on summit day is 7 hours to reach the entrance to the col and then a further 4 hours to pass through the col and ascend the peak.
The descent will take about 4 or 5 hours. Leaving at around midnight from the high hut (or perhaps a campsite at Lenz Rocks if the weather is good), summit time can be around midday, and back to the hut on the south side by late afternoon.
Route map of Elbrus Traverse
The average time on summit day is 7 hours to reach the entrance to the col and then a further 4 hours to pass through the col and ascend the peak. The descent will take about 4 or 5 hours. Leaving at around midnight from the high hut (or perhaps a campsite at Lenz Rocks if the weather is good), summit time can be around midday, and back to the hut on the south side by late afternoon.
Elbrus traverse route detail
The first part of the trip is the same as our Elbrus north trip; from the final camp at Lenz Rocks on the north side, the route heads directly up the mountain following a line of obvious rocks towards the Saddle between the two peaks and then descend down the south side and either stay in one of the huts or get all the way down to the valley and into a hotel.
From the south end of the Saddle - where you have views suddenly of the whole Caucasus range -, you can dump your large rucksack with your gear and sleeping bag and valley clothes and follow the rising traverse with an average gradient of 40 degrees (occasionally exposed, but with fixed lines to clip into) up to the large summit plateau and then a further 20 minutes to the summit itself. Crampons and walking axes are necessary for this climb, as are a helmet, harness, sling and karabiners.
A second option is to ascend directly to the summit plateau from the north entrance to the Saddle, which requires route finding on an exposed slope. The team would need to rope up and move efficiently and safely.
There are a few crevasses around the Lenz Rocks which can be quite wide depending on the time of season and local conditions, but they are normally visible and not hidden. The route up to the Saddle gets steeper on the higher slopes and often the terrain is icy so good use of crampons and walking axe is important. We tend to zigzag these slopes, but they are noticeably harder with a full rucksack on your back at altitude.
Other dangers on the route are the exposure to cold and wind; the weather is temperamental and visibility can drop rapidly. Sudden storms and extremely cold weather are common. It is important to be well equipped and experienced in the use of your equipment, and to be confident in prevention of cold weather injuries.
Before reaching the Saddle it is relatively easy to drop back down the north side if conditions deteriorate. If you have reached the other end of the Saddle then it's easier to drop down the south side. If you are in the Saddle and conditions deteriorate then it's the decision of the guide.
Difference between the North and South sides
The contrast between the two sides of the mountain is immediately apparent as you descend the South side. The North Route has less infrastructure and requires a more self-contained and self-reliant expedition party. By contrast, the South side is equipped with huts at the major camps and a cable car on the lower slopes, as the towns in the valley are a major ski tourist resort. However the mountain is quite symmetrical, the gradient on each side is much the same and there are not many objective dangers nor technical requirements for both routes.
The film below follows the adventures of one of our teams doing the traverse.
Carrying kit and camping
Team members will make carries to the high hut of personal kit and mountain boots, and then to the camping spot at Lenz Rocks at 4600m dependent on weather and ground conditions. Sometimes it's better to start earlier from the high hut having had a reasonable night's sleep with good food and plenty of hydration, even if the summit day is several hours longer, but on the traverse, this is less likely because you need to carry more in your rucksack on summit day.
Camping at Lenz Rocks does make the summit day shorter but people often don't sleep, eat or drink well which almost certainly reduces any chances of a summit. The decision of whether to use Lenz Rocks depends on the experience of the team members and the weather.
Either way, members must carry their own personal equipment (cold weather clothing, sleeping bag plus clothes/shoes for wearing when you get down the other side) on summit day. All the rest of your main gear will be taken back to the hotel in Cheget (on the south side) or sometimes to the airport where you can change. It's actually not 100% necessary to carry your sleeping bag over the mountain because there are blankets and beds in the huts on the south side, but most people do.
Porters on the north side of Elbrus
It's possible to hire porters to assist with personal gear but we can't guarantee availability. It depends on how busy the season is. Plus it's expensive, around $80.00 for a carry to the high hut and $120 for a carry to Lenz Rocks. Some people club together for a porter to carry, say, all the mountain boots to the high hut. Make sure you bring US dollars or roubles though, nobody will accept sterling or euros or other currencies.
Using the snow machine on the south side of Elbrus
Getting down the south side using a ratrack is possible, there is phone signal and you can ask the guide to call the driver who can get the snow machine up to about 5000 metres to take you down to the national park huts. Again, it depends on conditions and availability, and the cost is around USD$900.00 for up to 8 people which is paid in dollars or roubles. You would need to pay the driver in cash at the time, so bring it with you. If the health of the group is good and conditions are fine, and the group itself decides to descend with a ratrack then the cost is to the group.
On the descent, the intention will be to get to the national park hut at around 3900m and get some bed space and also a cook to prepare some food. Some fast groups manage to get all the way down by 4pm in which case they might just get the last chair lift to the valley floor and straight to the hotel, but that is realistically unlikely. A night in the hut followed by a chairlift and cable car to the valley the next morning, and then an overnight before taking a taxi to the airport is more likely.
Emergency use of snow machines
If there is an emergency affecting the safety of the group or an individual, then we will pay for the cost of the ratrack and our priority will be to enable the safest and fastest descent. Please do note that if one person requires assisted descent it does not automatically mean that everyone gets a lift down the mountain. The priority is for the casualty of course, but there is a financial imperative too. We simply can't afford to pay for everyone to get a ride down if it's not necessary; you can, of course, contribute to the cost.
Guide tasks on summit day
On summit day our guides will split up on the descent, assuming everyone is is good health. One or more guides will stay with the group to go down the south side, while the rest will descend back down the north side and collect all the gear in order to get it off the mountain and around to the south side hotel or to the airport. Those guides will also stay with people who have to turn back for whatever reason and go down the north side back to the hut.
It's a big logistical job to manage all of this, so therefore you may not actually see your main bags until the airport. Therefore we would advise carrying something to change into when you go down to the valley, even if it means that extra weight in your sack. Clearly it's a judgement call of weight versus comfort, and the guides will advise you.
Experience and fitness on the Elbrus traverse
First view of the Caucasus coming over the top from the north side, with the distinctive camel hump shape of Ushba on the horizon.
Mount Elbrus is not technically difficult but there is the danger of weather and exposure, making it cold and committing; it is necessary to have crampons, warm clothing, and good boots for summit day (preferably plastic or at least capable of taking a crampon). Roped travel is sometimes necessary on the northern route depending on experience and the decisions of the guides.
It is necessary to have experience of moving on snow and ice for this traverse of Mt Elbrus. 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. For the north side, where there is little infrastructure and a higher reliance on self-management, we do require that members have experience in alpine walking and winter camping.
We must make it clear that the traverse is physically more demanding and requires excellent fitness and strength and good knowledge of alpine skills. It is not a trip for a first-timer on the snow. In particular, you will need to carry more in your rucksack on summit day which means potentially up to 15 kgs over 5000 metres.
Mount Elbrus traverse - why us?
- We provide excellent guides who we pay well and who will look after you well.
- 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.
- Our trip allows for good acclimatisation and adequate climbing period.
- Our head guide Sasha Lebedev is an author of many books, including one on Elbrus, and is a recognised authority. His track record on Elbrus is faultless.
- We have experienced people in the UK who can advise you before the trip on what to buy and what to expect.
- Adventure Alternative is fully bonded.
Other Mount Elbrus Routes
Mount Elbrus traverse itinerary
|1||320m||2.5hrs||Arrive into Mineralnye Vody at lunchtime. Transfer to a hotel in the local town of Pyatigorsk, about half an hour away. We use the Intourist Hotel. Pick up any rented gear, and sightseeing in the city.|
|2||2250m||6 hrs||Early departure for a five 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. Note that a river has to be crossed near base camp and if the water is high we have to transfer equipment on foot. Camping at base camp. In the afternoon a possibility of acclimatisation walk to Mushroom Rocks (3500m).|
|3 - 5||2500m - 3800m||4-6 hrs each day||Acclimatisation walks and carries up to the high camp (hut) at 3800 metres and also a rest day to explore the mineral springs nearby. Every night camping at base camp, where there is a mess tent for eating, toilets and sleeping tents. The carries will be around 12 kgs and it is a full day up to the hut and back again.|
|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) if it has been decided to camp there. Sleep in the hut.|
|8||3800m||6 hrs||Summit period starts - either move to Lenz Rocks for overnight in tents, ready for summit attempt the following day. If the weather is not favourable stay an extra night at the hut and start earlier.|
|9, 10,11||5642m||12 hrs||
Summit days. Please note that this period is very flexible and dependant on weather, group ability and usual mountain factors. We leave the Lenz Rocks camp or the high hut very early to begin the summit attempt, carrying personal gear and minimal clothing to changing into at the hotel on the south side.
The route follows an obvious line of rocks heading straight up towards the Saddle. The length of the Saddle from this side is much more than on the south side and potentially in deep snow because it is so rarely travelled. Nearing the point where there is a rising traverse up to the summit plateau there is a small emergency hut for four people. The route then joins the normal trail up to the West Peak. After the summit, the group follows the trail down the south side to the National Park hut at around 3800m. If the group wishes, it's possible to ring for a snow machine to do a pick up (normal cost is around USD$900 paid in dollars or roubles to the driver).
Normally the day is so long that the group spends a night in the national hut where there are beds and blankets to use, and the next morning it's an easy walk to the chair lift to descend to the cable car and then down to the valley floor. Occasionally a fast strong team can make it from the summit down to the chair lift all in one day, but the last chair lift stops at 4pm.
If the summit is not possible for whatever reason then the group will turn around and head back down the north side to the hut and off the mountain. Group equipment is carried off by porters which we pay for. If you do summit and go down the south side then all your remaining gear left at the high hut or base camp will have been collected and transferred to the hotel in Cheget or even to the airport to meet you.
|12||After breakfast in the hotel in Cheget, the transfer to Mineralnye Vody airport departs. Timings dependant on flight times.|
Aim to arrive in Mineralnye Vody around lunchtime on Day 1. Most flights go via Moscow, enabling you to catch a 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.
Mount Elbrus Traverse cost £1945.00
- Visa application papers (please note that some nationalities are charged an additional amount for travel papers)
- Municipal registration
- Intourist hotel in Pyatigrosk - twin room for two nights
- Road transfer to basecamp
- National Park fees
- All meals on the mountain and our own cook
- Staff: Sasha Lebedev and other local guides, cook
- Administrator in Moscow, Andrey Panin
- Accommodation in the top hut
- Camping equipment if used for Lenz Rocks at 4600m
- Flights to Mineralnye Vody
- Russian Visa - £85 - £110 (depends on speed of delivery, nationality & postage return option). Please also note that nowadays if you are applying for your visa in the UK, or as a UK national you are required to appear in person at the visa office (located in London, Edinburgh or Manchester) in order to provide fingerprints, so there is an additional cost of travel to the visa office.
- Additional cost for some nationalities visa support papers (see below) and delivery of original papers (if required by your local visa office)
- Travel insurance estimate £75
- Personal expenses estimate £50/65 for drinks and souvenirs
- Equipment hire
- Single room supplement (applies to hotels only, not available on the mountain!)
Cost of extras and hires
- Crampons: £20.00. Black Diamond Contact Strap lightweight 10 point crampons - C1 articulated and flexible attached with simple straps.
- Walking Axe: £20.00. 60 cm walking axes with basic adze and a straight pick.
- Harness, sling and karabiners: £35.00
- Sleeping bag for rent duration of 10 days is between 200 - 500 roubles ($5-$10) per day depending on age and condition. Or you can hire one from our office for £30.00.
- Ratrack (snow machine) for descent on the south side from 5100 metres if desired is around USD$900.00 or 50,000/60,000 roubles paid in cash to the driver.
- Porter for the summit day ascent (if it's possible to find one) is around USD$400.00 to carry up to 10kgs, and between $80 - $120 for a 15 kg bag to go from base camp to the high hut or Lenz Rocks.
A deposit of £100 is required on booking to secure your place and we ask that the remaining balance is paid in full six weeks prior to your departure. When you book with us you're given your own secure online account where you can edit your booking, add flight details, health notes, insurance policy and dietary details and also make interim payments.
Getting the visa:
The visa process is relatively easy but quite bureaucratic and generally happens in 3 stages:
1) 6 weeks prior to the start of the trip 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. This takes just a day or so and they come from our office in Moscow.
2) We email the support papers to you with a guideline for applying for your visa. You can do this online. The questionnaire is different for certain nationalities.
3) You apply for your visa through your local Russian Visa office. Sometimes you need to visit the office in person, both to submit the papers and to pick up the visa. Some nationalities require originals of the visa support papers. We will assist you with what you need and what you need to do.
Possible extra costs with getting your visa:
The cost for producing standard visa support papers is included in the trip fee, however for some nationalities the authorities charge a premium, which is not included in the trip fee. This extra fee usually applies to Asian, African and Arabian passport holders and is currently USF$100.00.
The majority of Russian visa offices around the world 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.
In 2016 it was made mandatory that tourists coming from the UK, Denmark, Myanmar or Namibia must visit the Visa application centre in person to apply for the Russian Visa as they have started to collect biometric data of foreign nationals (finger prints). If you are applying for your visa in the UK this means that you will need to go to the London, Manchester or Edinburgh Visa office in person. In other countries can usually do everything by post.
Kitties, cheaper options and proper acclimatisation
Our price reflects good quality, professional service and an inclusive trip which offers the best statistical chance for summitting . We know that people don't like to 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. All food, transport, accommodation, park fees and staff fees are included. Optional items are listed above.
Our itinerary is long enough to give the correct amount acclimatisation and the best chance of summitting over several days according to best mountaineering practise. Reducing the number of days may make the price cheaper but the chances of summitting reduce to around 25% and it is potentially dangerous. Especially with a traverse it is particularly important to gain and maintain strength levels. Clearly for a trip like this every one is different, with many factors for our guides to take into account, not least the weather. They will try their best but their priority will always be the safety of everyone and the integrity of the trip.
We offer the chance to camp at 4600 metres (Lenz Rocks), but it depends on weather conditions and the terrain. Sometimes the ice is too hard to pitch a tent, or the wind is too strong. In which case the summit and traverse starts from the high hut, which means a longer ascent but potentially a better nights sleep beforehand with good hydration and food. For this trip, it is vital to be in top condition for such a long hard day. We will be recommending at least one acclimatisation hike up to Lenz Rocks and several nights sleeping at the high hut.
Travel Insurance policy and emergencies, evacuations
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. Please also note that rescue facilities are more or less unavailable on the north side of the mountain, any situation requires a collective effort of all guides and staff on the mountain at the time. Many of the local guides are also the mountain rescue staff. Their 'work' in managing a rescue is essentially free, but they will of course appreciate a bonus for that effort.
An evacuation on the north side would involve being carried to the base camp using man power, and then taken by vehicle back to the nearest town for a hospital (Nalchik or Mineralynye Vody). Similarly on the south side an evacuation would involve using a ratrack or snow machine to carry injured people as far down the mountain as possible, followed by a cable car and then a car to the hospital. There is a small clinic in the valley town of Azur at the base of the cable cars, but it's limited. The costs for this descent would be borne by our staff, but once in the hospital then you can use a credit card or cash to pay for treatment which could be reimbursed by an insurance company.
There are helicopters used on the mountain, but not the north side. These helis are used for off-piste skiing and in theory they could be used to take injured people off the mountain, but in reality it has always been fastest to use the snow machines. These ratracks are privately owned and paid in cash only, there is no way of paying by card or asking an insurance company to pay. Therefore, for a traverse of the mountain it's important to be completely clear about the risks involved and the realities of what would happen in the event of an accident.
Mount Elbrus traverse kit list
- Thermal base layer - one set should be enough
- Fleece pants or warm lined trousers (preferably windproof, eg soft shell) - one set
- Fleece midlayers - couple of tops
- Fleece or pile jacket (heavyweight eg Polartec 300 or lightweight down or soft shell) - one
- Down jacket with hood.
- Shell trousers and jacket with hood
- Hiking clothes for low level treks and maybe the acclimatisation walk to the high hut if weather is good. Several T-shirts and shirts, shorts, trekking trousers and also your travel clothes. Quick dry Tshirts are useful.
- Sunhat and wool or fleece hat
- Balaclava or neck warmer
- Headlamp with spare bulbs and batteries
- Glacier or sunglasses (100% UV)
- Walking boots for low level walks and carries. The terrain is rocky and hilly so recommend ankle support. Goretex boots which have some warmth are good
- Plastic boots or double mountains boots for above the snowline
- Sandals for around camp and in the hut
- Heavy socks and trekking socks - At least 2 heavy sets and around 4 or 5 trekking sets
- Crampons - 10 or 12 point, strap on or clip in depending on your boot
- Harness - alpine harness with leg clips and fleece belt is most comfortable, but a standard climbing will do.
- 2 screwgate karabiners
- 1 sling (120cm)
- Fleece gloves and liner gloves
- Mitts with waterproof shell
- Rucksack (75 litres should be enough) for doing the carries and the summit day.. Day pack (35- 40 litres) is optional, a lot of people just use the large rucksack. See more info below
- Duffle bag for storage and leaving kit in. This does not go to the high hut. See more info about this below.
- Sleeping bag, 3 to 4 season, recommended to also take a liner
- Water bottles + insulating covers if necessary
- Thermos or flask for hot drinks
- Sunscreen and lipscreen (SPF 30 at least)
- Personal first aid kit
- Walking Axe w/leash - straight, non-technical.
- Trekking poles
- Dry bags - large enough for sleeping bag
- Karrimat or inflatable sleeping mat - either will do
For rent from Adventure Alternative:
Slings and karabiners
For rent locally in Russia:
Plastic boots: 300 roubles per day, we must know your size in advance (boots are normally the Koflach style)
Down jackets: 300 roubles per day
Mitts: 100 roubles per day
Gaiters 30 roubles per day
Goggles 150 roubles per day
Thermos 70 roubles per day
Headtorch 70 roubles per day
Goretex jacket: 200 roubles per day
Sleeping bag: 150 roubles per day
Trekking poles: 150 roubles per day
Harness: 70 roubles per day
(normally 8 days, paid only in roubles cash at the hotel when everyone meets up, and all orders must be made in advance so that Sasha can arrange the hiring company to bring all the gear from the shop (a four hour drive).
Note: as an estimate, use 50 roubles to GBP£1 or check online for latest exchange rate.
Kit Information for Mount Elbrus
Boots - this climb requires plastic mountaineering boots but a very high quality hybrid boot or double mountain will be adequate. If you are renting then make sure there is some movement for your foot since it will swell at altitude. For the high sections it is not possible to use leather boots, and even the top hybrid boots still can get wet.
Mitts - a good pair of waterproof, lined mitts will protect against cold hands, and a good idea is to wear a pair of liner gloves inside.
Down jacket - a good quality down jacket is necessary for this expedition, preferably with hood.
Socks - take heavy socks for the summit days and trekking socks for the walks.
Duffle Bag - it is more convenient to have a duffle bag which you can leave stuff in at base camp. A large or extra large will be enough to put everything in for travel. This bag will then be taken back to the airport by our drivers after you have done the traverse with your rucksack. Do put a lock on the bag and use it for storage.
Rucksack - this should be around 75 litres for the carries and for the summit day/traverse day when you will take your belongings over the top of the mountain and down the south side. You can leave the rucksack in the Saddle to pick up on the descent. For the summit day you will need clothes and sandals to change into when you're off the mountain, your sleeping bag, camera and any spare warm gear. Anything else you can leave in your duffle bag which will be driven from the base camp all the way round to the hotel back in Pyatigorsk or sometimes to the airport itself when you leave.
Some people bring a day sack aswell, maybe for local hikes and also if you intend to use a porter to do your carries with the big rucksack. You could then strap the empty day sack to the large rucksack on summit day and just use it for taking some items to the summit from the Saddle. But this is optional, you could easily just use the big rucksack for the whole trip.
Water bottles - take two, and note that the bladders or camelbaks are no good on summit day. You may end up just taking one on the summit day itself, along with a thermos, depending on the weight of your pack.
Thermos flask - up high we drink hot liquids, so use the bottles for lower down and the thermos for summit day. You can still a water bottle on summit day, and drink the cold liquid on the descent when the sun is up. Earlier on, it is far better to drink a cup of hot tea.If you don't have a thermos then the bottles must have insulated covers or else the contents will freeze.
Trekking poles - on summit day you will use a walking axe and one pole, on lower sections you can use two poles. Experienced alpinists would be happy to use two poles for the whole trip, but we do like people to take and axe and learn how to use it properly.
Sleeping bag - the hut can be warm, but we will be camping so a good quality 3 season, or a 4 season bag should be used. Sometimes we camp at Lenz Rocks which takes a few hours off the summit day, so take a liner aswell for added warmth.
Karabiners - two screwgate or self locking. These are for attaching your sling to the fixed line and also to your harness. The fixed line is on the rising traverse up to the summit plateau and is the steepest section of the climb.
Sling - a medium sling (120cm) is adequate, used in an emergency to attach yourself to the guide who will have a rope and also for attaching yourself to the fixed line.
Ice axe - standard straight walking axe for general use, not a technical axe, with a leash and long enough to hang just above the ground when you hold it in your hand. Please read up on the use of an axe for self arresting in the event of a slip or fall. We will practise this on the mountain.
Helmet - it is not necessary to use a helmet on this trip, there being no overhead danger of rockfall, but some people do like to bring a lid for routine and additional safety.
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 11 days
- Numbers 6-10
- Altitude 5642m
- Distance 38 kms
- Challenge Difficult