Traverse ofMount Elbrus
Mount Elbrus traverse
This is a superb mountaineering expedition to climb Mount Elbrus in the Russian Caucasus mountains. Not only will we ascend to the highest point in Europe and so claim one of the coveted Seven Summits, but we will complete a traverse of the mountain from the North side to the South side. This expedition requires you to be experienced, fit and able to carry your own kit up and over. This is a strenuous expedition which runs alongside our normal North side ascent. It doesn't run every year as we do need a minimum number of climbers to go up and over.
This offers a relatively rare experience and a credible mountaineering achievement. The contrast between the two sides of the mountain will become immediately apparent as we 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.
The traverse is harder because more equipment needs to be carried over the mountain. Summit day is more or less the same in distance and obviously height gain, but members will need to carry a heavier rucksack which will mean slower progress and a lot more determination. The rucksacks can be left in the Saddle at 5500 metres while you continue to the summit plateau.
Mount Elbrus stands between the great masses of Europe and Asia, dynamic in both region and terrain. It presents a strenuous and rewarding climb, but also includes a full experience of Russian culture, history and character.
The ascent of Mt Elbrus by the north route is a long climb over a moderate incline (average 35 degrees, with some sections on the summit day increasing to 40 degrees) that requires good acclimatization but present few technical difficulties. However, despite the apparent simplicity of this route, it can be dangerous. The altitude, variable weather, and often low temperatures can transform the ascent into a real mountain adventure!
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 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 – these are available to hire in Terskol. Roped travel is necessary on the northern route and the team will need to be roped up from the top hut to the summit. From the summit we will descend to the 'Barrels' camp before using the cable cars to get back down to Azau in the valley. From here is is a short taxi ride to a comfortable hotel, shower and sauna in Cheget.
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||6hrs||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, 4, 5,||2500m - 3800m||4-6hrs each day||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. The carries will be a maximum of 12 kgs.|
|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. This is all on snow.|
|8||3800m||6 hrs||Summit period starts - move to Lenz Rocks for overnight in tents, ready for summit attempt the following day. If the weather is not favorable we may have to stay an extra night at the hut.|
|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 very early to begin our summit attempt, carrying all personal gear. We will travel up to the saddle, leave the large backpacks and then climb up onto the West Peak with small summit packs. After summiting we will make our way back down to the saddle then down the South route straight to the 'Barrels' camp at 3800m. From here we can take the chairlift to New Vista at 2950m and then the cable-car down to Azau at 2125m. From Azau it is a short bus transfer to our hotel in Cheget where we can have a shower, take a suana and have a celebratory meal. Additional gear left at the north side base camp will be reunited with you at MRV airport on day 12. You need to carry what you need for the day in Terskol up and over the mountain.|
|12||After breakfast in our hotel in Cheget, we will board our vehicle for the transfer to Mineralnye Vody airport, where we will meet the others returning from the north base camp, be reunited with your remaining belongings and then catch your flight to Moscow and onward travel, or stopover in Moscow for trip extension.|
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 £1,945.00
- 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 and administrator in Moscow.
- Accommodation in the top hut
- Camping equipment
- Flights - to Mineralnye Vody
- Russian Visa - £50 - £85 (depends on speed of delivery, nationality & postage return option)
- Travel insurance estimate Â£75
- Personal expenses estimate Â£50/65 for drinks and souvenirs
- Equipment hire
- Single room supplement (applies to hotels only, not available on the mountain!)
COST OF ADD-ONS AND SOME OPTIONAL EXTRAS
- 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.
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.
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 / mail.
A deposit of £100 is required on booking to secure your place and we ask that the remaining balance (trip price minus the deposit) is paid in full 6 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 MONEY
Our prices are competitive and good value, and we offer quality, professional service and security. 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 offer a comprehensive expedition with no hidden fees or kitties. All food, land travel, accommodation, park fees, staff fees are included. The only thing you need to pay for on the ground is items of a personal nature such as souvenirs and drinks.
Additionally our itinerary is long enough to give excellent acclimatisation and two summit attempts, 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. We also aim to camp at 4600 metres, which involves the use of more staff and local porters, because trying to summit from the hut involves a 2000m ascent in one day, which brings the success rate down and is very difficult. This camp at Lenz Rocks essentially splits the summit journey into two, and is a great experience in itself.
We are well aware of other companies which offer Elbrus at a cheaper price, but we cannot condone paying our guides less than what they deserve and in accordance with European rates of pay for International Mountain Leaders. The north side of Elbrus is a challenging expedition and requires good mountain decision-making, determination and experience; we believe these are skills worth paying for, and this is borne out by the quality of our staff and the enjoyment of the trip. Additionally we train our staff in risk assessment procedures common to mountain trips assessed by the British Standards 8848 criteria, and we work hard to invest in this standard.
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.
Mount Elbrus traverse - fitness and terrain
The traverse route is a long committing 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 six hours for the ascent from the camp at Lenz Rocks to the Saddle and then a further two hours to the summit. The descent will take at least four hours.
The route heads towards the Saddle between the two peaks and then follows a rising traverse with an average gradient of 40 degrees (occasionally exposed) and then across the large summit plateau to the summit. Crampons and walking axes) are necessary for this climb.
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. Other objective dangers on the route are the exposure to cold and wind, and the weather is very 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.
It is highly beneficial to have experience of moving on snow and ice for this traverse of Mt Elbrus but we do provide on-site training in basic alpine skills such as moving on crampons and self arrest. This trip tends to attract a wide range of abilities, from people with Seven Summits aspirations who have climbed Kilimanjaro, to experienced hill walkers and alpinists. 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. For the north side, where there is little infrastructure and a higher reliance on self-management, we prefer that the people who apply have experience in alpine walking and winter camping.
Because this is a traverse there is the added need to carry personal backpacks over the top, and this is physically much more demanding than our other two trips on the north and south side. Be prepared for carrying packs up to 20kgs for long periods in soft snow or on hard ice. The terrain is not particularly steep but everything becomes harder at altitude with a pack on! Additionally you will be camping and although Lenz Rocks is a safe site, it is still windy and requires knowledge of camping routines such as using a stove, putting up a tent and keeping warm and dry.
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. This is a lower peak but colder and requiring movement over permanent snow covered slopes which are glaciated and crevassed. 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. 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 all 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 (AITO) and financial bonding with the Association of Bonded Travel Operators Tusst (ABTOT).
Mount Elbrus traverse kit list
- Thermal base layer
- Fleece pants or warm lined trousers (preferably windproof, eg soft shell)
- Fleece midlayers
- Fleece or pile jacket (heavyweight eg Polartec 300 or lightweight down or soft shell)
- Down jacket with hood.
- Shell trousers and jacket with hood
- Hiking clothes for low level
- Sunhat and wool or fleece hat
- Balaclava or neck warmer
- Headlamp with spare bulbs and batteries
- Glacier or sunglasses (100% UV)
- Leather walking boots for low level walks and carries
- Plastic boots for high up
- Heavy socks and trek socks
- 1 screwgate karabiner
- 1 sling (120cm)
- Fleece gloves
- Mitts with waterproof shell
- Rucksack (minimum 65 litres)
- Day pack (35- 40 litres)
- Duffle bag (can be left at BC)
- Sleeping bag, 3 to 4 season
- Water bottles + insulating covers or bottle and flask
- Sunscreen and lipscreen (SPF 30 at least)
- Personal first aid kit
- Walking Axe w/leash
- Ski or trekking poles
- Thermos or water bottle with insulated cover
- Dry bags
- Travel Clothes
For rent from Adventure Alternative, see 'Cost' tab (paid in advance, price is for whole trip):
Walking Axe: £20
For rent locally in Russia: (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).
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
Note: as an estimate, use 50 roubles to GBP£1 or check online for latest exchange rate.
ADDITIONAL KIT INFO
Boots - this climb requires plastic mountaineering boots but a very high quality hybrid boot 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
Socks - take heavy socks for the summit days and trekking socks for the walks.
Bag - it is more convenient to have a duffle bag which you can leave stuff in at base camp
Day sack - this should be around 40 litres for some day hikes and for the summit day section from the Saddle to the top and back. We leave the main bags in the Saddle to pick up on the descent. The empty daysack can be strapped to the outside of your main rucksack when not in use.
Water bottles - take two and a thermos for summit day if you have one, and note that the bladders or camelbaks are no good on summit day. If you don't have a thermos then the bottles must have insulated covers.
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.
Karabiner - screwgate or self locking.
Slings - medium sling (120cm) is adequate, used in an emergency to attach yourself to the guide who will have a rope.
Ice axe - standard 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.
Thermos or flask - up high we tend to only 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).
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.
Mount Elbrus traverse - why us?
- We provide excellent guides who we pay well and who will look after you well.
- We offer the option of camping at Lenz Rocks, which makes the summit day easier.
- We have our own company in Russia with guides who have worked with us for over ten years.
- 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 training on the mountain on the use of walking axe and crampons.
- Our trip allows for good acclimatisation and adequate climbing period.
- We can combine your climb with a holiday in Moscow.
- AA guide Sasha Lebedev is an author of many books, including one on Elbrus, and is a recognised authority.
- We have experienced people in the UK who can advise you before the trip on what to buy and what to expect.
- We have never cancelled a trip.
- Adventure Alternative is fully bonded.
- Our booking pages allows 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 all the Seven Summits and have experience of how to manage the challenge from start to finish.
You can book your Adventure Alternative holiday for as little as £100.00 and pay the balance in as many instalments as you like. Choose a scheduled date or contact us for private dates, a bespoke itinerary or more trip details.
- Duration 11 days
- Numbers 6-20
- Altitude 5642m
- Challenge Difficult
- Comfort Tent/Hotel