Mount Elbrus is one of the Seven Summits and the highest mountain on the European continental plate and one of the most famous climbs in Russia. When you climb Mt Elbrus you can do so by two different routes and we offer guided climbs on both sides as well as a traverse of the mountain from North to South.

All of the expeditions include several days of acclimatization hikes in the region, mountain training plus a suitable climbing period to get to the summit. The trip totals eleven days for the South route and twelve days for the North and both routes require you to fly into and out of Mineralynye Vody in southern Russia which is best served via Moscow.

 

As an international guiding company you will find we provide proper itineraries with good acclimatization and excellent full-time guides and staff. We  have always run our own operation in Russia with the same guides who understand our needs and preferences, and we don't outsource to other local companies. Only too often you find short itineraries and overworked and underpaid staff on Mount Elbrus. This is one of the reasons why we run only six or seven trips every year, to ensure the guides get a proper break and don't get fatigued.

 

When most people think of the highest mountain in Europe, their thoughts likely turn to Mt Blanc in France. However, Mt Elbrus in Russia takes the prize at 5642 metres because its many glaciers extend onto the European continental plate. Situated in the rugged Great Caucasus mountains, this mountain is actually a dormant volcano. It has two summits, west and east, with a gentle saddle in between them. The tallest summit is to the west, the left peak in this photo below which is taken on the south side.

 

elbrus preparation.jpg
The snowcapped twin headed summit of Mt Elbrus, taken from the South, which is the most popular route.

There are two routes up the mountain, the North and South.

 

South Route

The South side is a ski resort in the winter and is far more popular and has a few villages with facilities like hotels and restaurants and a cable car and chairlift up to the Barrels at around 3000 metres.For those with less experience it is best to go on this side because in the case of any problem and need of speedy descent, this side has snowmobiles and 'ratracks' to assist. It's quite easy to come off the summit and be back in the village by afternoon. The South Route therefore provides an excellent training ground for those looking to gain experience with snow climbing.

However, this is still a demanding climb and harder than Kilimanjaro. Unpredictable weather and altitude make for a challenging excursion. Summit day is long and demanding, the climb often starts around 3am and can last anywhere between nine to twelve hours.

 

North Route

The north side on the other hand has no villages nearby and during the season there are just some tented camps run by local outfits. The journey to the mountain is off road and facilities are few. It is necessary to be more self-sufficient and capable of dealing with any problem without any support.

For those who have a bit more mountaineering experience and are seeking a more traditional climbing experience, the North Route on Mount Elbrus is a good option. Although the mountain is broadly symmetrical, the summit day on the north side involves passing through the whole length of the col between the two peaks and this section is often choked with snow. Therefore summit day is longer and harder than on the south side. The route through the col between the two peaks is nearly a kilometre which is quite substantial at that altitude. So we therefore recommend only people with good alpine experience to consider the north side.

 

We offer trips up Mt Elbrus from May through September. July typically has the most stable weather.

 

We take acclimatization seriously. For our Elbrus itineraries, we take a few extra days upon arrival in the Elbrus region to go on acclimatization hikes. Enjoy the comforts of a hotel, complete with relaxing Russian saunas to relax muscles after a day of alpine walking at around 11,000 feet along the South Route, or the simple tent life on the north side.

elbrus south accommodation - Barrels..jpg
The famous Barrels accommodation on the south side. Nowadays there are many more huts used for accommodation which are comfortable and heated, offering bunks and mattresses, light and even wifi.

Mount Elbrus North Route
Lenz Rocks campsite on the north side of Elbrus is often very windy and groups must be suitably self-sufficient to manage themselves. If the weather is inclement then we use the hut at the snowline and summit from there, which makes the summit day about 2 hours long.

 

For the hardest option consider the Mount Elbrus Traverse. This is the most challenging mainly because you need to carry more in your rucksack over the top. Some kit can be left back at the north side base camp where it will be shipped to the airport for you, but as you traverse down into the valley on the south side you will need some clothes. This extra weight at altitude on a long day ascending more than 1000 metres does make the traverse a challenging option. Psychologically it is more committing of course, but in reality you can dump your bag in the col and pick it up on the descent rather than carry everything up to the actual summit.

Mount Elbrus shadow
The stunning summit shadow of Mt Elbrus greets a new day.

 

In hotels and cafes off of the mountain, you can order staple foods such as Solyanka or Vorscht, various delicious homemade breads, pancakes with various fillings, Shashlyk or skewered lamb roasted on charcoal and Sturgeon. It's a must to try the local wines, vodka and cognac.

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A traditional Russian dinner.

Food on the mountain is prepared by our camp cook. We carry our own food with us on the North route and use a large gas stove for cooking delicious group meals. If you have any dietary restrictions, we are happy to cater to your needs.

 

Come prepared to deal with variable cold weather. Layer properly in order to regulate your temperature on the mountain. A down jacket with down mitts, base layers and a Gore-Tex quality shell are required items. There is a full kit list but consider any Elbrus climb to be a winter climb.

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Accommodation on the South Route. The team is drying their layers in one of the huts.

Footwear is arguably the single most important piece of gear on the mountain. Having properly broken-in trekking and mountaineering boots are essential. It’s also a good idea to bring sandals for lodges and lower elevation camps.

Mountaineering-specific gear is also required for this climb. Plastic mountaineering boots, ice axe, crampons, sling, carabiners, and an axe leash are some of the items required. Understand how to properly fit crampons, and make sure your crampons will fit your boots prior to arrival. One option for mountaineering gear is to rent it, either in your home country or locally in Russia. Rented gear should fit and perform correctly.

Mount Elbrus South Route (1)
A team of climbers is off at dawn for their summit bid via the South Route.

 

South Route

North Route

Altitude and it's Effects

Travel at High Altitude, Medex, ISBN 0-901100-76-5 (free to download from Medex)

Altitude Illness: Prevention & Treatment, The Mountaineers Books, Bezruchka, ISBN 0-89886-685-5 (pocket sized guide)

Medicine for Mountaineering, The Mountaineers Books, Wilkerson et al, ISBN-10: 1594850763, ISBN-13: 978-1594850769

British Mountaineering Council website

International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA) website

 

Elbrus Region Guides

The Mount Elbruz Region, West Col Productions, ISBN-10: 0906227526, ISBN-13: 978-0906227527

Trekking in the Caucasus, Cicerone, ISBN-10: 185284129X, ISBN-13: 978-1852841294

Trekking in Russia and Central Asia: A Traveller's Guide, Mountaineers Books, ISBN-10: 0898863554, ISBN-13: 978-0898863550

Russia, Lonely Planet, ISBN-10: 1741047226, ISBN-13: 978-1741047226

 

Maps

Elbrus, 1:50,000, Climbing Map, ISBN 13: 9783952329436

Elbrus, 1:50,000, Russian Army Cartographic Unit,

Elbrus and Environs, 1:100,000, Russian Army Cartographic Unit,

Mount Elbrus, various scales, West Col Productions

Caucasus Central: Elbruz to Kazbek 1:200,000, West Col Productions, ISBN 10: 0906227542, ISBN 13: 9780906227541

 

Climbing and Mountaineering

Travels in the central Caucasus and Bashan, Freshfield, BiblioBazaar, ISBN-10: 1117959651, ISBN-13: 978-1117959658

My Climbs in the Alps and Caucasus, Mummery, Adamant Media Corporation, ISBN-10: 0543890430, ISBN-13: 978-0543890436

Climbing in the Caucasus - A Collection of Historical Mountaineering Articles, Read Books, ISBN-10: 1447408470, ISBN-13: 978-1447408475

The Caucasus: An Introduction, de Waal, OUP USA, ISBN-10: 0195399773, ISBN-13: 978-0195399776

As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me, Bauer, Robinson, ISBN-10: 1841197262, ISBN-13: 978-1841197265

Seven Summits, Bass, Gramercy Books, ISBN-10: 0517227509, ISBN-13: 978-0517227503