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.

Trips

As an international guiding company we provide proper itineraries with good acclimatization and excellent full-time guides who have been with us since 1999, and we don't outsource to other local companies.

We run six or seven trips each season, which allows time for the guides to rest and recuperate, and from the outset you will find experienced guides to talk to in our head office who can assist with questions about kit and clothing, the choice between the north or south route, preparation for Elbrus, and pragmatic advice on whether this is the mountain for you.

Read our Elbrus review page for what our clients say, but this one below makes us particularly proud:

"I feel very fortunate to have been a client on a trip last week to the summit of Mt. Elbrus in Russia. Our guide, Sasha, led us on an excellent adventure. The organization, food, stories, hotel, training trips, etc., all exceeded my expectations. Despite inclement weather on the mountain, all five of us made it safely to the summit and back, under the leadership of Sasha's assistant guide. Great attention was paid to the specific needs of each individual, in terms of required equipment, training, food, guidance, and preparation, leading to our summit success. I highly recommend Adventure Alternative to all interested climbers."

Where is Mount Elbrus?

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.

Mount Elbrus dominates the Central Caucasus like a twin-peaked icy giant. A circular lava massif, it has a diameter of 18 kilometres and more than 70 large and small glaciers flow from its slopes. The entire mountain is covered by an immense sheet of ice that takes up 145 square kilometres and in some places is 400 meters thick.

elbrus panorama.jpg

The two peaks correspond to two different volcano vents: the western peak (Zapadnaya) is the tallest one, while the eastern peak (Vostochnaya), 5621 meters high, still has a gigantic crater 250 meters in diameter. The mountain is quite symmetrical so the contours for climbing the north and south side are very similar.

elbrus summit map.JPG


Elbrus Routes

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The snowcapped twin headed summit of Mt Elbrus, taken from the South, which is the most popular route. The volcanic mountain is virtually symmetrical so the north and south routes are quite similar in terms of gradient and terrain. However the north side is more remote with fewer facilities, therefore needs more commitment and experience.


South Route

The South side is a ski resort in the winter and has a few villages with facilities like hotels and restaurants and a cable car and chairlift up to the Barrels Hut (Garabashi) at around 3000 metres. For those with less experience it is best to go on this side because in the need of speedy descent this side has snowmobiles and 'ratracks' to assist. 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, the summit day is 1000m ascent over 9 hours. Unpredictable weather and high altitude make for a challenging excursion.


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.


Traverse

For a third option consider the Mount Elbrus Traverse. Aesthetically you have the challenge and joy of climbing the mountain from the more remote side, but then descending to the hubbub of the south side valley with all the restaurants and mountain life. However the ascent involves carrying some extra personal equipment such as clothes to change into once you get below the snowline, and potentially your sleeping bag in case we don't make it all the way to the hotel but end up in one of the mountain huts.

Logistically the challenge is in bringing all the personal bags from the north side around to the south side by vehicle and also employing extra people to clear the high camp at Lenz Rocks of camping equipment and taking everything off the mountain. This is the reason the traverse is slightly more expensive.

We offer trips up Mt Elbrus from May through September. July and August typically have the most stable weather. The mountain is inland, situated approximately midway along the Caucasus Range at the southern border of Russia, between the Caspian and Black Seas. These two huge bodies of water impact the wind and precipitation on the range and on Elbrus, but the summer months offer the best time to climb. Even in the summer, temperatures at night average minus 8 C (15 degrees F) but in winter temperatures at the higher altitudes can drop to minus 30 C during the day.

Winter climbs of Elbrus are possible, but the higher slopes are hard ice and the temperature is extremely cold. Many people ski on the mountain up to an altitude of about 3800m where there are cable cars, but above this the climber would be in dangerous territory and require very sharp tools and crampons.


What is the climate on Elbrus?

The climate on Elbrus is dominated mostly by the humid westerlies and the altitude of the mountain, although the influence of the winds are moderated by the nearby mountains. The area is officially classified as arctic climate. The Caucasus range acts as a barrier to Elbrus against the northerlies, while the warm winds from the Mediterranean blow warm winds from the South.

Spring and summer months are mainly dry and warm with an average temperature during the day of 20C, with frequent thunderstorms. Autumn and winter are generally cold, dry and clear with day time temperatures dropping to several degrees below zero. Winter lasts from December to February, but above 2000m it is from October to April, with frequent snowfall and snow cover reaching around half a metre on exposed ground and 3m in sheltered areas. Avalanches are common in winter and during early spring thaws.

Warm dry winds descending from the mountains into the valleys can cause thaws followed by snowfalls. Precipitation is annually around 600mm in the valleys, but south of the main ridge the humid westerlies can increase this to 1000mm.

Don't underestimate the weather on Elbrus, it is unpredictable and even in the stable summer months of July and August it's possible to experience a wide variation, from a benign windless day out to a really cold, windy experience with low visibility. Similarly the snowpack can be hard nevee with ice patches on the exposed slopes to sections in deep soft snow.

We have a page dedicated to preparing for Elbrus which includes a clothing and kit list and information about getting there, insurance and practical matters like accommodation, food preferences and hygiene.

Prepare for winter conditions with the right clothing and boots. Double boots, mountain quality down jacket, goggles, down mitts and top and bottom shell layer are necessary, and you will need an ice axe, crampons, a harness with slings and karabiners, and a helmet. The guide will bring a rope, but there is a fixed line on the steepest section to the summit plateau. For the early days of trekking, expect warm sunny alpine days.

This trip is perfect for learning basic alpine skills like self arrest, but a good foundation of winter walking skills will be very helpful, as will some expedition experience on other mountains like Mount Toubkal in winter and Kilimanjaro. For this trip on summit day, especially on the north side and on the traverse, you will want to be competent in moving on glaciated terrain and knowledgeable about altitude acclimatisation and managing yourself in the cold. We have a page all about safety on Elbrus which discusses in detail the climbing requirements and what happens in an emergency.

For our Elbrus itineraries, we take a few extra days upon arrival in the Elbrus region to go on acclimatization hikes around the valleys and up to about 3500m. These are mountain walks on paths and will acclimatise you before going to the mountain itself.  It is extremely enjoyable, there is an abundance of wildlife and plant life to see, and you can enjoy the comforts of a hotel, complete with relaxing Russian saunas to relax muscles after a day of alpine walking.

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Acclimatising on Elbrus on easy paths in sunny warm conditions. It's possible to see golden eagles and the hikes approach amazing waterfalls on basalt columns and there are always fine views of the mountain range.

Once above the snowline safe acclimatisation continues by following the mountaineering principle of 'climb high, sleep low'. Staying in the huts and climbing up the mountain by day to train on alpine skills and gain further acclimatisation, is important to allow enough time for a safe summit day. Do have a read of our article on high altitude climbing for more information on this.

In hotels and cafes off of the mountain you can enjoy a wide variety of Russian foods, including stews such as Solyanka or borscht, homemade breads and pancakes with fillings, and the national dish of shashlyk or skewered lamb roasted on apple wood fire. It's a must to try the local wines and cognac from Georgia and of course the Russian vodka and beer.

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A traditional Russian dinner. The region of Kabardino Balkyrie is influenced by Georgia next door, so make sure to sample the Georgian wine. The local national dish of the mountain region is lamb shashlyk, lamb kebabs roasted on an apple fire.

Food on the mountain is prepared by our camp cook and dishes will include stews, lots of vegetable dishes, pasta dishes, cheese and breads, salads, breads and plenty of sweet dishes.

If you have any dietary restrictions like being gluten free or preferences for vegetarian or vegan food, we do need to know in advance.The shops do not sell gluten free foods and vegetarian meals are not so common in Russia, so we would need to discuss with you what items to bring from home.

For summit day we recommend you bring your own supplies of preferred snacks, energy bars and gels, additives to your water bottle (like Nuum) and sweets or mixed fruits. We will provide summit day food but the range is limited to biscuits, chocolate and standard cordial drinks. 

Prepare for winter conditions with the right clothing and boots. Double boots, mountain quality down jacket, goggles, down mitts and top and bottom shell layer are necessary, and you will need an ice axe, crampons, a harness with slings and karabiners, and a helmet. There is more information and a proper list on the Elbrus Preparation page. The guide will bring a rope for safety, but there is a fixed line on the steepest section to the summit plateau. For the early days of trekking, expect warm sunny alpine days.

We have some advice pages on what climbing equipment to choose, including trekking boots, mountain boots and crampons, and sleeping bags. Having properly broken-in trekking boots and double mountaineering boots is essential. It’s also important to bring sandals for the huts. Sleeping bags need only be 3 season for the south side huts, but you will need a 4 season bag for the final camp on the north side.

Also, look after your skin; at this altitude and with the suns rays bouncing off the snow into your face, it's very easy to get sunburn, heatstroke and also dry cracked skin in the thin air. Take very good quality sun creams and lip salves and moisturising cream.


Mount Elbrus altitude profiles

The profile charts below show that the elevation gain is much the same for both sides, assuming our itinerary including acclimatisation hikes and summit days plans which include sleeping at the high huts on the south side, and at Lenz Rocks campsite on the north side.



Climbing and Mountaineering

Travels in the central Caucasus and Bashan, Freshfield ISBN-10: 1117959651, ISBN-13: 978-1117959658
My Climbs in the Alps and Caucasus, Mummery ISBN-10: 0543890430, ISBN-13: 978-0543890436
Climbing in the Caucasus ISBN-10: 1447408470, ISBN-13: 978-1447408475
The Caucasus: An Introduction, de Waal ISBN-10: 0195399773, ISBN-13: 978-0195399776
As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me, Bauer ISBN-10: 1841197262, ISBN-13: 978-1841197265
Seven Summits, Bass ISBN-10: 0517227509, ISBN-13: 978-0517227503


Elbrus 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, Mountaineers Books ISBN-10: 0898863554, ISBN-13: 978-0898863550
Russia, Lonely Planet ISBN-10: 1741047226, ISBN-13: 978-1741047226


Elbrus Maps

Elbrus, 1:50,000, Climbing Map ISBN 13: 9783952329436
Caucasus Central: Elbruz to Kazbek 1:200,000 ISBN 10: 0906227542, ISBN 13: 9780906227541

 

How much does it cost to climb Mount Elbrus?

Prices range from £1595.00 to £1895.00 pp depending on south or north route or a traverse. This would be an all-inclusive price with excellent quality before and during the climb and professional guides on the expedition. Cheaper trips generally operate kitties for key items like meals, and they have fewer days on the mountain.


How many days does it take to climb Elbrus?

For a mountain of this height, you will need a proper programme of acclimatisation lasting three days before spending six days on the mountain 'climbing high, sleeping low' and training. With travel days, estimate a minimum of eleven days for the Elbrus expedition. This is the same for both sides of the mountain.


Is Mount Elbrus a technical climb?

The ascent is a moderate non-technical snow climb that poses few technical challenges but the weather and the altitude make this into a winter mountaineering challenge. The north and south side are much the same in terms of terrain but the north side is harder in many ways. There are objective dangers on both sides, small crevasses mainly, but as long as you stay on the route it is safe.


How do I get to Mount Elbrus (where is Mount Elbrus) ?

The nearest airport to Mount Elbrus is Mineralnye Vody which is 200km from the Elbrus area. Most people fly there via Moscow, although you could take the train. For the south side, the drive takes about four hours which crosses the border into Kabardino Balkyrie and goes up the Baksan Valley to the village of Terskol. For the north side the drive ends up going off-road for several hours and crosses a river to reach a campsite by a river.


How dangerous is Mount Elbrus?

The weather and altitude present the main dangers on Elbrus, as there are few objective dangers on the main climbing routes. The north side is more dangerous because is it more remote and there is none of the infrastructures that you find on the south side.

Statistically Elbrus represents a high number of fatalities out of the Seven Summits, and the reason appears to be an underestimation of the challenge of this mountain compared to the likes of Everest, Denali and Aconcagua. With such temperamental weather, ill-equipped and complacent groups are often caught out in low visibility. A lot of the accidents occur because of exposure, exhaustion and falls having come off the route and not been prepared.


Is it safe to travel to Mount Elbrus?

The Elbrus region in the republic of Kabardino Balkyrie is a popular destination for domestic and international tourists, especially during ski season. The Russian Olympic teams often come here to train. It is considered a safe area, despite some history of controversy between Balkarians protecting their businesses from Moscow speculators.

The proximity to the Georgia border has never caused a security issue, and this region is safe from any issues in Chechnya or Ossetia. Despite it looking close on the map, in reality this is an alpine region at the head of a long valley which rarely sees any problems.


Is Elbrus easier than Kilimanjaro?

In short, yes. Mount Kilimanjaro requires hiking skills, albeit to a higher altitude, but Elbrus requires you to be able to use crampons and have basic axe skills. The weather is significantly colder and windier than Kilimanjaro, and it is permanently snow-covered. A slip on snow or ice could have worse consequences than a slip on Mount Kilimanjaro.


What permits do I need to climb Elbrus?

You need a border permit or visa from Moscow that allows you to travel to the Kabardino Balkyrie republic and Elbrus region. You also need a local registration or permit for the region that comes from the nearby town of Tyrnauz, and you need an unofficial permit for the Prielbrusie National Park that will allow you access to the mountain huts.