Climbing Mt. Elbrus (5642m)
Climb a Seven Summit, the Top of Europe
The challenge to climb to the top of Europe is considerable. But with a top guide leading the small international team, the vivid culture and the immense feeling of the Caucasus Range, you’re in for an adventure unlike any other.
You’re about to climb the highest peak of Europe, one of the Seven Summits of the World. As such, this mountain, rising on the Russian side of the Georgian-Russian border, is almost sacred to climbers all over the world. It’s definitely sacred to the local Kabarid people with thousand-year-old traditions. You’re in Europe, but the atmosphere and the mountains are remarkably different from the Alps. It doesn’t feel like Asia either, as the people here are more proud and hot-tempered. This is the Caucasus.
You’re getting ready for a wonderful climb to 5642 meters. Looking around from Europe’s highest peak, you see Asia to the South and Europe to the North. Descending back to the valley, a wonderful, two-day trek crowns your achievement.
Is this trip for you?
Day 1: Meeting in Mineralnye Vody and get to the hotel
Meeting at Mineralnye Vody airport at 14:00. Your guide will be awaiting you outside of the arrival hall at the airport. Bus ride (3.5 hours) to a mountain hotel in the Baksan valley near the foothills of Mt. Elbrus. There are twin and triple rooms in the hotel, with toilet and shower. Single accommodation may be available for additional cost in case there are vacant rooms in hotel or if you ordered that in advance. Overnight at the hotel (2300 m/7546 ft).
Day 2: Cheget peak (3404 m)
Acclimatization hike to Cheget peak (3404 m/ 10460 ft). You leave the hotel in Mineranye Vody (2150 meters) and head for the ski lift. This one-seater lift takes you up to 3100 meters and from there, a slow and steady, comfy 3-hour hike will get you to Cheget. Great for acclimatization, because you hop back on the lift and sleep low in the valley. Overnight in hotel.
Day 3: Barrels Hut (3750 m) – hike up to Priut 11, 4157 m
This is the day when you move to the mountain refuge at 3750 m. You can leave all unnecessary stuff you won’t use on the mountain, in the hotel. It will not be necessary to carry your backpacks because the group will reach the refuge using ski lifts. There will be only a short distance to walk from the cable car’s last station to the hut.
Having loaded your gear in the huts, it’s time to grab a snack. Then, after having had a cup of tea or coffee with sandwiches and sweets, we put on all mountain equipment and go for acclimatization hike up to 4300 m/14107 ft. Overnight at the refuge.
Day 4: Pastuchov Rocks (4800 m)
Hike up to the Pastuckhov rocks and probably a bit higher (4800 m/ 15,748 ft). Now you’re really getting some acclimatization… and you’re ready to get some serious… rest the following day 🙂
Day 5: Relaxing day
Day of relaxation. On this day you will have ice- and snow courses with your guide not far from the refuge. The guide will teach you how to put on the crampons and how to walk in it; he will show you techniques of self-arrest with an ice-axe and you will try to slide down the slope and then fix yourself on the snow using your ice-axe and the crampons. Don’t worry when you’ve never tried it before. Overnight at the refuge.
Days 6: Summit day – 5642 m
Summit day. We leave the refuge about 3 a.m. for the climb of Elbrus’ west summit, 5642 m (18,510 ft). It is possible to hire a snow-cat (Ratrak) for a group. This vehicle carries climbers (12 people) up to Pastuckhov rocks and saves 4 hours and a lot of energy. Generally, for an average group, it takes about 9 hours to reach the top and 5 hours to come back to the hut.
Generally we stay at the refuge this night. If a group comes back from the top before 2 p.m. we can discuss the possibility to descend to the valley and have overnight at the mountain hotel. However this will require additional payment for hotel, because this night is paid for the huts.
Day 7: Extra day
This is a reserve day in case of bad weather on the previous day. Should the group make an attempt at the summit on this day, it is necessary to descend to the valley same evening by all means, though it may be hard because the ski lifts stop working at 4 p.m. Overnight at hotel.
Day 8: Heading home
Drive to Mineralnye Vody airport early in the morning to be in time for the flight home. If you need to be at the airport earlier or your flight departs much later than 12:35, you can order an individual transfer.
Equipment and Info
Weather and Equipment
The summer at the foot of the mountain is more or less Continental. That means HOT in this case, so be prepared for hot, dry weather down in the valleys. The evenings will be cold on the mountain as you get up high, a sleeping bag with a comfort temp range of 0 degrees Celsius (32 deg. Fahrenheit). The coldest part of the trip will be your leaving from 4200 meters at 2 AM. Expect temperatures to drop to -20 Celsius. Keeping the above in mind, we recommend the following equipment:
- Boots: hard soled climbing boots. Make sure they are broken in, warm enough and fit your crampons. Good, warm trekking boots will suffice, but mountaineering boots are better. Get practical tips on what to watch out for in your ideal boots.
- Base layer: good underclothing to drive moisture from your body.
- Fleece or softshell: bring a light and a warmer (200 gram) fleece sweater. We recommend softshell pants, as they’ll go a long way – possibly to the summit.
- Hardshell: Pack wind- and water resistant pants and a jacket. Good models not only repell water, they also ventilate well. If you know you get cold easily, you may want to bring a down jacket.
- Gloves: bring two pairs of gloves. At least one of them should be warm and water resistant. You may opt for a hard outer shell without insulation – under this layer, you can wear wool gloves or windstopper gloves of different warmth.
- Hats: 2 pairs. Bring warm, wool hat and a hat against the sun. Under 3000 meters it may be very hot and you’ll need to protect your head against sunstroke.
- Harness: nothing special, a regular climbing or via ferrata harness will do.
- Crampons: make sure they fit your boots well. No need to bring an ice axe or a helmet for this mountain.
- Trekking poles
If you want more information on proper equipment, here’s a detailed guide about the three layers, with specific tips on what to bring.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included in your package in the valley. At the hotels, we get good, whole meals. On the mountain, it’s a little bit simpler. We buy the food together in the valley and your guide makes sure you have everything you need and not much more in your backpack.
In the huts, it’s more or less “do it yourself”, which means everyone gets to cook the food they have. You can use gas stoves in the huts. You can also buy food in the lower huts. A meal runs around 4-5 euro on the mountain and considerably less in the valley.
“Why aren’t meals on the mountain included in the package?” – you may ask. Good question. There are several reasons. In our many years of experience, we have found that your appetite may completely leave you on the mountain, you may wish not to eat anything but dried fruits. So why pay for services you may not even use?
Food in the valley is very cheap, you will buy your 4 days’ of food for a fraction of the price that you would at home. And you don’t need a whole lot of food on the mountain for four days with the possibility to buy meals in lower mountain huts.
Get some practical advice on Mountain Food so you maximize your performance – here.
The currency in Russia is the Rubel. Here are some “average exchange rates” as of late 2009:
- 1 Euro = 60-65 Rubles
- 1 Pound Sterling = 70-75 Rubles
- 1 US Dollar = 55-60 Rubles
If you can, bring US Dollars to Russia, it’s the best currency to get by with. There are ATM machines in Mineralnye Vody, but not later in Terskol.
Vaccines, Medication, Hygiene
There is no obligatory vaccination for the Caucasus. The bathrooms in small restaurants and the public ones will be quite discusting, if you haven’t been to similar places before. There is no possibility to take showers on the mountain in the huts. Only the melting water from glaciers 🙂
Visa and Flight Info
We are happy to give you full visa support and arrange your flight to and from Mineralnye Vody. If you’re adventurous and have some time on your hand, you may want to fly to Moscow or Kiev and take the train from there. It’s quite an experience in itself. We have done it several times and are ready to help you with train tickets as well. Let us know how we may help you arrange your trip to the Caucasus, so you only have to deal with preparing for the climb and getting in shape.
We may have additional programs for you in the Caucasian region, including visit of falls, bathing in hot thermal springs (prices is depending on the number of group), or flights by planes over the Caucasus Mountains (the aviaexcursion lasting 1 hour).