Europe: Elbrus (5642m)
Mount Elbrus is an extinct volcano in the Caucasus Main Range, the European border with Asia in southern Russia. Mt. Elbrus has two main summits - the western summit at 5642m and the eastern summit at 5621m.The first ascent of the west peak was in 1829 by a Russian army team and the east in 1874 by an English team. Mont Blanc is sometimes consider the highest in Europe but Elbrus technically holds that honor.
The normal climbing season is May to September. The climb is quite short by 7 Summits standards taking less than a week at most. I will be climbing from the north side using a base camp and a High Camp from where we will launch the summit bid. This side offers more of a climbing experience and is significantly less crowded.
The standard route on Elbrus' south is technically easy and includes a cable car up to the 12,500' level ( if fit Works ! ) It is snow slope from there to the summit. Climbers stay in 'huts' which are single room, rock walled building with tin roofs at 12,700' and/or the Barrel Huts, 13,600', which are, well, huge barrels. A snow-cat is reported to be available for climbers who want a ride even higher - up to 15,750. It is common to have over 100 climbers going for the summit in a single day in July.
If you like you can also go by the North route, which has more diversity than the south route ( around 10 days with acclimatization days and you will sleep in tents ) or you can make the traverse. The Traverse route allows you to see more of Mount Elbrus and to enjoy the advantages of both routes. This route is easy and comfortable going up by south side, and scenic and close to nature descending by the north side. The itinerary is also designed for 11 days.
As with most mountains that have a reputation for being easy, they are also deadly and Elbrus is no exception. About 25 climbers die each year due to ill-preparedness or the weather. It can be extremely cold and windy. However literally thousands of people have summited Elbrus included a Soviet team in 1956 of 400 climbers!
Belgian Elbrus expedition 2009
we were in Total with 14 people for the Elbrus expedition by the normal south side route . Our climb was guided with a local guide.
We used 1 high camp 4100m and made from there one acclimatization trip to the Pastuckhov Rocks - 4500 to 4700 m before going for the summit.
The expedition went very well, only one climber did not make it to the summit and turned back before the saddle.
The group summited on sep 2009
If you like the whole story with detailed pictures, please take a look at Sofie's old blog : 8000dreams
Elbrus Expedition Basics by Alan Arnette
Q: Which route is most popular?
A: The south side by a huge margin. The standard route on Elbrus' south is technically easy and includes a cable car up to the 12,500' level. It is snow slope from there to the summit. Climber stay in 'huts' which are single room, rock walled building with tin roofs at 12,700' and/or the Barrel Huts, 13,600', which are, well, huge barrels. A snow-cat is reported to be available for climbers who want a ride even higher - up to 15,750. It is common to have over 100 climbers going for the summit in a single day in July.
Q: How long will it take?
A: 1 week or less on the mountain plus another few days to get to and from Russia. A visa is required to enter Russia and takes a few weeks to obtain.
Q: How much does a standard climb cost with and without a guide?
A: The costs can range from $1000 to $5000 depending on who you use. Western companies offer services more familiar to western climbers including hygiene, food, safety procedures and group gear. However they usually partner with a local Russian guide service.
Q: Do I need a permit to climb?
A: Yes. All climbers must register and pay a fee through your local Russian guide service. This is usually handled by your US or European company if you use one.
Q: Do I really need a guide for Elbrus?
A: I cannot imagine trying to climb Elbrus without local support at a minimum plus speaking fluent Russian. Elbrus is a serious high-altitude climb and it is in Russia (obviously) so there are not only climbing issues but cultural ones to work through. Some people go to Elbrus without a formal guide and use a local service on the south side. This is rare on the north. There are usually a lot of climbers on Elbrus so you would probably not be alone but easily could be. In harsh weather (white-outs) or in a medical emergency, you will be on your own so consider your skill level carefully. Also crevasse danger is real, especially on the north, and always present on the lower glacier area so crevasse rescue skills must be second nature to everyone on the team. Climbing alone or in too small of a team is never a good idea. You must bring a two-way radio and a sat phone in my opinion and have the frequency or number of the local rescue resources already programmed in.
Q: Are there local guides for Elbrus?
A: Yes, many services are available online. Just be aware that you are dealing with Russian customs and they may be quite different from your other guide service experiences. Elbrus Tours and Pilgrim Tours both offer logistics only services without a guide and VisitRussia.com can help with visas and travel. These might be good alternatives for extremely experienced climbers and world travelers but not for novices on either front imho.
Elbrus is located in a beautiful area between the Causan and Black seas in Southern Russia with green grass covered rolling hills. It attracts many people for the 7 Summits or to climb Europe's highest peak. Many Russians from Moscow use it as a outdoor holiday with little intention to summit. Elbrus is more of a cultural experience than a mountaineering one.