Mount Elbrus is located in the southwest part of Russia in the Caucasus mountain range. This magnificent mountain peak standing at an altitude of 5,642 meters (18,510 feet) from the sea level is the highest elevation point in Russia as well as the entire Europe. Part of the seven summits, the highest snowy peaks across the seven continents, Mount Elbrus is also part of Prielbrusye National Park.
Although many people think Mont Blanc standing at an elevation of 4,807 meters (15,771 feet) is the highest peak in Europe, it is in fact not true, Mount Elbrus is the highest snow-clad mountain in the European continent. This magnificent mountain is the main part of the Caucasus mountain range which is considered to be the borderline that separates European and Asian continents.
With significant altitude differences, Mont Blanc in the 4,000-meter class and Mount Elbrus in the 5,500-meter class, acclimatization is much more essential during the Elbrus expedition as well as it much older and needs much more organization for the scaling.
An Extinct Volcano
Like Kilimanjaro (5,895 meters), the highest peak in Africa and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, this beautiful mountain in the Caucasus range is also an extinct volcano which is approximately around 2.5 million years old. Known among the local natives as the ‘Strobilus’ which can be translated into ‘pine cone’ due to its twisted shape, Mount Elbru’s last known eruption was in 50 C.E.
There are two peaks in the mountain, both of which rise above the 5,590-meter elevation point. The climatic condition of this altitude region is generally cold as even the temperature of the region during the night time and early morning averages around -8°C during the summer season. Most part of the mountain region unlike Kilimanjaro is covered in ice and there are 22 glaciers on the mountain which melts and nourishes the surrounding rivers.
Mount Elbrus was first time ascended by the Russian scientific expedition team in 1829, they summited the east peak of the mountain. In the latter years, many mountaineers set out to scale this beautiful peak in the Caucasus region, and only in 1874 they managed to reach the west summit, the highest elevation point of the mountain.
One of the Easiest Mountains in the Seven Summit Challenge?
Although Mount Elbrus in the 5,000-meter class is considered to be one of the easiest peaks in the seven summit peak challenge due to its easy accessibility and lower elevation points, this mountain most definitely shouldn’t be underestimated. Mount Elbrus expedition is quite similar to Mt Kilimanjaro climbing which can be completed within 5-9 days. But, only in terms of expedition days, the mountaineers trying to scale Mount Elbrus can easily access the mountain thanks to the cable car system on the mountain that takes climbers upto the elevation point of 3,658 meters (12,500 feet). Thus, unlike other climbing peaks with challenging trekking adventures to reach the base of the mountain peak, the easy-mode cable car ride shaves off the overall expedition difficulty level and the mountaineers can easily ascend to the summit of Mount Elbrus in under a week.
However, one of the seven summits, scaling this stunning peak in the Caucasus range is not as easy as it sounds. As a matter of fact, reaching the summit of Mount Elbrus is highly challenging and it can be only done during a certain period of a year. Although climbers can easily reach the summit of this Caucasus peak, there is a high amount of death rate in this mountain expedition; 15-20 deaths every year, relative to the number of climbers in that year.
Mount Elbrus, one of the seven highest peaks in the seven continents is the highest snow-clad wonder of the European continent. Located in the southwestern part of Russia this fascinating pine cone-shaped mountain houses two peaks, Elbrus East Summit at an elevation of 5,621 meters (18,442 feet) and Elbrus West Summit at 5,642 meters (18,510 feet). After the English expedition team led by F. Crauford Grove summitted the Elbrus West Peak in 1874, this mountain peak has been climbed by thousands of mountaineers from all over the world over the years.
A challenging peak for the seven summit bidders, Mount Elbrus has two summit routes one on the southern side and another in the north. Among the two climbing routes, the southern route to the Elbrus West Peak is considered to be the easiest which has a success rate of 80% to 90%. On the other hand, the much more difficult route on the northern side is known for strenuous climbing with extremely challenging sections and has a success rate of about 50%.
Besides, there are also climbing routes on the eastern and western sides of the mountain, but in comparison to the popular southern and northern routes, they are rarely used. Even though the Mount Elbrus expedition is not considered technically challenging, the cold climatic conditions and the significant altitude gain can make this climb really challenging. With the annual death rate at 15-20, according to the statistics split between both northern and southern climbing routes, the major cause of death during Mount Elbrus is due to bad weather conditions and altitude sickness.
How Hard is Mount Elbrus Climbing?
Although Mount Elbrus isn’t a technically challenging peak, the difficult level of the mountain shouldn’t be underestimated as it can be graded as a ‘difficult to challenging’ climb. Due to the significant altitude gain and bad weather conditions, the major cause of death in the mountain, this expedition is only recommended for experienced climbers who have prior expertise in high-altitude expeditions. As you will be using several mountaineering tools like axes, ice crampons, fixed ropes, ascenders, descenders, harnesses, etc., this expedition is not recommended for a complete novice. However, if you have acquired mountaineering skills and are on a guided expedition, you will have enough time to practice your skills on the mountain as well.
Climbing Mount Elbrus is a 5- 6 days expedition from the north side whereas it takes about 6- 7 days to climb from the south side. This beautiful mountain expedition in the Caucasus range from the southern side isn’t that much technically challenging, climbers only need basic skills using the basic mountaineering tools and be well prepared. On the other hand, the northern side is more challenging due to high elevation points. Regardless, the weather conditions can hugely affect the overall climbing difficulty level on both of these routes.
Southern Climbing Route
One of the major and popular climbing routes, the southern route on Mount Elbrus is the safest, easiest, and the most fastest way the push for the summit of the mountain. Starting the adventure from the Azau Village with the unique cable car systems, the mountaineers can easily reach an altitude of 3,658 on the mountain. Moving along the trail, climbers are greeted with barrels, and personalized chambers for the climbers.
Proceed along the trails climbers will reach other major highlights of this mountain expedition like Mir Station (3,500 meters), Garabashi Station (3,800 meters), and Shelter Maria (4,100 meters). Although this route is not much of a technical challenge, due to the lack of high camp of Mount Elbrus, this mountain expedition elevation point is considered to be one of the most demanding out of the seven summit peaks.
Climbers need to ascend over an altitude of 1,900 meters to push for the summit during the Mount Elbrus expedition. The most challenging part of the southern climbing route is the technical section over the Pastukhov Rocks and the saddle section that stretches between the eastern and western peaks of the mountain. As the slopes in these sections are steep and challenging, climbers need to clip on the fixed rope and use mountaineer tools and skills to push for the summit.
Northern Climbing Route
The northern route on the mountain slopes meters peculiarly challenging slopes, that why this climbing route only sees a few number of climbers every year compared to the southern route. Unlike the popular southern route, there are no cable cars or chairlift accessibility on the northern route, that why climbers need to carry all their accessories from the base camp level. As this route covers several technical segments climbers will cross glacial segments where the crevasses are the risky factors, that’s why the mountaineers trekking on this route need to crevasse rescue techniques as well as short rope techniques.
This climbing route also has steeper exposures on the climbing slopes compared to the southern side. The northern climbing route also packs a lot of elevation gain points starting your adventure from the base camp at 2,500 meters, you ascend to the overall altitude point of 5,638 meters with a 1,828-meter summit push. Although the northern climbing route is more technical and difficult in comparison the its alternative southern route, in recent years, this climbing has also started to see a growing number of climbers due to overcrowding with a high number of climbers on the southern side.
Training and Preparation for Mount Elbrus Climbing
Climbing Mount Elbrus takes approximately a week’s time including the acclimatization period at the suitable elevation jump points. The summit day is especially long with 1,900 meters ascending that’s why for a successful ascent of the mountain, a good level of aerobic fitness, endurance, and strength is recommended.
As both altitude gain and cold climatic conditions, which means you will lose energy quickly, are the major obstacles of this expedition, a good amount of training is recommended to counter these factors.
Strength and Endurance Training
You need to enhance your strength and endurance for this expedition, you will need to overcome a significant altitude jump point which is even major among the seven summit peaks. As you will be using your legs and arms muscles a lot during this expedition you can workout on these factors to shave off the overall difficulty level of the climbing route.
Furthermore, cardiovascular training comes really handy when it comes to acclimatizing properly at the rising altitudes. However, form a routine for effective training, and don’t overwork yourself so you don’t sustain any kind of injuries which can be really troublesome during the actual expedition.
Note: The normal time frame recommended for a mountain expedition is about 3- 6 months, you can further personalize your training regime depending on your physical ability. Practicing hiking on natural landscapes carrying significant weight is recommended as you will get accustomed to carrying your gear during the actual expedition.
When it comes to difficult and strenuous expeditions, most mountaineers only emphasize the physical training factors leaving out the mental preparation part. However, the mental preparation part is also equally significant when it comes to any kind of challenging sports.
You will leave your comfort zone and enter cold climatic terrain with challenging and dangerous slopes, that is why you need to prepare yourself for every kind of situation. You can use several techniques like controlled breathing practice, identifying fears, practicing leaving comfort zones, staying focussed and motivated, and visualizing your expectations to stay determined and motivate yourself for a successful summit.
Learn Mountaineering Skills
Regardless of how less technical segments are on Mount Elbrus, it is still a difficult and challenging expedition. You will at least need a basic level of mountaineering skills even if you can practice them en route to your push for the summit. So, if you are already up for the adventurous life on the alpine slopes, you could sign up for the mountaineering programs and learn adequate skills.
You can easily sign up for the mountaineering class that teaches you skills from the novice level and these classes generally last for about 25-30 days. You will be able to learn all the specific skills required for this expedition even during your training period which will also boost your confidence level.
Eat a Balanced Diet and Stay Hydrated
This works perfectly during your training period as well as the actual expedition. Eating a balanced will help keep your body in shape and with the training it will enhance your overall physical stats. The two main reasons why people catch altitude sickness during high altitude adventures are lack of a balanced nutritious diet and dehydration.
So if you were to keep up this habit during your actual expedition it would significantly reduce the potential risks of you catching altitude sickness. You are recommended to drink at least 3-4 liters of water each day for any kind of high-altitude expedition.
Packing for Mount Elbrus Climb
An alpine expedition like Mout Elbrus needs a specific set of clothing and climbing gear for a more comfortable and enjoyable experience. Without missing the absolute necessity, you are recommended to pack as light as possible, as it will make your everyday ascending lighter and much easier.
Here are some packing suggestions that you can include in your checklist for the mountain expedition.
Clothing, Footwear, and Accessories
Even if you are ascending Mount Elbrush during the summer season, the average temperature in the mountain region is constantly in the minus degrees. You don’t have only risk for altitude sickness during this expedition, as the climatic conditions can get harsh, hypothermia and frostbite are other real threats if you are not dressed warm and cozy.
- Smartwool base layers, synthetic base under layers
- Lightweight climbing shirts
- Lightweight thermal tops
- Baseline jacket, fleece with hood
- Waterproof jacket, lightweight down jacket
- Softshell jacket, hardshell jacket
- A wide-brimmed hat, woolen hat
- Banda, headscarf
- Neck gaiter, buff, balaclava
- Sunglasses, goggles
- Inner gloves
- Insulated climbing gloves, waterproof mittens
- Hiking pants, breathable waterproof pants
- Light thermal trouser
- Woolen pants, fleece
- Synthetic base under layer
- Hardshell trousers, soft shell trousers
- Synthetic underwear, moisture-wicking
- Hiking/trekking boots, waterproof with ankle support
- Double climbing boots
- Sports shoes/runner shoes
- Synthetic socks, woolen
- Low ankle waterproof gaiters
Toiletries and Accessories
- Personal medications, first aid kit
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Face wipes
- Hand sanitizers
- Toilet paper
- Lip balm and sunscreen
- Water purification tablets or solutions
- Pee funnel
- Duffel bag
- Garbage bag
- Stuff sack
- Water bladder
- Water bottle
- Sleeping bag, four-season
- Headlamp, extra batteries
- Power bank, solar chargers
- Trekking poles
- Toe warmers
- Ear plugs
Besides taking care of the proper wear, you also have to make sure that you are carrying the right gear to make your Mount Elbrus expedition a safe and memorable journey. Depending on the climbing route, you may need a specific set of equipment for the ascend, however, the most essential tools for the climbing are pretty much the same.
- Ice axe
- Carabiner, auto-locking
- Accessory cord
- Waist leash
Best Time for Mount Elbrus Climbing
The most suitable time for the Mount Elbrus expedition is considered to be June to early September, this is the peak season that sees a lot of climbers in the region. Even among these peak months, the busiest months for the Mount Elbrus expedition are considered July and August. The weather is most stable during these months and the mountaineers can experience better climatic conditions during their scend on the mountain, the region is usually known for its harsh climatic conditions, which is one of the major reasons for the death on the mountain slopes.
During this climbing season, the temperature of the region can vary depending upon the part of the day. The temperature in the valley during the peak climbing season can reach as high as 25°C, but as you ascend higher the temperature starts to get freezing cold, especially during mornings and nights hitting an average low of about -20°C on the summit.
The afternoon clouds and thunderstorms are pretty common during the summer climbing season and you gotta prepare yourself for the high winds and cold temperatures above the altitude of 4,000 meters. Even after all the assessments, the temperature of this high-altitude region can be unpredictable at times, so in short, you need to be prepared for whatever weather conditions Mount Elbrus throws toward you during your expedition.
General Itinerary for the Mount Elbrus Expedition
Although the overall itinerary plans can differ depending upon your package, the number of expeditions, and the climbing route you are taking. You can expect the following itinerary plan on the most general expedition package.
Day 1: Arrival at Moscow
Day 2: Exploration day a Moscow
Day 3: Flight from Moscow to Mineralnye or Nalchik
Day 4: Hiking to Terskol Peak (3,900 meters)
Day 5: Cable car ride to Barrels (3,800 meters)
Day 6: Barrels to Pastukhova Rocks (4,700 meters)
Day 7: Summit of Mount Elbrus (5,642 meters)
Day 8: Descending/ spare day
Day 9: Drive to Mneralnye or Nalchik for the flight back to Moscow
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