Hike and Climb Mt. Elbrus

Rate this Adventure 4.5 miles 5700 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Rachel Davidson

Reach the top of Europe, Mt. Elbrus (18,510 ft.), and complete one of the Seven Summits on this incredible Russian mountaineering experience.

Mt. Elbrus is considered to be the second simplest of the Seven Summits, after Kilimanjaro. Climbers should have prior experience with glacier travel and crampon + ice axe use, but the climb itself is non-technical and considered to be a long, slow alpine trek. Everyone attempting should still be versed in mountain safety and aware that all alpine environments can be harsh and unforgiving. New climbers also need to be especially aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness as this peak is 4,000 feet above the tallest point in the continental United States.

The Baksan Valley is remote, even for Russia. From the small Mineralnye Vody airport, it’s a three-hour drive to the valley proper, which hosts a number of villages with lodging, restaurants, and gear shops. You might be able to catch a bus to the valley, though these can be unreliable, so it’s recommended to arrange travel ahead of time. The Mt. Elbrus SummitPost page has some great details on visa information, airport transfers, and other red tape.

To begin your journey, you’ll head to the very end of the valley to the Azau Village (7,700 ft.) where you will take a ski lift up to different groups of mountain huts at 12,800 ft.. Most people overnight at one of these huts, like the popular Barrels Huts, before embarking on an alpine start between 11pm and 1am. One hugely popular feature of the mountain are the ski cats that carry climbers from their huts up to about 15,500 ft. to begin their summit bid.

Of course, before attempting the summit, you must be sure to be properly acclimatized to the elevation. Here’s an example acclimatization schedule for Elbrus:

  • Day 1: Arrive in the Baksan Valley (6,900 ft.)
  • Day 2: Acclimatization hike up Cheget Peak (11,815 ft.)
  • Day 3: Acclimatization hike (up to around 14,000 ft.) and overnight at mountain huts (12,800 ft.)
  • Day 4: Acclimatization hike (maybe Pastukhov Rocks at 15,400 ft.) and overnight at mountain huts (12,800 ft.)
  • Day 5: Summit day (18,510 ft.)
  • Day 6: Second summit bid, reserve in case of bad weather
  • Day 7: Return to valley

Whether you take the ski cat or not, you’ll head straight up the ski slope on the southeastern face of the mountain before veering left to traverse across the East peak. There are usually wands marking the way, and the route is free of crevasses and rock fall. Because of that, helmets are optional on this mountain. Wear your harness and bring rope and supplies, though you may not need them (we didn’t have to rope up on summit day at all).

Unfortunately, this mountain does see a small number of deaths every year. By far, the biggest objective danger on Mt. Elbrus is the notoriously bad weather and freak blizzards. In the saddle between the west and east peaks, there is a small yellow shelter available to climbers in these cases.

Because the West Peak (the true summit) is relatively featureless, as long as you’re heading upwards, you’ll be going the right way. There’s only one relatively steep section before you’ll top out at a false summit and see the true top just ahead. The summit itself is a wide, flat area that will comfortably fit a large group of people. Snap some photos, hydrate, and prepare for a grueling descent!

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