How to Climb Mount Elbrus
What you need to know
Mount Elbrus is a dormant volcano (volcanic mountain) located in the Russian Caucasus Mountains, and it stands at 5,642 meters making it the highest peak in Europe. Because it’s the highest peak in Europe it’s also one of the 7 summits- the highest peak on each continent, making this mountain a must if you want to complete this amazing challenge.
So why should you climb Elbrus?
Well, for starters it’s the highest freakin’ mountain in Europe, so you’ll immediately gain bragging rights and life-goal achievements. But secondly, it’s nicely challenging and at the same time gives you exposure to some technical skills which you can use for other mountains. Elbrus is a good mountain to start on if you have bigger ambitions to climb 6, 7 and 8000m peaks later, and are already in average to good physical condition. You’ll learn how to use crampons and ice axes, as well as proper expedition equipment, like mountaineering boots and mitts so it could be the perfect chance to bolster your skills before starting your prep for a bigger mission.
So, on to the guide… Let’s start with the most important questions first.
How to get there
There are few ways to get to the starting point, including the boring way which is by cable car to Garabashi (3,800m) if climbing without a guide, but where is the fun in that. The proper way to summit Elbrus is from the base camp, which is located at Glade Emmanuel (2700m) or Glade Azau (2350m)- most expedition companies will drive here in 4x4s, which is all part of the fun.
Important to note, you can climb Elbrus on you own, without a guide. But you should probably make sure that you are highly experienced and have the right equipment and insurance before considering this. If you’re taking this option, then you need to head for Mineralnye Vody Airport, and then on to a town called Terskol, which is a few kilometers from Elbrus. From there you can start your acclimatization, rent your equipment and start your ascent.
However, it’s always better to use an expedition guiding company due to the fact that there are measures in place as a backstop to prevent anything going terribly wrong (i.e. you dying), and actually, travelling as part of a group does instil an authentic sense of exploration. You and your teammates will be collaborating on and supporting each other through a tough experience, and there is nothing quite like base camp with newly acquired friends after a tough day.
When is the best time to go?
The best time to climb Elbrus is between July and August, but the climbing season runs from April to September. As you might expect, climbing at the start or end of the season will be quieter, but also much worse weather.
How much does it cost to climb Mount Elbrus?
If you’re an experienced climber, or up for a risky challenge, you can climb Elbrus for a few hundred pounds. Alternatively, you can find a good expedition company here which will cost you around £2-2500 for the full expedition, usually including flights. This is made more manageable with the flexible payment terms available.
Climbing without a guide means bearing all your own burdens; insurance, safety protocols, equipment and transportation, visas and letters of invitation etc. Luckily, there’s an expedition planner called Echio here to help with this stuff.
Echio only work with the best expedition companies- the ones that don’t spoil adventures by doing things the cheap and easy way, taking shortcuts and entirely missing the point of adventure! So if you want a good guide, then we’ve taken the hassle out of your search- all of our expedition guides are vetted by us to the highest standard.
How long does it take to climb Elbrus?
If you’re already acclimatised, you can summit Elbrus in 5-7 days. Most expeditions last around 11 days, to account for the acclimatisation period, training and prep and importantly, a backup summit day in case the weather doesn’t permit a bid.
Of course, if you’re a highly conditioned and experienced it is possible to complete the climb much faster. There are actually events like the Red Fox Elbrus Race Festival, in which the goal is to climb Elbrus as fast as possible. in 2015 a man named Vitaly ‘the monster’ Shkel summited Elbrus in just 3hrs29. How’s that to make you feel all fat and flabby…
See a video of the event here:
How hard is it to climb Mount Elbrus?
All mountains are ranked against other mountains in terms of difficulty, altitude, technicality and other factors like weather and previous success rates. So compared with some of the classic big-dog mountains like K2, Everest and Lhotse, Elbrus is easy.
Elbrus is not widely considered to be a very hard mountain to summit. It is definitely dangerous and challenging for the average person, with summit day around 12-14 hours long and proper expedition gear being required, but it is not hugely technical and has a good success rate.
However, if you are not fit and are heavier (including muscular, fat, tall) you will find Elbrus harder than someone of fitter or smaller stature. Your best shot at being successful and enjoying the challenge is to get as fit as you can before you go. This means running, cycling, rucking, lifting weights and eating right for at least 6 months prior to the trip. As a benchmark, if you can’t run 10km, you have some work to do.
Is it safe to climb Mount Elbrus?
In general, yes. Elbrus is a well established mountain with thousands of successful summits each year, and a huge infrastructure set up to support climbers. However, there are some fatalities yearly, as with most 5000m+ mountains. These mostly due to altitude sickness or accidents (mostly caused by poor preparation), so if you’re planning on checking Elbrus off your list, then double check and take all the needed precautions. Working with your expedition company with drastically reduce the risks.
There is always a risk of other incidents, like injuries, damaged equipment and so on, so be vigilant and look out for yourself and your team mates.
Is Mount Elbrus a technical climb?
As far as mountains go, Mount Elbrus is not a technical climb. Yes, you do require some proper mountaineering kit like crampons and ice axes, but their use is limited and not always critical to the success of the climb. There are also sections where you’ll need to be roped in, using Carabiners and a harness too, but your expedition company will teach you these skills before the summit bid.
How to prepare yourself to climb Mount Elbrus?
As we always say, you can never be “too fit”. Getting expedition fit essentially requires you to increase your general base of fitness. In order to summit Elbrus, you should be of a good level of fitness, and have strong mental will power. This is because summit day will be long (12-14 hours) of continuous uphill walking, in full kit, against winds up to 40mph. If you start complaining after 5 mins waiting for a bus in the rain, then you have a lot of work to do to increase your mental toughness. Your body is capable of a lot more than you think it is, but your mind controls all the switches.
The best kind of training is that which mimics the real thing as closely as possible, so some smaller mountains, trekking in the hills and so on is a good place to start.
Start your training as soon as possible; go for walks each day, increasing the distance or the speed. Gradually add variants, going through fields, wear a heavy pack, and make sure you always wear your hiking boots so they are well worn in. You should be aiming to be able to trek 6+ hours in one go, cross country, comfortably.
Walking is really just the base of your fitness preparation. You should also be trying to increase your cardio capacity, through running, swimming or cycling and lifting weights to improve your core and leg strength. Remember, the general principle is to make your workouts harder over time. If you’re overweight, make it a priority to drop some pounds; this will have a dramatic effect on your fitness and stamina- it’s much easier to drag 80kilos up a hill than 100… Much easier, I can tell you from experience.
To increase your mental strength, it really just comes down to will power. You can start with simple exercises like meditation and gradually evolve into harder practices- start walking in the rain or intermittent fasting which will train your mind to resist the temptation to quit. There are many training plans online for increasing your mental toughness.
Of course, always seek the advice of a professional, like a personal trainer at your local gym or a dietitian. Even your GP could give you some advice.
What do you need to climb Mount Elbrus?
The kit list for Elbrus is slightly more extensive than the basic mountaineering kit list we wrote. This is because the winds on Elbrus can be extreme, and the temperatures very low as a result. The good things is, rather than forking out for new kit and then breaking it in, you could opt to rent it on location, or in advance from an equipment company in Russia or from your expedition company. However, if you’re a keen mountaineer and plan on more trips, then owning your own kit is a good option and also, kinda cool.
- Mountaineering boots: These are not “trekking boots” but proper mountaineering boots, like the La Sportiva G2. You can either buy or rent these- only buy if you plan on more mountains!
- Lightweight ice axe
- Helmet (optional)
- 2 x carabiners (locking)
Upper body clothing
- Waterproof jacket: Hard shell, preferably gore-tex. Must be hooded, get a good one!
- Mid layer fleeces x2 (one for around camp)
- Heavy down jacket: look for a high packed down jacket rated for extreme cold.
- T-shirts: avoid cotton like the plague, merino wool or synthetic fabrics are best.
Lower body clothing
- Trekking trousers: 2 pairs is ideal, if you can get ones that convert into short then these are great
- Fleece pants for camp (like joggers)
- Shorts: not essential but a nice to have for comfort on the warmer days
- Waterproof trouser: get good ones. Cheap ones don’t breathe and cause condensation to build up inside, making you wetter than if you didn’t have them on!
- Long sleeved tops: 2 or 3 setsAlways go with merino wool if you can, as it is by far the best. Synthetic also works well, but stinks after a few uses.
- Long sleeved leggings- 1 pair for summit day
Fingers and toes
- Hiking boots: get these well in advance and wear them in your training. They absolutely must be worn in and comfortable, else you’ll get crippling blisters. Make sure they are warm and water proof 4 season boots at least ankle height.
- Camp shoes: hiking trainers are fine- anything really for wearing around camp
- Socks: 3 pairs of hiking socks for the lower sections. 2 pairs of thicker socks for the summit attempt, and a pair ofsock liners also.
- Gloves: one pair of outer gloves and a pair of glove liners should suffice, however temps at the summit can get to -30C so the warmest option is a pair of proper expedition mittens.
- Some kind of sunhat
- Warm beanie hat: Nothing with a bobble etc, it will get in the way of your helmet or hood
- Neck gaiter: a thin lightweight one is fine
- Ski goggles: essential in high winds
- Sunglasses: cat 3 or 4 at the least
- Large day sack: at least 60litres to carry all your gear. Ideally one that is waterproof and has been worn or used before.
- Smaller day sack: for summit day only, not essential but maybe more convenient
- Duffel bag: 100-120 litres to carry all of your gear from home and through the airport. Try not to have it weight more than 15kilos
- Sleeping bag: The obvious one, but make sure its rated to -15C at least. Especially if you are camping, and not staying in the huts
- Camp mattress: inflatable lightweight mattress for inside the tent. Some can be folded to form a back rest for added comfort inside the tent on rest days.
- Expedition tent
Toiletries and additions
- High factor sunscreen and lip screen
- Hand sanitiser
- Water bottles (you could take a bladder, but you won’t be able to use this on summit day on account that the water will freeze in the tube) You’ll need 2 x 1 litre bottles.
- Vitamins/energy drink powder: not essential but a nice pick-me-up during tough times
- Water purification tablets: if you need to drink water on the trail, it must be purified
- Camp towel: easy to find and cheap
- Head torch: essential, make sure you have spare batteries
- Trekking poles: not essential but handy
- Pen knife: handy but not essential
- Toilet paper and baggies. If you need a number 2 on the trail, you must take your toilet paper away with you.
- Bin bag: used to line your back pack or to store dirty/wet clothes
- A small off the shelf medical bag: will cover the essentials
- Diamox: for altitude sickness
- Diarrhoea Treatment
Here are some other articles we’ve written on mountaineering which you might be interested in…
Beginners Mountaineering kit list