The Caucasus Mountain Range rises up between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, dividing Europe (to the north) from Asia (to the south). Located in Russia, north of the main Caucasus Range, the two summits of Mt. Elbrus are inside European territory and, at 18,510 feet (5,642 meters) the western summit is the highest point in Europe. Both summits of the dormant volcano are permanently snow-covered, and consequently offer a variety of ascent strategies.
Mt. Elbrus, with its heated huts, cable cars, ski lifts, snowcats, and helicopter skiing has been called the “most civilized” of the Seven Summits. While definitely strenuous, it is not a technical climb, and is often considered to be attainable by anyone in very good physical condition. During “high season” in the summer, 100 climbers have been known to attempt the summit in a single day. Basic glacier and winter mountaineering skills are advised, but many guide companies assure clients that they can “learn their skills on the mountain” if they’ve never used crampons or an ice axe before.
This casual reputation has led to disastrously unprepared attempts on the summit by unguided parties and, on average, between 15 and 30 people die on Mount Elbrus each year. It is necessary to gain about 5,000 feet of elevation on summit day which, depending on the route, weather, snow conditions, and skill level, can take 6 to 12 hours. Returning to safety below can take an additional 3 to 5 hours. Exhaustion, altitude sickness, white-out conditions, high winds, fog, disorientation – any number of factors can lead to sometimes catastrophic results.
Prerequisites: $1,000 to $1,800
Some, but definitely not all, guide companies recommend that you take their multi-day Mountaineering Prep Course, to learn basic mountaineering and cold weather expedition skills prior to this climb. This course is often held in the Cascade Range in western North America, and can be a good adventure, close to home.
When To Go
Most Mt. Elbrus trips are scheduled between May and September, when weather is relatively mild, with June to mid-August being the “high season.” However, heli-skiing is scheduled from February to mid-April to take advantage of the winter weather.
Gear And Clothing
Even in the summer months of July and August, temperatures on Mount Elbrus can be as cold as -5°F with plenty of snow and wind. The mountain is famous for its unpredictable and abruptly changing weather, with high winds, white-out conditions, or fog transforming a bright and sunny day into a life-threatening situation in a matter of minutes. Your guide company will send you a list of suggested clothing and gear, but see What It Costs For Expedition Gear and Clothing for a general idea.
Those planning to ski Mt. Elbrus are encouraged to bring:
- Aavalanche Transceiver - $320 to $350
- Avalanche Probe - $50 to $60
- Collapsible Shovel - $40 to $50
Local tour companies will often rent gear and expedition clothing to you, but quality and fit is not guaranteed.