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What sort of a mountain is Mount Elbrus to climb?

You might remember that I waxed lyrical the other day (Mount Elbrus – where is it?) over the exact whereabouts of Mount Elbrus? Well, I couldn’t exactly leave the subject behind without discovering whether it was a suitable mountain to include on our site…

The weather can certainly be extreme , in bad weather it can become Arctic, which gives it a place in xtremesport4u, but as a climb it is not that  technically difficult. Hard work, but not difficult…

Elbrus stands 20 km (18 miles) north of the main range of the Greater Caucasus and 65 km (40 miles) south-southwest of the Russian town of Kislovodsk. Its permanent icecap feeds 22 glaciers, which in turn give rise to the Baksan, Kuban, and Malka Rivers.

The lower of the two summits (5,621m) was first ascended on 10 July, 1829 (Julian calendar) by Сhilar Khachirov, a Circassian – Kabardian guide for an Imperial Russian army scientific expedition led by General Emmanuel, and the higher summit (at 5,642m, about 40 m – 130 ft difference) in 1874 by an English expedition led by F. Crauford Grove and including Frederick Gardner, Horace Walker, and Swiss climber Peter Knubel.

During the early years of the Soviet Union, mountain climbing became a very popular sport and in the winter of 1936 an inexperienced group attempted the mountain, and ended up suffering many fatalities when they slipped on the ice and fell to their deaths.

Nowadays, however, it is accepted that Elbrus may be attempted by any strong mountain walker who is familiar with the use of an ice axe and crampons. The climb is not technically difficult, but is is physically arduous because of the elevations and frequent strong winds. The average annual death toll is 15-30, but this is primarily due to badly organized and ill- equipped attempts to summit.

A cable car system was completed in 1976 which can take visitors as high as 3,800m (12,500 ft) and a lot of people use this as the starting point for their climb. It is important to remember that acclimatization is as important here as it is in, for example, the Himalayas, and it is not wise to attempt the summit straight off. There are many magnificent lower peaks that you can trek and climb before going for the top.

It is also worth remembering that the cable car is a 15-minute ride and it can get very cold.

There are a wide variety of routes up the mountain, but the normal route, which is entirely free of crevasses, continues more or less straight up the slope from the end of the cable car system. However, if you stray as much as 50m off this route you can find yourself in very dangerous territory.

You can take the cable car from Azau roadhead to Mir Station from where either a 1 hour walk or a chairlift takes you to Garabashi – “The Barrels”. Above that it may be possible to hire a snow cat to go to the Diesel Hut or higher to Pastukhova Rocks. Walking this would take 90 minutes to the hut and almost 2 hours more to the rocks. The walk to the Saddle takes another 3 to 4 hours and from there to the summit you must allow a further 5 to 6 hours. Thank you to JustGoRussia for the video.

In the summer it is not uncommon to find at least 100 people attempting the summit daily.

The Kiukurtliu Route is longer and starts from below the cablecar Mir station and heads west over glacier slopes towards the Khotiutau Pass. Some distance before reaching this pass, the south spur of the Kiukurtliu Cupola is climbed to a broad glaciated saddle. From here a rising traverse to the north is made to attain the easy northwest spur by which the summit is gained. This expedition involves 3 nights camping with bivouacs. You will also need a rope, axe and crampons.

The winter, however,  is a whole different story. Elbrus is notorious for its brutal winter weather and strong winds. Summit attempts are few and far between.

Another reason why this moutain comes onto our extreme site is because, if you are planning to summit it, you will need 3 permits to get there even before you start!

I don’t know about you but I find red-tape to be one of the most extreme challenges in our day-to-day life! To climb Elbrus you will need:

  • Border Zone Permit which you get from the military head office of the border rangers in Nalchik. You should also be registered at their local posts: in the Baksan valley at the Alpine Base Baksan; in the Adyrsu valley near the Alpine Camp Ullutau. This will allow you to access any area south of the Baksan.
  • Prielbrusie National Park Permit is the next. No strict system exists for obtaining this permit. Prices are negotiable. Park offices are located in Elbrus village.
  • And finally the OVIR Registration. All foreigners have to be registered in OVIR (Visa and Registration department) in Tyrnyauz. Generally hotels arrange registration. Last year the “official” fee was 50 roubles per person. It may be obtained at Mineralnye Vody airport at a much higher price. Unregistered climbers may face a fine that can be very high – but negotiable.

What else can I tell you about climbing Mount Elbrus? Ah yes… it is said to be home to the ‘world’s nastiest’ outhouse which is close to being the highest loo in Europe. The title was conferred by Outside Magazine following a 1993 search and article. The outhouse is surrounded by and covered in ice, perched off the end of a rock, and with a pipe pouring effluvia onto the mountain. It consistently receives low marks for sanitation and convenience, but is considered to be a unique experience! Delightful…