Mount Elbrus is the highest peak in Europe, and one of the Seven Summits. It’s located just in Russia, though it is only a few miles from the border of Georgia. Though Elbrus is the highest summit in Europe, it is one of the technically easiest of the higher peaks on the continent. The mountain is in the Caucasus Mountains, which is one of the most rugged mountain ranges in the world.
Elbrus may not be that rugged of a mountain, but that is not the case with all the surrounding peaks! The standard route up Elbrus is long and strenuous but not technically difficult. The biggest danger is the weather which can be particularly nasty on this mountain. Besides the standard route, there are many much more difficult routes on the mountain, though they are very seldom climbed, and little information is available.
Mount Elbrus above – at 5,642 metres or 18,510 feet is Europe’s highest mountain, not considered to be a serious challenge for experienced mountaineers.
Elbrus is an extinct volcano, having it’s last eruption around 50 AD, and it’s crater (300-400 metres in diameter) is now filled with ice and snow. The mountain still retains it’s gently sloping, conical shape. The mountain has two main summits; the Western summit at 5,642.7 metres (18,513 feet) elevation and the Eastern summit at 5,621 metres (18,442 feet) elevation. The saddle between the two summits is at ,5416 merers (17,769 feet) elevation.
The first ascent of the West Peak of Elbrus occured on July 1874. The climbers were F. Crauford Grove, F. Gardiner, H. Walker, A. Sottajev, and P. Knubel. The first ascent of the East Peak was in 1829 by Killar Hashirov.
The majority of climbers use the standard route via the south face and Azau valley. This route starts at either the Barrels Hut at 3,900 metres (12,795 feet) or Azau Valley at 2,350 metres (7,700 feet), climbs up to the Diesel Hut at 4,157 metres (13,638 feet), climbs up past the Pashtuhova Rocks at 4670 metres (15,321 feet), up to the Saddle between the peaks at 5,416 metres (17,769 feet), and to the West summit at 5,642.7 metres (18,513 feet). The route is pretty straight forward (Russian Grade 2B) in good weather and is usually marked with wands. There are no real crevasses provided you don’t wander of the standard route.
The climb can still be a trial in bad weather, so go well prepared. Total elevation gain from the Barrels hut is 1,743 metres (5,718 feet), and the climb usually takes 6-9 hours up. Descent usually takes 3-6 hours although as can be seen in the video some people descend the mountain in rather a quicker fashion.
The biggest danger on Elbrus is the weather. Sudden storms and extremely cold weather are very common. Although the standard route is free from crevasses, this is not the case if you wander off route. During storms, several climbers have become disorientated, wandered off route and were never seen again. There are many frostbite and hypothermia injuries and deaths on the mountain every year.
The normal climbing season for Elbrus is from mid-May to mid-September. The very easiest time (and the most crowded) to climb the mountain is said to be mid-July through mid-August, followed by early July and late August. September is OK too, but the weather is usually colder and the routes can become icy. In May and June, the snow is usually softer than is in July or August, and the weather is usually colder.
As with all the mountains we have discussed in this series on the Seven Sisters acclimatisation is essential – Mount Elbrus is a moderately high mountain, so acclimatization is very important, especially since most people will be arriving from Moscow at a very low elevation. Altitude sickness is very common on Elbrus. Preferably, at least a week should be spent at altitudes of 2,500-4,500 metres (8200-14,800 feet) to acclimatize before making the final ascent.
Do not underestimate the red tape involved in getting the go ahead to climb Elbrus – let us just say that it is significant – here is a resume of what is required – good luck is all we will add:
1. Russian visa.
2. Voucher with Elbrus region mentioned.
3. OVIR registration.
4. Elbrus Area Preserve permission.
5. Immigration card.
The video below from JustGoRussia shows you in graphic form what conditions you can expect.
Well what about it – climb Europe’s highest mountain and then ski or snowboard down – something to talk about and rather extreme we suggest.