CLIMBING ELBRUS, DOSSIER
Almost all-first time visitors to the Caucasus are keen to ascend Mount Elbrus, 5642m, the Europe's highest mountain
This is the most frequented area in the Central Caucasus. Many lateral valleys converge in the main valley, where the Baksan river flows, and lead to the most famous and beautiful mountains in the Caucasus range, such as the ice shield of Mt. Donguz-Orun (4,468 m), the vertiginous pinnacles of Mt. Shkhelda (4,320 m), the perfect pyramid of Mt. Shchurovskogo (4,239 m), Mt. Chatin (4,368 m) with its celebrated "Rhombus”, the peaks that crown the Adil-Su and Adir-Su valleys, legendary Mt. Ushba (4,710 m), and, naturally, Mt. Elbrus itself (5,642 m), the highest peak in Europe. Development in the tourist sector has led to the construction of several hotels along the Baksan river valley, and the dachas that once belonged to the most important Soviet politicians have been transformed into tourist lodgings. The Prielbrusie area is easily reached from Mineral'nye Vody by means of a practicable road that crosses the Kabardino-Balkaria region and the city of Tyrnyauz, goes up the Baksan valley, touching the villages of Elbrus and Terksol, and finally arrives at Azau, the departure point for the Mt. Elbrus telpherage.
Traveling around the kingdom of four- and five thousand meter peaks, imprisoned on ice, You can not miss the highest one. And it does not matter, which part of Great Caucasus to choose. You will be admiring with the view of rising up to heaven double capped Elbrus, towering in its majestic grandeur over lower ranges of snow mountains, inviting You to climb up.
Almost 1,000 meters taller than the other surrounding mountains, Mt. Elbrus dominates the countryside of the Central Caucasus like a two-headed icy giant. In fact it has two peaks that correspond to two different volcano vents: the western peak (Zapadnaya) is the tallest (5, 642 m) and probably the oldest one, while the eastern peak (Vostochnaya), 5,621 meters high, still has a gigantic crater 250 meters in diameter with traces of relatively recent volcanic activity. The entire mountain is covered by an immense sheet of ice that takes up 145 square kilometres and in some zones is 400 meters thick. From the saddle that divides the two peaks the white slopes of the mountain descend gently, splitting up into tongues of ice and crevasses lying in the many striking valleys that radiate from the mountain. On the western slope is a tower, Kiukiurtliu, which has vertical monolithic faces on its southern and western sides with 5-and 6-rated routes.
The altitude, rarefied air, variable weather, frequent violent storms and low temperature have for centuries discouraged man from attempting to reach the summit of this mountain.
The ascent of Mt. Elbrus by the normal classical route from the South, which is the most popular in the Caucasus, is a splendid, long, high-altitude climb over a moderate incline that requires good acclimatisation but has no technical difficulties. However, despite the apparent simplicity of this route, it can be dangerous. The history of Mt. Elbrus is marked by the tragic death of many teams that either got lost during the descent or were caught in bad weather at a high altitude. The weather, in fact, can change without any warning, and it is easy to lose track of the route, which is at a safe distance from the many deep crevasses.
Our standard trip is of 9 days. The trip begins at airport of Mineralnye Vody. Them we drive to the base hotel in the Baksan Valley. From the hotel we make several trips following beautiful forested valleys, walking through alpine meadows, climbing some of the easiest summits or passes which provide superb panoramas of the Caucasus Range.
These initial one-day trips will provide us with fitness and acclimatization necessary for the ascent of Elbrus itself. For the ascent of Elbrus we use a cable car system to take us to the height of about 3800m, where we stay in the Garabashi Huts (Bochki) or in so-called “Generator” Hut (or Diesel Hut), which is reconstructed and stays near former site of the Priut 11 Hut (4020m). In case of accommodation in “Diesel Hut” you can additionally request ratruck transportation of the luggage from cable station MIR (3500m) or from “Garabashi”. But it is recommended to walk with ruckzak by foot for better acclimatization.
The route winds through the rocks of Pastukhov, which can easily be seen from the refuge, and goes up towards the saddle (5,200 m), which is reached after a long course that is laborious because of the high altitude. Here at the saddle, where there are the ruins of a building, the trails branch off to the two peaks. The slope is steeper here and the snow is icy, and those who have bothered to take along crampons and an ice axe up to this point will be well rewarded by feeling much safer during the last 200 meters of this climb.
The average time is from six to eight hours for the ascent and about three hours for the descent. Crampons and ski poles are necessary for this climb. In autumn, winter and spring the face between the Pastukhov rocks and the saddle might be covered with ice.
The actual program will depend on the weather, group condition and the availability of a snowcap, which we will use to help us up the lower slopes of the mountain (if available and necessary).
The trip finishes in airport Mineralny Vody after successful and enjoyable climbing the highest summit in Europe.
1 DAY Arrival in Mineralny Vody. Meeting with the guide in the aiport Mineralny Vody and transfer to Baikal Valley, to the hotel (appr 3hs). Accommodation in the hotel at the glade Azau. Dinner by own arrangement
2 DAY Day of acclimatization. After breakfast in the hotel we transfer you to Cheget glade and then ski-touring or climbing peak Cheget-tau (3500m) with guide from the glade Cheget. Lunch pack is provided. Approximate time is 5-6 hours. If group wants it is possible to use chair-lift for extra charge, but it is recommended to start from the foot. Return to the hotel by transport. Dinner by own arrangement.
3 DAY Day of acclimatization. After breakfast in the hotel drive to valley Adil-Su. Acclimatization ski-touring or climbing peak Andyrchi, or Kurmychi or to the plateau Kashkatash (3800m) by glacier Kashkatash. Group decide with the guide which route to use depending on weather and snow conditions. Return to the hotel by transport. Dinner by own arrangement.
4 DAY After breakfast in the hotel taking a cable car to the station MIR (3500m) and then by chair-cable to Garabashi refuge (Bochki, 3750m). Acclimatization walk to the place of former Priut of 11th. Accommodation in the refuge Bochki or in “Diesel Hut”.
As chair-lift from Mir to Bochki operates not stable (depending on weather and/or number of clients), it is possible that group should go to Diesel Hut via Bochki by foot or skies. Group can order the rutrack for transportation of the luggage or themselves additionally. Dinner in the Diesel Hut is provided.
5 DAY After breakfast in the hut acclimatization ski-touring or climbing to Pastukhova Rocks (4800m, appr 3 hours). Light lunch pack is provided. Overnight in Bochki or in “Generator”. Dinner in the hut is provided.
6 DAY Summit day. Starting very early (appr at 03.00) ski-touring or climbing to Pastukhova Rocks then to the Saddle (5200m) and to either West or East summit. Descent to Bochki and to Azau. Return to the hotel in Azau glade. Breakfast, light lunch-pack is provided.
If group wants it is possible to hire the rutrack to Pastuhova rocks for additional cost, which can save some forces and time and group can start at 04.00 morning.
7 DAY Reserve day for bad weather. Day for rest and walks in surroundings. Overnight in the hotel or on the slope of Elbrus.
8 DAY After breakfast transfer to the airport Mineralny Vody for flight home.
- Hotel accommodation in the Elbrus region in DBL rooms. Accommodation in refuge Bochki or in “Generator” Hut during climbing Elbrus (common rooms for 5-10 pax).
- breakfasts in the hotel in Elburs area
- lunch-packs for acclimatization days
- full board during climbing Elbrus days
- Mountain main guide
- Service of cooker in the refuge on the slope of Elbrus for climbing days. Necessary number of guides for Elbrus climbing (1 additional guide for each 3-4 climbers).
- Kitchen appliance, including stove, fuel, crockery, common equipment, like ropes, ice-crew if necessary.
- Border permission
- Registration in the region.
SERVICES NOT INCLUDED:
- room service, laundry charges, beverages, personal telephone calls and other any item of personal nature, lunches and dinners in Elbrus region.
- ratruck service (MIR-Generator, Generator-MIR, Generator-Pastukhova, etc.)
- National Park fee if it necessary.
- Personal Insurance. Please check if your insurance covers climbing risks.
- Rescue helicopter coverage and first aid kit.
- Tips for guides, cooker, hotel staff, so on.
This trip is graded as D. The 3-4 days are devoted to the ascent of Elbrus. Although no advanced mountaineering experience is required for the ascent of Elbrus it is necessary to be familiar with the basic use of crampons and ice-axes. There will be several opportunities to practice them during the first days.
Day 1 – Mineralny Vody-Terskol
After pleasant flight local mountain guide in Mineralny Vody airport, who accompanies you during whole tour in Elbrus area, will meet you. We use Russian microbuses, like “Gazel” for 10 pax maximum. Unfortunately roads in the region are not so good to use foreign transport. They are not so comfortable but quite reliable for this kind of roads, especially in the mountains.
Driving from airport we pass some towns of famous mineral water resort like Piatigorsk, mount “Mashuk”, local villages, and in two hours we entry to the valley of Baksan river, seeing the first snowcapped summits. Deeper to the valley, road goes from one bank of the river to other, pine-tree forest and slopes of the valley come closer to the road. We pass the main town in the valley – Tyrnauz. It is town for workers of mines, placed on the left slope of the valley. They mine some rear minerals, metals, so on. These plants could be seen on the slope of left ridge of the valley. Road amongst these plants leads to the pass to next valley of Shoukol river and then leads to Jilisu Valley of Mineral Water springs.
Next we pass settlement Verhni Baksan. On the left side of the river is entry to the river Kyrtyk and Syltran, leading to the pass Kyrtyk and then to Jilisu, or to the pass Syltran. On the right side of the river is entry to the valley Adyr-Su river with alpinbase "Ullutau" and "Djailyk".
Then we pass the settlement Elbrus. On the left side of the river is the entry to the river Irik leading to Irikchat pass – East ridge of Elbrus. On the right side of the river is the entry to the valley of the river Adil-Su, leading to Shkhelda, Djantugan, Kashkatash glaciers and summits.
Here we can be met by authorities of National Park to pay entrance fee, which was settled in 2004.
Twenty more minutes and we reach the settlement Terskol in the upper part of the Baksan River valley. We offer to be accommodated in the hotels on the glade Azau. They are new and quite comfortable.
Dinner can be ordered in the hotel and you have time for a walk along nice Baksan valley. Ten minute to Cheget glade, an hour to the Narzan Glade with mineral water sources. Nice pine-tree forest and snow capped summits around.
Discussions with mountain guide the plans of next days, depending on snow, weather, temperature conditions.
After breakfast we go to the glade Cheget under the mount with the same name. That is may be the most famous name after Elbrus, especially amongst mountain skiers. Here is hotel “Cheget” and number of private hotels and cable chair lift to the slopes of the mount with quite difficult slopes of skiing. On the left you can see pair of Kogutais peaks and peak Donguz Orun with ice cap on the top. One of the most difficult route “Semerka Hergiany” leads to the top of Donguz Orun.
We do not use lift and start climbing from the foot of mount till its top (appr 3300m), at the beginning along lift line among pine tree forest and then by snow slopes. No technical difficulties, only long, 15-25 degree slope. Approximately 3-4 hours of walk and you are on the top of Cheget mount with great view of the two-tops Elbrus – main aim of your travel here.
Lunch-pack is provided by your guide.
Descent to the glade is almost running and rest in the hotel.
After breakfast microbus Gasel transfer the group to the valley Adil-Su to the alpine base Jantugan (appr 1 hour). Depending on weather and snow condition we choose one of some variants for acclimatization. Lunch-pack is provided by your guide.
To Kashkatash plateau: from Jantugan base which is on the right bank of the river we cross the river to its left bank and start to climb along Kashkatash glacier through pine-tree forest. Then we go on the glacier and surfing between crevices and icefalls to the plateau Kashkatash, surrounded by nice peaks Free Spane, Bjedukh, Germogenova. Time of climbing is 4-5 hours, 25-30 degree, crampons and ropes are necessary.
Descent is 1,5-2 hours and we have good rest in the hotel. Discussing with guide the physical condition of each member of the group and plans for next days. If everything is ok with all we prepare to climb Elbrus.
After breakfast we take the wagon and go up to the station "Old Krugozor" (3000m) and then to station "MIR" (3500). Sure we spend a bit time for taking great photos of the panoramas of the Main Caucasus Ridge with Donguz Orun in the front of.
Depending on health condition we can either use the chair lift to Bochki refuge (if physical condition is quite ok) or we go to Bochki by foot (which is better for getting more acclimatization). It takes appr 2 hours with rucksacks.
“Bochki” refuge is placed on Garabashi hill on the slope of Elbrus at appr 3750m asl. Here is 10 big tanks (in Russian – “Bochki”) with wooden shelves inside for appr 5-6 pax and “hall” at the entry for equipment and snow. They are quite comfortable for climbers and became main place of accommodation of climbers after Priut of 11th was burned in 1998. We should take in account that there is possibility that all tanks will be full, as a lot of climbers round the world keen to climb the highest peak of the Europe, but capacity of refuge is limited.
We can go to the place where Priut of 11th stood and accommodate in so-called "Generator" Hut. It was really generator here for making electricity for Priut of 11th. But now it is fully reconstructed outside and inside There are two floors. On the first floor there are three rooms and room with table and gas stove - place for dining (we can not name it "dining room" exactly, but something like this). On the second floor there are big hall with plates on both sides for 5-6 pax on each and four "corner" rooms for 2-3 pax in each. During high season this hut is full as well and it could be quite a lot of people with equipment. But there are the roof and walls - so the best place on the slopes of Elbrus. And additional chance to meet the people and climbers from different countries and spend the time talking about climbs in Nepal, Ands, Alps and others.
If you want you can hire the ratruck which can take you or/and your luggage to the Hut for extra charge.
After accommodation we can walk higher than hut to 4300-4500m for acclimatization without rukzaks.
After breakfast we start hard acclimatization day with climbing to Pastukhova rocks, which you have seen yesterday. The steepness is not more than 20 degree and 25 degree last 500m. But it is long way at the high altitude (more than 4000m), so be prepared to hard long walk. In case of good snow conditions you do not need crampons and rope. In case of ice you need to use crampons and rope.
Pastukhova rocks are from 4600m to 4800m (so today you rise on 1000m above Bochki and 800m above Generator). Some climbers use this place as starting point for climbing the top. But to have a night here you should get very good acclimatization before.
In case good weather you will see almost all Caucasus on the South. Even Black Sea. -)))
On evening guide discusses with you health and physical situation, readiness to climb the top of Elbrus and which summit (West or East). In case everybody ready to climb and feel themselves well we go to bed as early as possible.
6 day Summit day.
Early wake up, approximately at 03.00. If stars on the black sky sphere are all visible – so you are lucky and can start to prepare for climbing. It is quite cold at this altitude at night, may be minus 10-20 degree, so you should keep your will in the fist and come out from the warm sleeping bag. Take a tea, prepared by cooker, fill in your bottle with tea, wear warm clothes, cold boots, gloves, glasses - and go into night upwards to the win.
You will not notice when you will be on Pastukhova rocks (two-three hours run so fast) and you can see from here sunrise – unforgettable picture and impressions.
By the way if you feel yourself very well you can skip walking this part, as have done that already yesterday, you can hire the ratruck, which brings you to Pastukhova rocks for 30 min. It is possible for extra payment on spot. Tell your guide about your wish in advance.
Have a rest a bit, but no long to not catch the cold. And continue climbing along sticks, which were set by local rescue team. If lucky – ice is covered by snow, slope is not more than 20-25 degree, but altitude start to harm your feelings. The main thing – you should go exactly according to your breath and heart work, not faster, listening yourself, if possible – without stops, just for some second.
Over 5000m the route turns to the left and start traverse the slope in the saddle direction. In two-three hours you will be on the saddle between West and East summits. Here is flat place and you can take a tea (better hot) with chocolate. Last efforts are necessary to reach the top.
Collect all forces, do not give up.
East Summit (5621m). Easier variant. From the saddle not so steep (maximum 30 degree) icy snow slope without any technical difficulties leads to the top. Just it is too high and it is after long work from Bochki or Generator.
West Summit(5642m). More difficult variant. The steep clear ice slope (30-35 degree) leads to the summit plateau. You should use crampons, ropes, in some cases ice-crews for belonging if necessary. And after hard work you are waited by long (appr 1 km) flat top plateau, leading you to the real top point. That is the hardest point of climbing. If you win your wishes to come down – you are real alpinist and climber.
Do not be in hurry to come down. Spend a bit time on the top watching around, taking a picture, even it could be windy and very cold on the top. Great pictures will remind you and your children and grand children that you were on the top of the Europe, and unforgettable feeling should be kept in your body.
Descending must be more careful than ascending. It is usual when the weather can change after noon. Be careful and descend exactly along the way of ascent, by the sticks. Guide is responsible in keeping the group together and leading you to the place of rest and celebration. Follow all his instructions. In case of ice above Pastuhova rock especially for descent we use the fixed rope, even it is much more longer than running down.
At last you are in your Hut, and you were on the top, you are winner! Celebration of successful ascent.
It is possible to descent down to Azau and to the hotel by cable lifts. If you wish. But really it is worth to stay on the slope of Elbrus one more night, drinking hot tea and talking about hard and long day.
For descending to the Station "MIR" you can additionally hire ratruck at least for your luggage, and possibly for you as well for extra payment.
We keep these days as reserve for bad weather, bad health so on.
In case of very successful climbing during 7th day, you can come down to the valley and climb some nearest simple summits of the Baksan Valley for exploration of the nice Caucasus mountains.
For example, you can walk along Baksan river to the glacier Maly (Small) or Bolshoi (Big) Azau in direction of Azau pass (nice snow covered slopes and views), walks in Adil-Su, Terskolak, Irik valleys (tributaries of Baksan river). So on. Exact plans of these days can be discussed with the guide.
After breakfast transfer with guide or assistant to airport Mineralny Vody. Flight home.