Climb Mt. Elbrus independently. Complete itinerary

Mt.Elbrus, Russia. The highest mountain in Europe
Mt.Elbrus, Russia. The highest mountain in Europe

Mt.Elbrus is the highest summit in Europe that makes it a very popular climbing destination for both experienced and amateur climbers. Its relative easiness is another reason why so many people attempt to climb Elbrus, in good weather conditions and with right gear any normal person can do it, the technical part of the climb is not difficult. Though don’t think it’s just a simple walk up the mountain in fact every year between 15-20 people die climbing Elbrus, the main reasons; bad weather, poor visibility, lack of acclimatization. We don’t encourage inexperienced people to climb Elbrus without a guide but if you’ve done some high altitude hikes/climbs before, do proper acclimatiziation and use right gear it’s absolutely doable. We hope our Climbing Mount Elbrus guide will help you to make a right decision and to prepare for conquering this amazing mountain.

Both Elbrus summits from Garabashi
Both Elbrus summits from Garabashi station (3800m).

Need to know about Mt. Elbrus

  • Due to the northern location of Mt. Elbrus at the high altitude the amount of oxygen in the air is even less than at the same altitudes more south. We can confirm it 100% it was more difficult to breath than for example in the Andes at the same altitude.
  • It has two peaks; the east summit (5621m) and west summit (5642m), the main climbing route (the south route) goes to the west summit.

Best months to climb Mt. Elbrus

  • July and the first half of August is the best season for climbing with the most sunny days and the warmest temperatures.
  • In June you still get colder days and a lot of snow even at lower altitudes (3500-3800m).
  • The second half of August (when we did the climb) can be quite unpredictable; strong wind, snowfalls, rain etc.
Saddle of Mt.Elbrus
Saddle between two summits of Elbrus, the last steep uphill before reaching the top.

Different climbing routes

There are four routes, two main; South and North, the South route (from Azau village) is the easiest and the most popular, it’s where all the cable cars and barrels are. If you have no experience and want to go without a guide it’s the best option. You’ll need from 3-5 days to climb. We did this route and still it was challenging enough and worked out cheaper for us (the fastest route) since we rented some gear.

The North route is the historical one the first climber to Elbrus went this way. There are no roads and cable cars it means you’ll have to walk all the way from 2550m (base camp) carrying all your stuff. The good thing about this route there are few people. We’d recommend to take this route if you go with an experienced guide or you’re an experienced climber or if you’ve done Elbrus before. You’ll need 6-8 days.

The other two; from the west and east side both are quite wild with very few people, with no infrastructure. The West route starts from Polyana Dzhily-Su (2670m). The East route starts from Elbrus village. For climbing these routes you have to be quite experienced and in good shape.

Scenery on the way to Elbrus summit
Fantastic scenery on the way to the summit, Mt.Elbrus.

Before the climb

Stay for a couple of days in Terskol and do one or two acclimatization hikes; Mt.Cheget (3800m), you can walk up or take a cable car; Observatory/peak Terskol (3150m), only walking, the path starts in Terskol. Remember! don’t push yourself too hard rather rest and sleep more.

Register at Rescue center in Terscol (MCHS), you can do it in person or over the phone (+7-928-694-51-19; +7(866-38)-7-14-89). They’ll need your name, surname and passport number (only one persone, the group leader), contact phone number and return date. After the climb you have to sign out in person or by phone. Nobody ever checked our registration on the mountain but they did phone us to check if we came down on the last day.

Climbing Mt.Elbrus on your own
Alya on Mt.Cheget, acclimatization hike. Climbing mount Elbrus without a guide

Cost of the climb

Unlike many of the famous mountains there is no fee to climb Elbrus.

Budget (the south route);

  • Transport – cable car+ski lift — RUB900/US$15 both ways including backpacks.
  • Accommodation (barrels) — RUB700-800/US$12-14 per day. Free if camping.
  • Snowcat to Pastukhov rocks (optional) — RUB5000/US$87 pp. one way.
  • Drinking water — RUB200/US$3 for 5l.
  • Food in coffee shops (pies, fried eggs, snacks, tea) – from RUB300/US$5 per day. For more variety bring your own food.

Where to stay on Elbrus

Mir station, 3500m

There are barrels (bochki) as well as a coffee shop and some souvenir shops here. Not really an option unless you have serious altitude problem and can’t go higher. Almost no climbers stay here, it gets very busy with day visitors. To start a climb you’ll have to go to Garabashi station anyway.

Garabashi station, 3800m

There are several barrel huts and containers here. The first group, the bottom level (the nearest to the chairlift) and the first coffee shop. We’d recommend to walk further up first, because you’ll make your summit day a bit shorter and second, because there are many day visitors here, it’s quite muddy and too busy. The second group of barrels is 30-50m up we’d suggest to walk to the very last one, closest to the new cable car station. Here there are two coffee shops (the wooden one works 24 hours) where you can charge your phone, buy drinking water and some food.

Shelter Maria, 4100m

Big containers with two bedrooms each, a kitchen with gas stove, big table and benches, electrisity (after 7pm), outside toilet. This is the best option if you’re planning to walk all the way to the summit (not taking a snowcat) you’ll make your summit day easier and shorter. No coffee shops, no drinking water here, for cooking you can melt snow or use water from the streams it will be fine for drinking as well when boiled.

Map of Elbrus
Map of the cable car route and the stations on Elbrus.

How to get to the starting point of the climb

From Terskol take a shared taxi (Kupol hotel) to Azau, RUB200/US$3,5 for a car up to 4 people, takes 5min.

From Azau village take an old cable car (red color) to Mir (World) station, RUB500/US$8 both ways. There is a new cable car (white color), it’s double the price and doesn’t go to Mir station. First you arrive at Stary Krugozor station (3000m) where you just change a car and continue to Mir. Important! Keep your ticket for the way down. The cable car runs daily from 9am to 4pm (4.30 down). Tip! If you’re planning to stay in a barrel try to be at the cable car earlier (8.30-8.45) this way you’ll get to the top among the first and will have more options to choose from.

From Mir station take a chairlift to Garabashi (3800m), RUB100/US$1,5 pp one way, plus RUB100/US$1,5 for a backpack (if it’s heavier than 10kg), you are not allowed to take a big bag with you there is just no space for it. Some people (must say very few) walk from Mir to Garabashi, it’s not far 300m up but can make you quite tired especially carrying big backpacks.

From Garabashi station you can take a snowmobile to Maria shelter (4100m) for RUB500/US$8 pp., if you don’t mind going that high in such a short time.

It’s possible to walk all the way from Azau village to Garabashi station, the road goes under the cable car, depending on your fitness level and backpack heaviness it can take between 3-6 hours. Very few people do it but it’s the most budget option, costs you nothing.

Cable car from Azau to Mir station
Old cable car from Azau to Mir station.

Accommodation options on Elbrus

Barrel huts (Rus. bochki)

Old containers turned into houses, the new once are quite cozy inside, from RUB700/US$12 pp.

Facilities

  • beds (4-8 people), some have mattresses and pillows, some don’t, depends on the price.
  • electrisity (after 7pm)
  • outlets
  • running water (in some of them)
  • kitchen with gas stove and few pots, we’d recommend to bring your own pots.
  • outside toilets
  • gas heaters

Camping (your own tent)

You can pitch it anywhere you like, just try to find a wind protected spot as it can get quite windy sometimes. Free of charge.

Facilities

  • outside toilets
  • you can charge your phone in the coffee shop next to the new cable car station.
  • for water (cooking) you can ask in one of the barrels or coffee shops. Snow and water in small creaks is not good for using there are too many snowcats and snow mobiles around.
Barrel huts at Garabashi, Elbrus
New barrel huts, Garabashi station (3800m), climbing mount Elbrus without a guide

Mt.Elbrus south climbing route

Garabashi station (3800m) – Maria shelter (4100m) – Pastukhov rocks (bottom 4550m, top 4700m) – the saddle between the east and west summits (5400m) – west summit (5642m).

Mt.Elbrus southern climbing route
Mt.Elbrus south climbing route to the west summit.

Climb Mt. Elbrus independently, 4-day itinerary 

Day 1

In the morning (9am) we took a cable car+ski lift from Azau (2300m) to Garabashi station (3800m). Once there find accommodation/pitch a tent, rest, sleep, read the rest of the day. Can chill and drink tea in the coffee shop, it’s nice and warm inside, electricity, music etc.

Camping at Garabashi
Camping at Garabashi, we were lucky to find this spot!

Day 2

In the morning (if the weather is good) we did an acclimatization walk to Pastukhov rocks and back. Important! Remember to walk slow, rest and drink enough water. If you feel good as an option you can move from Garabashi to Priyut 11 this day.

Outside toilet at Garabashi station
Toilet with a view, Garabashi station, Elbrus

Day 3

At about 9am we moved with all our stuff from Garabashi to shelter Maria, it took us about 1h20min. Here we stayed in one of the shelters for RUB700/US$12 pp. The rest of the day spent resting, sleeping and drinking tea.

Moving from Garabashi to Maria shelter
Campbell on the way from Garabashi to Maria shelter. Moving with all our luggage!

Day 4

We started the climb at 12.30am from Maria shelter, it took us about 10 hours to get to the top (west summit). The night was very windy we didn’t have big expectations and thought we’d go back in 2 or 3 hours. Our worries about not knowing where to go were absolutely unreasonable, there were dozens of people walking up! It was very easy to follow them, we all basically walked in a line like one big group. From Pastukhov rocks (4700m) to the saddle the up is very steep it’s easier if you walk zig zag, you’ll see most people do it.

Once we reached the saddle we all had to stop and there was thick mist we couldn’t see anything. After some time (15min.) it cleared up a bit and guided groups put on their harnesses and started slowly moving forward following their guides. We had no ropes so we started following them. The path is quite narrow but if you walk careful I don’t see any reason why you should fall down. We were at 5000m going higher up, it was difficult to breath and we had to stop and rest a couple of times. Tip! Find a guided group and follow it all the way for your own sake.

Climbing Elbrus without a guide
Last 200m up before we reached the summit, it was the toughest uphill in my life!

The last up (200m) was the most difficult I wasn’t sure  I’d make it! We moved very slow, from pole to pole, stopped every 100m to rest, this up was exhausting. Finally after struggling for about an hour or so we reached the summit. It was amazing, unreal view; mountains, valleys and you above all of them! Important! The summit itself is 20min. walk (slight up) after you finish the last long climb.

The way down was much quicker and easier, we got back to the shelter in 2h30min. We had enough time to grab our backpacks and get to the ski-lift before 3.30pm (closing time) and the cable car (4.30pm closing time). We got back to our hotel in Terskol at 5pm and had enough time to return our rental gear back to the shop, most shops close at 7pm. We kept our gear one day longer so had to pay for one extra day.

On the top of Elbrus
Stingy Nomads on the top of Mt.Elbrus, the highest summit in Europe.

Technical part of the climb (south route)

As I said earlier Elbrus climb is not very technical, we had only crampons and ice axes and it was ok but we’d suggest to bring a harness and carabiners, in some places (very steep slopes) there are ropes you can clip yourself in to prevent falling down. You can also clip your harness into a group’s line when crossing the saddle.

Acclimatization tips for climbing mount Elbrus

  • The best you can do for acclimatization is to have time, the more the better.
  • Drink enough water, usually 1-1,5l more than you usually drink.
  • Rest more, exercise less, especially first day or two.
  • Climb higher, sleep lower (if it’s possible).
  • Diamox as a prophylactic, we didn’t have it does help, we took it in Nepal.
  • Don’t push yourself if you feel tired or have a headache rather skip any walks and sleep instead.

Here are some interesting facts, tips and myths about altitude sickness from Institute for Altitude medicine.

Shelter Maria from inside, Elbrus climb
Inside our hut, shelter Maria (4100m), Elbrus

Snowcats and snowmobiles

Some climbers (mostly foreign groups) take snowcats from Garabashi (3800m) to Pastukhov rocks (4700m) to make the summit walk faster and easier. They charge RUB5000/US$87 pp for the ride, max 6 people. As an option you can take a snowmobile, it might be cheaper, from RUB3000/US$52 but it takes only one person. Both you have to arrange at least one day prior your climb. We decided to walk all the way first, because it’s some sort of cheating (you already got half way with the cable cars) and second, because it’s expensive. Anyway this decision is up to you.

Snowcat, Garabashi station, Elbrus
Snowcats at Garabashi station.

Gear for climbing Elbrus

  • Crampons, definitely must
  • Ice axe
  • Harness, rope, carabiners. We didn’t have any but to have at least a rope and carabiners is a good idea
  • Walking sticks. Didn’t have but they definitely help here
  • Sleeping bag (for sleeping in a barrel for +5-0C, for camping in summer for -8C).
  • Camping mat (there are wooden beds with very thin mats on)
  • Portable gas stove (if camping)
  • Good water proof tent (if camping)
  • Headlamp, make sure your batteries will last for 3-4 hours you’ll need it since you start walking at 1am-2am.
  • Water bottle, camelpack won’t work water in the tube freezes quite quick.
  • Pots, cups, plates/bowls, utensils (huts don’t have enough of these)

Clothes for climbing Elbrus

  • Plastic boots, few people walk in their hiking boots but we’d recommend to rent proper double layer plastic boots
  • Down jacket
  • Snow pants
  • Fleece shirt
  • Thermal pants and shirt
  • Thick waterproof mittens/ski gloves
  • Fleece gloves
  • Thick socks
  • Thin socks
  • Beany
  • Balaklava, for both cold and sun protection
  • Sunglasses, lens category 4
  • Raincoat, we didn’t have any but for heavy rain it can be quite handy
Gear for climbing Elbrus
Gear is ready! Climbing Elbrus without a guide

First aid kit

  • Sunscreen with high protection, SPF50+
  • Lipstick with SPF protection
  • Medical plasters. We’d suggest to put them on your heels and toes before the climb to prevent blisters, plastic boots are quite tough
  • Aspirin
  • Diamox
  • Iodine
  • Toilet paper, hand sanitizer etc. all the normal hygiene stuff you usually take for hiking

Where to stay before the climb

There are three villages nearby Elbrus; Azau, Terskol and Cheget. Azau is the closest to Elbrus, the cable car goes from starts here. Terskol, the biggest one, we stayed here, its location is very convenient, 5min. drive to Azau, 15-20min. walk to Cheget, shops, hotels, a couple of campsites, rental shops etc. Cheget, the furtherest from Elbrus but the closest to Cheget mountain, where the most people go for an acclimatization hike.

Map of Elbrus area, gear rental shops, campsite
Map of the area around Mt.Elbrus. Villages Cheget, Terskol and Azau. 1 – campsite in Terskol; 2 -Rock’n’Rent gear rental shop; 3 – fancy gear rental shop; 4 – Cultur Multur gear rental shop.

Gear rental places in Terskol

There are three rental shops in Terskol; Rock’n’Rent (#2), a fancy rental shop (#3, don’t remember the name) and Kultur Multur (#4). We rented everything in the last one, the reason they are cheaper and have a big variety of gear, different sizes and good quality. The guys from the shop do gear reparing as well, they fixed our camping mattress. Rock’n’Rent has more or less the same prices but not as much gear, in high season you have a good chance not finding your size. As a deposit you can leave your passport, ID or driving licence. Tip! Don’t take your passport to the climb, you don’t need it but there is a chance it can get wet/dirty etc. Rather ask to lock it in a safe in your hotel or leave it in a rental shop as a deposit (as we did).

Gear rental prices in Kultur Multur (per day, per item);

  • Down jacket — RUB400/US$7
  • Plastic boots – RUB400/US$7
  • Snow pants – RUB400/US$7
  • Crampons — RUB150/US$2,5
  • Ice axe – RUB150/US$2,5
  • Small stuff (beany, gloves, balaklava etc.) from RUB100/US$1,7
  • Sleeping bag RB400/US$7
Climbing Mt.Elbrus without a guide
Kultur Multur gear rental shop. We really liked these guys!

Set up your budget

Backpacking; accommodation (camping) – from RUB200/US$3,5 per tent, food – from RUB150/US2,5 per meal (cooking will be cheaper, all campsites have gas stoves), transport (mini buses between villages) – from RUB25/US$0,5 pp.

Middle price range; accommodation – from RUB1400/US$24 for a double, food from RUB200/US3,5 per meal, transport (taxi) from RUB50/US$1 pp per ride.

Upper class; accommodation from RUB2500/US$43 for a double, food from RUB400/US$7 per meal, transport (taxi) from RUB50/US$1 pp per ride.

Boy climbing Elbrus
We were quite impressed when saw this 9 year old boy climbing to the summit with his father. Very inspiring!

How to get to Terskol (Azau, Cheget) by public transport

The easiest way is to get here by mini bus from Nalchik, there are direct buses from Nalchik bus station, the last bus leaves at 1pm. Price RUB220-300/US$5 per person incl. luggage. Some tzxis will drive you for RUB500/US$9 pp if you’re four in the car. The journey takes about 1h20min.

How to get to Nalchik

Flights

There is an international airport in Nalchik, most foreigners come this way. Flights from Moscow from RUB3000/US$52 one way. There are flights from many Russian cities but they are more expensive. You can catch a direct flight from Istanbul (Turkey) as well from RUB3200/US$55 one way.

From the airport you can get by taxi to the bus station.

Train

There are trains from St.Petersburg and Moscow (from RUB2400/US$ one way if buy in advance) as well as from many other cities. The journey from the capitals takes between 1,5-2 days.

Bus

There are buses from several Russian cities; Sochi (RUB1500/US$26 pp.), Mineralnye Vody (RUB150/US$2,5 pp), even from Moscow and St.Petersburg (long and tiring journey).

Wild raspberry, Terskol
There was a lot of wild raspberry in the forest around Terskol.

Need to know about Terskol

  • You’ll have to get a registration paper, your hotel will arrange it for you, it just a piece of paper with a stamp from the post office, costs RUB250/US$4 pp. It’s a general rule for Russia, all foreigners have to get it at every place (town, city) they go. Usually hotels/hostels do it for you no need to worry.
  • There is one ATM (Sberbank) in the town, sometimes it has no money, rather bring enough cash with you.
  • Most places (restaurants, rental shops) accept only cash.
  • You can exchange USD or Euro at some hotels e.g. Elbrusia.
  • The village is quiet and safe, locals are friendly and helpful.
  • There are 3-4 grocery shops where you can buy basic things; food, batteries, toiletries etc.
  • Tap water is potable.
  • Not many locals speak English.
  • Mini buses and taxis wait between hotels Elbrusia and Kupol.
Camping in Terskol
Camping in Terskol. Climbing Elbrus without a guide

Accommodation in Terskol

There are quite a few hotels and campsites in the village, we camped at the nearest to the town campsite, RUB200/3.5US$ per tent. It has basic facilities; wooden hole toilets, cold shower (can make a fire to heat water), wood, dining area under the roof, drinking water, gas stove, nice place and a very friendly owner.

One night before and after the climb we stayed in hotel Elbrusia, in a double room for RUB1600/US28. Big spacious rooms, with one double or two single beds, TV, hot shower, wi-fi, towels, clean and neat, hot radiator in the bathroom (good for drying clothes and shoes), you can borrow an electric kettle. When go to Elbrus you can leave here some extra stuff in a storage room for free, valuable things (cameras, laptops etc.) they can lock in their safe. There is a restaurant next door through the hall they serve good and cheap breakfasts, lunches and dinners as well as national dishes.

There are many hotels in the town all have more or less the same facilities and prices. If you ask around you can rent an apartment or a room from locals it’ll be a bit cheaper, from RUB600/US$10 pp.

Terskol village
Terskol; hotel Elbrusia, ATM, taxi parking and hotel Kupol (on the left).

Things to do around Terskol

Mount Chaget, you can walk or take a ski lift to 3000m, it’s a part of acclimatization before climbing Elbrus.

Visit mineral spring Narzan, 25min. walk from Terskol, here you can drink some water/refill your bottles for free and eat shashlyk (grilled meat) in one of the local places.

Do a hike to Observatory/Terskol peak (3150m) from Terskol to enjoy a stunning view from the top.

Go to Elbrus village (taxi or bus) and walk along Irikchat ravine. The original climb to Elbrus started here before new towns and cable cars were built. You still can do a climb from this side but it requires experience and good fitness level there are no shops, you’ll have to camp all the way and to carry all the food and gear.

Mineral spring Narzan, Terskol
Mineral spring Narzan, high in calcium and magnesium.

Restrictions for foreigners

You are not allowed to be within 5km border zone (border with Georgia) without a special permit that you can get at a local border service. It has nothing to do with climb to Mt. Elbrus from any side. You won’t be able to go all the way the top of Cheget mountain (higher than 3000m), visit ravines Adylsu  and Adyrsu. But there are plenty of other places around where you can go without any permits.

Local food to try

  • Shashlyk (BBQ meat) cooked over a fire beef or lamb meat pieces, it’s a nice treat after the climb.
  • Shurpa (shorpa), thick soup with meat (lamb, beef) and vegetables, very good with local bread.
  • Khychin, a traditional fried pancake-pie with filling; potato and cheese, meat.
  • Local teas with berries and herbs. One of the best places for teas and khychins is on Cheget mountain (next to the first chairlift station, 2735m).
Shashlyk, cooking process. restaurant Kupol, Terskol
Shashlyk, cooking process. Restaurant Kupol, Terskol

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