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How to climb Mt. Elbrus – a detailed climbing guide

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 the 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 a couple of people die climbing Elbrus, the main reasons; bad weather, poor visibility, lack of acclimatization.

A view of a mountain range with snowy peaks from Elbrus
Beautiful scenery on the way to the southern peak of Elbrus. The final part of the climb

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 acclimatization and use the right gear it’s absolutely doable. We hope our Climbing Mount Elbrus guide will help you to make the right decision and to prepare for conquering this amazing mountain. 

If you’d like to explore more of Russia and visit some off-the-beaten-track places that are difficult to get on your own you can join one of the small group tours with G-Adventures and Intrepid Travel, two reputable companies that offer several unique tours around Russia. Here are some options;

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 breathe than for example hiking in the Andes, trekking to Everest Base Camp, or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

It has two peaks; the east summit (5621m) and the 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 sunniest 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.

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 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 taking 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.

Preparing for 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 the 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 person, 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.

A view of two peaks of Elbrus from Garabashi station
Two peaks of Mt.Elbrus from Garabashi station

Travel insurance for climbing Elbrus

Any outdoor activity that involves high altitude is risky climbing the world’s highest peaks is probably one of the most dangerous adventure activities you can do. There are several risks that you can encounter during climbing Elbrus, the main are; altitude sickness, frostbites, injuries if you fall or slip during ascend or descend, gear loss, break down, or damage. It’s highly recommended to have travel insurance that will cover you in case of any unpredictable emergencies. Let your insurance company worry about you while you conquering the highest peak in Europe.

There are many travel insurance companies but we’d recommend using one that has experience in covering outdoor activities like World Nomads. Their insurance policy is very flexible you can buy one that covers the entire trip or only the period of the climb. For example, if you have cheaper travel insurance that doesn’t cover high altitude activities you can buy a World Nomads policy covering only the climb. You can get insurance just a day before the planned activity or even the same day, it takes just a couple of minutes, quick and easy.  Get a quote right now!

The cost of the climb

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

The South Route ascent

  • 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, 3500 m

There are barrels (bochki) as well as a coffee shop and some souvenir shops here. Not really an option unless you have a serious attitude 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, 3800 m

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 walking 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 walking 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.

A massive metal barrels used as accommodation for climbers on Elbrus
New barrels at Garabashi station on Elbrus

Shelter Maria, 4100 m

Big containers with two bedrooms each, a kitchen with a gas stove, a big table and benches, electricity (after 7pm), an 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.

Accommodation options on Elbrus

Barrel or huts

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

  • beds (4-8 people), some have mattresses and pillows, some don’t, depends on the price.
  • electricity (after 7pm)
  • outlets
  • running water (in some of them)
  • kitchen with gas stove and a few pots, we’d recommend bringing your own pots.
  • outside toilets
  • gas heaters
Our hut at Shelter Maria on Elbrus
A kitchen in our hut at Shelter Maria, last night before the climb

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.

  • 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 are not good for using there are too many snowcats and snowmobiles around.
Elbrus South Route map
A map of the cable car/ski life and 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, it 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.

A cable car with climbers heading to the top of Mt.Elbrus
A cable car that takes climbers from Azau to Mir Station on Elbrus

Climbing Mt. Elbrus, the South Route, a 4-day itinerary 

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

As I mentioned Elbrus climb is not very technical, we had only crampons and ice axes and it was ok but we’d suggest bringing a harness and carbines, 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.

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

Day 1. Azau – Garabashi (cable car + ski lift)

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.

Day 2. Acclimatization walk to Pastukhov Rocks

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.

Day 3. Garabashi to Shelter Maria

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.

Day 4. Shelter Maria – climb to the peak – down to Azau

We started the climb at 12.30am from Shelter Maria, 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 carefully I don’t see any reason why you should fall down.

Campbell and Alya sitting on the snow and resting during the final ascent to Mount Elbus
Stingy Nomads resting during the climb half way to the top of Elbrus

We were at 5000m going higher up, it was difficult to breathe 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.

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 an 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.

A view of snowy peaks and mountains from Elbrus
A stunning view from the top of Elbrus, the end of the climb

If you enjoy steep ascents and would like to challenge yourself or practice for one of the high-altitude climbs try climbing Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia. It’s a tough 2-day hike up and down the mountain.

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 the first day or two.
  • Climb higher, sleep lower (if it’s possible).
  • Diamox as a prophylactic, we didn’t have it on Elbrus but we had a pack when went trekking in Nepal though never had to use it.
    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 the Institute for Altitude Medicine.

Using 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 to your climb. We decided to walk all the way first because it’s some sort of cheating (you already got halfway with the cable cars) and second because it’s expensive. Anyway, this decision is up to you.

A snow cat on Elbrus waiting for climbers
A snow cat that carries climbers from Shelter Maria to Pastukhov Rocks to make the climb shorter and easier

What to pack for the climb?

If you’re not a professional climber we’d suggest bringing the basic hiking gear and rent special climbing gear in Terskol at least we did it that way and it worked perfectly.

Gear you can rent (if you don’t have your own)

  • Crampons, definitely must
    Ice axe
  • Harness, rope, carabiners
  • Plastic boots, few people walk in their hiking boots but we’d recommend renting proper double layer plastic boots
  • Thick down jacket
  • Snow pants

Gear that is recommended to have

If you’re on a long-term trip and don’t want to carry heavy camping stuff (tent, warm sleeping bag, etc.) with you can rent it in Terskol as well. The gear for climbing Elbrus is very similar to that people pack for climbing Kilimanjaro.

A pair of rental plastic boots for climbing Elbrus
Plastic boots are a must-have when climbing Elbrus

Clothes

First aid kit

  • Sunscreen with high protection, SPF50+
  • Lipstick with SPF protection
  • Medical plasters. We’d suggest putting 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

Gear rental places in Terskol

There are three rental shops in Terskol; Rock’n’Rent, a fancy rental shop 7 Vershin and Kultur Multur. 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 repairing 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 of not finding your size. As a deposit, you can leave your passport, ID, or driver’s license. Tip! Don’t take your passport on the climb rather carry a copy of it. 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, balaclava etc.) from RUB100/US$1,7
  • Sleeping bag RB400/US$7
A line of climbers heading to the top of Elbrus
Climber walking in a row on the way to the top of Elbrus

How to get to Elbrus?

Getting 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).

Getting from Nalchik to Terskol/Azau

The easiest way is to get here by minibus 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 taxis will drive you for RUB500/US$9 pp if you’re four in the car. The journey takes about 1h20min. The same bus goes to Cheget and Azau. 

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 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 furthermost from Elbrus but the closest to Cheget mountain, where most people go for an acclimatization hike.

Places to stay near Elbrus

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 (minibusses 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.

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

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 to. 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.
  • Minibusses and taxis wait between hotels Elbrusia and Kupol.
Alya on Cheget Mountain in the Elbrus region
Alya on Cheget Mountain during the acclimatization hike before climbing Elbrus

More things to do in 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 shashlik (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 the 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 a good fitness level there are no shops, you’ll have to camp all the way and to carry all the food and gear.

Areas with restricted access for foreigners

You are not allowed to be within a 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 a climb to Mt. Elbrus from any side. You won’t be able to go all the way to 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 on the fire beef or lamb meat. 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).

Recommended books and guidebooks

  1. Five Big Mountains: A Regular Guy’s Guide to Climbing Orizaba, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, and Vinson by David Schaeffer. Kindle and paperback. 
  2. Higher Love: Skiing the Seven Summits by Kit DesLauriers. Kindle and paperback.
  3. The Mountain: My Time on Everest by Ed Viesturs. Kindle and paperback. 
  4. The Mountain Guide Manual: The Comprehensive Reference–From Belaying to Rope Systems and Self-Rescue by Mark Chauvin and Rob Coppolillo. Kindle and paperback.
  5. Lonely Planet Russia (Travel guide). Kindle and paperback.
  6. Lonely Planet Russian Phrasebook & Dictionary. Kindle and paperback. 

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Ivan Lopez

Sunday 4th of April 2021

very informative, really appreciate all the info here, are there any restrictions due to COVID? I'm planning a trip for late August this year

Stingy Nomads

Sunday 4th of April 2021

Hello, Ivan! I'm not sure what country you're from but as far as I know, foreigners are currently not allowed to enter Russia for tourism purposes. You'll have to wait and see if anything changes in a couple of months with travel restrictions. Cheers!

Nazeefa Nasim

Wednesday 27th of January 2021

Hi, Thanks for all the great and useful info! How exactly do we book the stays on the mountain? Do we have to reserve them before hand or do we do it on the mounatin?

Stingy Nomads

Thursday 28th of January 2021

Hello! We didn't book anything in advance. Most independent climbers find accommodation once they're on the mountain. Groups usually book beforehand to make sure all their members stay at the same place. The best you can do to secure a spot in one of the huts or barrels is to get up as early as possible right after the ski lift starts operating. Make sure to arrive 30 minutes before it opens to be one of the first in the line. Cheers

Cesar

Monday 7th of December 2020

Nice post

Mark

Tuesday 27th of October 2020

Very interesting and highly valuable post! Do you know more about permits in the park? Is it obligatory in the valleys (e.g. Irik or Yusengi)? Do I have to have it, if my plan is only to visit Garabashi Hut near South Route?

Wojciech

Wednesday 30th of September 2020

Great job, Stingynomads! That's one of the best NR-related post in the Internet. Do you know, how to book one of shelters near south route? That's a bit tricky - I cannot find almost any contact details (neither phone number, nor email, nor website) to administrators of the Barrel, Diesel Hut, Prijut Maria, Krugozor or Prijut Walery (not sure about this name) shelters. In fact, I found only the 3912 EcoHotel website. Also, do you know, where is it possible to obtain "National Park Permit" and if there is any formal document, which summarizes where it's obligatory? I've heard there is a certain altitude (such as 3600 a.m.s.l) above that it's mandatory. Before reaching it - you can walk without the permit.

Stingy Nomads

Tuesday 6th of October 2020

Hi! Thanks for the comment! We didn't book anything in advance. There are a couple of websites in Russian that offer online booking but they're all very new and I'm not sure how reliable they're. We climbed in August it's not the peak season anymore and we didn't have any problem finding accommodation on the top, we just walked into the first place at Shelter Maria and it was pretty empty. I'd suggest making a reservation just a day or two before the climb when you're in Terskol or Cheget. If you ask around at one of the gear rental shops (Kultur Multur or Rock'n'Rent gear shop) I'm sure they'll be able to assist. I could find this phone number +7 928 692-28-90 for Shelter Maria I'm not sure if it works now or not. The permit is basically the entrance fee to the National Park you don't have to arrange it beforehand, it's valid for the entire period of the climb. When we went up nobody asked to show our permits I'm not even sure we had them. The price of the permit is RUB250/US$4. It is valid for the entire park not only for Elbrus. Before you start the climb you should register at the rescue service in Terskol and check-out when you're back. Cheers!

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