Climb Elbrus in Russia

climb elbrus via south route from south africa

So you have climbed Kilimanjaro and the high altitude bug has bitten? And you are wondering what to climb next. Bring on Mount Elbrus in Russia. The highest mountain in Europe.

About Elbrus

Well… all we know is that Elbrus is a mountain. That’s it.That is all the information we have available for now. We would love to tell you more but we forgot to Putin the code that gives us access to the secret Elbrus information files kept in the Kremlin.  Wait…..just in!!! As luck would have it, our undercover agent Vladimir has just cracked the code and downloaded all the information we need to climb Elbrus. The total area that the glaciers of Elbrus cover is about 134 square kilometres with a thickness of about 250m in some places. Frikken crazy stuff hey?

восхождение на Эльбрус – лучшая альпинистская экспедиция, прежде чем вы умрете.

What was that? You don’t understand Russian. Shew, I’m glad because neither can we. We just wanted to sound more authentic. Elbrus is situated in the Southern part of the Russia in the Caucasus mountain Range. It basically borders with the country of Georgia. There are 2 summits. Namely, the west summit at 5,642m is the higher of the two. Maybe something important to consider when climbing Elbrus!! You don’t want to get to the top of the lower Eastern summit of 5,621m and miss the highest mountain in Europe by 20m. 


Since our inception as a mountaineering guiding company in 2009 we have been involved in many expeditions to both sides of Elbrus. Basically you can climb from the easier South route which is accessed via the village of Terskol. And then there is the way more challenging North route which is accessed via the town of Kislodvodsk. But which route is best suited to you based on your mountaineering experience as your physical and mental status. Here is a summary of the 2 routes:

Climb Elbrus via the South Route

The south route is by far the most popular choice.We have had a 95% success rate on Elbrus via this route. It is way easier to climb compared to the North Route. What makes it easier you may be wondering?Well don’t wander too much as you may stray. Slip us a $20 bill and we will tell you. All right, keep your Allans on. What in 12 types of quick drink cement where we thinking? We have some time on our hands so we will indulge you. In fact, we have spent too much time at altitude and the loss of brain cells is effecting our grammer. So we will put the advantages in pint form, I mean point form for both you and our benefit:

  • The summit can be reached in 6 days. This means we are on the mountain for 6 days. Excluding the travel and acclimatisation days. The total tour duration is 12 days from the day we leave Johannesburg to the day we return again. Make sense sunshine? Good, I’m glad. Don’t want any grey areas on our Elbrus climb. Also a tad easier to negotiate leave with that horrible boss of yours.
  • The ascent on the first day is via the cable cars. We take the cable cars from Azau at 2,350m all the way up to the Garabashi Station at 3,720m. Obviously on the North route there are no cable cars so you would need to hike to that altitude. Another bonus is that we travel in the cable cars with all of our climbing gear. So no breaking of backs carrying the stuff up the mountain.
  • The south route does not have any crevasses that need to be negotiated. So if you wee thinking of losing a spouse in these bottomless mountain cracks best you try convince them to climb Elbrus from the North.
  • There is no real technical mountaineering experience needed on the climb. We spend a few days teaching you the basics like walking with crampons, how to perform a self arrest with your ice axe and how to clip onto the safety ropes on the summit ridge.
  • There are snow cats available for the summit night. The snowcats can take climbers up to Pastukhov Rocks at 5,100m from base camp at 3,800m. This would reduce your hiking time by at least 3 hours and obviously make the summit way more achievable as your energy levels would be way higher. You would obviously still have the affects of high altitude, thinning air and the freezing cold to consider.
  • The south side of Elbrus is basically used for skiing in the winter months. So the route we follow up the mountain from base camp to just below The Saddle is along section used by skiers. So as you can imagine, it is pretty even although the gradient is about 45 degrees.

Climb Elbrus via the North Route

This is our favourite route by far!!! But we take a more purist approach when it comes to mountaineering. Its in our blood. We enjoy taking the road less travelled in the mountains. So….right of the bat….climbing Elbrus from the North is very challenging. You would need to have  a very good level of fitness to attempt the climb. I have summit Elbrus from this route 5 times and I love it. We spend a lot more time with clients getting them prepared for the North route compared to time spent if they were doing the South Route. Here is some important information pertaining to the route. Pertaining? Wow, we can use big words sometimes hey? Make us sound clever and important:

  • The summit bid takes a few days longer than the South Route of Elbrus. The summit is usually reached in 8 days. The total tour duration is 15 days from the day we leave Johannesburg to the day we return again. You might have to pull a few favours with your boss for leave.
  • Unlike the South Route, there are NO cable cars. So guess what sunshine? We carry our climbing gear in backpacks from base camp at 2,500m up to the high camp at 3,800m. In fact, we do it twice-for 2 reasons. First to help with the acclimatisation process. Secondly, our climbing gear can weigh up to 30kgs. And not only that…you wont fit all your climbing gear in your backpack. Hence the 2 treks into high camp. If you have a problem with this please dial 6 now. Or alternatively please leave your name and number and we won’t get back to you.
  • The gradient on the North route is considerably steeper than the South Route.
  • The North route is a tad more technical compared to the South Route. There are 2 major glaciers we need to cross. And of course..where there are glaciers…there are crevasses. Big nasty ones. Although the chances of actually falling into one of these gaping crevasse is slim, we still need to prepare you for the worst case scenario. We climb roped up to each other and will teach you about crevasse rescue techniques. Again….just in case sunshine. On all our expeditions, we have a Russian guide to climber ratio of 1:4. They are super experienced on Elbrus and not only know how to navigate arid the dangers, but are also trained in emergency crevasse rescues.
  • The summit night is way more challenging than the South. There is no option for a snowcat ride up to 5,100. If the weather plays ball we like to set up an interim high camp just above Lenz Rocks at 4,700m to make the summit day a little easier. If the conditions do not warrant the high camp, then guess what?…. You have a 1800m climb to the summit. There has been many a climb where it takes us 12 hours just to reach the summit!! And another 6 hours to get done again. So a long frikken day sunshine!!!
  • Because the North Route of Elbrus is way more challenging to climb it means less people. It also means your chances of reaching the summit are less. In fact, out of every 10 climbers we take on this route, only 6 summit. So you would need to make a decision. If its the summit you want via the easiest way possible…then rather climb Elbrus from the South.


The best time to climb is at 13:46pm on Thursday. We tried climbing it on a Friday at 6:23am once but we didn’t make it as we were Russian into it. Man , that is a bad joke. So before you log out…hold on. We have the information you were looking for. The best time to climb Elbrus is from mid June to the mid September. This is the Russian summer. You do not want to climb Elbrus in winter. We tried once and hit -40 with 100km/h winds. So rather climb in the summer months.


We have found that the number 1 fear that stops people from climbing Elbrus is that the feel they lack the mountaineering skills to climb it. This is where we come in. We will teach you the skills to make the climb. Yes, we do not have snow to train on, but we improvise. We will teach you how to tie knots, abseil, cross ladders with crampons and use an ice axe.

We will also spend a lot of time with you training to get you mountaineering fit. In the months leading up to the climb we will inflict pain and suffering on you that include hikes in the Drakensberg as well as other functional training regimes that may induce a vomit or two. All part of the process I’m afraid. “Rather bleed on the training field than the battle field”.


  • Our passion is mountaineering, and we have climbed some of the highest and craziest mountains in the world. We have been through it all. Blizzards, avalanches, freezing cold, storms, high altitude rescues and Johannesburg traffic. So we are going to spend time with you teaching you as much as we can.
  • We walk the path with all our clients in terms of training and preparation. We offer free mountaineering training sessions on the weekends and assist with equipment purchases.
  • You have 24/7 access to our support team.
  • Access to our lectures on surviving at altitude ( we cover aspects of Acute mountain sickness, equipment, nutrition and training for the mountains)
  • We offer a 50% discount on our Drakensberg training hikes to all clients(includes transport from JHB, food, equipment, park fees, guide)where you not only get to test your physical and mental capabilities bit get to test your gear as well. We also test your oxygen saturation levels and blood pressure to see how you cope with adjusting to altitude.
  • Enjoy a 10% discount on equipment purchases
  • We conduct medicals on our clients 3 times a day on Elbrus. Over the years we have compiled benchmarks of where climbers should be medically at the various altitudes. A vital part of predicting any altitude related problems higher up.



Why are you not going to make it?

 Take some time to read this: Then decide. Savvy?

Is it the belief of being in control on a mountain that keeps us on an even keel? You know that feeling that you are losing control? Thats when fear edges its way into the fragile balance of our sanity. Uncontrolled fear is a corrosive emotion. It gnaws away at the fabric of your mind and screws you up into a frightful state of anxiety. Will I make the summit? Will I fall into a crevasse? Will I get attacked by a rabid ping ping ball on drugs? Am I strong enough fro Elbrus? There is nothing but sickness in this type of fear which leaves you with no answers.

At least you can ignite the primal fight or flight survival instinct that climbing Elbrus allows if you choose to face it. If you choose to stand at the base of any mountain and look up the icy summit and make that first committing step up…then you have consciously chosen your fear. We climb willingly so to say-Embracing all that that mountain will throw at you with a clear mind, a trusty ice axe named Steve and a deep down Soul clenching knowing that you will succeed.

There is no control over the corporate worry of the modern day man. Or the parental anxiety we have over our kids. Once indulged, fears of this kind hold us prisoner and become the penalty of thinking. So that is why we climb Elbrus and other mountains like Aconcagua, Island Peak, Everest and Ama Dablam- We stop living when we climb. We step out of the world of anxiety into a mountainous world where there is no room for such thinking.

All that concerns us is to survive in the present. All thoughts of bills, mother in laws and ninja dwarfs evaporate under the absolute necessity to concentrate on surviving the elements. Keep warm. Drink water. Be aware of every step in case there is a crevasse. An uncomplicated life of black and white decisions. A coiner becomes so present that the summit feeling is something that he needs to go back to again when the normal anxieties of life once again swamp him.

We remember that elusive state of mind when time stood still  and our perspective on life shifted into another reality. In way, climbers walk a fragile line between life and death. One foot on the living. One foot in the dead. At any point we can just sit down and die.This is especially true on the high altitude mountains of the world. When you are at high altitude, you are alone. There is no one coming to fetch you. No rescue helicopter. No sweeps vehicle to pick you up.

You are way past your physical and mental boundaries. That is why the crack into your deeper spiritual awaking is found. It is at the moment of perceived weakness that you awaken that dormant primal instinct to survive. No other activity in the world can ignite that feeling more than mountaineering can. And yes, it  may seem selfish and irresponsible but it is a necessary right of passage into an altered state of perception.

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