Group Trip Mount Elbrus, Europe’s highest Summit
The rough nature of the Russian Caucasus offers lots of beautiful hiking and climbing possibilities. It is wild like the Himalayas. And unlike the Alps, rather undiscovered. In many valleys you will have all nature just for yourself. As most first-time visitors to the Caucasus have the aim to climb Mount Elbrus, with an altitude of 5,642 metres the highest summit in Europe, this trip is described here in greater detail. Do know though, there are far more options here to hike. This trip will start and end in Mineralnye Vodi, the gateway to the Elbrus. There are no direct flights from Europe, so you will have to fly via Moscow or St Petersburg. This will give you the possibility to add one (or both) cities to your trip. However, it is very well possible to fly to Mineralnye Vodi in one day.
From 14 to 23 July 2018 or from 25 August to 3 September 2018 (10 days)
€ 1,695 per person
This price includes:
✓ Accommodation in hotels on double sharing basis (+ breakfast)
✓ Accommodation in mountain huts
✓ Transfers to and from the airport in Mineralnye Vodi
✓ Transfers around Mount Elbrus
✓ All meals during the training and the summit attempt
✓ English speaking guide, assistent-guides and cook
✓ Kitchen utensils
✓ Use of climbing materials and cable cars
✓ Porters (not for your personal luggage)
✓ Letter of Invitation Russia and visa registration
✓ Permits and camera surcharges
This price does not include:
✓ Return flight from Europe to Mineralnye Vodi (approximate price is € 550)
✓ All personal expenses like phone bills, insurances, medical costs, extra luggage etcetera.
Maximum 12 persons
This trip will start in Mineralnye Vodi. It is, therefore, important, to be in Mineralnye Vodi on 14 July 2018 or on 18 August 2018 (either at the airport or in a hotel). This way, you surely will not miss the transfer to the Elbrus region. It is best to check out Aeroflot, as they normally have the best offers. Moreover, flying with Aeroflot gives you the opportunity to make a stop in Moscow or St Petersburg.
Group Trip Mount Elbrus – Day by Day
Day 01: From Mineralnye Vodi to the Baksan Valley Day 02 to Day 06: Training and Acclimatisation Day 07 and Day 08: Elbrus, summit attempt Day 09: Back to the Baksan Valley Day 10: Transfer to Mineralnye Vodi, flight to Moscow
Group Trip, Mount Elbrus in Detail
Day 01 – From Mineralnye Vodi to the Baksan Valley
The trip begins with the arrival in Mineralnye Vody and driving to the base hotel in the Baksan Valley. The hotel here is pleasantly situated and friendly with double rooms and private bathrooms. The double-breasted summit of Elbrus can be seen for miles around from different parts of the Caucasus region. Both East (5,621m) and West (5,642m) summits are permanently covered with snow. Many of the remote side valleys where it is possible to have some acclimatization training are seldom visited even by locals.
Day 02 to Day 06 – Training and Acclimatization
During the first week you will train yourself in the use of an ice axe and crampons, and have several good acclimatization walks. From the hotel you make several trips following beautiful forested valleys, walking through alpine meadows, crossing glaciated mountain passes and climbing some of the easiest summits which provide superb panoramas of the Caucasus Range. These initial trips are day trips, meaning that you will return to your hotel, or to the mountain hut, at the end of the day. They will improve your fitness and acclimatization necessary for the ascent of Elbrus itself. The last days you will start the ascent of Elbrus by using a cable car system that will take you to a height of about 3,800m. You will then stay in the Garabashi Huts (3,800m) or Diesel Hut (4,100m).
Day 7 and Day 08 – Ascent of the Elbrus
The actual program will depend on the weather, group condition and the availability of a snowcat which can be used according to the group’s wish to help you up the slopes of the mountain (if available and necessary).
Day 09 – Back to the Baksan Valley
From the slopes of the Elbrus you return to the hotel in the Baksan Valley.
Day 10 – Return to Mineralnye Vodi and from there to Moscow / St Petersburg / Europe
You climbed the Elbrus, hopefully, and with the knowledge that you were on the highest summit of Europe you will return to Mineralnye Vodi.
On the way to the summit you will sleep in mountain huts or tents. But the nights in the Baksan Valley you will spend in a good hotel. Most of the time it will be the hotel mentioned below. However, if this one is not available the alternative hotel will be of a similar standard.
Dombaj: Hotel Chato-Leopard Berghut Mount Elbroes
Almost all foreign nationals are required to have a visa to travel to Russia. A visa to Russia is a document, permitting to stay in Russia for a specific period of time. A visa lists entry/exit dates, some personal information, passport details and information about the inviting party. The procedure to obtain a visa for Russia differs per country, so it is advisable to visit the website of the Russian Embassy or Consulate in your country. Click here for an overview of Russian Embassies and Consulates in the world.
To obtain a tourist visa to enter Russia, in general, the following documents should be submitted to a Russian Embassy or Consulate:
✓ Your original passport with at least 2 blank visa-designated pages (passport must be valid for at least 6 months after intended departure date from Russia)
✓ One or two copies of a Russian Visa Application Form, completed and signed
✓ Two passport-size photos signed on the back
✓ Prove of (medical) insurance
✓ Invitation letter
Once again, do check the requirements indicated on the website of the Russian Embassy / Consulate in your country. Do also note that the price of a Russian visa differs per country and per nationality. A tourist-visa is valid for a maximum of 30 days and cannot be extended.
Before heading for the Embassy or Consulate you need to have an Invitation Letter. Without this the Embassy or Consulate will never grant you a visa for Russia. In spite of horror stories that Invitation Letters are difficult to obtain, the contrary is rather true. It is easy and pretty straightforward. The best and cheapest way is to ask the hotel of your choice to send you an invitation letter. Most hotels can do this without any problem. In case your hotel does not offer this service, it is also possible to arrange this through online-agencies. There are several agencies that can create your virtual letter of invitation, all of them do it in a communicative, reliable and quick manner. Click on one of the links for further information:
To obtain an Invitation Letter through one of these agencies you should do the following:
✓ Register on their website
✓ Choose the appropriate Visa Invitation, normally a Single-Entry will do
✓ Indicate the starting date and the end date of your trip. If you already have tickets it is advisable to indicate these dates here
✓ Indicate where you will apply for your Visa
✓ Choose the recipient for the Visa
✓ Provide your personal information
✓ Pay with your credit card
During Russian working hours, for many nationalities, the Invitation will be ready and be sent to you within one working day after payment has been received. Then, just head for your Embassy or Consulate to apply for your visa.
Health & Safety
Medical care is readily available in Russia but it depends on where you are travelling. The biggest cities have the widest choice and especially Moscow and St Petersburg are well served. Still, prevention is the key to staying healthy.
Before you go:
✓ Compose your personal medical kit
✓ Check your health insurance
✓ Consult your government’s travel-health website
✓ Buy a DEET-based insect repellent, especially if you travel to Siberia or the Far East
✓ Visit a specialized travel-clinic to be informed about recommended vaccinations
Good medical treatment is not cheap in Russia, so take out a good and trustworthy policy. Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers (preferable) or reimburse you later. Self-treatment may be appropriate if your problem is minor and you are carrying the relevant meditation. However, if you suspect you may potentially have a serious disease do not waste time. Just travel to the nearest quality clinic.
Some golden prevention rules:
✓ Never drink tap water
✓ Do not drink water from lakes or rivers
✓ Check your body if you have been walking through potentially tick-infested areas
✓ Follow the crowd, go there where the locals eat
✓ Give yourself a few days to get used to the local cuisine
In general, early summer and autumn are the best moments to travel around in Russia. By May the snow has usually disappeared and temperatures are pleasant, while in autumn (September and early October) the colours of nature are fantastic. July and August are the hottest months. Yes, it can also be hot in Moscow and Siberia. Still, logically this is the high season to travel in Russia, simply because it is holiday time. Winter is cold, sometimes extremely cold. But if you are prepared for it, travelling in winter is highly rewarding. The snow makes everything picturesque and the insides of buildings are kept pleasantly warm.
Click here to find out more about the Russian weather.
Russians love children and travelling here with them can be fun as long as you have a relaxed attitude and a degree of patience. In Moscow you can head for Gorki Park, for a rollercoaster ride in summer or ice-skating in winter. Or go to a circus, they are fantastic in Russia. In St Petersburg there are plenty of museums that your child will love. Take, for example, the Oceanarium home to sharks and seals. Or the Artillery Museum with its huge collection of tanks. In both cities there are plenty of parks, both Moscow and St Petersburg are really green cities, where your child can run around without boundaries.
Costs & Money
Moscow has the reputation to be one of the most expensive cities on the planet. And it is true, you can easily spend a fortune here. On the other hand, if you pay a bit of attention, you can also manage to spend less than a fortune. It is all up to you. After all, millions of Muscovites survive in this city on less than € 800 per month. Like in many other cities the restaurants around the tourist highlights are expensive but by far not the best. The same can be said about terraces. Just head a bit out of the center of the center and you will find great restaurants and terraces where your beer or meal is cheaper and better.
ATMs are readily available all over Russia, even in the smaller cities. Be wise though and do not wait till your last ruble before stocking up. Credit Cards are commonly excepted in the bigger cities. But if you are travelling in Siberia or the Far East it is better to not solely rely on them.
The Guide and the Staff
The guides and the staff are well-qualified and experienced mountaineers with an expert knowledge of the Caucasus. They will have ropes and a radio. Throughout summer months the staff are based at the hotel located in the forested Baksan Valley at the foot of Mount Elbrus. This is the main base for mountaineering and skiing programs. Staff include cooks, a doctor, porters and guides.
Grade and Qualification
This trip is graded as D. Although no advanced mountaineering experience is required, you should be familiar with the basic use of crampons and ice axes before the trip. A limited number of porters can be hired at an extra charge to carry personal equipment where necessary. This is a tough trip. Elbrus may be attempted by any strong mountain walker who is familiar with the use of an ice axe and crampons. Nevertheless it is important to remember that it is a mountain of almost Himalayan proportions and good acclimatization is essential. In bad weather conditions may become Arctic. You should carefully think over the clothes and respect the recommendations. The first week involves some days that are very demanding physically. Some of the walking is on good paths but you will trek over several passes, on steep, rugged ground, on glaciers and glacial deposits. It is recommended to make some long walks before your trip and that your boots are well worn-in. The first half of the trip is carefully designed to ensure that you will have the chance to become familiar and at ease with the use of crampons and ice axe, and that you have experienced a tough, long uphill day. With such a preparation, your ascent success rate is very good. The final few days are devoted to the ascent of Elbrus. It must be remembered that Elbrus is an extremely serious mountain in spite of its technical ease. The guides’ decision to turn back should be respected at all times.
Food and Accommodation
Accommodation during the trek is in a hotel in the Bakshan Valley. On Elbrus itself you will stay in huts with mattresses. Food during the treks is prepared by your own cooks from fresh foods supplemented by supplies. As the variety of foods available in Russia is rather limited it is recommended to bring with you a small selection of “goodies” – chocolates, nuts etc. These will be useful especially at times when the altitude might reduce your appetite for main meals or when you need energy for the final summit push. Vegetarian food can be prepared on request, but it might be difficult to provide the same standard as expected in the West. In case you are a vegetarian it is advisable to take your own protein supplement if this is likely to cause a problem.
Health Matters and Documents
An emergency medical kit accompanies the climb. Nevertheless it is advisable to carry your own personal first aid kit. A suggested list of contents as well as more general health information is included in pre-departure information. No special inoculations are required but have your inoculations up to date and consult a doctor for other cover such as typhoid. Check if the insurance is up to date and covers mountain risk.
Weather, Equipment and Clothes
Mountain weather is variable. In the valleys it is possible for daytime temperatures to rise over 25 degrees Celsius. Higher up it will be cooler, even in strong sunlight. At night, especially at the high campsites, it can be very cold and you are likely to experience frosts. Although this is generally the drier side of the Caucasus, rain, summer storms and even snowfall on the passes could be encountered at any time. On Elbrus the weather can turn Arctic. Very warm and wind-proof clothes are necessary for the ascent including both inner and outer waterproof gloves/mittens, duvet jacket, fleece and thermals. Double boots would be useful on Elbrus and on the ascent of Gumachi but would not be comfortable for the other walks unless you are already used to wearing them. Stiff, mountain boots suitable for winter mountaineering are probably the best compromise. You will also need an ice axe and crampons; ski sticks are an optional extra. Take a lightweight harness with karabiner. You might not need them but it can be useful in bad weather, and in different snow conditions that you can meet on the mountain. A four season sleeping bag and a 60 litre rucksack should be adequate. It will be always possible to leave luggage at the hotel during the trip.