Culture, Climbing and a Seven Summit — Da!
Climbing Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe and one of the Seven Summits, perfectly immerses you into expedition climbing and gaining experience with the acclimatization process. The gentle slopes of Mount Elbrus beckon climbers in a range reminiscent of the Alps. Jagged peaks with glaciers that flow into mountain valleys dotted with pine forests, alpine meadows, and remote villages welcome visitors traveling into this mountain paradise.
Time spent exploring the extraordinary city Moscow also offers interesting glimpses into Russia’s rich culture and history. And if you want to see how the Russian czars really lived and explore one of the world’s most compelling cities, check out the St. Petersburg extension. If you’re looking for some serious culture, a Seven Summit, and for Kilimanjaro climbers and others looking for an introductory glacier climb, there’s no better objective for those with no experience — our guides show you the ropes during the trip. They may even lead you astray for some caviar and vodka at the end of the trip.
Ski lifts take you to a hut on the mountain, meaning no heavy packs — and from there sno-cats whisk you up the mountain leaving a reasonable summit climb and a high chance of success! And then there is the dancing at the Pleasure Dome after the climb- you’ll have to find out what that is for yourself….
A volcanic massif located north of the Caucasus main ridge, 18,510-foot / 5642 m Mount Elbrus rises almost 3,000 feet / 914 meters higher than surrounding peaks. The summit offers breathtaking views of the Caucasus Mountains and the impressive tributary valley systems feeding the raging waters of the Baksan River. The Baksan Valley offers trekking through fields of wildflowers, amongst poplar and pine forests.
After acclimatization hikes in the Baksan Valley and a day spent reviewing skills, we take a cable car up the mountain to the shelters at Kharabashi. Here we spend several nights before our summit attempt. The climb offers great introductory level glacier climbing that includes the use of crampons, ice axe, and roped travel.
Also, contributing to your success are decades of experience in the Caucasus. Our roots on Elbrus go way back, from Scott Fischer’s first guided trip there in the 80’s to Mountain Madness’ current owner Mark Gunlogson and his first trip to the region in 1990, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since a time when the country experienced food shortages to now, our program has been carefully crafted to take in the best of Russian culture, food, accommodations, and people. Along with an experienced guide from the U.S. or Ecuador, you will be traveling with Russian guides that know the area as their home. All this combines for the perfect experience in an area that remains as intriguing as ever.
Short on time? Join us on our 11-day Mount Elbrus Express climbing trip — an express experience to this 7‑Summits peak that gives you an opportunity to hone your expedition climbing skills. Or double down and climb Kilimanjaro and bag two of the 7 Summits on our 19-day Mt. Elbrus and Kilimanjaro Combo trip.
LA Times Article
Ice Queen Demands Respect at Each Step; For the locals in southern Russia, Europe’s highest peak represents their indomitable spirit. For one climber, Mt. Elbrus is a brutal challenge.
The Los Angeles Times; Los Angeles, Calif.; MAURA REYNOLDS
Mt. Elbrus is the highest mountain in the Caucasus, whose dominant range stretches 750 miles between the Black and Caspian seas– roughly the size of the Alps and twice the length of the Sierra Nevada. Including Elbrus, the Caucasus boasts eight peaks higher than France’s Mont Blanc, the highest of the Alps, whose 15,771-foot summit lies more than half a mile closer to sea level than [Elbrus]. (The highest mountain in the contiguous United States, California’s Mt. Whitney, is lower still, at 14,494 feet.)
The writer takes in the snowy summit of Mt. Elbrus. The 18,510-foot Elbrus, in the Russian republic of Kabardino- Balkaria, is the highest mountain in Europe and sacred to the Balkarian people
(Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 2001 all rights reserved)
One must approach Europe’s highest mountain as a supplicant, the locals warn. Slowly. with respect. She is a haughty queen, they say. Beautiful and placid on the surface, wearing her 18,510 feet of icy glaciers like ermine robes. her twin conical summits are as gently rounded as a woman’s breasts. But geologically and temperamentally, she is a volcano. When angry, she fumes foul gases and stirs fierce storms, which cause climbers to become dizzy and lose their way.
Perhaps she is petulant because so many don’t take her seriously. Europeans, enamored of their elegant Alps, resist including this downtrodden corner of Russia on the map of Europe. Mountaineers, enamored of more treacherous peaks, consider her little more than a high-altitude slog. Perhaps it is only the Balkarian people,who tend their sheep on her flanks, who love her unconditionally. “She’s our sacred mountain,” says Iskhak Tilov, a Balkar who runs a high-altitude base for mountain climbers and skiers. “Everything we have comes from her – our life, the water for our fields, for our flocks. The ice has been here for thousands of years. And so have we.”
Mt. Elbrus is the highest mountain in the Caucasus, whose dominant range stretches 750 miles between the Black and Caspian seas– roughly the size of the Alps and twice the length of the Sierra Nevada. Including Elbrus, the Caucasus boasts eight peaks higher than France’s Mont Blanc, the highest of the Alps, whose 15,771-foot summit lies more than half a mile closer to sea level than Elbrus. (The highest mountain in the contiguous United States, California’s Mt. Whitney, is lower still, at 14,494 feet.) “You have to argue with some people about it,” says Mike Coleman, a 30-year-old virologist and climber from London. “People at home all want to think that Russia is in Asia and Mont Blanc is the highest in Europe.”
But geographers agree that two mountain ranges form the border between Asia and Europe – the Urals, which divide European Russia from Siberia, and the Caucasus, which borders Russia to the south. Elbrus’ summits in the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria are eight miles north of the range’s ridge line – close but completely on the European side. The propaganda value of being the highest point in Europe was not lost on either of the 20th century’s most notorious dictators. In the 1930s, waves of Soviet workers were sent up Elbrus, installing a long- since-gone bust of Josef Stalin on top. In 1942, Adolf Hitler sent in a crack team of alpine troops to seize the mountain.
But for the most part, considering its stature, Elbrus has been neglected. Most people, even inside Russia, have never heard of it. It may be bigger than anything else in Europe, but that’s not enough to earn it the world’s attention or respect. “Elbrus is like Russia – diky no veliky,” says Soltan Kochkarov, 28, a mountain rescue team member and climbing guide. “Wild, uncivilized. But mighty.”
4:30 a.m. A mountain this big is climbed 6 inches at a time. That’s about the distance from one midstep to the next as I set out before dawn with a photographer and our Balkarian guide, Soltan. Constellations drape the night sky as brightly as Christmas lights. Soltan sets a slow pace as the firmament cracks open slowly in the east. I start doing the math. Each step gains me perhaps 3 inches of vertical height. That’s four steps per foot of elevation. We have a little more than 6,000 feet between here and the summit. That’s 24,000 steps. I’m taking two steps per breath in the rarefied air. That’s at least 12,000 breaths.
I decide not to count. I remember the advice Iskhak’s wife, Khalimat, offered the day before: There is only one way to reach the top of Elbrus, she said. You must be humble. You must walk as if you will never get there.
According to legend, the Balkarian people descended to Earth from a constellation known as the She-Bear. They were sent to live in communion with the mountain “Mingi-Tau” and the gods who ruled from her and through her. “Mingi-Tau means ‘a thousand mountains’ in our language,” Khalimat Tilova explains. “It is our Mt. Olympus.”
Traditionally, it was forbidden to try to climb the mountain, she says. Those who braved Elbrus’ slopes often returned to the valley with headaches, hallucinations and other ills now generally accepted as symptoms of altitude sickness. Sulphuric gases emanating from the mountain’s active fumaroles also may have played a role. But at the time, it seemed evidence of the wrath of the gods. The ancient Greeks knew of Elbrus – in fact, it appears several times in Greek mythology, and some believe that it is the mountain to which Prometheus was eternally chained. The ancient Iranians gave it the name “Elbrus” in about the 2nd century BC, naming it for a mythical chain of sacred mountains.
Two men are credited with being the first to reach its summit. The first is Killar Khashirov, a native of the flatlands below the Balkars’ mountain valleys. He reached the slightly lower, eastern summit as a member of a Russian scientific expedition in 1829. The higher, western summit was climbed half a century later, in 1874, by a British expedition guided by a Balkar, Akhiya Sottayev. Sottayev is a national hero; according to Balkarian tradition, that means his name should not be spoken aloud. That makes things a little difficult for his 42-year-old great-grandson, deputy director of an alpine climbing camp, who carries his name.
“It’s a big honor,” says the current Akhiya Sottayev, “but people are still afraid to pronounce it.”
6 a.m. Conversation is pointless; I am wrapped in a wall of sound. The wind blows against my Gore-Tex hood. The air rushing to my lungs seems to blow through my ears. Crampons and poles scratch unpleasantly into the ice and snow, as if on a chalkboard. I am locked into a kind of two-step with the mountain. Left foot, right pole. Right foot, left pole. Inhale. Exhale. It would be hypnotic if it didn’t take so much concentration.
The first rays of direct sun strike so hard I feel knocked off balance. I look behind. The pointy peaks of the Caucasus cast baby- blue shadows against the baby-pink dawn. I wonder if I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful. If history had been different, the Caucasus might have become Switzerland. Like the Alpine countries, the Caucasus is inhabited by hardy mountain peoples, fiercely independent, who survive largely by herding cows and sheep.
The mountains are easily as impressive. One of the first Western explorers to penetrate the region, a member of the 1874 British expedition, wrote that “in appearance of inaccessibility and in boldness of form they are beyond the Alps, and probably, when they are better known, they will be thought grander and more majestic than the Alps.” But history has not been kind. Unlike the Swiss, the mountain peoples of the Caucasus were overrun by one empire after another– the Huns, the Mongols, the Turks, the Russians. In the 19th century, Russia asserted its claim over the Caucasus and sent in armies that looted hundreds of villages, committing massacres along the way. After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the Balkars were forced to leave their villages, previously organized by clan, and join collective farms.
“See that stream,” Soltan says, pointing to a brook tripping down a hillside so steep the cows appear ready to topple off. “My family’s lands used to begin there. But once the Revolution came – poof.” He flaps his hands in an “all-gone” gesture. Soltan says his grandfather lived to be 120. Once upon a time, he says, Balkars routinely lived longer than 100 years. Not anymore. Not after all that history. “Now we die as fast as everyone else,” he says.
8 a.m. We reach a jumble of boulders known as the Pastukhov rocks- ‑at 15,700 feet, about the same altitude as Mont Blanc. On the map, we have climbed about halfway from where we started. But the toughest sections, and the thinnest air, are still ahead. It’s hard not to anthropomorphize this mountain. As we set off higher, I imagine her as a malevolent goddess. When my poles snag in the crusty snow, I imagine it’s the mountain trying to trip me up. The wind blowing down from above is her breath, trying to blast me off her flanks like an unwanted pest.
Soviet mountaineering got its start in the mid-1930s when Stalin hired a group of Austrians to jump-start a program in “mass alpinism.” They approached the task with military fervor. Peaks were classified by degree of difficulty. Climbers were to attempt various ascents according to a preordained order of difficulty. A hotel, Priyut-11, was built high up on Elbrus’ slopes to host the large groups of climbers.
Russians still tend to climb in organized clubs, a sharp contrast to the individualized Western culture of mountaineering and adventuring. Elbrus is relatively unpopular with Russian climbers. For one thing, it’s not technically difficult – it ranks a relatively low 2A on the Russian scale from 1A to 6B. Russian climbers use Elbrus mostly for altitude acclimatization before leaving for bigger mountains – Tajikistan’s Pamirs, Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan, or the mighty Himalayas. “Elbrus,” says Yuri Khokhlov, vice president of the Moscow chapter of the Russian Mountaineering Federation, “is a training mountain.”
But many climbers have died nonetheless. Trade unions and collective farms, in Stalinist stunts of collective athleticism, sent many amateurs up Elbrus in the 1930s with inadequate training. Entire parties were wiped out. If the weather is bad, Elbrus’ slopes become sheets of ice and one slip can lead to death. But if the weather is good and a climber knows how to steer clear of the mountain’s cliffs and hidden crevasses, Elbrus’ summit can be reached with little more than spiky crampons for traction and an ice ax or trekking poles for balance.
These days, most climbers take transportation more than halfway up the mountain; two cable cars and a chairlift reach 12,500 feet. From that point, snow lasts year-round, and some wealthy foreigners even hire a SnowCat tractor to bring them to the Pastukhov rocks – giving them a summit climb of just 2,810 feet. Even so, many don’t make the summit. Near the top of Elbrus, there is half the oxygen as at sea level. On other high peaks, mountaineers spend weeks at high altitude to give their bodies time to adjust to the scarcity of oxygen.
But the climbers who come to Elbrus are generally novices on a tight schedule. For the most part, they spend three or four days hiking above 12,000 feet, and then make a one-day dash for the summit from the top of the chairlift – more often than not, braving headaches, disorientation and nausea.
11:30 a.m. I never thought my lungs could work so hard and accomplish so little. I am taking three or four breaths per step. I try to find a rhythm but can’t. I keep stopping. Just to breathe. Just to feel the heaving in my chest subside a little. We reach the saddle between the two summits – 17,500 feet. Soltan says we are going to attempt the eastern summit, which Russians prefer. Like most Westerners, I want to climb the “real” summit, the western summit, 69 feet higher. But Soltan says ice conditions on the western summit are too treacherous. It would take an extra two hours. We are exhausted already. I nod agreement.
The eastern summit is still about 1,000 feet above us. Soltan offers a deal: We will take just 10 steps at a time, then stop to rest. We start to move our feet, and I wonder whether I’ll make the 10 steps. I do, and stop gratefully. A few feet ahead, Soltan is doubled over his ice ax, gasping as hard as I am. It dawns on me: This is the hardest thing I have done in my life.
The worst moment of 71-year-old Khazhar Temmoyeva’s life – and the lives of most Balkars of her generation – came a few minutes after dawn March 8, 1944. Soviet soldiers pulled up outside the house where she lived with her family in a village where Elbrus’ glacial streams reach the valley. They drove shiny new Studebaker trucks. She was 14. “The soldiers gave us a half-hour and told us to get in the trucks.” The memory is 57 years old, but Temmoyeva’s voice still falters. To steady herself, she fusses with her black head scarf, which swathes her head like a nun’s habit. “They drove us to the train station in Nalchik. Then we rode the train to Kazakhstan. We lived there for 14 years.”
Angry at the Nazis’ invasion of southern Russia and six-month occupation of Elbrus, Stalin ordered the entire Balkarian people deported to settlement camps in Central Asia. Most of the deportees were women, children and old men – the healthy men were mostly on the front line. “I remember everything,” she says. “I remember the war. I remember how the Germans came and killed my father and left us orphans. And then [the Russians] sent us away. No other nation has suffered as we have suffered.”
Khadzhimurat Bichekuyev, now 78, was one of the men on the front line during the deportation. He sent money home throughout the war, but it started coming back “undeliverable.” He was never told why. When he made his way home, his family and neighbors were nowhere to be found. He was a decorated artillery officer who had fought in Odessa and Stalingrad, then chased the Nazis back to Germany, meeting American allies at the Elbe. But now he was only a member of a suspect ethnic group. “The Germans shot my father. My brother was in the army. I was in the army. It wasn’t fair to punish us all,” Bichekuyev says.
Only about half the prewar population returned to the valleys after Stalin’s death; the rest died on the journey or in the deserts, or lost heart and remained in Central Asia. When Temmoyeva made it back from Kazakhstan, she took up backbreaking labor on a state farm, which pays her about $5 a month. These days, in the village where she was born, she stoops over soft layers of sheep wool, combing it with her fingers and dousing it with boiling water to make traditional felt hats, capes and carpets. The state farm buys what she makes in an effort to keep the old crafts from dying out. “Our traditions were ruined,” she says. “Our way of life isn’t the same.”
Bichekuyev was luckier. After the war, the Soviets set up a research center in the village of Terskol, and he found work as a laboratory assistant. He would climb around Elbrus with the scientists to take samples from the mountain’s 54 glaciers. In the course of his work, he reached the summit 10 times – eight on the eastern summit, twice on the western. “But my hero is my father-in-law,” Bichekuyev says, picking up a faded photo of a man wearing a lambskin hat and clunky black eyeglasses. “He climbed the mountain 209 times. And died at 116 years old.”
1:15 p.m. I try not to look up. There’s something about the thinness of the air and the brightness of the snow that make distances deceiving. I have no idea how far we’ve come. I have no idea how much is left.
I stop to catch my breath. I don’t know if I’ve been standing for a minute or five minutes when I hear a voice up ahead: Just 50 more feet. For a second, I wonder if it’s worth it. Then I begin to move my feet. Suddenly, the ground is no longer sloping up. My crampons crunch on volcanic gravel and wind-packed snow. I look up. The other summit stretches out to the west like a companion on a beach; nothing is higher, not even clouds. Below, the mighty peaks of the Caucasus have shriveled. They are spread out as far as the eye can see, gray and white like a dusty expanse of day-old meringue. All I feel is relief.
Iskhak Tilov was born in exile in the deserts of Kazakhstan. In 1957, four years after Stalin’s death, he saw the mountains of his homeland for the first time. He was 6. “I never imagined mountains could be so high,” he remembers.
As Balkars trickled back, the Soviet Union launched a building boom in the Elbrus region, constructing six health resorts and eight alpine training camps. A ski school opened, and Iskhak was one of the first students. In 1967, he became the Soviet Union’s junior downhill champion – one of the first Balkars to achieve national stature in alpine sports. In 1969, he placed second in the European Junior championship. And soon, young Balkars began to realize that the mountains weren’t just a place to raise sheep. With enough luck and training, sports could provide not just fortune but also fame.
In the 1980s, Iskhak received permission from the Soviet Sports Committee to build a high-altitude training base for skiers on Elbrus, and soon the national team was training on snow year-round. But then the Soviet Union collapsed, taking with it money for training, travel and equipment. Then, war began in Chechnya and tourists shunned the region, which is only 130 miles from the war zone. Balkars lost their jobs at the camps and tourist centers. Iskhak’s ski base fell into disrepair. “Everything was hard for our country,” Iskhak says. “It was like a 10-year gap in our lives.”
2:30 p.m. The snowstorm hits quickly. A new sound is added – the tinkle of snow pellets hitting Gore-Tex. I see Soltan fading into the white fog ahead of me. My knees whine in pain as my crampons sink deeper into the snow on the downward slope. I remember the stories I’ve heard about climbers on Elbrus who have died in storms– disappeared over cliffs, slid into crevasses, died of exposure. On the way up, boulders are speckled with memorial plaques. I feel nauseated. I’m not sure if it’s the snow swirling dizzily in front of my eyes, the energy bar I choked down, the lack of oxygen or the mountain’s noxious gases. I just know that if I walk any faster, I will get sick and my knees will give out. I am reminded: Climbing a mountain doesn’t end at the summit. You also have to get down.
The sun shines. Iskhak’s base bustles. Shirtless snowboarders bask in the warm sunshine between trips off a jump ramp, impressing each other with half-pipes, full pecs and the latest in board gear. Behind them, a simple rope tow carries ski school students up the slope. Every so often, a crampon-shod climber stumbles past.
Iskhak wafts through it all, radio in hand, baseball cap on head. Like many Balkars, he has strangely pale eyes, in his case light brown. He shields them behind an oversized pair of sunglasses. He keeps an eye on the snowboarders, whom he doesn’t fully trust. “Skiers and climbers are serious, hard-working,” he says. “These kids are young. They just like to have a good time.”
The last three years have seen a kind of revival in the Elbrus region, fueled by three new breeds of thrill seekers who come despite the Chechen war: snowboarders drawn to its nearly year-round snows; “extreme” skiers and “free riders” seeking danger and pristine terrain; and a certain kind of amateur mountain climber eager for boasting rights to a “highest” summit. Elbrus is one of the so-called seven summits, the highest peak on each continent. (The others are Asia’s Everest (29,028 feet); South America’s Aconcagua (22,834 feet); North America’s Denali/McKinley (20,320 feet); Africa’s Kilimanjaro (19,340 feet); Antarctica’s Vinson Massif (16,067 feet); and Australia’s Kosciusko (7,310 feet).)
Since 1983, when a pair of middle-age executives set out to climb all seven – Frank Wells, then of Warner Bros., and Dick Bass, a Texas businessman – the idea has caught on among a certain kind of ambitious, moneyed adventurer. These days, Iskhak leases the base from the government and charges climbers about $5 a night to stay in one of the 10 red-and-white school-bus-sized barrels he has outfitted with bunks. Since the high- altitude hotel Priyut-11 burned down in 1998, he knows that all aspiring “seven summiters” will come through his camp, that they are his ticket to the future. “Without Elbrus, they can’t do it.” He smiles broadly.
Still, Elbrus is a long way from becoming a major tourist attraction. Poorly developed by Western standards even in its heyday, the mountain has suffered severely from post-Soviet decay. There are no amenities – no warming huts, no snack bars, no place to buy sunscreen or water or beer. Instead of a café, climbers fend for themselves in a primitive communal kitchen with food they bring up themselves. There is no plumbing or running water; snow must be melted to be drunk.
Things are primitive in the valley as well. There are few hotels, and for the most part they have no maids, infrequent hot water and crude cafeterias. There is no transportation system between the hotels and the slopes. The chairlift runs when the operator feels like it. Those who seek extreme sports here must have not an aversion to extreme discomfort. “This is another degree beyond adventure travel,” says Mort Gerson, a 67-year-old retired lawyer from Santa Monica who hopes to summit Elbrus and ski down. “The people I know wouldn’t want to come here.” A number of adventure tour companies that offered Elbrus climbs in the early 1990s have since pulled out, in part because of the Chechen conflict and because conditions for travelers are too unpredictable.
“It takes a certain kind of person to enjoy this place,” says Tom Milne, a guide with Mountain Madness, a Seattle-based alpine tour company that still brings several groups to Elbrus each summer. What kind of person is that? “Flexible,” he says euphemistically.
6:30 p.m. The storm has lifted. Below, a row of red barrels comes slowly into focus. I can’t believe that it has taken so long to get down. My knees no longer whine; they howl.
I stumble past snowboarders with bleached locks and mirrored shades. I must appear like a prophet descending from the heights– shaggy, unsteady and more than a little disreputable.
Iskhak stands outside his trailer. He breaks into a big smile. “Congratulations. The mountain was kind to you.” Then he adds: “But you must come back, you know. After all, there’s still another summit.”
Frequently asked Elbrus questions
What kind of food is eaten? Can you accommodate a vegetarian diet or other dietary restrictions?
All of the meals served on Mountain Madness trips are a combination of the best local and regional fares along with some specialty items brought from the U.S. Your guide or your personal cooks are experienced in working with vegetarian diets and dietary restrictions due to food allergies or intolerances.
Can I arrive earlier or depart later than the trip dates?
Mountain Madness is happy to help you arrange accommodations before and after your trip. Our area directors can recommend side excursions and restaurants for the extra time.
How do I get from the airport to the hotel when I arrive?
A Mountain Madness guide or representative will pick you up at the Moscow airport on the scheduled arrival date and time. For easy identification consider wearing your Mountain Madness T‑shirt!
Can I leave luggage in Moscow?
Yes, there is a secure place to store your valuables in Moscow while you are away on the climb. There is a nominal charge of about $5 to $10 per day for this service.
Should I get insurance?
Mountain Madness highly recommends the purchase of trip cancellation, travel and medical evacuation policies. Once we have received your application and have confirmed your spot on the expedition we will send you information about the various types of insurance and the companies we recommend.
How heavy will my pack be?
On Elbrus we stay in huts so there are no camps to supply and no heavy backpacks to carry. On the acclimatization hikes and the summit climb you will need to carry your own snacks, camera, water and some extra clothing which should be less than 20 pounds. Not too bad, huh?
Can I rent my gear through Mountain Madness? Will the guide check my gear before we leave for the mountain?
Yes, some items will be available- call our office for details. We will check your gear in Moscow. Our equipment list is very complete and we ask that you bring all the items listed. Russia is a very difficult place to purchase gear and as such it is unlikely that we could find the proper items. We will be happy to help you solve any gear issues prior to departure!
What if someone on my rope team gets sick? Will I have to descend and lose my summit opportunity?
Safety is the primary consideration on all Mountain Madness trips. For all of our trips participants must remember that they are part of a team and that the safety and security of everyone on the team is more important than any one individual reaching the summit. If the entire group is required to get a team member down, they will be called to assist the guides and staff. However, we have a very high success rate in part because we often hire skilled local guides to assist on summit days, decreasing the client-to-guide ratio. This offers additional safety and increases everyone’s chance for success. Additionally, our schedule has an extra summit day built in which gives us all a second opportunity if weather or other problems cause us to miss the first opportunity
$5,675 – 14 Days / Includes travel time
Single Supplement – $350
- Assistance with obtaining visa vouchers for visa applications (extra fees may apply for non-US citizens)
- Domestic flight from Moscow to/from Mineralnye Vody
- Moscow city tour
- Scheduled restaurant meals in Moscow
- Three scheduled hotel nights in Moscow (double or triple occupancy)
- Four scheduled hotel nights in Cheget (double or triple occupancy)
- All food during the climb
- All team climbing gear and cooking gear
- All expedition support staff
- Lift fees on Mt. Elbrus
- 1 Sno-Cat ride
- Airport transfers at the beginning of trip
Price Does Not Include
- International airfare
- Russia entry visa and airport fees
- St. Petersburg extension
- Excess baggage fees on flight to Mineralnye Vody from Moscow
- Airport transfer at end of trip
- Personal climbing gear and clothing
- Personal expenses (phone calls, laundry, room service, extra meals, etc.)
- Travel insurance with trip cancellation, medical and evacuation policy
- All expenses associated with non-scheduled departure
- Breakfast and lunch Day 2
- Lunch and dinner Day 14
- Alcoholic and bottled beverages
- Guide/Staff gratuities
- $700 deposit at time of registration, which includes a $300 non-refundable registration fee
- Balance due 120 days prior to departure
- The balance may be paid by check, wire transfer, ACH or credit card with a 3% convenience fee
- Jun 13, 2020 — Jun 26, 2020
- Jun 27, 2020 — Jul 10, 2020
Custom Dates Available — Contact Us
Cancellation / Refund Policy
- MMI strongly recommends trip cancellation/interruption and evacuation insurance for all trips. Our insurance partner, Ripcord, offers comprehensive travel insurance including trip cancellation, as well as rescue/evacuation policies and can assist in answering any questions. In addition, Participant is expected to have sufficient medical insurance as prescribed by their country of origin. Participant understands that MMI does not include any type of insurance with the cost of the trip.
- If you decide to cancel your trip or change your itinerary, MMI must be notified in writing. Your trip will be cancelled from the date written notice is received. If proper written cancellation notice is not received, amounts paid and reservations made will be forfeited.
- Non-refundable fees may apply for certain trips in order to secure permits and other services. MMI must strictly adhere to cancellation policies outside MMI’s control.
- Due to the personalized service we offer on our trips, MMI reserves the right to waive any fees. We will attempt to accommodate changes and cancellations, waiving certain fees when feasible.
- Full refund, less the non-refundable registration fee, will be provided 121 days or more before the departure date
- No refunds will be provided 120 days or less before the departure date
We strongly recommend the purchase of travel cancellation insurance to protect you from the unexpected. You aren’t likely to think of it now, but people do get ill, break a bone, have a family emergency or get assigned to a last-minute business trip. If you are in remote areas, please note that emergency rescue & evacuation can be very expensive.
We also strongly urge you to consider rescue and evacuation insurance if your own policy does not provide the coverage needed. Services available may include, but are not limited to, helicopter evacuation, medical care, etc.
If you choose not to purchase insurance, you assume full responsibility for any expenses incurred in the event of a medical emergency and/or evacuation, as well as for trip cancellation, interruption, lost luggage, etc. We are not the experts and therefore ask that you please consult our travel insurance partner directly with any specific questions.
To protect against losses due to illness, accident, or other unforeseen circumstances, Mountain Madness strongly recommends the purchase of travel insurance as soon as possible after making a deposit. Mountain Madness has partnered with Redpoint Resolutions as our preferred travel insurance provider. Redpoint’s Ripcord Rescue Travel Insurance™ is designed for adventurers.
For a quote, or to purchase travel insurance, please click this link Ripcord Rescue Travel Insurance™ or call +1 – 415-481‑0600. Pricing varies based on age, trip cost, trip length, and level of coverage.
Critical benefits of Ripcord Rescue Travel Insurance include:
- A completely integrated program with a single point of contact for emergency services, travel assistance, and insurance claims
- Evacuation and rescue services from your point of injury or illness to your hospital of choice
- Comprehensive travel insurance for trip cancellation/interruption, primary medical expense coverage, baggage loss or delay, emergency accident and emergency sickness medical expense, emergency dental, accidental death and dismemberment, and more
- Optional security evacuation coverage in case of an unplanned natural disaster or other security events
- Waiver for pre-existing conditions (must be purchased within 14 days of tour deposit)
- Optional “Cancel for Any Reason” coverage (must be purchased within 14 days of tour deposit)
The total number of days for your trip includes all travel to and from your destination, with some exceptions. Dates listed on the website start with a departure date from the U.S. and include the day you arrive home. For this trip you will need to arrive in Moscow, Russia on Day 2 anytime during the day. You will be met at the airport by a Mountain Madness representative and transferred to your hotel.
If you are traveling from Europe it’s possible you can eliminate one day from the itinerary as long as you arrive on Day 2 of the itinerary. Return flight is scheduled for Day 14 of the trip.
Domestic flights to Mineralnye Vody are included in the cost of your trip. If you choose to fly direct to Mineralnye Vody, thus eliminating time in Moscow, we can carefully coordinate this with you so that you meet your group at the domestic terminal in Moscow or in Mineralnye Vody.
Please contact our office for any help needed with your flight schedule.
Mount Elbrus Day by Day
The first day is allocated for those requiring an overnight flight to Moscow.
A Mountain Madness representative will meet you at the airport. You will be transferred to your hotel where you will spend the night.
Tour the city of Moscow, including a visit to the Kremlin Cathedral and Armory. Overnight at hotel. Orientation meeting and gear check.
Mineralnye Vody / Terskol
Elevation: 7,030 ft / 2143 m
Transfer to domestic airport for the two hour flight to the city of Mineralnye Vody (Mineral Water) or Nalchik. Continue by bus to a hotel in the town of Terskol in the Baksan Valley, where you spend the next several nights.
Elevation: 7,030 ft / 2143 m
To prepare for our summit attempt of Elbrus, and to enjoy the magnificent Caucasus Range, we take a day hike in the Baksan River Valley. At the end of the day you overnight in the hotel.
Elevation: 7,030 ft / 2143 m
To further prepare for the climb, we ride the cable car and practice crampon and ice climbing skills. Overnight at hotel.
Elevation: 12,467 ft / 3800 m
Ride the cable car up to Kharabashi, which is Balkarian for “where black rock meets glacier.”. We settle in for a rest day in comfortable barrel shelters. More skills review possible.
Elevation: 12,467 ft / 3800 m
Acclimatization hike to Pastukhov Rocks and return for another night at the barrels.
Elevation: 12,467 ft / 3800 m
Further review basic mountaineering skills. Rest and prepare for the climb.
Elevation: 12,467 ft / 3800 m
Two days are scheduled for our summit attempt. We increase our chances for a successful summit climb by riding a snowcat to just below our previous highpoint near the Pastukhov Rocks. If weather allows our group to summit on the first day, we descend the following day and have an extra day in the Baksan Valley.
Elevation: 7,030 ft / 2143 m
Overnight at Hotel.
Mineralnye Vody / Moscow
Drive to Mineralnye Vody. Fly back to Moscow. Transfer to hotel.
Depart Moscow and fly home.
Note on Itinerary: Although we do our very best to follow the schedule listed, this itinerary is subject to change due to inclement weather, unsafe route conditions, or other reasons beyond our control and in the guide’s best judgement.
Equipment for Mount Elbrus
Summit pack (40-50L)
Lightweight as possible with a volume between 2,500-3,500 cubic inches (40-50 liters) serves most people’s needs well
Osprey Mutant 38, Black Diamond Speed 40
Large duffel bag (150L)
One at least 7,000 cubic inch capacity (150 liters). Must be durable and waterproof
Patagonia Black Hole
Small padlock for duffel bags
Makes identifying your bags easy at airports or hotels
Expedition quality sleeping bag (15-20F)
One down or synthetic bag rated from 15-20°F /-9 to -7°C
Marmot Helium, Marmot Trestles, Western Mountaineering Apache, North Face Guide 20
Sleeping pad (inflatable)
Full length inflatable. When sleeping on snow make sure to purchase pad rated to do so
Alpine climbing harness
Must have adjustable leg loops and fit over all clothing
Black Diamond Couloir, Petzl Altitude, Petzl Hirundos
Locking carabiners (2)
Two large, pear-shaped carabiners are best
Black Diamond Rock Lock, Petzl William, Petzl Attache
Mountaineering ice axe
under 5’7” use 60cm, 5’7”-6’2” use 60 or 65cm, over 6’2” use 70cm
Black Diamond Raven, Petzl Glacier
Crampons w/ anti-balling plate
Steel 12-pont. Must be fit to climbing boots prior to trip, new-matic/hybrid type
Black Diamond Sabretooth, Petzl Vasak
Adjustable trekking poles
Three piece poles recommended
Black Diamond Trail Back Pole
Head and Face
Fleece or wool hat
It must cover the ears
Shade hat or baseball cap
A visor hat with a good brim is essential for protection from the sun
Mountain Madness trucker hat
Bandanas or neck gaiter
Various uses, i.e. cleaning glasses, sun protection when tied around the neck, etc. We have our own Mountain Madness neck gaiter available for purchase!
Mountain Madness neck gaiter
A thin balaclava will add significant warmth on that cold summit day
Outdoor Research, Marmot
100% UV protection with side shields and a hard-sided storage case
To fit over glacier glasses in high wind. Rose or amber lenses
Two pairs thin fleece or synthetic
One pair fleece or wool with water resistant shell
Outdoor Research Arete
One pair Gore-Tex or equivalent, with textured palms and taped seams. Synthetic or down filled. Warm, heavy duty for cold temperatures
Outdoor Research Altimitt
Thin socks (2 pair)
Two pairs of synthetic or wool socks to wear under heavy wool socks to help prevent blisters and keep feet dry
Smartwool or Cool Max
Thick socks (3 pair)
Three pairs of synthetic or wool socks, medium to heavyweight. Check boot fit with thin and thick socks on
Smartwool or Thorlo
One pair of gaiters made of breathable material; keeps dirt and snow out of boots. Make sure they fit over your climbing boots
Outdoor Research Verglas or Crocodiles
Plastic mountaineering boots
Depending on your future mountaineering endeavors, a boot such as the La Sportiva Spantik is a good investment for those who are pursuing other high-altitude climbs (such as Aconcagua or Denali), whereas the Koflach Degre would be the choice for those looking for a warm boot in moderate conditions. If you are looking at hybrid leather/plastic boots, make sure it is rated for 6,000-meter peak climbs or winter mountaineering
Light hiking boots or trail shoes
For acclimatization hikes
Salomon X-Ultra 3 Mid, Merrell Moab, La Sportiva Boulder Ex
Two synthetic or merino wool t-shirts. No cotton!
Long-sleeved Base Layer
Two lightweight to mediumweight, pull-over is best
Two, synthetic, no cotton!
Softshell Jacket w/ hood
This is what you will be wearing while hiking at higher altitudes or while kicking around camps at lower altitude. This jacket should be full-zip
Outdoor Research Ferrosi
Hardshell jacket w/ hood
A good jacket made of Gore-Tex (recommended) or waterproof nylon, roomy enough to fit over multiple layers
Outdoor Research Foray, Patagonia Triolet
Down or synthetic jacket w/hood
This is your most important piece of warm gear and will mean the difference between an enjoyable climb or a miserable one. A warm, full zip jacket with hood is recommended and ideal
Helly Hansen Vanir, Feathered Friends Volant, Marmot Guide’s Down Hoody, Outdoor Research Virtuoso Hoody
Sun hoody (optional)
This piece with a high SPF rating and lightweight fabric offers protection from high altitude sun
Adequate supply for the entire climb
Bathing suit (optional)
lightweight and packable
One pair of quick-drying shorts. Good for hiking at lower elevations on the mountain
Long base layer
Two pairs light or mediumweight
Softshell pants are water resistant, yet highly breathable and durable. Great for colder conditions over a pair of long underwear or tights higher on the mountain or summit day
Outdoor Research Voodoo, Mountain Hardwear Touren, Patagonia Guide
waterproof and breathable with side zips (minimum of ¾ zips recommended) Gore-Tex or equivalent
Outdoor Research Furio, Arcteryx Beta AR
Stuff sacks/ditty bags/plastic bags
To organize gear in your duffle and pack. All clothing should be kept dry using waterproof stuff sacks or large heavyweight plastic bags (trash compactor bags work great)
Toothbrush and paste, comb, tampons, biodegradable soap (small amount), etc. Bring enough for the entire trip
1 – 2 rolls stored in a plastic bag
Must have SPF rating of 20 or more. Bring two just in case!
Bring plenty of sun block with SPF of 40 or more. It's easy to underestimate the amount necessary for equatorial sun protection
To block out snoring and other noise to ensure a good night's sleep
Water bottles with insulators
Two one-liter wide-mouthed plastic bottles
Small stainless-steel thermos (optional)
For hot beverages on summit day
Steri Pen, Potable Aqua, Polar Pure crystal iodine. Purifies drinking water while on the climb. this will only be necessary as a back-up.
Powdered additives like Gatorade or NUUN tablets make treated water taste better
Bring extra batteries!
Pocket knife or multitool
Simple Swiss Army type with scissors. Make sure you transport in checked bag, not carry-on!
Personal first aid and drug kit
See Health and Medical Information
Pepto Bismol tablets; Maalox, Gelusil M or Mylanta antacid tablets. Donnatal for stomach cramps. Probiotic capsules taken daily may help keep your gastro-intestinal system working smoothly
For wash up in camp
A small pack or two anti-bacterial are great for general hygiene
Spare contacts and glasses
Contacts can be a problem in dusty conditions, so make sure you have your back-up glasses with you. Glasses wearers should have a spare set
Bring your favorite snacks and power/energy bars or if there is something else you particularly like to eat while hiking and climbing
Spare bottle for a pee bottle, and a pee funnel (Lady J or Freshette) for women
It can be a cold walk to the toilet at night
Phone with camera, and/or separate camera. Bring extra batteries and memory!
If you want to charge your electronics along the way, a small, lightweight solar panel to charge batteries or portable charging device may be a good addition
Travel power adapter
Most come in kits with all the plugs you need. Double-check to make sure you’re taking the correct adapter/plugs
Comfortable clothing for travel before and after the expedition
14 Days / Includes travel time
18,510 ft / 5642 m
Client to Guide Ratio
St. Petersburg Option
Spend two full days taking in the sights of this UNESCO gem.
Climbers should have basic snow and ice-climbing skills and should be comfortable with glacier travel, which includes moving in a rope team, self arrest, and basic crevasse rescue. Basic knowledge and experience would be required for objectives with some rock climbing.