Southern Approach route on Mount Elbrus
Northern Approach Route on Mount Elbrus
Adam and David's Traverse Route as seen from above
Mount Elbrus is the highest point in Europe at 5642 metres (18,510 feet). It is located in the Caucasus mountain range, which separates Europe from Asia and the Middle East. The mountain is found in Southern Russia, on the border with Georgia, 200 km from the Black Sea.
Elbrus stands 20 km (12 mi) north of the main range of the Greater Caucasus and 65 km (40 mi) south-southwest of the Russian town of Kislovodsk. Its permanent icecap feeds 22 glaciers which in turn give rise to the Baksan, Kuban, and Malka Rivers.
The Eastern summit of Elbrus was first summited in 1829 by Khillar Khicharov, while the Western Summit, being the true summit (it is about 20 metres higher than the Eastern Summit) was first reached by an English Expedition led by F. Crauford Grove in 1874.
Mount Elbrus figures in Greek mythology. Zeus chained Prometheus to the mountain after he stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mankind. After Zeus imprisoned Prometheus, he sent a long-winged eagle to consume his liver but Hercules killed the eagle and freed Prometheus.
During the Battle of the Caucasus in World War II, the Wehrmacht occupied the area surrounding the mountain from August 1942 to January 1943 with 10,000 Gebirgsjäger from the 1st Mountain Division. When news reached Adolf Hitler that a detachment of mountaineers was sent by the general officer commanding the German division to climb to the summit of Elbrus and plant the swastika flag at its top, he reportedly flew into a rage, called the achievement a "stunt" and threatened to court martial the general.
Elbrus Route Info
There are two established routes to the summit of Elbrus – the Southern approach, which over 90% of climbers choose, and the less traveled Northern approach.
The Southern approach is a significantly easier climb, as a series of chair lifts carry climbers and their equipment to Base Camp. Climbers can sleep indoors in relative comfort in the “Barrels”, which are semi-permanent corrugated steel huts holding 6 climbers. On summit day, climbers can hire a snow cat to take them partway up the mountain to approximately 15,100 feet, which reduces climbing time, but has been characterized as a hair-raising experience. Summit day is a long hard slog taking up to 11 hours or more.
The Northern approach is a more traditional climb, with mountaineers driving 5 hours off-road to a base camp set in a farmers field at the foot of Elbrus. Gear is carried up the mountain expedition-style; there is one high camp with a few seasonal huts for sleeping, but the route is relatively untouched.
Adam and David have chosen to get a taste of both sides of the mountain by doing a south to north traverse of the mountain. They will spend a few days on the southern slopes of Elbrus in the Baksan Valley, acclimatizing. After two more acclimatization days at Base Camp, they will carry their gear to the saddle on summit day – the saddle separates the Western Summit (the true summit) and the Eastern Summit, which is only 20 metres lower. After reaching the summit, they will descend to the saddle, and then proceed down the northern side of the mountain with their gear.
There is one day of rudimentary technical snow climbing – the climb from the saddle to the summit is a moderately steep snow slope (35 degrees), and the descent down the north side of the mountain has many crevasses, so Adam and David will have to reclaim some of their crampon and rope skills in order to have success on Elbrus.
Despite the mountain being considered a fairly easy climb, the conditions can lull climbers into a false sense of safety. The route can be challenging due to the snow, high winds and a high elevation. About 15 to 30 climbers die each year, which is a fairly high ratio of climbers to climber deaths when compared to other mountains.
August 16 Fly Moscow to Mineralnye Vody, 3 hours by road to Terskol
August 17 Acclimatization hike – Cheget (12,700 feet)
August 18 Transfer to Base Camp (13,500 feet), acclimatize to 14,300 feet
August 19 Acclimatize to 15,600 feet, sleep at Base Camp
August 20 Rest Day
August 21 Summit Day to 18,510 feet, descent to North Side High Camp (12,500 feet) Summit Day will be approximately 11 hours
August 22 Additional weather day
August 23 Descend to North Side Base Camp (6,000 feet)
Drive to Kislovodsk (5 hours)
August 24 Spend day in Kislovodsk
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
- Mark Twain