• Elbrus
  • 5642 m
  • Primary factor 4741 m
  • Location: North 43:21.152, East 42:26.270 (GPS on the summit)
  • Location: At the end of the Baksan Valley, near the village of Terskol.
  • Highest in the Caucasus
  • Saddle: 901 meter, just across the border west in Pakistan
  • Saddle location: N26:33:39, E063:39:17
  • Difficulty: Grade F+, YDS class 2+, snow/ice climb.
  • Climbed August 5 and again on August 8, 2004.


How to get there: Almost everyone that visit this area travel by air to the city Mineralye Vody. This city has flight connections with Moscow, Munich and St. Petersburg. It turned out to be least expensive and most convenient to travel from Oslo via Moscow.
From Mineralye Vody, one travels by car to the small village of Terskol near the upper end of the Baksan valley. This trip takes about 2.5 hours given that there are no delays. Police road checks were frequent at the time of our visit, it is therefore wise to plan on delays and allocate at least one extra hour for this part of the trip.
Route description: A short summary of our climb which includes a description of the route, is given below. Click for a more extensive and detailed trip report.
Days 1-3: Travel and Preparations.
Day 4: We started from the end of the road in the upper Baksan valley, on July 31 at elevation 2377 meter. We established our Camp I at 3518 meter about 5 hours after the start. The trail to this point is obvious and easy.
Day 5: We moved to Camp II, established at elevation 4130 meter. This section of the route was entirely on easy snow slopes.
Day 6: We moved most of our supplies to a planned Camp III at 4633 meter, but returned to sleep a second night at Camp II. The route up to this point is on easy snow slopes.
Day 7: A pretty bad snow storm with wind, lightning and thunder throughout the night. We dug out, climbed to the planned Camp III location and carried most of the food supply back down to Camp II. No sense at all to move higher with the current (violent) weather.
Day 8: The weather is improving, but not perfect. We need more fuel in order to prepare for a summit push, the day is spent fetching one litre of gasoline from our Camp III cache.
Day 9: We start for the summit from Camp II at 0220 with near perfect conditions. Tor is not feeling well and turns after about one hour. Pål Jørgen and I make the summit in 6 hours. We enjoyed the panorama views for almost 30 minutes before returning down to Camp II in about 3 hours. Above 4600 meter, the trail is on somewhat steeper snow slopes. The route heads directly uphill towards the East Summit until reaching about 5000 meter, then turns left into an ascending traverse to about 5300 meter (picture from descending) where it turns into the saddle between the two summits. After a rather level stretch, the route then climbs the west side of the saddle on an ascending traverse, first moderately to a rock band, then on a steeper and slightly more exposed section (picture from descending) to gain the north ridge. From here, up a very gentle slope, then flat and slightly down before a very short and easy slope to a rather distinct summit point. The entire route is non-technical on snow and crust. Crampons are needed and an ice axe should be carried for safety reasons. The slopes are steep enough that an uncontrolled slide can have serious consequences.
Days 10-14: A second climb of Elbrus with Tor, a climb of Itkolbashi and return travel to Norway.
Comments: I did this trip with my sons Pål Jørgen, age 15, and Tor Erling, age 22. We organized everything ourselves as a completely private trip. We used the local company Pilgrim Tours in order to secure the necessary Visa, border permits etc. They also provided a convenient place to stay in the valley and helped with local transportation as well as booking the airport transportation for us. Overall, I can strongly endorse and recommend Pilgrim Tours and their "Lite Package" for independent parties that need limited logistics support while in the Caucasus area.
My GPS gave an elevation of 5650 meter, that is 8 meter high. This is a slightly larger error than normal. A more complete set of GPS coordinates (waypoints) for the Elbrus climbing route are listed in the more detailed trip report.
Many climbers including commercial tours with guides use the cable way and ski lift combined with a snowcat (like the ones you find preparing downhill ski slopes) that enables them to get climbers/clients up to about 4600 meter without having to walk a single step. There is perhaps some justification for using a permanent cable way service for the lower slopes just as is customary in the Alps. The use of mechanized transport like a snowcat is, however, highly questionable. What if one could drive (or fly?) all the way to the summi? There is no technical difficulty, but the elevation, the sudden change in weather and overall effort required by independent parties makes me assign a (French) grade of F+. Several climbers die on this mountain every year.
Budget: It may be of interest to get a rough picture of the cost. Differently from commercial adventure travel companies and professionally guided group tours, this trip can be carried out with quite a modest budget. Fourteen days for three people carried a total cost of 2700 Euro, that is 900 Euro/person or only about 65 Euro per person per day. This cost had a breakdown as follows: 1500 Euro for the complete flight Oslo - Moscow - Mineralye Vody - return, 510 Euro for basic services from Pilgrim Tours, 490 Euro for local costs in the Baksan valley, including 6 nights in a basic lodge, local transportation, transport back to the airport, one day with a local guide (for my younger boy while we climbed Elbrus a second time), meals in the valley, plus local shopping. Finally, 200 Euros for two nights in a Moscow hotel, including airport transfers in Moscow. We spent 6 nights in our tent on the mountain, obviously, one can make this trip on an even lower budget. We did not explicitly try to stay within a modest budget, but rather paid what seemed reasonable all along. This is just a summary of what it all ended up costing.