Mount Elbrus is located in the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia, not too far from the border of Georgia.
Fun Fact: Mount Elbrus is actually a dormant volcano with its last eruption-taking place round about 50 AD. You can still see signs of that eruption today, particularly near High camp on the Northern Route as you climb up and over boulders of lava.
Mount Elbrus has two summits of similar heights – The West Summit (5,642m or 18,510ft) and the East Summit (5,621m or 18,442ft). The two routes used to reach either of the summits are called the North Route and the South Route.
If you are on the North Route, your lead guide will normally decide on summit day at about 5,100m, which summit you will go for – East or West. You may be aiming for the West Summit but depending on the weather and the overall stamina and grit of your team, you may be directed towards the East Summit, which is three hours shorter in duration.
This is the easier route of the two. It is beautifully green and lush with views and scenery not too dissimilar from the Alps.
At the base of the route you’ll find yourself staying in a hotel and then in huts further up the mountain. Don’t expect a 5* experience but do expect to cook, eat and rest in solid four-walled accommodation. You’ll also find cable cars and snow cats (snow machines) on the South Route. Some tour companies use the cable cars to help carry gear up and of course, if there are any emergencies, it is the fastest and easiest way down.
Some tour companies speed their clients up as high up on the mountain as possible with snow cats or in the cable cars and then guide them the rest of the way to the summit. Call me old fashioned but that is not classified as trekking or mountaineering. The next problem with this method although it is a physical issue as opposed to an ethical issue is that if you go up with a snow cat or cable car, your body doesn’t acclimatise properly and you are more likely going to experience altitude sickness compared to someone who climbs the whole way by foot.
Don’t get me wrong, if you’re not super into mountaineering and trekking then go for it, but if naming the peaks and trails that you’ve done, is important to you and fills you with pride then stand by your integrity and climb the mountain with your own two feet.
The North Route is without doubt the harder route between the two and before you decide which route to take, you need to be honest with yourself and how capable you are at handling an already pretty tough mountain and then adding to it and taking the more challenging route. The North Route isn’t as pretty as its competing route with lower level green valleys and a fair bit of barren terrain. Unlike the South Route, base camp is a communal area for tents and dining, although I have seen several small tin structures that house 6 to 8 people.
Between Base Camp and the Summit there is only one other spot where you’ll be eating and sleeping. This is called High Camp, found at 3,800m. At the High Camp location there are two large communal tin structures that house about 16 people. Depending on the tour company you have booked with, you will either be housed in either of these tin structures or in tents around the High Camp area.
If you are considering climbing the North Route then plan to give yourself on average 12-Weeks to train. Checkout my book “A Step-By-Step Manual To Mountaineering & Trekking Around The World” where I share the formula I developed to calculate the exact number of hours you should be training per week to reach your peak physical condition for any mountain or trekking route you choose, as well as an entire, detailed and scientific chapter dedicated to creating your own training program. If you'd prefer to work with me as your Coach then checkout this page.
Similarities Between The South & North Route
Both routes require the use of mountaineering boots, crampons and ice axes as the terrain on both sides is similar. The weather on both sides can be equally harsh and unpredictable
The question comes down to this:
Do you want take the harder or easier route?
It is a matter of personal preference and rather be honest with yourself than choosing the route you think you should choose. This is your journey, no one else’s. You are the one who has to take each step and endure your way to the summit. Regardless which route you choose, just choose one and commit to it. I am yet to meet someone who regrets climbing a mountain.
Check out these two blogs that may help answer a few of your questions: