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How achievable is Elbrus unguided?

Discussion area for peaks outside of the USA.
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How achievable is Elbrus unguided?

Postby eds92 » Sun Jan 22, 2012 7:06 pm

Hello all.

I have seen from another thread about the 7 summits that a few of the members here have done Elbrus...was wondering if you could help me out.

Myself and a group of friends were thinking of doing an unguided Elbrus exped in the summer, and were wondering how hard it is (normal, easiest route). We have all had experience with winter mountaineering, own crampons and ice axes and are all very fit. Unfortunately though we are not experienced climbers, having very little technical experience. I have read that Elbrus isn't technical by the standard route, so based on this is there anything stopping us from plodding up there ourselves (aside from permits etc.) ?

Thank you.

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Re: How achievable is Elbrus unguided?

Postby Alan Arnette » Sun Jan 22, 2012 7:17 pm

I climbed from the north in 2011. Maybe my FAQs can help. You are correct in that it is a really tall 14er ... in good weather but there is crevasse danger so experience is required. Above all things, remember it is Russia, you need permits, and visas etc... http://tinyurl.com/6ruoyl7 Good luck

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Re: How achievable is Elbrus unguided?

Postby MountainHiker » Sun Jan 22, 2012 9:46 pm

eds92 wrote:Hello all.

I have seen from another thread about the 7 summits that a few of the members here have done Elbrus...was wondering if you could help me out.

Myself and a group of friends were thinking of doing an unguided Elbrus exped in the summer, and were wondering how hard it is (normal, easiest route). We have all had experience with winter mountaineering, own crampons and ice axes and are all very fit. Unfortunately though we are not experienced climbers, having very little technical experience. I have read that Elbrus isn't technical by the standard route, so based on this is there anything stopping us from plodding up there ourselves (aside from permits etc.) ?

Thank you.

The easiest routes on Elbrus aren’t hard by big glaciated mountain standards. Orizaba is about the same elevation but steeper. Rainier’s glaciers have more crevasse risk. However don’t take this mountain lightly. If you were to get off route in a white out, there are ice falls that can swallow you - never to be seen again. That happens.

A huge issue is this is Russia. Russia is goofy with visa and travel regulations. Someone forgot to tell them the iron curtain fell. Even Russians have to carry their passports to travel within the country. You need local support or the trip doesn’t happen. Pilgrim Tours offers a “Lite” package which can provide the necessary support.
http://www.pilgrim-tours.com/index.shtml?tours/index

We went with Elbrus-Tours
http://www.elbrustours.ru/en/Elbrus/index.php

When you add everything up, the amount extra we paid to be “guided”, versus supported, wasn’t the big part of this trip expense.

If I went back again I have confidence I could find my way up and down the mountain without any navigation issues. Before I went however, I found information and arrangements to be more of a challenge than perhaps any other foreign trip I’ve planned. I don’t recommend this as a first foreign climbing trip - especially unguided. I don’t believe in having too many new things happening in the same trip - more chance of something bad happening.

Here is my trip report:
http://www.summitpost.org/elbrus-north-route/726384
Red, Rugged, and Rotten: The Elk Range - Borneman & Lampert

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Re: How achievable is Elbrus unguided?

Postby Scott P » Sun Jan 22, 2012 10:35 pm

Whether or not it is easily achievable unguided vs guided depends more on politics rather than technical difficulty. Until a few years ago, it was fairly hard to do unguided (because of red tape), but things were getting much easier in recent years. Now with the political problems, I'm not sure how things are currently.

I have read that Elbrus isn't technical by the standard route, so based on this is there anything stopping us from plodding up there ourselves (aside from permits etc.) ?


It isn't that technical on the standard route, but the mountain is one of the deadliest in the world by the number of lives it has taken, so don't take it lightly. If you stay on route, the only skills needed are basic ice axe skills (such as self arrest).

It's a different story in bad weather. If you stray off the standard route in either directions, huge yawning crevasses await. The weather can be atrocious. We were there one late September during a raging blizzard and it snowed four feet in three days. When the weather finally cleared, there were hurricane force winds and extremely cold temps (-50's and -60's windchills). Despite the "ease" of the ascent, no one (in any group) made the summit during the time period we were there. If the weather is good, it's an easy (comparitively) climb with little technical difficulty (though you should certainly know how to self-arrest).
I'm slow and fat. Unfortunately, those are my good qualities.

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Re: How achievable is Elbrus unguided?

Postby nkan02 » Sun Jan 22, 2012 11:05 pm

Does anybody climb it from the Georgian side? I keep hearing that the approach from the Russian side is unsafe (at least that's what my friends keep telling me).
It has frequently been noticed that all mountains appear doomed to pass through the three stages: An inaccessible peak - The most difficult ascent in the Alps - An easy day for a lady. Albert Frederick Mummery, My Climbs in the Alps and Caucasus

Re: How achievable is Elbrus unguided?

Postby Nelson » Mon Jan 23, 2012 6:39 am

Elbrus is vey climbable unguided but there are two caveats:

1) Climb only when there is good visibility and a good weather forecast. It seems like all the accidents occur in bad visibility when people cannot find the path between the glaciers and cannot see the wands.

2) Do not climb from the Georgia side. There is some real bad blood between the Russians and Georgians. For me the scariest part of the climb was all the check points between Mineral Vody and Elbrus. I don't like being shaken down by a bunch of 18 yr olds with AK47s who don't speak a word of anything but their native dialect.

3) (I know I said two) Take the advice about permits very seriously unless you want to spend time acclimatizing in a Russian jail and pay a big fine (plus bribes). There are companies over there that will arrange all of that for you.

Nelson
Last edited by Nelson on Mon Jan 23, 2012 9:37 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: How achievable is Elbrus unguided?

Postby eds92 » Mon Jan 23, 2012 8:38 am

Thank you all for your helpful replies.

@MountainHiker - the Pilgrim 'Lite' package looks very appealing actually, thank you for that. Like you said though, looking at the cost for guided tours it isn't that more expensive really...and considering the apparent dangers in bad weather, we are thinking maybe we should give it a go guided.

Thank you all for your help!

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Re: How achievable is Elbrus unguided?

Postby peter303 » Mon Jan 23, 2012 8:58 am

I've read stories of some climbers become forced long term guests of one of the parties in the local civil wars. Not often, but it happens.

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Re: How achievable is Elbrus unguided?

Postby jbchalk » Mon Jan 23, 2012 10:05 am

I'll echo the Pilgim Lite Pakage is the way to go for an unguided climb of Elbrus. Its all still a bit frustrating as it is Russia, but you're not getting into the country without them or something similar since you need an invitation for a visa. They also took care of transportation from Mineralnye Vody to Azau. If you have winter climbing experience, know how to use your axe & crampons, and have been to some altitude, you should be ok climbing Elbrus from the south side unguided. In June 2008, Jordan White, myself, my wife, and 2 other friends spent a night in our tents outside the Barrel Huts at 12,000', spent two nights in the Diesel Hut higher up around 14,000', and then summitted the following day. It s still a good 4500' to teh summit and is a fairly big day unless you're skiing down as Jordan did. As others have said, I think the most important thing to do is to wait for a clear window regarding weather. I can see how it would be very easy to get lost in zero-zero conditions. We spent an extra day/night at the Diesel Hut waiting out a blizzard.

Good luck!
Brandon

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Re: How achievable is Elbrus unguided?

Postby Scott P » Mon Jan 23, 2012 10:31 am

Does anybody climb it from the Georgian side?


There is no Georgian side of Elbrus, though though you can some of the mountains in Georgia from the high slopes of Elbrus. The standard (before the last year or two) route up Elbrus is from the south, but it is still in Russia.
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Re: How achievable is Elbrus unguided?

Postby nkan02 » Mon Jan 23, 2012 11:23 am

Scott P wrote:
Does anybody climb it from the Georgian side?


There is no Georgian side of Elbrus, though though you can some of the mountains in Georgia from the high slopes of Elbrus. The standard (before the last year or two) route up Elbrus is from the south, but it is still in Russia.

Yeah, I checked Wiki and it looks like that is the case. Darn! Lingering civil war conflict, world's worst toilet pit on the mountain, ugly metal huts, the world's least maintained chairlift system and not to mention one of the world's worst safety record for the airlines within Russia is not my idea of a good time. I guess I'll take my money elsewhere.
Mr. Kazbek looks pretty interesting, actually.
http://www.geographicbureau.com/trips/caucasus/georgia/mount_kazbek_ascent.jdx
It has frequently been noticed that all mountains appear doomed to pass through the three stages: An inaccessible peak - The most difficult ascent in the Alps - An easy day for a lady. Albert Frederick Mummery, My Climbs in the Alps and Caucasus

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Re: How achievable is Elbrus unguided?

Postby climbing_rob » Mon Jan 23, 2012 12:05 pm

nkan02 wrote:Yeah, I checked Wiki and it looks like that is the case. Darn! Lingering civil war conflict, world's worst toilet pit on the mountain, ugly metal huts, the world's least maintained chairlift system and not to mention one of the world's worst safety record for the airlines within Russia is not my idea of a good time....
Yep, welcome to the world of international mountain climbing, especially of the third-world variety (which I would classify this part of Russia as).

It actually IS a good time, that's why I've climbed Elbrus twice. Lots of ugly metal all around the ugly barrel huts, yes the toilet is awful, but I've seen worse on big mountains, yes the Aeroflot plane ride IS a bit scary as is the chair lift ride, but ya know, it's all worth it because it really is overall a great experience and the Caucus mountains are drop-dead gorgeous and the culture is very interesting to experience, including a Moscow or St. Petersburg tour. But don't take Elbrus lightly because as was said above, people do take it lightly and die quite often.

By the way, the CMC runs trips every other year or so (I went in 2003 and 2010), not a bad overall deal, better than with the big guiding companies, probably not as good a deal as the lite-guiding company mentioned above. The single biggest expense by far is getting from Colorado to Mineral Vody, which I suspect is pretty much the same for anyone. The next CMC trip is either this year or next, I suspect next. FWIW I'd go in June or July (my first trip), NOT August (crappy snow, colder, shorter days).

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