Faced with the infinitude of all that beauty, I became afraid that it was but a phantasm or a dream.
Leo Tolstoy

Claim to fame

Elbrus is the highest mountain in Europe and the tenth most prominent peak in the world. Not only does it make it into the Seven Summit Challenge but it’s also listed in the Volcanic Seven Summits.

Belonging to Russia

Marching through Southern Russia are the Caucasas Mountains, and rising to 5 642m/18 510 ft is Mt Elbrus. It is 65km/40miles south-southwest of the town of Kisiovodsk.

Weather with a capital W!

The weather on Elbrus can be tricky what with the 365 days of snow, the ice cap and the 22 glaciers. There’s high winds, blizzards, thunderstorms and thick mists – and that’s just summer! When you consider that summit day means you’ll be climbing 1 900m, and it can take most of a day, a spot of sunshine wouldn’t go amiss.

A mountain of myth and legend

The twisted top of Elbrus gave the dormant volcano its ancient name, ‘Strobilus’ and it was here that the Greek god Zeus chained Prometheus after he had stolen fire from the gods and given it to man. But gods and myths aside, it was only in 1829 that the summit was ascended. An Imperial Russian army guide named Khillar Khachirov climbed the lower summit and in 1874 an English expedition climbed the higher one. In 1997, Alexander Abramov drove a Land Rover Defender to The Barrels, a height of 3 800m/12 500ft. They hauled it by pulleys to the East Peak summit.

Elbrus summit silly
Elbrus Mountain
Elbrus Peak
Elbrus barrels summit

Just getting there was an adventure!

Russian airlines, rally enthusiast taxi drivers, bulldozers tossing boulders off the mountain and dynamite blasting on the slopes wasn’t something we’d anticipated in our planning, but was what we had to navigate just getting to Mt Elbrus. My climbing partner, James Pickavance and I set off in September 2003, to climb the tenth highest summit in the world. We didn’t know we’d have to endure Russia’s internal airline flights and a…shall we say, interesting transfer from Mineralny Vody to the Baksan Valley first! If I ever do a car rally, I know who I’ll call to be my driving partner! He only had three gears – exciting, bone-shaking and fast.

Climbing the lower slopes of Mt Elbrus involved dodging bounding boulders, displaced by overzealous bulldozers and taking cover so as not to get swept away in avalanches created by the dynamiting taking place on the ski-slopes.
Getting to the Barrels huts in one piece was almost a miracle and we hadn’t actually started climbing the mountain yet! After a few days recovering, I headed out alone and in the dark, for the west summit. James hadn’t been feeling well so he summited the next day instead.

I entirely agree with Pushkin when he says, “Will I ever forget its gritty heights?” and yet the first thing I remember whenever I think of Mt Elbrus is that bruising taxi ride into the valley, Russian folk songs blaring out of the car radio!

Elbrus Mountain

Will I ever forget its gritty heights,
Its gushing springs, its withering plains,
Its burning deserts, regions where you shared with me
The impressions of a young soul?

Alexander Pushkin