Safety on Elbrus. Or how to climb Elbrus Safely?

 

When you are about to take a flight across the ocean and go to another country to climb one of the world’s seven highest summits there in the backcountry wilderness, knowing pretty much nothing about all the specific risks on that mountain and in the area, except pictures and websites that you saw on the web, probably that is the first question that comes to your mind. So how to climb Elbrus safely?

Risks on Elbrus. We’ve been guiding on Mt. Elbrus for decades. And we’ve seen a lot.

 

Elbrus guiding is what we do every single day at RMH for years, whatever it’s climbing in summer or ski-touring and backcountry skiing in winter. From our rich experience in the mountains and especially on Mt. Elbrus, we have seen a lot. Unfortunately, it’s a true fact that the death rate on Elbrus is higher than on Mt. Everest. There are risks that you need to be aware of.

 

Usually, accidents on Elbrus happen due to the fact that climbers do not always predict all the risks in advance and simply do not pay enough attention to them. Looking from the foot of the mountain, it all looks easy. Those who don’t have enough experience in the mountains, especially experience of climbing at high altitudes, usually think: “Oh, come on, look at this, there are no any serious technical difficulties! It’s easy! It’s just walking! Let’s do this! Come on, buddy! It’s safe! Let’s Go!” And they go. But this is far from reality. In fact, Elbrus is a serious mountain. More than serious. It is not a high-altitude trekking. It is not Kilimanjaro. It is mountaineering and it’s a serious game. Mt. Elbrus is a real alpine style climbing. You climb on snow in crampons and with an ice-axe. The snow conditions are always different. Depending on the time of the year and the weather conditions, it could be snow, it could be firn, and it also could be just pure ice. There are also lots of crevasses all the way up to the saddle (5350 m.) and 7 fixed ropes sections at 5500 meters.

 

First of all, when climbing alone, you need to be experienced in understanding the mountain weather, and competent in calculating your strengths and energy, as well as be in great physical shape, trained for endurance. On the Summit Day, the climb takes about 12-14 hours on average. And you always have to keep in mind, that you are at a high altitude, where every little thing, such as sprained ankle, or broken crampon, or dehydration, or low-quality gear, or not properly selected clothing can cause serious consequences, and any serious mistake can cost you life. It is critically important to understand all of this and be aware of it.

 

The key factor is the weather. On Elbrus, the weather is very specific and extremely unpredictable. It can change completely in less than 30 minutes from bluebird sky to dense whiteout. In the whiteout, you are in a glass of milk, where it’s hard to indicate where is up and where is down, and if your team doesn’t have enough experience in such situations, as well as proper communication and navigation gear, you’re in trouble and the clock starts ticking.

Your maximum Safety on Elbrus is everything to us at RMH. We do care about your life and health. That’s why we use:

Satellite Phones –

 

The best and the most expensive Satellite Phones available nowadays.

The truth is, there is no mobile signal on Elbrus above 5200 meters if climbing from the South Side. When climbing from the North, there is no mobile signal at all. Can you imagine yourself in the situation when you thought there is a signal up there, but there is not, and something went wrong, let’s say, for example, you just sprained your ankle and you can’t walk, but you can’t even call anyone because there is no signal. Your guides can’t either. Will they carry you on the back all the way back down? Or perhaps, they can pull you off using ropes… But what if a group really needs help? While you were thinking and deciding what to do, the weather got bad, and now you stuck up there and your life is in danger. Easy, right? Quite possible scenario. We are not trying to scare you. We just want you to be smart and informed.

 

At Russian Mountain Holidays we do care. For the absolute protection of your life and health, we use the most advanced satellite communication technologies. There are more than 66 active iridium satellites in low Earth orbits at an altitude of  781 km, each of which has 4 inter-satellite links that connect them into one global network. The orbital period of the satellites from pole to the same pole is 100 minutes, and the orbital velocity is 27,000 km/h., which provides 100% of the Earth’s surface coverage.

 

Compared to any others, we guarantee that we always have the best satellite connection on the mountain every single second no matter what.

 

Our satellite phones have proven to be the absolute leaders in the satellite communications market and the best satellite phones for climbing Mt. Everest and using in the Arctic and in the Antarctic.

Rescue Sleds –

 

Professional Backcountry Rescue Sleds of the very last generation.

To maximize your level of safety on the mountain, the backpack of each of our lead guide contains professional lightweight backcountry rescue sleds of the very last generation, which allow us to evacuate an injured person out of any altitude at any point and bring down to Base Camp safely, quickly and comfortably, where the first aid can be provided to the person at the right time.

Pulse Oximeters –

 

Professional Digital Pulse Oximeters and blood pressure monitors for proper Blood Oxygen Monitoring.

It is extremely important for us at Russian Mountain Holidays to be 100% confident that the level of oxygen saturation in your blood does not fall below the permissible rate, and that your acclimatization has a positive trend and is good. Therefore, we use professional digital pulse oximeters for proper blood oxygen monitoring, as well as professional blood pressure and heart rate monitors to be able to make the right decision at the right moment and minimize any possible risks to your health.

Oxygen –

 

16 liters reserve balloon with Oxygen and facemask in every group.

When climbing on the Summit Day, there are cases when you feel completely good throughout the entire ascent, but you can get mountain sickness symptoms very fast only at high altitude after passing a certain height above 5000 meters. In this case, it is extremely important to promptly provide the required first aid right where you are on the mountain. Especially for that, each RMH Guide has a small 16 liters reserve balloon with oxygen in his backpack, so that we can make a safe evacuation and make sure your health will not deteriorate during the descent to the Base Camp.

Advanced GPS Navigation Gear

We know every single meter and every stone of Mount Elbrus by heart, like the back of our hand, but in extreme whiteout conditions, everything changes. We try to avoid climbing in bad weather and predict the weather in advance according to the most proven mountain weather forecasts to minimize all the possible risks as much as possible. This is our first golden rule of safety. But we are also always ready for the worst case scenarios. This is our job, and we always prepared to guide you out of the whiteout and bring you back to camp safely. We use the best GPS navigation gear from Garmin. We have all the tracks and waypoints of the mountain already saved on our GPS devices, so we are able to navigate clearly in extreme whiteout conditions.

Alpine Walkie Talkies –

 

Professional high-frequency mountain walkie talkies for climbing at high altitudes with a strong signal.

At high altitudes, good proper communication is important like nowhere else. If there is no connection at the right time when needed, a small mistake can cost serious consequences. If something goes wrong, good communication between the guides and the rescuer team is literally everything. When at high altitude, especially in bad weather, the average walkie-talkie radio signal is very weak. We use professional high-frequency mountain walkie-talkies that have been designed and tested for years for climbing at high altitudes, to have the strongest possible signal up there.

Crevasse Rescue Kit

Mt. Elbrus is a huge dormant volcano covered in snow all year round. From a height of 3800 meters, which is High Camp on both sides, and up to the Summit you constantly walk on the glacier, which is fully covered in snow. It is foolish to think that there are no crevasses in the glacier. There are millions of them. Some of them are not on the path and clearly visible, but the main danger on Elbrus is that a lot of crevasses are simply not visible at all. Cases of climbers falling into crevasses are constant on Elbrus, but still, sometimes people simply do not pay attention to this. However, we do pay attention to this aspect, and each RMH guide always has a professional crevasse rescue kit in his backpack.

We operate in close partnership with:

Helicopter Rescue Pilots –

 

We have all the contacts of the rescue helicopter pilots in our phones.

Thanks to our rich experience on Mt. Elbrus, and an exceptionally professional approach to safety and guiding standards, we were lucky and have never used these contacts in our phones. However, we do operate in close partnership with the best and the most experienced helicopter rescue pilots in the Caucasus Mountains, as we run heli-skiing trips in the Elbrus region in winter and they are all our friends. Due to the fact that we can call pilots directly in case of emergency using our satellite phones, we can save a lot of precious time that can be wasted on searching and organizing a helicopter by others.

Mt. Elbrus Rescue Service Department –

 

We have one professional rescuer in every group.

On the Summit Day, in each group we have at least one professional mountain rescuer of the local Elbrus Mountain Search and Rescue Emergency Department, to maximize your safety.

 

In addition to this, on the first day of the trip after your arrival and check-in at our Lodge, we register the whole group in the Mountain Search and Rescue Emergency Department, where we designate the exact dates when we are up there on the mountain, as well as the exact Summit Day and the exact day and time of our return back to the Lodge. So the professional rescuers keep an eye on the group until we all safely back down. Once the whole group is back at the Lodge, we call rescuers and they check the group out of their red journal. So what does this all mean? In the worst of all possible scenarios, if there is no news from us at a specified date and time, search and rescue works begin automatically, and a professional rescue team starts searching. Thus, we backup ourselves from all sides.

Ski-Doo and Snowcat drivers –

 

(South Side)

Sometimes you are okay and you are able to walk down by yourself, but you can just get a bit of mountain sickness and feel shitty or just be too exhausted. This is not an emergency situation and you don’t need rescuers or a helicopter, but you just might need a bit of help to get down faster.

 

When climbing from the South Side, in cases when it’s really necessary or becoming dangerous to your health, we can get you down to 3800 meters (which is our High Camp Lodge) from Pastukhova Rocks (which is 4800 meters) in less than 30 minutes by ski-doo or snowcat.