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Geography

Mt. Elbrus is the highest point of Europe. The Caucasus Main Range is considered to be a border between Europe to the North and Asia to the South in most (but not all) guidebooks and encyclopedias. Two main Mt. Elbrus summits are about 11 km (6.8 miles) to the North from the Main Range, inside European territory. The Main Range is a state border between Russia and Georgia. Both countries are parts of former USSR country but now are absolutely independent states.

Western summit 5642.7 m and Eastern summit 5621 m with the Saddle elevation 5416 m

Glaciations area (more then 50 glaciers) is about 144 square km (56 square miles).
Snow-line (in August) - 3400 m

Cable and chair lifts in the area.

There are two separate lines.

Elbrus line:
Two cable lifts and one chair lift parts going one by one.
Cable car bottom station in the Baksan valley - 2200 m
Top chair lift station ("Barrels" huts) - 3900 m

Cheget line:
Two parts of chairlifts going one by one.
Bottom station is at Cheget site (hotel 'Cheget')
Middle station, cafe 'Ai'
Upper station, meteorological station.

Some Points on the slopes of Elbrus

The Barrels (Botchki) huts, upper lift station - 3900 m
'Diesel' hut (former Priut-11 spot) - 4100 m
Pastuckhov Rocks - from 4650 to 4800 m
Saddle - 5416 m

Approximate direct way distances:

Bottom cable car station - Top chair lift station - 5000 m (16404 ft)
Top chair lift station - Pastuckhov Rocks - 2800 m (9186 ft)
Pastuckhov Rocks - Saddle - 2500 m (8202 ft)
Saddle - Summit - 750 m (2461 ft)

Approximate real foot way distances:

Top chair lift station - Pastuckhov Rocks - 3300 m (10827 ft)
Pastuckhov Rocks - Saddle - 4000 m (13123 ft)
Saddle - Summit - 1200 m (3937 ft)

Getting there:

By plane or train to Nalchik or Mineralniye Vody. It's about 4 hours drive from Mineralniye Vody to Azau and about 2.5 hours from Nalchik to Azau. Azau is the highest village in the end of Baksan valley. There is the cable car station to Elbrus in Azau village. Regular public transport (bus) sometimes is available sometimes not. There are no public buses from Mineralnye Vody to Terskol or Azau. If you go from Mineralnye Vody you may be forced to make some changes: in Baksan (that is the gates to the Baksan valley, it's easy to get there by public transport), in Tyrnyauz, in Elbrus village (20 min drive to Azau). If you go from Nalchic or Prochladnyi you can take a public bus to Terskol, but the timetable is unpredictable and sometimes this bus does not go for some days. The most common way is coming together with other travelers and making negotiations with a minibus driver for shared transfer.

Transportation distances:

Mineralniye Vody airport - Piatigorsk: 28 km (17.3 mi)
Piatigorsk - Baksan: 74 km (46 mi)
Nalchik - Baksan: 26 km (16.2 mi)
Baksan - Tyrnyauz: 53 km (33 mi)
Tyrnyauz - Elbrus: 44 km (27.3 mi)
Elbrus - Terskol: 15 km (9.3 mi)
Terskol - Azau: 3.5 km (2.2 mi)
Terskol -Cheget: 1.5 km (0.9 mi)

Accommodation facilities in Elbrus area with approx. capacity (winter 2003-2004):

Not absolutely full list but all main accommodations are here.

Cheget area:
Cheget hotel (350), Chiran lodge(16), Nakra lodge (18), Neva-2 loodge (16)

The main road near Cheget and Terskol:
Itkol hotel(250), Dinamo lodge (50), MBS lodge (37+15), Gorianka /Baliuzhan lodge (20)

Terskol village:
Terskol hotel (350), Volfram hotel (100)

Azau village and lifts:
Free ride cafe (16), A lodge (15), A lodge 200 m higher than valley (10), Logovo lodge (45), VGE lodge (20).

Elbrus village:
Ozon hotel (35), Sokol lodge (20), Prielbrusie lodge (40),

Adyl-Su valley:
UMC mountaineering camp (50)

Elbrus slopes (just huts):
The Barrels huts (45), the Diesel hut (50).

Overall capacity of reasonable good hotel-lodge accommodation in Elbrus area is estimated as about 2000 beds. There is about 500 beds capacity of homestay possibilities (in villages from Neitrinno - to Azau). There are about 200 beds under construction in several lodges in Azau and Cheget.

Visa, permits, registration etc.

As the Caucasus is still Russia you need Russian visa to go there. No need to have all your route mentioned on your visa as it was before (like "Moscow", "MinVody", "Terskol"). Now, if you are already in Russia (having at least "Moscow" on your visa) you can go anywhere (except military and border zones).

However the main Caucasus mountain range is a border between Russia and Georgia and about 5 -10 km (depends of existing mountain passes) considered to be a border zone. You can walk in the Baksan valley, climb Mt Elbrus or explore the mountains North to Baksan valley. If you are going in the valleys near the border you may be stopped by border guard and asked about your border zone permit. If you have no permit you may be arrested, taken to the nearest border office (in Verckhni Baksan) and fined. You can apply for the permit in Nalchik only (it is easy, costs nothing, but takes time to get there and wait for some hours).

No need to have a climbing permit for climbing mountains, also Mt Elbrus. However it may be good idea to register in rescue service (in Terskol). It's free and may be useful if you have a problem.

There is a law in Russia to register your visa in a local OVIR (visa and registering department) if you are going to stay in any region more then for few days. Even if you have registration in Moscow you must also register in the Caucasus area too. You may be stopped by a policeman and asked about your registration. If you have no registration you will be fined. The nearest OVIR office to register is in Tyrnyauz. This registration is rarely asked in the Valley but will be asked for sure at Mineralnye Vody airport entrance on your way back. Registration costs 48 Rubles per person (summer 2001).

There is a rule to register your visa in any tourist service (do not ask me why it is necessary). Unlike OVIR registration this registration must be done once. If you live in a hotel (good central hotel) the hotel is responsible for this and you'll get 2 stamps on your visa: one for OVIR registration and another for this 'foreign tourist' registration. If you live somewhere else you have to find the place where you can put this stamp. This registration seems not very important, but you may be fined when you leave the country without this stamp. In Mineralnye Vody airport passport control officers ask about this registration when you leave Russia from there.
What to do:
If you arrive in Mineralnye Vody (Russia) from abroad: After you go through customs go upstairs to the upper floor (3rd floor, in Russia floors counted as 1st, 2nd and so on, there is no ground floor). There is international departure hall with good toilet and some desks for tickets registrations. Find a desk with 'Stavroplolintour' sign and ask them to make the registration. This is their duty and they will wait for passengers from your international flight. It takes few minutes to register, but it will save you from problems on your departure from Russia.

If you climb Elbrus only:
No need of Border zone permission, but you will be asked about OVIR at the airport entrance (for sure) and may be in the valley. If you arrive and depart Russia via Mineralnye Vody airport you will be asked for tourist registration also at passport control gates.

If you want to visit valleys South of Baksan Valley (Adyl-Su, Adyr-Su):
You need Border zone permission also.

If you arrive/leave by train:
There was no strict control about OVIR registration by now, but thing may change.

If you have problems (have no registrations):
Generally everything is negotiable. When a policeman asks to pay, say that you have no money and probably you can bargain for a fine 3 times lower. However next policeman in 5 minutes may repeat the procedure as you still have no official papers. If you are fined ask for a paper about this. If you have time you can try to wait. Generally policemen are not interested to take you to a distant police office and make all necessary official procedures, so if you say that you do not understand Russian, you have no money but ready to go somewhere for official paperwork - they may leave you.

IMPORTANT NOTICE :

Police became to ask foreign tourist to show a voucher. Voucher is one of those papers you took to the Consulate for obtaining visa. If you have no voucher there may be problems (yes, they will try to earn money on you, in any case it will take time and nerves...and money finally)
Do no forget to have a copy of that voucher with you.
There is one more important thing. As it is impossible to get invitation without booking hotels (at least virtual) most people have no "MinVody" or "Terskol" on their vouchers. In this case voucher with only 'Moscow' will not help, sorry. Be prepared to pay. Try to avoid but be prepared.

Zu letzterem Punkt siehe: Sicherheitshinweise