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Elbrus Access, Transportation, Permits

It is possible to get to Prielbrusie area possible from the towns of Mineralnye Vody and Nalchik. To reach these towns, one may take flights from Moscow, St Petersburg and some other Russian cities. There is a direct flight from Frankfurt to Mineralnye Vody. Also there is train connection from the main Russian cities to Mineralnye Vody and Nalchik.
From these places it is about 3-4 hours driving to Terskol. There are no regular buses from Mineralnye Vody airport, so it is necessary to book private tranport. Private buses are available: in front of hotel near the airport and in front of railway station. The local N11 service links the airport to railway station.
There are two bus stations in Nalchik: intercity and local. From the local station there are two minibuses to Terskol at 13.00; 16.00. The schedule is not strictly adhered to. Sometimes these buses depart when full. It is possible to rent a car or mini bus to Terskol at the intercity station.

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)


Three are required:

1. The Elbrus Region is a border zone between Russia and Georgia and foreigners require a permit to be in any area south of the Baksan. This is obtained at the military head office of the border rangers in Nalchik. You should also be registered at their local posts: in the Baksan valley at the Alpine Base Baksan; in the Adyrsu valley near the Alpine Camp Ullutau.

Pogranotryad in Nalchik issues permits at Kabardinskaya street 192. Passes are issued between 9.00 and 13.00.  if you want to have a go make sure you have the following documents:

  • - a stamped letter of application from an MFA approved organisation;
  • - passports of all participants;
  • - a route sheet.

This sounds easy but Russian bureaucracy will probably force you to stay in Nalchik for a few days if you try it as a foreigner. It is best to do it through an agency.

2. Prielbrusie National Park permit. No strict system exists for obtaining this permit. Prices are negotiable. Park offices are located in Elbrus village.

3. Foreigners have to be registered in OVIR (Visa and Registration department) in Tyrnyauz. Generally hotels arrange registration. Last year the "official" fee was $2 per person. If OVIR officials catch an unregistered climber the fine can be very high - but negotiable.

To climb Elbrus officially one must have (full list of papers):

1. Russian visa.
2. Voucher with Elbrus region mentioned.
3. OVIR registration.
4. Elbrus area preserve permission.
5. Immigration card.

If you want to hike in Adyl-Su, Adyr-Su and other side valleys that are to the South from the main Baksan valley you must have Border zone permission.

Here below is the detailed information about the items.

Visa: As the Caucasus is Russia you need Russian visa to go there. There is no any city mentioned in your visa and if you are already in Russia you can go anywhere (except military and border zones). To apply for a visa you need invitation (visa support) from a tourist company or private person. Visa companies also offer such invitations. Russian visa has fixed dates and period of stay. You can enter Russia and leave it on any date within visa period but you will not be allowed to enter before the beginning of visa period and overstay is a serious violation. If you overstay you may be delayed in Russia until all penalty procedures are over. If you leave Russia you will need new visa to come here again or 'two entry' visa. Tourist visa may have up to 1 month period and one entry.

Voucher: This is a part of invitation (visa support) which is used to apply for Russian visa in the Russian Consulate. Actually there is a rule to have that voucher along with you but this rule does not work in most regions of Russia. In the Caucasus police officer can ask for that voucher and you may have problems if you have no voucher at all or have voucher without Elbrus region mentioned. Make a copy of the voucher when you take papers to the Consulate. 

OVIR registration: 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 only OVIR office in Elbrus area is in Tyrnyauz (cost is 50 Rubles).  Also one can make registration in MinVody airport (costs 300 Rubles because it a kind of service there). This registration is rarely asked in the Valley but most likely will be asked at Mineralnye Vody airport on your way back. To register you must have passport, Russian visa and immigration card. OVIR registration is a stamp on your immigration card. An inviting tourist company (if you use their service) can do this for you without your presence when they have your passport..

Elbrus area preserve permission: This is new (started in summer 2004) regulation. While you are in Elbrus area (all territory higher than Elbrus village) you must have this permission. No need to go somewhere to get it - an inspector will find you and will ask to purchase it if you have no the permission. The cost is USD 20 (in 2004). An inviting tourist company (if you use their service) can do this for you in advance without your presence.

Immigration card:  This is a fancy paper which must be filled out before the passport control gates when you enter Russia. You have to show it to passport control officer and have it with you when you are in Russia and when you leave the country.  The most and only important thing that OVIR registration is stamped there that is why the card is must have thing. Also it must be filled out properly in other case it may be considered invalid.

* * *

Border zone permit: The main Caucasus mountain range is a border between Russia and Georgia and  territory of about 5 -10 km inside Russia (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 or even until next day). An inviting tourist company (if you use their service) can do this for you in advance without your presence.

No need to have a climbing permit for climbing mountains in Russia, 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.

If you have no..
You can not enter Russia.
Voucher: You may be delayed and fined. 
OVIR registration: You may be delayed and fined.
Elbrus area preserve permission: You will be forced to pay on the spot.
Border zone permission when you are in the zone already:  You may be arrested and taken to border guard office. It may take a lot of time. Of course you may be fined.

When To Go

The Caucasus are landlocked, but the Black and the Caspian Seas are so large that they have a significant effect on Elbrus' climate and precipitation. Sandwiched between the Russian steppe and the Arctic Circle in the north and the semi-desert of the Middle East and Arabia in the south, the Elbrus has a very variable climate. The southern slopes are dry and subtropical, in contrast to the much cooler northern slopes.

Above the treeline of the region, temperatures quickly fall, and above the permanent snowline, which is higher than in the Alps, they rarely rise above freezing. On summer nights, temperatures are on an average -8 degrees celsius. At this temperature, snow and ice are perfect. Temperatures above the snowline can fall to -30 degrees celsius even during the day.

The end of July and August offer the most stable weather, but one should watch out for afternoon thunderstorms as these are frequent and longer periods of heavy rainfall and snowfall do occur. The winds are often cold and violent and weather changes often. Elbrus is quite a straightforward climb, but weather, altitude, and demands on stamina prevent many from reaching the summit.

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