DAY 1: ARRIVAL TO NORTH CAUCASUS
After flying into the Caucasus Mineral Waters airport (MRV), settle in for the scenic, 3-hr. drive to Mt. Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe. Brush up on the history of the Balkar people along the way, among whom you will be spending the next week. Once you have completed the breathtaking drive to Mt. Elbrus, check into your hotel and enjoy some free time to explore the area and take in the views around you. Don’t blink, because you will have risen 7,000 feet above sea level on this 3-hour drive without even noticing! You will meet your guide tonight and go over the plan for the next 6 days, and a successful Elbrus ascent!
DAY 2: ACCLIMATIZATION HIKE
Your acclimatization to the Caucasus Mountain heights starts today! Most of today is focused on preparing for your Elbrus ascent. Cheget is a neighboring mountain to Elbrus with a beautiful view, if the weather allows. As you spend several hours hiking up Cheget, getting your body used to the elevation and conditions, you will realize why the Caucasus is such a coveted destination. After a tasty lunch on the mountain, all gear will be double-checked (and rented as necessary), for your upcoming ascent. Rest up tonight, as tomorrow you are moving up to 14,000 feet, base camp!
DAY 3: BASE CAMP
Today you get to meet Mt. Elbrus up close and personal. You’ll take the famous cable car system up three levels to the climbers’ base camp. This will be your home the next 4 days for your Elbrus ascent. As riveting as you’ll find Elbrus itself is, maybe even more so is the surrounding Caucasus range, stretching into Georgia and beyond. Once your things are settled in one of the infamous “barrel huts” for lodging, you’ll do another brief acclimatization climb combined with some ice climbing/training. Your body will continue to adjust today, as the elevation has doubled, not to mention the significantly colder weather (there is snow here at base camp year-round). Your mountain guide will daily be walking you through practical precautions for summiting Elbrus safely and successfully. Your private cook on Elbrus will make sure you are getting the nourishment your body needs.
DAY 4: ACCLIMATIZATION / TRAINING
During your second day on the mountain you’ll get a good feel for the Ascent day route, as you do an acclimatization/practice climb up to the Pastukhov Rocks, around 16,500 feet. Spend some time getting used to the gear you’ll be using with some ice axe training. If you have a chance today, make sure to check out Elbrus’s infamous “World’s worst outhouse”; now you can mark that off your bucket list.
DAY 5: REST DAY
Wake up with excitement today, as it’s your final day before your Elbrus ascent. Today is a day to rest up before the big summit attempt tomorrow and to allow your body one more day to adjust to the altitude. Get to know some of the other climbers on the mountain, play some board games or just get extra sleep. If there are more than 3 people in your group, you’ll meet your second summit guide today, who will team with you and your guide on your ascent to-morrow. Turn in to bed early after dinner, as an early wake-up call awaits!
DAY 6:: SUMMIT DAY
It’s Summit Day! You’ve got an 8-12 hour ascent ahead of you, and so will start your climb in the dark between 2:00-3:00 am. Team is a beautiful thing as you work together with your group up the mountain. The early morning hours of your climb is quite the sight with a long line of climbers ascending Elbrus, lit up by a highway of head lamps. You may never have experienced quite the sunrise as you do on your ascent, as you leave the rest of the Caucasus range behind on the way to Elbrus’s gentle summit. Your climb won’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination, with altitude sickness, extreme cold temperatures, and unpredictable weather all real possibilities, but it will all be worth it when you reach the top. Once you have a quick celebration of your success, prepare for your 3-4 hour descent back to base camp. Gather your things and jump on the cable car to head back down to Cheget. Dinner will have never tasted better than it does tonight.
DAY 7: RESERVE / REST DAY
Rest day! You’ve earned it. Sleep in as long as you want. Today you’ll want to peruse the charming local souvenir markets, full of tempting local goods, including Caucasus Papakha hats, beautiful hand-knit slippers, shawls, and tasty local jams. Or if you’re up for it, go on a local horseback excursion, see a beautiful waterfall, or try out a 4-wheeler on the local trails. Enjoy re-living and re-telling your Elbrus as-cent with your fellow climbers and guides at your celebration dinner tonight. In case there was inclement weather on Day 6 (yesterday’s planned ascent), today will be your summit day up Elbrus.
DAY 8: DEPARTURE TO ST. PETERSBURG
In some ways, your Russia trip is just beginning today, as you leave the beautiful Caucasus Mountains and fly to St. Petersburg, a completely different part of this huge country! An English-speaking guide will meet you at the airport and get you settled safely into your hotel. If you are up for it, you may have time to do some exploring on your own this evening, to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of St. Petersburg. Regardless, have a great night of sleep, and prepare for cultural and historical overload the next few days!
DAY 9: ST. PETERSBURG
You’ll kick off the day with a tour of the Hermitage Art Museum. You’ll enter 30 minutes before the doors officially open in order to see some of the best displays before the crowds spill in. This is the 2nd-largest art museum in the world behind only the Louvre. After lunch your guide will give you a tour of St. Petersburg, the cultural capital of Russia. You’ll quickly notice why St. Petersburg is called the “Venice of the North.” The architecture and design of buildings and the city feels very “European.” You’ll have a guided city tour visiting some of St. Petersburg’s icon-ic architecture: the Peter and Paul Fortress, Church on the Spilled Blood and St. Isaac’s Cathedral. You’ll have time to check out the St. Petersburg nightlife tonight, if you so choose.
DAY 10: ST. PETERSBURG
After breakfast, you’ll continue your tour of beautiful St. Petersburg, by exploring one of Rus-sia’s most famous palaces from Imperial times, the Petergof Palace. It really feels like going back in time as you wander through these incredible grounds. You’ll surely enjoy your lunches in St. Petersburg, as your guide helps you choose Russian favorites to satisfy your appetite: borscht (beet soup), plov (rice dish), oliviye (veggie/egg salad), and more. Next, experience St. Petersburg from the perspective of its vast network of waterways on a canal boat tour. Along the route you’ll see many of St. Petersburg’s monuments from the imperial age. St. Pete is in the far north of Russia, so no matter what time of year you visit, be prepared for a cool (if not icy!) breeze to be sweeping in from the Baltic Sea! Tonight, you’ll board the overnight train that will take you to Moscow.
DAY 11: MOSCOW
Your first full day in Moscow will not disappoint as you’ll experience the must-sees for anyone traveling to Russia: Red Square, the Kremlin, and of course the famous St. Basil’s cathedral and its onion domes. Standing in the middle of Red Square, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the weight of both history and modernity surrounding you: the Kremlin walls, Lenin’s Tomb, Gum Mall. You will have a guided tour inside the world-renowned Kremlin, seeing the Armory and its fascinating collection of national treasures. Finally your tour will take you to the New Maiden Convent and a view of the city from Sparrow Hills.
DAY 12: MOSCOW
As you adjust to the hustle and bustle of Moscow life, today you’ll enjoy a meandering stroll through Moscow’s world famous Space Museum, where you will see the space race through Soviet eyes and much more. After lunch, your guide will tour you through Moscow’s world-famous metro system, which is a like museum in and of it-self. You’ll cap off the day with a stroll down Arbat St., once the home to some of Russia’s most creative authors and artists, where you’re sure to find some of those must-have souvenirs to take home to friends and family.
DAY 13: DEPARTURE
You’ll be transferred to one of Moscow’s international airports today, for your flight home. We hope these two weeks in Russia were unforgettable for you!