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 tomorrow. 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 ascent 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: VLADIKAVKAZ, NORTH OSSETIA
Say goodbye to the beautiful Elbrus region and head deeper into the North Caucasus today. As you reflect on all the spectacular beauty you saw at Mt. Elbrus, prepare yourself for even more surprises as you pull into Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia after lunchtime. Just 30 minutes from the border with Georgia, Vladikavkaz is one of the largest cities in the North Caucasus and is rich with culture/history you’ll be sure to “feel” as you tour this old city. Vladikavkaz’s diverse ethnic make-up will become clear quickly, as you pass different churches (Russian and Armenian) and mosques (Sunni and Shia) along the way. Your muscles may be sore after climbing Elbrus, but be sure to try your hand at the national Caucasus Lezginka dance tonight; it’s an experience you won’t soon forget!
DAY 9: INGUSHETIA MOUNTAINS
This morning’s drive may feel like you are going back in time, into a land that you didn’t know still existed today. Welcome to Ingushetia, the land of the Towers. Up into the early 20th century, many Ingush families lived for centuries in their families’ complexes of towers, which dot the landscape as far as the eye can see. Although uninhabited today, these tower complexes remain standing all over Ingushetia, turning an already beautiful land into something magical. Today you will explore Ingushetia’s hidden world of towers in this beautiful corner of the North Caucasus. Some of the more famous complexes that you’ll see up close include Erzi and Egikal, a huge city of tower ruins and mausoleums. The tower complexes alone are enough to wow you, but combined with the stunning mountain landscapes on all sides, you will be floored by the scenery of Ingushetia today. Be sure to stop by the “Legend of the Mountains” cafe in the mountains to taste some authentic Caucasus “shashlik” (lamb kabobs) for lunch or dinner.
DAY 10: INGUSHETIA MOUNTAINS
Today you will spend the day exploring more of Ingushetia’s untamed mountain landscape, visiting ancient sites along the way. One of the oldest churches in the Caucasus is located in Ingushetia, over 700 years old. For those with a camera and photographic eye, these two days in Ingushetia will be sure to capture your imagination as one of the world’s most beautiful hidden regions. By now, you are probably also starting to grasp the diverse cultural and linguistic richness that inhabits the tiny North Caucasus: Balkars, Ossetians, Ingush, Russians, and many more. On your way back to the lowlands, you’ll drive through the picturesque Assa Gorge, surrounding by towering rock faces surely to take your breath away. You will spend the night in Ingushetia’s capital city Magas, the “newest” city in the world. Make sure to stroll down the main thoroughfare tonight, as you’ll get to see the local population out and about in this growing new city.
DAY 11: GROZNY, CHECHNYA
Say goodbye to memorable Ingushetia today, as you’ll enter yet another part of the North Caucasus, perhaps its most unique republic: Chechnya. The capital Grozny is very beautiful and safe, having been completely rebuilt after the wars of the 1990s and early 2000s, with more foreigners visiting every year. Chechens pride themselves on their hospitality towards guests, and so we are excited to introduce you to this land and people. Once you’ve arrived in the early afternoon, we’ll make sure you have time to tour the city and acquaint yourself with the local Chechen customs and traditions. You’ll spend extra time at Grozny’s “Heart of Chechnya” mosque, the largest mosque in all of Europe. Prepare to be amazed by the exquisite designs of the domes from within, as well as the reverence with which worshipers come and go. It truly is an architectural masterpiece.
DAY 12: CHECHNYA
This morning you’ll make an excursion into Chechnya’s corner of the Caucasus Mountains, into the Argun Gorge. The famous towers Ushkaloe Pakoch await you in the village Itum-Kali, an incredible sight, built into the side of a huge rock face. The drive is beautiful as you rise through Chechnya’s rolling hills into this steep rock-faced gorge. Soak in your encounters with ancient Caucasus towers and fortresses as you visit restored complexes in the villages Kale and Pakoch as well. Chechens are very proud of their heritage and any local person will be happy to meet you and answer any questions you have.
DAY 13: DEPARTURE
Pack your bags and say goodbye for now to the North Caucasus, a place we hope you will come back to for another adventure very soon. Fly out of Grozny’s airport, through Moscow, and back to wherever you call home.