Five Dead in Lethal Storm on Mt. Elbrus

Mountain Survival
Elbrus climbers rescued from the blizzard. Photos: Telegram Channel Mash, compiled by Mountain.ru

Four women and one man have died on Russia’s Mount Elbrus when a major blizzard caught a large commercial group on its way down from the summit.

According to preliminary reports, four of the deceased climbers froze to death. Another climber fell sick during the ascent and turned around. She eventually “died in the guide’s arms,” the AFP agency reported. Others were rescued in highly difficult conditions.

A later and more expansive account from Mountain.ru said that at 10 am, the 16 clients and four guides had reached Elbrus’s summit plateau. The lead guides were Ilya Chuikov and Anton Nikiforov, assisted by Taulan Kipkeev and Igor Dankov. On the plateau, a woman fell sick and started down with Dankov. The rest of the group continued toward the summit.

Sudden blizzard

Fifteen minutes later, “the pressure dropped sharply, the wind began to blow up from below and an unprecedented storm broke out. Visibility from dense snow was no more than half a metre,” reported Mountain.ru.

Mount Elbrus’ upper slopes, showing the Sedlovina hut, the upper reach of the Snowcat and Pastuhov rocks. Map: Mapcarta

The woman died before reaching the Sedlovina hut. Dankov called for help, then descended on his own. Meanwhile, authorities launched a rescue operation.

On the upper part of the mountain, the guides divided the group into “fast” and “slow” ones and tried to save everyone’s lives. But one of the participants broke a leg while descending, slowing down the rest. Two died on the trail and two others collapsed. They were carried to the Garabashi station at 3,900m, where they died without regaining consciousness.

The victims were Anna Makarova, Vyacheslav Borisov, Elena Nesterova, Anastasia Zhigulina, and Irina Galchuka, all in their 30s.

Rescuers evacuated 11 with frostbite and other injuries to a nearby hospital. Three escaped unharmed and are resting at a hotel in the area.

Climbers on Elbrus. Photo: Beyond Red Square

Elbrus’s gentle slopes draw the ill-prepared

Mount Elbrus (5,642m), an inactive volcano located in the northern Caucasus near the Georgian border, is the highest peak in Europe and thus one of the Seven Summits. Its normal southern route includes no technical sections.

It also features easy access: A ski resort on lower Elbrus includes lifts up to Base Camp at the Barrel Huts. Snowcats typically convey climbers up to the Pashtuchov Rocks at 4,700m on summit day. This makes Elbrus a popular and often crowded peak.

Its mild slopes and dome-like summit even allow climbing all the way on skis or snowshoes. Peak season runs through spring and summer, but it can also be climbed in fall — depending on weather, as the recent events have sadly shown.

Emergency evacuations and tragedy are not uncommon at Elbrus. Its apparent ease encourages some inexperienced people to treat it as just a really big hill. Many are not properly acclimatized, have inadequate equipment, or are in poor shape.

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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Marie
Marie
29 days ago

What a tragedy! As there are lifts up to basecamp, the ski resort operators might consider supplying a good weather forecast to their climbing guests as a standard service to prevent such things from happening again.

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jams
jams
29 days ago

Seems strange to get caught in storms in this modern age with online precision forecasts available. I always have a bivvie bag, down jacket, jet boil and avi gear including a spade so I can dig a pit in an emergency when ski touring. What where these people thinking going over 5000m without this gear??

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Thrill seeker
Thrill seeker
29 days ago
Reply to  jams

I think you’re adding insult to injury, weather in the mountains can change in an instant.
My local weather professional is lucky to get it right half of the time, yet they still take home a nice paycheck too.
Being prepared is tantamount to survival, but mountain climbing is all about pushing the boundaries of safety, hence the obscene number of professional climber’s who have perished while persuing this sport.

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JOHN WALKER
JOHN WALKER
2 days ago

Some errors in this report I am afraid. I have summited Elbrus 4 times, and the Priyut hut is around 4100m, well below the Sedlowina saddle. The two are not the same. It was the original mountain hut, but burned down, leading to the Garabashi barrels becoming the main base camp.
The poor lady may have died before reaching the Sedlowina saddle, the first stage of the descent, at around 5250m, or the hut, much lower down. There is no hut at the saddle, which your graphic illustrates.

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