2010 Trekking and mountaineering in the Caucasus

Places Georgia. Tbilisi & Region Mzcheta-Mtianeti
Time & length July 2010, 4 weeks
Partners Eva-Maria Kubin; later Christian Bock, Stefanie Gersch
In this trip I explored some places in the very natural and pristine north of Georgia. Together with Eva and later joined by Christian and Stefanie I did two hikes through the Caucasian mountains, later I climbed Mt. Kazbek (5035m).

Why Georgia? Well, I had never been there before. And if this isn’t reason enough: Georgia is a very “untouristic” place, easy and cheap to reach, with high mountains and, from what I had heard before, great culture and friendly people.

On July 5 I flew together with my friend Eva from Frankfurt via Kiev to Tbilisi where our host Paul was already waiting for us at the airport. It’s always good to get picked up from the airport, isn’t it? Paul is the brother of one of my mother’s former workmates who arranged our stay in the country’s capital and gave me some advice for travelling in Georgia.
It was very hot in Tbilisi, even at night the temperature didn’t fall below 35°C. We spent two days exploring the city a bit, ate good food and drank local beer which was as cheap as it can be. Then they drove us to the city’s bus station “Didube” where we found a mini bus going to Kazbegi, a town in the mountains close to the Russian border. The closer we came towards our destination, the worse became the road conditions… and the faster our driver drove.

From Kazbegi we kept walking north, actually we planned on starting our hike close to the Russian border. By the way, it wasn’t possible to get real topographic maps so I just created my own ones using the topographic view of Google Maps. With these custom maps we somehow managed to find our way through the mountains without any problems. But back to our starting point: the valley which I wanted to begin our hike in was closed for all kinds of people – because of the proximity to Chechnya and the ongoing conflicts there is a military base to watch over the valley. Of course the soldiers didn’t speak English, but when they pointed their guns to the ridgelines and shouted the words “SHOOT, SHOOT” it was clear that there was no way we could stick to our original plan. So we hitchhiked back to Kazbegi and even further south to the Sno-Valley, where we finally started hiking. To be honest we didn’t come very far the next day since we met some very cheerful people on the way who invited us to stay for a late breakfast with fresh fish, all kinds of vegetables, wine, beer and harder liquor. Drinking alcohol is something Georgians take very seriously… we were drunk before noon.

After successfully passing a military base located just behind the village of Djuta we finally started a real backcountry trip. We walked along some stunning ridgelines and some beautiful valleys. At the end we pitched our tent on an impressive pass close to Chaukhi Mountain and went down to Djuta again the next day. The whole trek took us 10 days and we didn’t see any other people during this time except for a lonely shepherd and two people on their way to the village nearby – since there were no roads connecting the villages they went by horse.

Back in the small village of Sno we found ourselves in the middle of local festival which was attended by a lot of priests and the patriarch himself. The reason for it was the inauguration of a statue. That time I had a German flag on my backpack which made an orthodox priest talk to me in German: his name was Mamuka, he studied in Munich years ago. With him and his family and friends we spent the day visiting two monasteries, eating and talking about faith and (other) local traditions. Later at night we accidentally joined a little open-air party of some people from the same company celebrating a free day with way too much alcohol.

On the next day my friend Christian as well as my sister Stefanie joined us; together we had lunch and started another little hike in the valley of the Terek River. Unfortunately a soldier didn’t let us pass another military base on the way to South-Ossetia on our second day of hiking… not a big surprise, actually. So we spent some time climbing a ridgeline, playing poker inside the tent and watching the sheep eat.

Now the time was ripe for the highlight of our time in Georgia: the climb of Mt. Kazbek, a peak of 5035 meters. In Kazbegi they told us that a real mountain guide would cost about 450 USD for Christian and me – too much, we thought, especially since we brought all the necessary climbing gear ourselves. So the four of us stayed behind the famous church of Zminda for a night and on the next day we hiked up to a former meteorological station at 3600 m which by now functions as a base camp for climbers. Anyway, we decided to stay outside in our tents. We used the next day for acclimatization and climbed around a little bit together with our friend Ben from France. We had met him before and decided to climb this peak together with him: he was more experienced than we were, but we had the rope! Eva and my sister wanted to stay down at the base camp.

It was 4 o’clock in the morning when Christian, Ben and I put on our crampons and tied ourselves to the rope, a few hours later we stood on top of the mountain. Just before the weather conditions had been excellent but right in the moment when we took our last steps the summit got covered in clouds. However, we were pretty happy. So happy that we went right into the meteo station and started drinking and celebrating together with other climbers – we totally forgot to tell the girls that we had made it back safely. They were both relieved and angry when they found us sitting in the hut hours later, but somehow we managed to be friends again in a minute.
After staying for one more night at the base camp we finally went down again, spent another night at Zminda Sameba and arrived back in Kazbegi.

The end of our trip came closer. We did a final day hike in the area close to Chechnya, this time the soldiers just advised us to be very careful and to refrain from taking pictures of the mountain ridge in the north: snipers were located there. I don’t know if that was true, we had a good time there anyway. And after another feast accompanied by a good drink we took the mini bus back to Tbilisi. In the airport they told us that our plane back to Germany had already left – they had changed the time of departure to about six hours earlier and we were the only ones who hadn’t got an information mail. The airline perceived their fault and tried to organize another flight – the problem was that Eva, Christian and I had to catch another flight to Alaska from Frankfurt in time so everything was timed pretty tightly but it all worked out in the end.

Our time in Georgia was quite impressive, especially looking at cultural habits and the local hospitality over there; we also saw great mountains and an array of beautiful landscapes. Georgia is definitely a place worth going to. The prices are low and travelling is easy as long as you follow people’s invitations and the soldier’s advice that is actually given to ensure your safety. In fact I enjoyed this country so much that I did another trip to Georgia just a few weeks after I came back from Alaska – all in the same year.