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Trekking from Mestia to Ushguli - Svaneti at its Best (Georgian Caucasus)

Aktualisiert: 2. Feb 2019

via Tsvirmi and Karreta Pass



View from Chkhunderi pass

The trek between Mestia and Ushguli is probably the most popular multi-day hike in Georgia. Having been there, we have to admit this is for a reason. The trek is part of the Transcucasian Trail and boosts some of the natural highlights of the Great Caucasus mountains and combines them with the hospitality of the local Svanetian village people. In our opinion, the variants via Tsvirmi and the Karreta pass are even more scenic than the classic route. If you think the four days between Mestia and Ushguli are not enough time in the mountains, continuing to Tsana and then to Ghebi in Racha makes a wonderful (and challenging) addition to this trek.

HIGHLIGHTS


The whole hike from Mestia to Ushguli passes through wonderful nature so it is difficult to choose. The views of the Great Caucasian mountain range from the Zuruldi Massif are just awesome and the Adishi Glacier with its ice wall is surely one of the most stunning glaciers in the region. Combine this with the hospitability of the Svanetian people especially in Tsvirmi and you get an unforgettable experience.




ITINERARY (25.9. - 28.9.2018):

  1. Mestia - Tsvirmi via Zuruldi Massif (19.6 km; ⬆ 1077 m; ⬇ 633m)

  2. Tsvirmi - Adishi (16.3 km; ⬆ 665 m; ⬇ 400 m)

  3. Adishi - tributary of Khadeshala (15.5 km; ⬆ 852 m; ⬇ 589 m)

  4. Tributary of Khadeshala - Ushguli (11 km; ⬆ 804 m; ⬇ 1040 m)


ESSENTIALS



Accommodation: There are plenty of nice but basic guesthouses in the villages. We think it is still worthwhile bringing a tent for the night before you go over Karreta Pass. The camping spot in the secluded valley has something magical to it.


Food: The guesthouses offer full board. The Svanetian food is very tasty and the service good value with approx. 50 GEL (16,50 Euro) for food and accommodation per person. Usually, you can also buy bread, cheese, wine, beer, soft drinks etc. in the guesthouses or in the small shops. Ushgulli has a little bit more variety but the choice is still very limited. Mestia has several well-stocked small shops.


Maps: You can get free but very basic maps in the tourist information office in Mestia. The commercially available geoland maps are of poor quality and often outdated. We recommend to use freely available electronic maps - e.g. AndroMaps in combination with a navigation app such as the freely available app Locus Maps. Don’t forget to bring your (big) power bank, though. Our GPS-log of the trail can be downloaded here:

Day 1 , Day 2, Day 3, Day 4


Difficulty: The trek requires a good physical condition but is not technically difficult. There are a few steep sections descending from Karreta Pass, which can be uncomfortable for unexperienced hikers. Route finding is generally easy, though you have to pay attention to the route in some places.


Homestay in Tsvirmi



DAY 1


Mestia - Tsvirmi via Zuruldi Massif

Our time: walking 5 h + breaks 2:30 h (on a nice day you can spend hours on the ridge enjoying the mountain views)

Distance: 19.6 km

Difference in altitude: ⬆ 1077 m; ⬇ 633m down

GPS-log: downoad here



There are two ways to climb the Zuruldi Massif - either on foot or by cable car. After reading many descriptions on the web we argued with ourselves whether we should take the comfy cable car option or just walk up to the ridge. Well… the decision was made for us. Soon after leaving Mestia we arrived at the cable car station, but it turned out, that the bottom section was under ‘maintenance work’. Later we found out that this is quite common in summer, and if you want to take the comfy way up to the ridge you need to support the local taxi drivers in addition to the cable-car company. :) Nevertheless, we found that it was worth the effort to walk up.

The first part of the way climbs steeply through pine forest and more or less follows the cable car up to a road. Here you turn right and wayfinding becomes fairly easy. At the last sharp turn before arriving at the cable-car station half way up the mountain (where the taxis would drop you of), a way branches away from the main road. From here the way passes through beautiful alpine grazing grounds and birches.

Once we got onto the ridge the views simply become breathtaking. The mountain solitude is a little bit spoiled by the café at the top station of the cable car. But hey – you can have a coffee or cold drink while enjoying the views on iconic Mt. Ushba. If the café is too much hustle and bustle for you just continue on the ridge for a couple of hundred meters and search you own spot to enjoy the mountain views.

From the café you follow the ridge for another 5 km. While a little bit crowded, the views here are also one of the highlights on the way to Ushguli. At the end of the ridge you arrive at some telecommunication infrastructure, where you have to go down steeply through bushes and birches. This is also the only short section of the way, where the trek is a little bit unclear and steep in some places.

When you arrive on a meadow, the way down to Tsvirmi is easy to find. Tsvrimi (still) sees much less tourists than the other villages on the trek. Also, it has a lively community of farmers, which makes it a pleasant spot to stay. There are a couple of guesthouses in town. We had a wonderful homestay in the middle of a lovely Svanetian family. The ‘shop’ of the village opens for a few hours in the evening, but the offer is mainly limited to chacha (local alcohol made from grapes), wine and sweets.


DAY 2


Tsvirmi - Adishi

Our time: walking 4 h + breaks 1:30 h

Distance: 16.3 km

Difference in altitude: ⬆ 665 m; ⬇ 400 m

GPS-log: download here



After a wonderful stay in Tsvirmi we set off towards Adishi in the morning. The weather was overcast and a little bit disappointing compared to the blue skies we had on Day 1. We tried to pay a visit to the newly built church, but were deterred by a large shepherd dog guarding the building site.

Walking down towards Ugviri Pass the weather became worse and it started raining. On the other side of the pass it was already pouring on us. Together with the dirt road that you have to follow for an hour and a half this was certainly the least enjoyable section of the trek. In better weather the views might be nice, but I think it is fair to say, that the dirt road which you have to follow to the ski resort does not make it into the highlights of the way from Mestia to Ushguli.

About 4 km before reaching Adishi a smaller track branches of from the dirt road to the right. From here on the way was much nicer again and lead through a beautiful mixed forest. You can also follow the road further to climb higher but the bad weather and the ski resort were not really appealing to us. At the last possible moment Adishi comes into sight. It is a small town with plenty of guest houses. The town has its charm, but besides the guest houses for the trekkers there is not much else. Many people already left the village before tourism started in the area. Several of the old buildings are in decay.


DAY 3


Adishi - tributary of Khadeshala

Our time: walking 4:30 h + breaks 2 h

Distance: 15.5 km

Difference in altitude:

⬆ 852 m; ⬇ 589 m

GPS-log: download here




The next day had better weather in stock for us. Although the clouds were still hovering above us, it was dry for most of the time. From Adishi the trail follows the river for about 5 km. The valley bends to the north and the impressive Adishi Glacier comes into sight. At some point you have to cross the river. In autumn, it is no problem to wade through the icy water (best with a pair of trekking sandals). During the season (until the beginning of October) there usually is a local waiting with a horse at the river, if you don’t want to get your feet wet. In 2018, the price was 15 GEL p.P. (app. 5 Euro) to get you and your backpack across the river.

On the other side of the valley the path climbs steeply through Rhododendron shrubs to Chkhunderi pass. On the ridge, the views of Adishi Glacier and Mt. Tednuldi are magnificent. It is worth leaving your backpack and continuing north for a couple of hundred meters where the views are even better.

From of the ridge you descent into the secluded alpine valley of the Khadeshala river. At the bottom of the valley, you can turn right and walk south-west to Khalde (approx. 4 km) or Iprali (apporx. 6km). There you will find several guesthouses. This is a good option in heavy rain or if you do not carry a tent.

We were carrying a tent and, thus, continued a little further towards Karreta Pass. To go directly towards Karreta Pass you have to turn left instead of going right towards the villages. After a short distance you need to branch of from the main trail to the right and cross a swampy area. Here, the path sometimes becomes faint in places due to the high vegetation. When you arrive at the river, search for a wooden bridge close to a big boulder. When we crossed it in autumn 2018, the bridge was in quite a bad condition but still usable. If you want to cross Karreta Pass the next day, it is probably a good idea to make a small detour today and check that the bridge is crossable, before you walk to Khalde/Iprali.. Without the bridge, crossing the river might be quite challenging.

Once on the other side of the river, continue for about 2 km up the valley of the tributary. Close to the confluence of two small streams, there is a nice grassy patch, where you can pitch your tent with water from the mountain stream close by. The location of our camp was magnificent and very secluded. For the first time on the trek to Ushguli we had the feeling to be far away from civilization.


DAY 4


Tributary of Khadeshala - Ushguli

Our time: walking 3:45 h + breaks 2 h

Distance: 11 km

Difference in altitude: ⬆ 804 m; ⬇ 1040 m

GPS-log: download here




This was probably the wildest and roughest part of our trek from Mestia to Ushguli – but it certainly also is one of the most rewarding. The path is a little bit more difficult, not as well-trodden as in the other sections and the remoteness offers some real mountain wilderness feeling. We think that this route is much more scenic and rewarding than the classical route from Iprali to Ushguli.

From the camp site you walk up along the left stream. When the stream forks again, you cross the riverbed and walk up the slope/ridge in between the two tributaries to the pass on grass and scree. It can be quite muddy and steep and fighting your way through the rhododendron can be hard, but the views from the ridge at the Tednuldi range are just amazing. Again, as on Day 3, it is worth walking a little bit further northeast on the ridge to get even better views of the surrounding mountain scenery.

While not very difficult, the descent from Karreta pass is quite steep and the grassy slopes might become challenging in wet weather conditions. As the riverbeds were almost dried out in autumn, we found that it was much more comfortable to descend into one of the gullies than to follow the track along the grassy slopes. Wayfinding as such was not a problem, although the situation can be different in spring and summer, when vegetation is denser, yet.

Once you have passed the steep section, the track follows a tributary of the Inguri (or Enguri) river, bends to the right and descents in a long turn to the dirt road, which connects Ushguli with the Shkhara glacier in the valley. If you have a tent and enough supplies, you can also exit the valley of the tributary on the left and walk into the upper section of the Inguri/enguri valley. There are several nice places to pitch the tent.

Compared to the remote section at Karreta Pass the dirt road between Shkhara glacier and Ushguli feels a little bit like a highway. There are lots of trekkers, taxis and horse riding trips on the road. Ushguli has some nicely preserved defensive tower houses and a wonderful location with splendid mountain views. There absolutely is a reason to its status as a UNESCO world heritage site. Unfortunately, it has become a little bit overrun by tourists. There are several small markets that sell bread, cheese, pasta and some canned food but the choice is very limited.

After an extended late lunch break, we walked back up the valley to search a spot to pitch the tent. We found a wonderful place about 200 m up on the south-eastern side of the valley. The next day, we wanted to continue to Tsana and our plan was to cross the ridge somewhere close to Chubdeshi to avoid walking some of the dirt road up to Zargar Pass. Unfortunately, we lost the track and got stuck in shrubs, dense undergrowth and bad weather in the morning. We decided to turn around, walk back to Ushguli and take the dirt road to Tsana. If you know/find a way over the ridge please leave a comment below or write a mail.


How to get to Mestia


The fastest (and cheapest) way to Mestia is to take the Mashrudka. We went from Kutaisi and the price was approx. 25 GEL p.P. (app. 8,20 Euros, 5-6 h). The price for the Taxi to get to the Mashrudka station in Kutaisi was about 5 GEL (app. 1,60 Euro) from central Kutaisi. It best to ask at your hotel to make a reservation to be sure to get a seat in the morning. We started at 8 am, but also read about busses leaving at 9 am/10 am. Best check again on site.

There is also a direct Mashrudka connection from Tbilisi (9 h) or you can take the night train to Zugdidi, where you have to change to a Mashrudka (another 4 h).


Useful links:

A page with heaps of information on trekking in the Caucasus and Georgia:

http://www.caucasus-trekking.com/

Website of the Transcaucasian Trail project:

https://transcaucasiantrail.org/en/home/



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