So last week was the first week of school here in Georgia, but before I blog about that, I thought I’d do a post on the short backpacking trip I did with a friend of mine the week before. It was a lot of fun, even if our plans did change about a dozen times along the way. That tends to happen a lot to plans here in Georgia, but if you’re flexible and can roll with it, you can have a lot of fun anyway.
So our original plan was to go from Baghdati to Sairme, a small resort town in the Lesser Caucasus range just south of Kutaisi, and from there catch a bus over the mountain and hike a few trails out in the western side of Borjomi National Park.
Well, when we got to Sairme, we found that there isn’t a bus that goes over that road, and for good reason. It isn’t exactly a “road”–more like an unusually wide dirt path. Farmers sometimes use it, but only because they’re local and it doesn’t make sense to go 80+ kilometers out of the way on the main route from Zestaponi to Surami.
The locals told us it was about 35 km to walk to Abastumani, so we figured “hey, we have food, sleeping bags, and a tent–why not hike it?” According to the map, if we left at 1pm and averaged 3 km/hr, we estimated we should reach the pass just around sunset.
The calculations were fairly accurate; we hiked for about 6 hours, making about 18 kilometers on the first day and climbing around 1300 meters. In all that time, we only passed three vehicles, and they were all heading back to Sairme. One of them was carrying a bunch of guys who were so surprised to see us, they gave us a giant wheel of cheese. We gave half of it to a local farmer who looked like he needed it more than us, and ate most of the rest over the course of the next few days.
We camped out just above the treeline, next to a hill where a bunch of cows were grazing. The local ranchers brought the herd back in while we cooked dinner, which was kind of cool. Imagine a couple hundred cows walking past your tent. The good thing about being so close to the farmers, of course, was that we didn’t have to worry as much about bears and wolves.
At one moment while we were looking out acros the way we came, the clouds on the horizon began to part somewhat, and I had one of those stomach-dropping moments as I realized that most of those white shapes weren’t clouds, but mountains. We were looking at the Greater Caucasus range, with Mount Elrus standing above the mountains of Svanetti and a whole bunch of other snow-capped peaks further off to the east.
As the sun sent, the temperature dropped fairly quickly, and the wind picked up a lot. I wasn’t able to sleep for a few hours, it was so strong. But the stars were beautiful–at one point, I saw a satellite that was so bright it had to be the ISS. Cool stuff!
The next day, we had a beautiful hike up to the first pass and over the mountains into Samtskhe-Javakheti. The weather could not have been more perfect–it warmed up as soon as the sun came up, and was pleasant for the rest of the day. We had some amazing views, too, especially from the top of the pass.
On the way back, we fell behind a bit, so we decided to hitch a ride with a passing farmer’s truck. The guys were hauling some empty barrels, a bunch of brush, and some calfs, and they put us in the back with the animals.
Wow, was it crazy! The road was so bumpy, literally every other bounce almost threw us off of the truck. The cage would pull back branches and snap them back so hard, some of them could have knocked us off as well, and the cows crapped all over the place, including the back of my pants. For most of the way, we had a sheer cliff on one side, and even though there were lots of trees, it was pretty scary, especially at the switchbacks.
In other words, it was an adventure!
I wish I had some pictures from the ride, but it was all I could do to hang on for dear life. After about 45 minutes, my hiking partner had had enough, and demanded that the guys stop and let us off. My camera had fallen off in the truck bed, but I didn’t realize that until we were back down. Fortunately, we were only about 5 km from Abastumani, and found the guys just outside the settlement. The camera was still in good shape, and in typical Georgian fashion, they invited us for bread, cheese, and cha-cha.
So it ended up being an awesome two days of hiking and backpacking. The views from above the treeline were incredible, and the conditions were absolutely perfect–we could not have asked for better. We spent the next couple of days exploring Akhaltsikhe, Borjomi, and Bakuriani, but I’ll save that for another post later–this one has gotten long enough.
So yeah, it was definitely worth the trouble bringing out all the backpacking gear from the States. I hope to have plenty of opportunities to use it again before the end of the season!