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2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia

 

Eastern Georgia

We ride right across Georgia, along the Russian border in the Caucasus. A distance of 1000 km from east to west. We climbed 3500 m high passes and rode 250 km in 10 days. We have covered 13,000 meters of altitude in very difficult terrain, which we were only able to manage thanks to the incredible willingness and surefootedness of these Tushetian horses. The horses are tied to a long rope at night, which is secured with a ground anchor, so that they can graze. They have hardly lost any weight, although the care was not always optimal. My horse Gletschko is a life insurance policy who climbs up slopes of up to 60% without really getting tired. Only when he can no longer see the other horses does he stop, or if it's too steep for him, he prefers to go up serpentines.

 

After a 4-hour flight with a stopover in Istanbul, we were picked up by Lasha at Tbilisi airport and driven to a guesthouse in the old town. The guesthouse was in a one-lane alley with no house number or address. Lasha called the host and a light went on in one of the houses and a door opened. We had arrived. At 1 a.m. the fast food service delivered Georgian pizza (margarita) without spices and the host poured us a new wine to go with it. Of course, we had to drink a grappa as a welcome drink and the host told us about the history of Georgia. In the morning, after a hearty breakfast of fish sticks, salad and soup, scrambled eggs, freshly baked bread and pizza, we put our riding gear in our saddlebags on the street and gave our suitcases to Lasha's father, who took them home. At 10 a.m. we went to the shopping center to get food and gas bottles for our outdoor stove. On the way out, a policeman kindly asked me to carry my dagger concealed, but when we explained to him that we were on our way out, everything was fine. People here all wear masks, and in the center, it was mandatory, but there seemed to be quite a lax attitude towards it, as I was only wearing my bandana for protection, and no one objected. We drove about an hour east and north in a right-hand drive car to an uncle from Lasha, who then pulled out in front of us in his small van to take us to the horses grazing by the roadside. Our saddles were also waiting there in a heap, which we immediately put on the horses. Lasha had a Russian military saddle, while we mounted our luggage on military saddles that had been converted into Western saddles. We untied the knotted halters we had brought with us and attached the reins to them. Tina had to make do with a rope, but as the horses made a very calm impression, we swung on and followed Lasha's heavily laden horse up the mountain.

 

27.8.2021 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 1st day Ascent to the alpine pasture

Initially, on a back road, we climbed up the mountain following a stream, later it was just a path that led through meter-high blackberry bushes and disappeared completely after 300m. Lasha had last come through here from the other direction 8 years ago, and apart from him, nobody seemed to use this trail. We had to stop again and again to give the horses a break in the steep terrain, and after another 200 m we had to stop riding altogether as the terrain became rocky and we had to lead the horses. For over an hour, we climbed up the increasingly narrow ridge until we finally reached a transverse ridge that led more or less level to the east. Following the ridge, we found a spring in a meadow where we could water the horses and after about 6 hours of climbing and riding, we reached the plateau where Lasha wanted to camp. We unsaddled and tied the horses to long ropes, only Lasha's horses had to go with him up the mountain into a side valley to fill their water bottles at a spring for dinner and breakfast.

We set up our tarp and prepared the camp for the night while the gas burner brought the water to a boil. We ate our bagged soup and drank the fresh spring water.

We lay under the tarp and looked at the lights of the town below us. After getting in, we wondered what adventures awaited us over the next 5 weeks.


27.8.2021 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 2nd day 2nd Camp Hirtenquelle

We woke up at 6 am as usual and made breakfast. Consisting of coffee and oatmeal with dried fruit and vanilla. At 8 o'clock we were ready to ride off and led the horses up the first 100 meters of the mountain. There we found a primitive hut belonging to a shepherd who was up here with sheep. Lasha took the three horses and led them to the spring in the neighboring valley where they could drink their fill. We climbed up and the horses carried us steeply up the mountain on barely visible paths. We managed the 500 m ascent in just over an hour. It was warm and the horses were sweating, but we couldn't find any water at this altitude. We reached the top of the pass and the path led along the ridge again. We came across another hut belonging to a shepherd who was also up here himself. We saw cows in the distance and horses grazing on the other side. There should be water here, but the shepherd said that the horses were watering down in the valley and he had to bring the water up from there on horseback. He invited us for breakfast, but we wanted to carry on and said goodbye. About 500 m further on there was a dead dog in the meadow and a little further on there were bear droppings. Had the bear injured the dog? We didn't know and moved on.

There was a gate on a rocky outcrop, we opened it and led the horses over the rock. From there we continued up the mountain following the ridge. We reached the top of the pass at 3100 m and led the horses down the other side. We saw the scaffolding of a shepherd's hut and rode there to inspect it. As we rode on, we discovered a spring not far below with plenty of good water flowing from it. We led the horses there and decided that we would spend the night here at 2750 meters. The horses were soon unsaddled and released to graze. Later, when we were already in our sleeping bags, Lasha led them to the other side of the valley, where they could graze tied to a 20 m rope.

  

2021 09 Trans Kaukasus Trail Georgien  28.8.2019 3. Tag  3. Alta Rio  

  

We rode up the valley, following the river, before climbing up the mountain on a grassy ridge. There was no trail up there, but the horses trudged up the 300m of switchbacks until we reached the ridge at 3150m. We led the way down the other side and after an hour we left the trail, following the contour line up to Ice Lake.

In a small valley in front of a group of rocks, we tethered my horse and let the others graze freely before climbing up the rocks to the lake. The lake was beautifully nestled in a hollow and was originally fed by a glacier. Now there was no sign of the snow and ice. We went back and led our horses down until our river joined a larger one coming from the west.

The path led 400 meters up the other side of the valley, where we followed the river on the contour line. In and out of valleys, always following the contour line, we came to a shepherd's camp where 150 sheep were being shorn. Unfortunately, the wool is no longer processed, it is not worth it, so it is burned. The shepherds invited us for coffee and chakka, which we gladly accepted. The horses were tethered above the pen and the dogs gave in when the shepherds called them off. In addition to coffee and chakka (grappa), there was cheese and yogurt, cucumber, tomatoes, and melon, as well as bread. The shepherds made the cheese themselves and it was fermented in sheepskin, which was sewn shut. After an hour's break, we saddled up again and left the hospitable group. We continued to follow the contour line deep into the valley until we were able to cross the river. On the way out we passed two abandoned villages. There was no road here and, according to Lasha, the population had been forcibly resettled during the Russian occupation. We left the valley behind us and climbed down a narrow path into the river bed to climb up again 100 m further up on the other side. We came to a clearing with good grass and a shepherd's camp was visible above us. There was good wood here and a small spring, so we set up camp here. The fire burned well into the night and the shepherds above us even had solar lights burning. The dogs communicated all night and the stars kept coming through the clouds.

2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 29.8.2019 Day 4 Shenako Inn

We walked a short distance and then climbed up to the shepherds' camp that we had seen the night before. Everything here was very neat and tidy, with running water from the hose and a well-tended vegetable garden. We continued upwards over grassy areas until we reached the mountain flank at almost 2000 m and saw a pyramid in front of us that we absolutely had to climb. We took a break with an incredible view of Omala and the surrounding villages and climbed to the top of the pyramid. We felt like we were sitting on the roof of the world and it could hardly get any better. We then led the horses down the grassy track, crossing the gravel road again and again, which led all the way down the mountain. After a descent of around 1000 m, we followed the gravel road and reached Omala on horseback. 3 dozen Tushetian horses were grazing peacefully and didn't pay us a glance. We rode to the border guard station to get our passports for the permit through the park and waited in the restaurant upstairs until the passports were ready. There was beer and souvenirs for sale, we ordered Kotteleti, which turned out to be a hamburger and chips. The beer was not very strong and above all warm. But it was the first beer after 4 days, so it still tasted good. We got our permits and passports and rode an hour further to the next village, where one of Lasha's uncles had a guesthouse.

 

 

2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 30.8.21 Day 5 Guesthouse Grevi

Lasha's relatives treated us like royalty, we showered, washed our clothes and I repaired my torn trousers. There was solar power and solar hot water in a tank, TV, and internet, which wasn't working at the moment. For dinner, we had roast lamb and potatoes, plus the usual tomato and cucumber salad. Lasha's uncle and aunt live here in this valley all year round, which is an exception. They have set up an agritourism business here and host guests from all over the world. The valley runs in a south-east - north-west direction and they have settled on the south side, while the horses and cattle have their stables and pasture on the north side. They have turkeys and chickens, a garden where corn, beans, potatoes, pumpkins, and other vegetables grow and the sheep and cattle on the other side of the valley provide them with the necessary meat that they slaughter themselves. At the top of the village, there is a chapel from the 13th century and all the buildings here are made of slate. The cows graze freely in the village and the grass is of golf turf quality everywhere. After breakfast with freshly baked bread, scrambled eggs, and cheese pizza, we set off and rode towards the border to the last village. There the hiking trail led steeply up the mountain to a ridge over which we could look down in all directions. As I prepared for this tour, I was told that horses would not be transported, but that we would do all the routes on foot. When I look at these narrow valleys and the steep rock faces, I understand why there are no roads here to transport horses. We climbed down into the valley on the other side and came to two winter villages, of which only ruins remained. A sled path led to the villages, which was used in the fall and winter to transport hay from higher up to the winter quarters. The sled was pulled by oxen and it must have been an adventurous ride to get the sled over this terrain. In 1940, the Russian occupiers forced the miners to leave their villages and traditional way of life and work together in collective farms further down. With the fall of the Russian Federation in 1991, the collective farms were abandoned, but nobody wanted to return to the arduous life in the mountains. So not only were the winter quarters abandoned and left to ruin, but the summer quarters, which could not be reached by car, were also given up. These villages can only be reached on horseback or on foot. Only the most important ones, such as Omala and other villages, can be reached by car. We reached the gravel road that led to this last village and the road leads down the valley. We reach the next village whose houses are 200 or 300 years old. The houses here are all built of black slate, with two walls so that there was an air buffer between them. The corners were reinforced with larger triangular slabs and holes were cut out in the inner wall so that beams could be inserted to create storeys. The windows and doors are tiny, one reason for this was that strangers could only enter the house head first, and you could easily chop off this head if you felt like it. In the villages, you can often find high 3-4-storey towers equipped with embrasures from the 15th to 17th century. These were used for defense and the owners also retreated into them if one of their family was in danger due to blood feuds. We reached the World Heritage Site of Dartlo, it was warm today and we were pleased to find a pub serving beer. Tourists from Spain and Israel could be found here. At the top of a hill, there was a courthouse square, with 12 stone slabs laid out in an oval and two stone slabs in the middle. We got back on our horses and rode two hours further to the next village, where we spent the night in an inn. We met a couple from Belgium there and spent an enjoyable evening together.

 

2021 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 31.8.21 6th day Camp NoName

We enjoyed one of those incredible breakfasts that seem to be standard here. We got permission from the border police and rode up the mountain. We came across a very old village that was completely deserted, with only a shepherd coming towards us on horseback. In the middle of the village, there was a stone-lined square about 12 square meters in size with a cross in the middle. Lasha explained to us that every village had a holy place that could only be entered by men and "pure" women. We passed the shepherd and rode out of the village and up the valley. The valley led to a plateau where the border police had set up their post. They checked our permit and offered us coffee and beer. We ate our lunch and then rode towards the Assunta Pass. At 2850 m we found a grassy area where we set up camp. We wanted to give the horses a break here, where the grass was good, before we climbed up to the 3500 m pass the next day. Tina hiked up to the free grazing horses and managed to sit down with her horse No Name, who was resting lying down. We enjoyed our dinner and drank a beer we had brought with us. The night was stormy and we had to secure our tent so that it wouldn't be carried away by the wind. A thunderstorm raged over us all night.

2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 1.9.2021 Day 7 Shatili Guesthouse

  

We stayed dry under our tarp, even though the storm was blowing hard. After coffee and breakfast, we got ready to ride off when the wall of thunder broke over us again. Hailstones and snowflakes pelted down on us and we just stood there and waited for the worst to pass. When it got a little brighter again, we climbed with the horses towards the pass, which was about 700 m further up. The temperature was just above zero and we decided to walk the whole way to stay warm. After about 90 minutes we reached the pass at 3500 m and as the wind was blowing hard, we continued straight away. We climbed down quickly, snow and hail did not make walking any easier on the slippery slate scree. We reached 3000 m and followed the trail along the left side of the mountain. We walked downhill for about 3 hours and reached another border police station at around 12 noon. A rider came towards us with his packhorse and after the border guards had checked our papers, we went up to a small mountain house where we got coffee. There were 3 Poles there who we had already seen walking up the mountain in the rain the day before. One of them was carrying almost 40 kg and was struggling to get up. When asked about this, he just said... Polish men are strong.... To each his own. We ate our lunch and climbed down the steep slope. On the way, I slipped and was horrified to discover that I had lost one of the heels of my new Western boots. Great, German workmanship made in China. Without a heel, I had no grip on slippery clay and I was grateful when we finally reached the bottom. The gravel road led us to Shatili, where we spent the night in one of the guesthouses in the old stone houses.

On the way, we came across a small village just before Shatili, called Anatori, with a story that was topical at the time. A sign explains what happened here a long time ago. You walk down a short path to some stone houses hanging on a cliff above a roaring river. All the doors and windows are locked from the inside. The houses are only 5x5 m in size but have a gallery along all 4 walls inside. The gallery is accessed via a central staircase on one side. There are beds along the stone wall on this gallery and nothing about these beds has changed in the last 300 years. In fact, you can still see people lying peacefully asleep on their beds. However, you can only see bones lying there through the small, loose glass windows. And if you take a closer look, you can see a pile of human bones lying on the floor below. You wonder what happened here.

In the 18th century, the black plague was raging here and the people of the village decided to quarantine themselves in their homes so as not to infect others. The sick lay down on the beds in the gallery and when they died, they were simply placed on the floor of the house so that the sick could lie down on the beds. They died proudly and with dignity. Only one little boy from the village survived, as he was alone with the sheep in the mountains.

2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgian 2.9.21 8.day Camp Tinas Bistro  

  

We spent the night in one of the tower houses in Shatili and had a small room to ourselves. To get to the shower and toilet, you had to climb down 3 floors, but you could marvel at the construction of these towers from the inside. There was historical clothing for women to see, saddlebags and wool combs, as well as mortars and stone bowls as they were used in the past. We had to wait until 10am to be able to take freshly baked bread with us for the next 3-4 days. We used the time to explore Shatily and left a message for Dato Jalbauri, a friend of Tobias Knoll. Tobias Knoll had imported Kabadin horses to Germany years ago.

We followed the road, whose bridges were newly built, and when we reached a fork in the road, we followed it back into the mountains. A gravel road led uphill for a while, but it later got lost in some mudslides. An hour up the path, we met hikers from the Czech Republic and they told us that the path was not dangerous, but tedious, as there was no path in the shale scree and for every step forward you slipped half a step backwards. The shepherds confirmed that it was possible, so we continued towards the Isartghele Pass despite the bad weather. When we were above the tree line, we found the wooden frame of a shepherd's hut and as the grass was good, we decided to spend the night here. Perhaps the weather would be a little better tomorrow, but in any case the horses should be well rested when we climb the 3350 m high pass. We found a bench and table under the wooden scaffolding so that we could set up our bistro Tina. No sooner had the tarp been fixed over the wooden scaffolding than it started to rain. We ate our lunch and I started writing my blog while Tina looked out for bears and berries. A beautiful waterfall roared in the distance and the clouds chased each other overhead. To the east it was blue with white clouds, through which the sun broke through every now and then, to the west, where we were heading tomorrow, there were dark clouds that didn't bode well. We rebuilt our tarp again during a break in the rain to make sure that the wind couldn't drive any rain under the roof. It rained all evening while we ate coffee and later tea, and then soup and drank tea again.

In San Jon there is a sign that says: if you want breakfast in bed, sleep in the kitchen. Following this motto, we went to sleep in Tina's bistro right next to the bench and table.

2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 3.9.21 9th Day Camp Al Lago

It had rained through the night and when we went to check on the horses for the first time, we were surrounded by a white wall. We decided to stay put and hope that it would stop raining. The mist cleared, only to come back up the valley shortly afterwards. The water in our drinking bottles and on the tarp was frozen and although we had made the tarp windproof, our sleeping bags and down mats were wet. So we had to wait until the sun shone on our hut to get the stuff dry enough to pack it up. After about an hour, the ascent to the pass began. 1100 meters up with no path or trail in sight. The shale scree was unstable and for every step the horses took upwards, they took half a step back. After 4 hours of tail climbing, we reached the pass at 3515 meters. The descent along the stream was correspondingly adventurous. There was no visible path down and we climbed down the narrow valley in the stream bed. Again and again we had to ford the stream to get past rocks or groups of trees. At one point I slipped and fell down into the stream. I hit my back on some rocks and got bruises. It was 5 o'clock in the afternoon and we still had at least another hour to go. We reached the border guard station, but to our final disappointment there was no coffee or tea. Only the information that we couldn't take the planned route, that the path was buried and no longer passable. We would have to go up to the lake and then over a pass into the neighboring valley and from there back down to our destination. At least it had stopped raining in the meantime and we were able to get back on our saddles. Following the course of the stream, we rode up the valley and arrived at a small lake around half past six, where a group had already set up tents. Cows and horses grazed peacefully side by side in the valley and we set up our tarp on a small platform. The view of the lake below us was beautiful. The sky promised nothing good.

 

2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 4.9.21 10.Day Guesthouse Akhieli

Although we had converted the tarp into a tent, the wind had taken it upon itself to tear down our structure. All night long, the wind made our tarp flap and rattle. As I kept sliding down on my down mat and trying to keep my poncho on my sleeping bag, the wind kept blowing it away. It was a restless night. In the morning there was a whole group of horses next to ours and one stallion had decided to make the acquaintance of Lasha's horse, somehow he couldn't really get on with the other two geldings. When we saddled up, it was clear at our altitude of 2400 m, but clouds were piling up above us and the fog was billowing just a few hundred meters further up. We rode up three glacier basins until at the end of the valley the path turned right into the thickest fog and again we could only see 10 meters. Thanks to Lasha's unerring instinct and my GPS, we kept finding the path up to the pass. For 5 hours we climbed up the pass in this wall of fog, following a ridge further and further up. Lasha asked on the way whether we wanted to continue or whether we should turn back. But even though it was exhausting and the lack of views and visibility was not exactly positive, the path or non-existent path was not dangerous, so we decided to carry on. Again and again we had to climb over rocky sections on the narrow ridge, but the horses did a brilliant job. After a long hour, we reached the pass, and this is where the last signpost ended. But the path was now more visible and we followed it down into the parallel valley. We were back under the wall of fog when we saw a bear on the other side of the valley. When he noticed us, he ran up the mountain over a boulder field and disappeared into a cave. We followed the stream down the valley and reached the gravel road that led to Juta. We rode into the village of Akhieli and found a house with a sign saying Coffee Tee Wifi. The owner is called Eliso and speaks a few words of German as he used to work on a building site in Frankfurt. He was prepared to give us accommodation for the night and we sat in his kitchen of just under 16 square meters next to the wood stove where our soaked socks and shoes were drying. We had khhabidzgini and home-brewed beer.

 

2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 5.9.2021 11.Day Guesthouse Juta

The bed was a metal hammock, but who wants to complain. We were dry and warm while it kept raining outside. It was foggy and drizzling as we climbed and for the next 2 hours we rode up the valley in thick fog on a gravel road. After a river crossing, we followed a narrow path up the Arkhotisghele Pass. The fog lifted a little and it was warmer than the days before. But when we reached the top of the pass, an icy wind blew against us. We decided to skip the schnapps and set off on the descent straight away. After two hours we were out of the fog again and we stopped at a grassy field. Here we caught up on our passport celebration and ate cheese, sausage and bread. The sun broke through above us and we were able to enjoy the view. For a whole 15 minutes, then the spook was over again. However, the fog remained above us and we were able to ride the horses out into the valley. On the other side of the valley there was another border police post and we saw an amphibious vehicle leaving the area. Later we saw him waiting for us on our way. He wanted to see our permit and when Lasha told him where we had come from and that we had been on the road for 11 days, he was very enthusiastic and gave us the thumbs up. An hour and a half later we reached Juta, where we decided to stay in the most expensive hotel in town. For the unbelievable price of 33 USD, the three of us stayed overnight, including breakfast and dinner. While I write my blog, Lasha talks to the manager and the cooks and waiters sit at our table and tell each other stories.

We rode up a small pass, still on the new autopiste. After an hour, the road went downhill again and we could see the serpentines we would be walking for the next 4 hours. Finally we reached Oni, where Lasha was able to buy a new rain cover as he had lost his old one on the way. We drank a beer and ate a kind of calzone with meat filling. We wanted to go at least another 10 km, as there was nothing for the horses to eat here. The village dragged on for over an hour and cows and pigs kept crossing the road in front of us. The tar became a dirt road, which was under construction, and after 10 hours we reached Utsera, a small village above the road. Lasha had googled for a guesthouse and found one where we could put the horses in the garden. Olla, the hostess, spoke some German as her daughter was studying medicine in Munich. She took us to the neighbor's garden, where carbonated water flowed from a tapped spring. We filled the thermos flask with it and went back to the house. Later, Lasha brought us a beer from the restaurant. There were grapes and apples in the garden of the house and the neighbor let his young cattle graze in the garden. The house itself was at the top of the village and Olla cooked excellent meals for us. We were able to shower and let the horses graze freely.


2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 6.9.21 12. Day Camp Pasanauri

When I woke up in the morning, the side of the mountain where the horses were grazing was completely invisible. A white wall of mist obscured the view. By the time I got dressed, the sun was shining and yes, the horses were still there. I went down to the restaurant where our washed laundry was hanging on the backs of the chairs. I folded and stacked them and when I went out to bring them into the room, everything was dull and white again. We had dried our shoes on an electric heater and this gave us dry warm feet for a change. We went down for breakfast and as we left the restaurant, a food bus was parked below the hotel. We bought fruit and pickles and a woman offered us her bread when she realized we couldn't buy any more. We gratefully accepted. We saddled up and led our horses down the gravel/clay road, accompanied by two dogs who attacked every car that came towards us. I'm sure the drivers thought they were our dogs. But all attempts to stop the dogs were futile. Even if it was fun. We reached the bottom of the valley and followed a signposted cycle path. The fog had lifted and the path, which was still rideable at first, became more and more of a single trail. We passed a few shepherd camps and had to deal with the not always very friendly dogs by driving the horses towards them and hitting them with the whip. They usually cowered and kept their distance. In the distance, we saw a rider with a heavily laden horse and a foal coming towards us, but as he didn't have time for a chat, we all went on our way. Shortly before the top of the Guademakar Pass, we took a break and ate our lunch. The path led down the other side of the mountain and we reached a gravel road again. The wide valley was surrounded by high mountains covered in grass right up to the crest. We had about 12 km behind us and another 16 ahead of us on a concrete road to the village we wanted to reach. After almost 5 hours on the dirt road, we had had enough and followed a path down to the river. It was public land and there was hardly any grass left. But as the horses were allowed to graze freely, Lasha said it was no problem. We made a fire and cooked our noodle soup. We had plums and bananas for dessert and a forest fruit tea as an appetizer. As we lay in our sleeping bags, an Arabian gelding suddenly appeared and tried to make friends with us. However, the attempt failed and he disappeared again.

 

2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 7.9.21 13.day Departure Dusheti

Lasha hadn't dared to let them all run free after all. Gletschko was tethered and only the other two moved freely in the field. Somehow he had eaten enough, in any case he was no greedier than usual for fresh green. I got up at 6 a.m. despite the rain and it continued to rain all day. For 4 hours we led and rode our horses on the concrete track along the river down into the valley. The road was very busy and Tina's horse no name regularly panicked when another big truck came hurtling towards him. We stayed on the road as the horses had to get used to the traffic, as the next 6 days promised a lot of traffic. Later we rode along the riverbed and had coffee at a boat rental. Crossing a bridge, we noticed a herd of horses with a very pretty lead mare. We came to a bridge in front of which stood a castle and a monastery. There we found a hamburger stand in the parking lot that we couldn't pass by. The bread was good, the burger was tiny, but at least it tasted good. It was another 4 hours, on tarred roads, and after a while I gave up trying to motivate my horse to go faster than 4 km/h. I wondered if all the horses on this route were going faster. I wondered if all the horses in the world had joined a cooperative that stipulated a maximum speed of 4 km/h from 2 o'clock in the afternoon. We followed the gravel road up through the village, repeatedly encountering pigs and their free-range piglets. I found a cycle path on the GPS and we followed it across mown meadows. However, a landslide had buried part of the path, so we had to go through bushes and woods to follow the path. Again, we got completely soaked as every leaf and blade of grass had a gift for us. Finally we reached the road and followed it to the place where we would meet Lasha's uncle and sister tonight. They would take us to Tibilis, while Lasha would ride the horses around the border of the occupied zone for the next 6 days. In accordance with Tina's wishes, we will use these days to drive to the Black Sea and relax for a few days. We are almost 400 km on the road and have covered 16,000 m of altitude. The horses also need a break so that they are fit when we meet up again. We ride through the village and almost reach the lake where we had agreed to meet when Lasha's uncle comes along the road to meet us. It's almost 7 o'clock in the evening and we have to get our stuff off the horse very quickly and pack it into the car. We take off our clay-smeared shoes so as not to completely dirty the classy car with our sandals. Lasha's sisters are dentists and work in their father's practice.

 

2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 13.9.21 Day 18

After a short vacation in Shekvitili on the Black Sea, we returned to Satschchere today to continue our journey in the west of the country. The Black Sea is not actually black, only the sand on the beach is that color, if there is any sand at all. The water is not very salty and was about 20 degrees when we arrived. We were greeted by a beautiful sunset when we arrived. We took the public bus to Butomi and had the pleasure of traveling with 20 people in a very confined space with masks on. On the way back, we had got on the wrong bus, but the driver drove us one stop further and showed us the right bus, we experienced Georgian helpfulness when a woman asked where she had to get off to get to a certain address. 15 passengers and the driver discussed for 5 minutes where the best stop was, and once there, opinions were still divided, while the young woman desperately looked out to see if she was in the right place. After further discussion, she got off after all, and we hope she found her house. The adventure of the 40-minute drive cost 1.50. In Batumi, a very contrasting city with casinos for very rich Russians and Arabs, we strolled along the pier until we got hungry and sat down in a restaurant. As soon as we had ordered our beer, it started pouring outside and we ate and drank coffee until it stopped raining. The next day we took the bus again to the next town, as we were told that there was a bus to a national park nearby. When we arrived at the bus stop, there was a school and an office of the park administration, but nothing far and wide of a bus. We crossed the road and asked at a gas station for the bus, and the answer was. No bus, just cab. Ok, let's find a cab then, but the young man just said, Please wait.

5 minutes later a beige Ami sled drove up to the gas station and the driver asked Mtriala National Park, cab? We got in and when I asked how much it would cost, the driver said 25 dollars. Ok, off we go and it's a 2 hour drive up the mountain on a single lane road. If there is oncoming traffic, one of us has to head for a bay and wait until the other car has squeezed past. Have fun if you come across a concrete mixer here. In the middle of the jungle, it's very humid and warm here, we stop at modern buildings and the driver says. I wait, for you to come back. We get out and ask where and what we can do here. As well as riding on the road for 40 minutes, you can also ride off-road up and down the same roads, there is a rope course and a 2-hour hike to a waterfall and a lake. Okay, we do the latter and arrive back at the hotel two hours later, sweaty and thirsty. Our driver is sitting in the restaurant drinking coffee and thinks we should have something to drink and eat before he drives us back. Again we drive 2 hours back to the gas station and when it came to paying, he said 50 dollars would be ok for the 7 hours he spent with us. It was fine with us and we took the first bus back to Kobulti and waited there for the bus back to our hotel. Suddenly a cab pulled up on the road and the driver was the same one who had taken us from the train station to the hotel in Shekvetili. He was pleased to see us and we got in to be driven to the hotel. On the way, we asked him if he could drive us to Sackhere the next day and he agreed. We had met a young couple in the park, he from Aargau in Switzerland and she from Germany. They invited us to dinner that evening in a Russian restaurant and we spent a nice evening together. It turned out that he knew the Brooks Range in Alaska, as he had crossed it several times, and we arranged to meet up to talk about this range.

2021 09 Trans Caucasian Trail Georgia 14.9.2021 19. day Camp Shkameri

 

After a 5-hour drive to Sachkhere, we sit in a restaurant on the main road with wifi and drink beer, eat bread and salad. I hammer away at my blog while Tina dozes on the bench leaning against her luggage. We wait for Lasha to call us and tell us where to meet him. He calls and we take a cab to the camp.

We had a nice surprise last night. While looking for water, Lasha found a restaurant that specialized in weddings and was therefore not advertised. The owner and cook offered to make us spit-roasted meat and would be ready in an hour. So at 7 o'clock we went over to the restaurant, which had no electricity but a fountain and dining rooms above the stream flowing below. We were served salad and bread and of course local wine, orange in color, which you could even drink if you diluted it with water. By 8 o'clock the meat was cooked and served, and it was excellent. The evening was tepid. We lay on our sleeping bags and looked forward to the days ahead.

In the morning after breakfast we saddled up and led the horses through Sackhere up to the road, which we were not to leave for the next 9 hours. The hiking trail, which was originally marked here, had to make way for the new road, which was under construction and was due to be completed at the beginning of October for the presidential election. The road itself was closed to through traffic, so there was very little traffic. The barrier, made of concrete blocks, ran right over a stream underpass and we had trouble leading our horses through the concrete blocks at this stream underpass so that we could continue on the other side. The horses only had about 50 cm to turn left and get back onto the road through the blocks. All three did this without hesitation. After 40 km and 1300 m we had had enough, and when we reached a small village we hoped for an inn or restaurant, but there was nothing of the sort here except fresh water at a crossroads and a grassy area in front of the village, where we pitched our tents and hitched the horses. We cooked polenta with cheese and drank tea with it

15.9.21 Day 20 Guesthouse Utsera

We rode up a small pass, still on the new autopiste. After an hour, the road went downhill again and we could see the serpentines we would be riding for the next 4 hours. Finally we reached Oni, where Lasha was able to buy a new rain cover as he had lost his old one on the way. We drank a beer and ate a kind of calzone with meat filling. We wanted to continue for at least another 10 km, as there was nothing for the horses to eat here. The village dragged on for over an hour and cows and pigs kept crossing the road in front of us. The tar became a dirt road, which was under construction, and after 10 hours we reached Utsera, a small village above the road. Lasha had googled for a guesthouse and found one where we could put the horses in the garden.

Olla, the hostess, spoke some German as her daughter was studying medicine in Munich. She took us to the neighbor's garden, where carbonated water flowed from a tap spring. We filled the thermos flask with it and went back to the house. Later, Lasha brought us a beer from the restaurant. There were grapes and apples in the garden of the house and the neighbor let his young cattle graze in the garden. The house itself was at the top of the village and Olla cooked excellent meals for us. We were able to shower and let the horses graze freely.


2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 16.9.2021 21. day. Camp Chapel

The landscape here was different, no more shale scree, but clay and sandstone. We followed the road for another 3 hours before turning off onto a gravel road. The road ran alongside a river and we had to cross it from time to time. The horses always had a bit of trouble with this, as the steel of their horseshoes and the steel of the bridge made a lot of noise when we rode over it. We came to a larger village with a school and various churches, but unfortunately no restaurant. The children were either going to or coming from school and we kept seeing pigs and cows grazing freely. The 1 km wide valley was filled with river stones and only very rarely did we see any greenery for the horses. We followed the gravel track further and further until it turned into a tractor track and you could only see the cleared track to the right or left, which would one day become a road. In the distance, we could hear the noise of tree-sawing machines and when we came to a small clearing with a chapel at around 5 o'clock, we decided to camp here. We sat around the campfire as two men brought our two horses, which had obviously been grazing further away. Later, a truck loaded with hay 4 meters high drove past. Lying on top of the hay, girls and boys held on to the ropes to avoid falling off. The weather did not bode well and we soon crawled into our sleeping bags.

 

 

2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 17.9.21 22nd day Camp Hunting Lodge

It had rained during the night, but it was dry when we got up. The minute we were in the saddle, it started raining again. We followed the clay track further up the valley and came to the meadows where hay had been cut the day before. There were still more trucks and hay on the ground, but it would probably only be collected when it was a little drier again. We followed the hiking trail signs along the branching stream. We had to master some adventurous descents and ascents along the tributaries of our stream and we could only marvel again and again at the confidence with which the horses followed their leader Lasha and how sure-footedly and courageously they tackled every obstacle.

We reached a wide grassy plain with a house whose roof had been newly renovated. About 60 meters below the house, there was a hiking trail sign pointing towards the mountain. However, we couldn't find a path or entrance to a path there on the mountain, even though my GPS had marked a hiking trail. However, this was a straight upward line in the landscape and therefore not very trustworthy. As I had seen pictures of the course of the river further up on Google Earth, I knew that people had followed the course of the river up the valley and later up the ridge. We therefore tried to walk this route with the horses, but after ¾ of an hour, we had to realize that it was too difficult and too strenuous for the horses to continue along this riverbed. We decided to turn around and go back to the house so that we could find our way up the mountain rested tomorrow. Sleeping bags were hung up in the house, and shoes and socks as well as food and wood could be found. We made a fire in the basement of the open stone house and cooked couscous soup with croutons. The forecast was for 24 liters of rain and only some of it came down today. Let's see what happens tomorrow.

 

2021 09 Trans Caucasus trail Georgia 18.9.21 23rd day Camp Ruine

I was staring into a wall of fog again when I woke up at 6 o'clock. We decided to stay in bed until visibility improved. An hour and a half later, we could at least see the sign at 60 meters. We climbed up without leading, as we wanted to keep our pants and shoes dry for as long as possible. We rode over to the ridge where we had looked in vain for the entrance yesterday. The signpost would have been much more helpful here, but it wasn't there. So we made our way through the bushes up the mountain when we stumbled across the path after about 30 meters. We followed it up the mountain, allowing the horses to take switchbacks when it got too steep. We passed a few small lakes. Now GPS trail and reality matched again and we were happy to follow the trail further up to 2810 m to the top of the pass. Again and again we climbed over small groups of rocks on this ridge and up here we could see the last signposts. A white abyss yawned to our left and to the right we could see a sloping meadow, but here the trail should go down to the left over this cliff. Again in a straight line. Someone must have drawn a path on the PC. Lasha decided to follow the contour line to the right, while I continued to descend to see if the path would lead to the left further down. But I couldn't find anything. By now Lasha and Tina were halfway across the basin with the horses, and I started the diagonal climb to the path they left in the wet grass. It was a slog to climb back up through the wet grass and I was glad when I saw that they were waiting for me. Lasha only said that he had seen cairns over here and therefore knew that there was a path here. Well, I couldn't really see a path, but Lasha seemed confident that we would find a way down into the valley. Let's have some fun, he said and led his horse down the ridge, which was covered in trees. The grass was knee-high and we climbed down in about 45 degree terrain. The horses slid and ran freely following Lasha, and we slid and held on to the bushes and trees behind them. Again and again, he had to sound out the situation to avoid rocks and steep slopes, but steadily and slowly we came closer to the valley floor. When we finally arrived at the bottom after an estimated 600 meters of descent, we were happy to be walking straight ahead in a riverbed. But the adventure didn't end there, because we had to follow the river that flowed into a larger river and we led and rode in this riverbed, crossing the river 2 dozen times, until we saw a meadow about 7 meters above the river before a narrow point that promised good grass. As it was already 5 o'clock, we decided to camp here so that we could continue down the valley in the river tomorrow. There were ruins of stables and houses in the meadow and we even found a buried well. The horses had good grass and we still had a ration before the iron reserve for dinner. Tomorrow we had to find some food.

 

2021 09 Trans Caucasus trail Georgia 19.9.21 24th Day Guesthouse Tsana  

We should have concluded from the buildings that there must have once been a road here, otherwise the buildings could not have been constructed. But we didn't come to that conclusion and instead climbed back down the embankment and continued along the deeply incised course of the river. There were violent rapids ahead of us, which prompted us to climb back up the embankment, and we found what was probably a 90-year-old track that had led to the farmstead. But as we found out later, the track had been overgrown and no one had used it for 30 years. In 1991, after the liberation, the building material from this place was transported further down into the valley to build a new village there. We were happy about the path, as we now hoped to be able to walk about 3-4 km per hour instead of only 1-2 km per hour in the riverbed. But a lot happens in 30 years, and here it was the case that the tributaries of the river dramatically changed the landscape, and the track stopped abruptly on steep slopes, forcing us to follow the tributary up until we could cross it and then climb back down on the other side, or Lasha decided to just climb down the slope, ford the river and climb back up on the other side.

At one such point, he climbed down to see if he could, when my horse followed him without prompting, making it clear that the other two had to go down too, as there was no way back. So the other two horses also slid down without hurting themselves. Tina just said, Peter, I can't get down here, so we brought the reins up from below, tied the reins around her belly, and roped her down the slope behind. Lasha supported her feet from below and I secured her from above. Finally, we were down too. Once in the stream bed, we fought our way along the bank through the trees and bushes until we reached the main river again. We continued like this for the next 3 hours, getting inexorably closer to the road visible on the GPS. At 2 o'clock in the afternoon, we had to cross the river again and then we were on the gravel road. 5 minutes later we saw a car and a man cutting grass with a scythe. He was just as surprised to see us as we were. Lasha explained to him where we had come from and where we had started, and his eyes lit up. With a big grin, he gave us a thumbs-up. We came to a newly constructed concrete road and left our river, which carried its brownish-gray broth into the Black Sea. At last, we reached the turn-off to the village, which we were repeatedly told was our destination: Zeskho But as it was a dead end, we decided to follow the larger road to the next village. On the way, we met construction workers who told us that there was a guest house in the next village. We were glad because apart from our emergency rations, we had eaten all our food. And we also urgently needed a roof over our heads, as all our clothes were dirty and wet.


When we reached the village of Tsama, we found the inn straight away, but it was closed. We met a woman who, in terms of clothing, didn't belong here but in a fashionable town, but Lasha couldn't persuade her to organize something to eat for us. She said she wasn't equipped for it. She sent us to the other end of the village where someone else lived, but even he could only point us to an empty building. When Lasha came back, he spoke to the woman again, and this time the conversation lasted longer, of which I only understood the word no again and again. While the two were talking, a VW pulled into the driveway and a man, a very pretty woman, and a boy got out. The man approached us and asked Lasha what was going on. He explained the situation and the man decided that the woman, who was his neighbor, should prepare food for us and we could spend the night in the guest house on the terrace. The horses could also graze here and his wife would contribute something for dinner. And suddenly the sophisticated woman was able to do the same. She showed us how to get to the guest house toilet and served us dinner on her balcony. We were eating our stuff on the terrace when the neighbor called out to us that we could come over for dinner. Lasha organized that we could dry our socks and shoes in her kitchen and Merry seemed like a new person and joined us at the table, which was generously laid with bread, tomatoes and cucumber salad, wine, tea, and fish, as well as cheese in cornmeal pancakes called tchishdver. Of course, we had to try their tchatcha and the neighbor brought more salad, wine, and mushrooms. The neighbor spoke fluent English and told us that her sister lived in Chicago, but she had never been able to visit her because she couldn't get a visa. Her son and sister would be able to visit her next summer.

Both of them sat at our table and told us the story of the newly built village with the materials from up in the valley and the famous painter who lived in the neighboring village. It turned out that the reason for the initial rejection was that she realized we were from Western Europe, and she didn't think the food she had on hand was good enough for us. When I went to clear the table, I was admonished that this was women's business, and then she brought us bread and cheese for the following day. She refused to accept payment, and only when Tina went back to her with the money was she prepared to accept it.

 

2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 20.9.21 25th day Guesthouse Ushguli

Today was a short day. 20 km of dirt road over the 2610 m high Zagari Pass to Ushkuli.

We saw the village from afar and it seemed as if there were defensive towers at the entrance and end of the village. But these towers were not only against the outside but the defiant castles of individual families who were fighting each other to the death. We reached the entrance to the village and found a guest house right there, which took us in. The horses were put out to pasture further up and we entered the guest house, which appeared very luxurious and generously furnished. The owner, a police colonel, had created a guest house with 6 separate bedrooms and a large living room at the entrance. At the other end was a bathroom clad in black faux marble up to just below the ceiling. The ceiling and a 30 cm wide strip of the wall were covered in white faux marble. The white porcelain parts of the washbasin, the boiler and the toilet opposite stood out against the black background. The water from the shower ran freely into the drain in the floor in the middle of the 20 square meter room. Pompous, but not really practical, as the room was so big that it could never get warm inside. When the rain let up briefly, we went up to the hotel, where there was a small grocery store where we could stock up for the next few days. We bought what the store had to offer and took it back to the guesthouse. In the distance, we could see a huge glacier between the veils of clouds.


2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 21.9.21 26th day Camp Asado

The sky was clear the next morning, so I went out to take photos of the glacier. The mountain behind it was the highest in Georgia. The hostess had washed our laundry and hung it up behind the stove in the kitchen. She was preparing breakfast with scrambled eggs and fried potatoes, pancakes, and cheese and grain pockets. I took the laundry over to the guest house and we packed up our stuff. The host was a senior officer of the border police and Lasha asked him about the routes over the passes for our tour for the next few days. The officer explained to Lasha the best way to get to Mestia, our destination for the next few days. We followed his advice and rode down the road until we rode back up to Khalde in a side valley. Kahlde is an important historical place for the Georgians, as it was here that the resistance of the Georgians against the Tsarist Empire was demonstrated. In 1871, tax collectors from the tsar came to the valley and tried to persuade the people to pay taxes to the tsar with promises and threats. The village refused to comply and the spokesmen were invited to a meeting with the governor of the province. 14 of the spokesmen were arrested there, 2 managed to evade arrest and organized the village's resistance. The village towers were barricaded and underground tunnels were built. The tsar sent 250 soldiers under a general to put down the rebellion, but they were crushed and the general was killed. 2500 more soldiers with heavy artillery were sent and they flattened the village and blew up the church. The men were able to flee into the mountains, but the Russians arrested the families of the defenders and forced the men to return. All the families were exiled to Eastern Siberia and only two were later able to return to their village and rebuild it. Today there is a guest house and a few other houses. The village is located on a hiking trail that is heavily frequented by tourists. We crossed the village and followed the hiking trail towards the glacier until we had to turn left up the mountain about 4 km before the glacier to get over the pass into the other valley. The trees had already taken on autumn colors and the view of the glacier was fantastic. We led the horses down the valley until just before the village of Agushi, where we stopped in a meadow so that the horses could graze sufficiently. We found dry wood to grill our meat and later enjoyed eating it under the tarp.


2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 22.9.21 27.day Guesthouse Mestia

It rained all night and until 8 in the morning, we stayed in bed until it stopped. A dog that had run into us the day before had curled up at our feet during the night and was now waiting patiently for his breakfast. I hate saddling up in the rain, and as we were all of the same opinion, it was 10 o'clock before we set off. After 20 minutes we reached the village and had a second breakfast there. The route took us along the mountain to the Tetnuldi ski resort and from there down to Mestia. It had started raining shortly after our second coffee and it didn't stop until about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Accordingly, we tried to get to Mestia as quickly as possible and urged our horses to hurry. We finally reached the village at around 5 o'clock in the afternoon. Lasha had received a telephone number from the border guard officer for a guesthouse where the horses could be stabled in the garden. He contacted this guesthouse and they came to pick us up in a small truck. While Tina sat in the passenger seat, Lasha and I were in the back of the truck and held the reins of the horses trotting behind us. We reached our destination in no time at all and were able to warm up with tea and chacha and a hot shower.

 

2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Georgia 23.9.21 28th Day Camp Comunitat

Why can't we just keep riding? Now that we've got used to it, to the horses, to the daily routine, to each other, to the adrenaline, the joy, the exertion and fatigue, the beautiful mountains and unpronounceable place names, the vegetable and potato-heavy food, the young wine, the friendly smiles of the hostesses, the thumbs-up from the men who hear about our adventure. Why don't we just carry on? But it's coming to an end tomorrow. We have ridden almost 800 km from one end of Georgia to the other. We have been as close to the highest mountains in Georgia as possible. Sometimes only a few kilometers away from the border with Russia. We only had to leave out the occupied territory. We climbed passes over 3500 m and covered a total of over 26,000 m in altitude. In terms of performance, that was over 1060 km ridden in 22 days. There are two reasons why it's coming to an end. Firstly, the route we wanted to take is no longer possible for horses at this time of year. And when Georgians say that, we believe it. Because we know what it looks like when they say it's possible. The second thing is that we had snow on the last mountains and it will continue to snow and rain for the next 4 days. Alternatively, we could go further down the road to the south. But this is just exhausting for us and the horses and is no fun. So tomorrow we will march south again until our cab picks us up, and in the evening the horses will be loaded onto the truck and driven back to Tibilis, from where they will return to their ancestral home. We leave these 3 incredible horses behind with the greatest respect and gratitude and look forward to seeing them again. Our thanks also go to Lasha, the guide and translator, who did an incredible job. He is one of the best guides we have ever had. The weather was dry in the morning, we climbed up to the Korudli Lakes again and from there through the valley basin to the pass at 2940 meters. We were able to ride the horses up to 2750 m, then we went on foot and struggled over the pass in low visibility and driving snow. 3 hours later we had the horses down again and arrived at the first houses of Bagdanvari. Here we were able to set up the horses and our tents on a municipal meadow and found an inn in the village above that served us dinner.

 

2021 09 Trans Caucasus Trail Gerogia 24.9.21 Day 29 Departure Shekvetili

We led the horses down the road one last time and looked for a way to get out of the rain and into the dry, at least for a short while. Unfortunately, the only guesthouse on the route was closed and there were no bars or restaurants here. So we continued south on the tarred road with our horses until about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, always hoping to see either a coffee or our cab. We had just walked down a long valley and back up the other side when we bumped into the driver of our pickup truck from two days earlier. He was happy to see us and Lasha and he got chatting. Just as we were moving on, a white Honda suddenly came towards us and stopped on our side of the road. At Lasha's call, the cab driver had set off on the 5-hour drive with instructions to pick us up on this road. We packed our saddlebags into the car and wistfully said goodbye to Lasha and our faithful horses. The driver of the cab stopped every now and then for a smoke, and as it was getting towards evening, he bought dinner, which he shared with us. At 6.30 a.m. we were back at the Black Sea and collected our suitcases from a friend of Lasha's again. The cab took us to the Hotel Alphabet, the best hotel in the region. It costs 80 euros per person including breakfast. We stayed one night and took the same cab back to Tibilis the next day, where we stayed in the same guesthouse again. We hung our clothes on the washing lines in the courtyard and after dinner together in a Georgian restaurant, we said our final goodbyes to Lasha, who promised to join us on the Sbrinz next July.

 

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