Tag Archives: hiking

Mestia, Georgia

In October I visited the Svaneti region of Georgia.  I was urged by many to see this beautiful mountainous region of Georgia before the weather turned.  I had read about Svaneti before, through an aged travel book.  It’s known as a remote part of an already remote country, secluded high up in the Caucus Mountains.  The area is celebrated for it’s natural beauty.  The Svans, as the people are known, have a distinct culture which stands apart from the rest of Georgia.  In recent years, tourism has been at the center of the small economy. Serving as the center of tourism is the village of Mestia.

In the past getting to Mestia was an uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous progression. The road was a nightmare.  As recent as a decade ago, according to some sources, tourists were routinely robbed.  Now, although the road has been improved and  banditry is no longer practiced, getting to Mestia can still become a bit of an adventure.

The most common way to get into Mestia is by boarding a marshrutka (old bus) from Zugdidi. Depending on the driver and barring any breakdowns, it could take four to five hours to arrive in Mestia. Our bus broke down, and we were transferred to another one.

Mestia serves as the hub for activity in the area.  As it was just in the last few years the road to Mestia was rebuilt by the government, the area still feels like its under construction.  The sound of hammers and saws can be heard throughout Mestia.  New buildings, with faux rustic facades, are popping up everywhere.  The network of tour guides, lodging, and eateries is growing.  Despite all the forward momentum, Mestia is still a developing destination, with certain gaps in convenience and/or comfort.  However, this fact may hold some of the charm of Mestia.  It’s not like any other mountain town out there.  It will be interesting to see what happens to the area as the amount of visitors increases.

As a result of the past isolation, Mestia has remained well preserved, many of the ancient buildings perfectly intact. The most iconic of these buildings are the Svan defense towers, some of which have been standing since the Middle Ages.

In the two days I had to visit Mestia I was blessed with perfect fall weather.  I chose to spend an entire day hiking to the Chalaadi Glacier, which was entirely worth it.  [If you are a potential visitor to Mestia reading this post, GO TO THE GLACIER]  Leaving early in the morning I walked through Mestia towards the airport, and continued along a dirt road for two hours stopping liberally to take pictures and stand in complete amazement at the views.

The road runs next to the Mestiachala river and culminates at a suspension bridge which takes a person across the swiftly moving glacial waters.  From here, a narrow hiking trail winds through thick forest taking a person to the rocky terminal moraine of the glacier (maybe an hour of blissful hiking).  There are no signs but the way is intuitive – head for the giant slab of ice in the mountains.

After wayfinding through an expanse of glacial boulders and rock, it’s possible to walk right up to the “white ice” of the glacier.  A person can place their hands on the toe of the glacier, but watch out for falling debris.  I’ve hiked to a number of glaciers in the States and elsewhere, but the Chalaadi may be one of my favorites.

Back in Mestia, I sampled the local spring water, which is free flowing from a spigot in the center of the community park.  Any visitor to Georgia will soon discover the pride Georgians hold in local water sources, as well as the prevalence of mineral water.  The water in Mestia, now even months later, remains some of the my favorite I’ve tried.

With tourism in Mestia only expected to increase, hopefully the area can retain it’s heritage and charm.  As it is now, Mestia is an enchanting place to visit, but for how long it will remain this way is unknown.

Impressions on almost hiking Erie Mine

The hike to Erie Mine has a bad reputation.  A few years ago someone attempted to hike up to the bunkhouse and got what mountain people call “cliffed out”.  That’s the human equivalent to a cat climbing a tree and not being able to get down.  Very steep rock walls can be like that.  A person can hoist themselves up, but then realize with dread there’s no getting down.  The unlucky hiker a few years ago got to spend a night at hotel Erie, perched on the rocks until morning when a helicopter team performed an evacuation.

The fact that someone had to be heli evacuated is testament to the challenges of hiking Erie.  For one, it’s steep.  Secondly, there’s no established trail.  Ask half a dozen people who’ve hiked it, you’ll get half a dozen versions of convoluted directions.  You might even get a crudely drawn map, as I did.  The directions will also come with certain disclaimers.  Don’t hike it alone.  Avoid the tram line terrain.  Always stay to the right.  Take a left at the giant rock shaped like a bear’s head?  etc.

So I set out a few weeks ago to explore the Erie Mine.  To get to the base of the mine, before all the “fun” vertical climbing, a person must walk out about 3 miles on the Root Glacier Trail.  Then start the nerve shredding catwalk climb up the ridge before the tram line.  Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.

Being that I hiked alone I took my sweet time, pausing before advancing anything even remotely precipitous.  I found out immediately that I didn’t quite LIKE the terrain.  Maybe I’m too much of a flatlander, but the steepness of this terrain weirded me out: quaking knees, machine gun heart beat, vertigo.  I climbed up until I was parallel with the bunkhouse, but obviously on the wrong gulch, ridge, whatever, and then turned around.  I’m pretty sure I was hiking on a game trail, but then again, maybe not.

So, all the talk is true.  Erie Mine is steep.  It shouldn’t be hiked alone.  The route is an enigma.  Plan of attack for next time – go with someone who has hiked to the bunkhouse before.  Here are some pictures from the Erie Mine adventure.

campsite along the Root Glacier trail

looking down on the glacier

the Stairway Icefall

the bunkhouse

Root Glacier

What do you do with giant glaciers?  Go hiking on them.  Take some pictures.  Fly around them.  Maybe designate the whole thing into a park.  Use the ice for mixed drinks.  Here are some select images from this summers many Root Glacier adventures.  Pictures on Ice, shaken not stirred. 

Jumbo Mine hike

In my opinion, one of the most rewarding/beautiful hikes accessible from the area.  This will take a person through it all – switchbacks with views of the Root Glacier, canopied fern lined trails, stream crossings, flowered ridgelines, and scree fields at the top.  At the crown, situated underneath Castle Peak, there are panoramic vistas of the surrounding area as well as lots of mining remnants

There is one disclaimer though: the hike can be a brute with an almost 4,000 ft elevation gain in three miles.  This makes a seven mile roundtrip that is well worth it, for those willing to sweet a little bit.