Monthly Archives: June 2016

Hiking to the glacier

A glacial experience

Mestia, in the western north of Georgia is one of the ‘must visit’ places for tourists based on a number of reasons. First perhaps is as stopping off point for trips to the highest permanently inhabited village in Europe, Ushguli , (despite ongoing arguments about whether Georgia is in Europe of more Central Asia).

The other is for what is reportedly some magnificent hiking. While most hikes are multi-day and being in the country suitably equipped with proper hiking gear and tents would allow full exploitation of the region, I was limited to single day hikes.

Pretty view down the valley
Pretty view down the valley

One was called ‘the cross walk’, a solid two hour walk up a very steep incline or a longer bust easier walk up a road for eight kilometres to a religious cross. Further on there are three small lakes that afford great views. Unfortunately the weather was not conducive to this (despite looking forward to it)  so an option was to walk to a nearby glacier.

The glacier itself can be reached after a four hour walk from town, passing through some quiet eroded areas and places where quarrying of the river stones was being undertaken, plus past a new hotel in an oddly less than desirable location and certainly not within easy walking distance of town.

An option was to take an overpriced taxi to the suspension bridge that marked the one-hour each way walk proper. With the weather very changeable, from scattered cloud to raining and cloudy again in the space of an hour, this was my preferred option.

The taxi was a small Nissan Cube and three of us piled in. The nature of the road was more like a track (as is typical in Georgia – even in towns) and the poor vehicle bumped and scraped its way over the rocks and forded the small streams that ran down from the surrounding hills. Those who opted for the longer walk looked on in either envy or contempt at our choice to miss the first three hours walk.

The start point was a well-built suspension footbridge that started next to an impromptu little coffee shop made out of local materials and powered by a generator.

suspension bridge Mestia
In suspense over the suspension bridge!

The track itself was clear and marked by orange and white pain on rocks, something that would be keenly sought when the track entered areas of jumbled stone and no discernible pathway. For the first 20 minutes the path climbed through a delightful conifer forest with the ground covered in moss and some small purple flowers.

A delightful walk
A delightful walk
The path ahead
The path ahead

Further on the flora changed to silver birch before eventually petering out as the trail entered the glacial valley proper. While the start of the walk had been through gentle surroundings, now we were in a harsh inhospitable environment of old moraines and tumbling ice-cold water.

Silver birch - bent trunks from growing through the weight of the snow when young?
Silver birch – bent trunks from growing through the weight of the snow when young?
The last line if vegetation
The last line of vegetation

Clambering over rocks and alternating gravel the dirt covered snow tongue of the glacier was finally attained. It was rather insignificant compared to the towering ice further up the valley. My companions opted to climb the final moraine while I took extra photos. An attempt to follow them was abandoned owing to the instability of the rocks and remembering the warning I had read about walking past the (now well passed) end of trail cross.

Glacier debris
Glacier debris
The river emerges from the dirty tongue of the glacier
The river emerges from the dirty tongue of the glacier. Final moraine in background
A big landscape
A big landscape
Colours of the earth
Colours of the earth
the tough of the glacier with a lot of debries
The tongue of the glacier with a lot of debris
Melting time
Melting time
Glacial dreams - the unattainable dream
Glacial dreams – the unattainable dream

While slightly disappointed that the head of the glacier had been unobtainable, the walk was certainly worth the effort to see such a rapid change of landscape and I was happy to have the taxi driver’s number to avoid the three hour walk back to town.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Small world, part of the bigger picture
Fungi - the only specimens seen
Fungi – the only specimens seen
A splash of colour
A splash of colour
the river starts its long and turbulent journey
The river starts its long and turbulent journey
Conifers...love them
Conifers…love them

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A trip to the Great Waterfall at Lagodekhe

With so many rivers one would imagine Georgia is overflowing with waterfalls…and perhaps it is but a relatively few are publicised as tour destinations. Lagodekhe Nature Reserve’s Great Waterfall is one of these. Rather than an organised tour destination, it is up to the independent traveler to make their own way there.

As with many things in Georgia transport is a mite confusing and after some enquiry through the tourist office I learned that the mini bus to Lagadokhe left from near Isani metro station.

Nothing is signposted and even though the mini bus departures are in no way as frenetic as at Didube station, it still took a little investigation to find the ლაგოდეხი bus.

After a short wait till the appointed departure time of 8am, (unlike some mini buses that will only leave when there are enough passengers, no matter how long that takes – once I waited 4 hours) we were away.

While it is a small country and distances seem short, travel always takes a long time, in between stopping to let passengers on and off, roads that are often less than ideal and the ubiquitous cattle and other farm animals wandering the highways with total disregard for traffic. So the10 GEL (about $6.50) fare 150km trip to Lagodekhe took almost three hours.

I grabbed a taxi to head to the park head office and was told by the only English speaking person that I needed to catch a taxi to the other entry. They arranged the taxi and 15GEL (A$9) later found myself at the entry… well a path leading into the forest near a solid metal gate near a building that I guess at times serves as the park office.

I was told to follow the marked path which was successful for the first few hundred metres  and through a lovely forest with birds singing until a maze of small shallow streams left me with half hour of trying different options till I finally progressed enough to make out a trodden pathway heading into some thick bushes.

Finally the path markings began to appear, faded orange paint on rocks. This allowed me to pick up the pace as the round trip was said to take 5-6 hours for the 4.5km each way trip.

Local insects celebrating Spring
Local insects celebrating Spring
Another crossing
Another crossing

The path in some places was clear and at others it laboured its way (as I did) over large river stones and others through thick bushes that had water flowing down as the snow melt was still under way.

The green hills rose steeply on either side of the valley and on a half-dozen occasions the path crossed the rapidly flowing stream, with the aid of temporary bridges constructed from two logs side by side with a flimsy hand rail for balance. Well most. One was a single large log  and another two very thin frail looking logs that crossed a wider, especially turbulent section of the river.

A wide part of the river...totally the wrong way
A wide part of the river…totally the wrong way

I rested here, unwilling to cross on my own as a fall into the maelstrom of water could have ended badly. Fortunately two young Germans arrived and it was onward to what was the most difficult part of the walk, with plenty of clambering up rocky outcrops and making our way along narrow ledges.

A few final cleverly constructed ladder bridges and we arrived at the falls. A long walk that had me feeling quite exhausted, but worth it.

A clever ladder bridge to cross a pool of water
A clever ladder bridge to cross a pool of water
Into the final gorge
Into the final gorge – route marker on right
The Great Falls
The Great Falls

I left the Germans to enjoy the water with the expectation that they would soon catch me on the return leg and headed off back.

Turbulent water
Turbulent water

Within one hundred metres on a narrow and high part of the track running above a small rocky beach I found my feet suddenly out from under me and I was sliding down a near vertical slope grabbing frantically at the undergrowth to try to stop my descent.

Unsuccessful I was airborne momentarily before hitting a large smooth rock to made the final slide to the riverbank. I was luck to land on my feet in a heavy landing that saw my finally half tumble into the river.

Little did I know this would be my landing point
Little did I know this would be my landing point

Fortunately along this beach was where the track eventually descended an a much safer manner….

The trip back was slow and with a limp….I needed to make the last mini bus so waiting for the Germans at the dangerous crossing was not a real option and despite passing a group heading to the falls at this time of the afternoon i was not confident  of another group coming along…. after all, I had done it once right? Luckily I did it twice and not far from the park entry the Germans caught up with me.

The mini bus ride back was one that makes mini bu rides famous. Slow and with absolutely no legroom, despite having no-one sitting next to me it was still impossible to get my legs behind the sits in any manner other than twisted sideways.

As usual finding the entry to the Metro was hard but it was with relief that I took the 130 second escalator ride down to the platform, with only a 400 metre walk at the other end to the comfort of the Zemeli Guest House.

One of the best of the bridges
One of the best of the bridges
River valley
River valley
Crazy German dudes
Crazy German dudes
Greenery near the falls
Greenery near the falls
Vine on a rock
Vine on a rock
Georgian walkers
Georgian walkers