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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