I love mornings below Mt. Kazbeg. At home, I tend to fight with my alarm clock, but here after first “beep” I jump out of the bed and run towards the window. We are lucky, the sky is clear. The valley is still covered in shadows, but somewhere behind a mountain wall, a sun has risen and is illuminating the top of the mountain by its rays. Unforgettable sight - I could sit whole day like this, just watching.
Dawn over Kazbeg
However, we can’t afford such luxury. We pack, say goodbye to our landlady and at 7.am get into an arranged car. We leave Stepanstsminda village to the south and after few miles
turn east into Sno valley. The valley is wide at its mouth, but rapidly narrows and after a while we are navigating a bumpy road winding in a steep hillside.
Below us roars a river, other streams gush down the opposite hillside. We don't talk to the driver too much, basically only about Slovak football league. He is into betting so he ask me about
latest transfers, but I can't help him too much - he knows about our league more than me.
After almost an hour, we arrive into Juta village. Behind hills emerge rocky spires of Chaukhi massif, but for today, we have planned another hike. We set off by the river to the east and I hope, that today trail will be also nice and my companions wouldn’t regret that I diverted them from Chaukhi route.
The beginning looks good - the sun shines, water gurgles, there are countless shades of green everywhere around us. The trail is even marked - paths in the whole Khevsureti region was marked few years ago by Polish trekkers.
On the red trail
Far away in the distance, I see a cabin, herd of cows and - not believing my eyes - a portable toilet. What? Are Georgian shepherds so spoiled, that when they in spring move their herds into the mountains, they carry portable toilets with them? Everything is clarified when out of the hut emerges an armed soldier, takes our passports and “does paperwork” for a half an hour. We are in the border zone.
After the successful clearance, we continue walking up the valley. Suddenly, our paths ends and only an arrow, painted on a rock, points viciously to the left, into the flooded stream. Have those Poles lost their mind? We don’t dare to cross here - the current is strong, water level well above our knees and riverbed is covered by big, pointy rocks. For a while, we climb on the slope and finally find a place, where “it could work”. We are three guys, so we can divide roles during river crossing - one guy is fording the river, another is ready to help him and the third one is recording everything on camera and prays for some funny accident.
However, there is no involuntary bathing, so we carry on. The valley in front of us end in a mountain wall and tourist markings lead us up the smaller valley to the north. Trail starts to visibly ascend and we finally feel those 1200 meters of elevation we need to overcome today. When we around noon start to climb into Arkhoti pass, I am often out of breath. And as always when I climb to the pass, three times I celebrate that I am almost there and three times I find out, that it´s still pretty far away. But we are that much happier when we shortly after 1.pm reach the Arkhotistavi pass (3287m).
Up the valley
Climb to the pass
Below Arkhoti pass
At the pass
Looking back at Juta valley
From the pass opens up the view on Arkhoti valley, one of the most isolated regions of Georgia. We see only a small part of it, as the valley few miles to the east sharply bends to the north. Somewhere there lie villages Chimgha, Amgha, and Akhielli. Because of the complicated terrain they are still not connected by a road - by car you can make it only to Roshka village and from there to Arkhoti it´s another day of walking. Because of this villages face depopulation, only a few families stay here during the whole year.
The Georgian government is currently trying to change this situation - Arkhoti lies by Russian border and is therefore of great strategic importance. Project to build 25km long dirt road is already approved and first few kilometers have already been finished. The government would like to finish it by the end of 2017. Not sure if they will make it on time, but one thing is clear - if someone wants to experience Arkhoti untouched by heavy mechanisms, he shouldn´t wait too long.
View to the other side
Upper Arkhoti valley is one of the most magical places I have seen in Georgia. From the surrounding hills flow dozens of small streams and eventually merge into one bigger river. This river carved into a bottom of a valley a beautiful canyon. We often walk on its edges and below our feet roar hectoliters of water. The whole valley is very ragged, full of rock formations, streams, and greens. It´s hard to describe like this, I will rather leave it to photos.
Camping in Arkhoti valley
Valley bends to the north
By late afternoon we come to the junction - our path to Arkhoti is joined by another one, leading from Roshka. I would love to keep walking and see as much as possible, but it´s already quite late and next day we are heading for Roshka. Also, there is a great, flat camping spot right near the junction so we drop our backpacks and prepare a camp. Well, friends do it - I make the one-hour walk down the valley. The scenery is nice, but no match to the places we have seen earlier this day. I also encounter a German family, our first tourists in a day.
I return to the camp. We eat “potato mash with sausage” for dinner and get into tents. Darkness fell upon the valley, the wind outside is howling. I feel sorry that the next day we will already sleep in civilization, but I have yet no idea, how I am mistaken.