From Tusheti to Khevsureti through Borbalo pass

The ideal pick for hikers, who want to cross from Tusheti to Khevsureti and look for something more remote than Atsunta trail.


Slender daughter of Shatili,
I have chosen you,
and will take you from Shatili to Tusheti
on a horse, flying over giant rocks.
I will hold you on the top of Borbalo mountain,
and protect from rain with a shepherd's cloak.
Wash your eyes with morning dew,
and dress you in a dress made from dandelions.

Erisioni, Shatilis asulo

Overview

Crossing of Borbalo pass is the ideal pick for hikers, who want to cross from Tusheti to Khevsureti and look for something more difficult and remote than Atsunta trail. Trek follows the valley of Tushetis Alazani, then climbs onto the ridge and heads northwest, towards Datvisjvari pass.
This trek is also quite unique, as for almost two days, you will walk right at the top of the main ridge of Greater Caucasus at the elevation of about 3000m. Also, it´s very little visited - during the four days after our departure from Verkhovani, we haven´t met a single tourist.

Duration: 5 days

If you want to include also Khakhabo, Mutso and Shatili, trek can be easily prolonged to the seven days.

Difficulty: Hard

Trek is 76 km long, remote and also quite difficult.

Accomodation:

You will need a tent.

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How to get to Ghele:

Ghele is the meadow about 8km behind Omalo, at the place where the car road to Dartlo reaches its highest point and starts descending into Pirikiti Alazani valley (not all drivers will know it by name). It´s possible to get here on foot (the route follows standard Omalo - Shatili trail and the distance is about 5 km if you take the shortcut through the forest), but often, it´s more convenient to hire a driver. Drive from Omalo to Ghele costs 50-70 GEL. The route to Omalo is described in other articles about Tusheti, such as here

How to leave Datvisjvari pass:

Trail recorded in GPS log ends at the road to Shatili, a bit below Datvisjvari pass. Leaving this place is quite tricky as there is no public transport or immediate possibility to hire a car. You will have to walk, hitchhike or call a driver by phone.
If you want to make it to Shatili and have enough time - there is an interesting alternative. Don´t follow the trail all the way to Datvisjvari pass, instead, in Chanchakistskali valley switch to the trail heading to Khakhabo and Mutso. This way, the trek from Omalo to Shatili takes about 7 days.


Description of the route

Day 1: Ghele - Verkhovani (9 hours, 21km)

Trail starts on the Ghele meadow - in the past, it was the place where the elders of local communities met and discussed local issues. If you are coming from Omalo, turn left from the main road, onto the smaller dirt road going uphill. Climb onto the small elevation, where the road disappears. As you can see now, main ridge here bends to the north. So does the trail, so prepare for a short, but steep climb.

Luckily, the footpath is still visible. As a bonus, this section of the trail is marked by “2 white stripes” marking (colored stripe in the middle will be added once they agree upon its color).

After climbing some 200 elevation meters, you should make it to the top of the ridge. Walk here becomes much more pleasant. It alternately leads on both sides of the ridge, close to the top and provides splendid views of both river valleys. Finally, it circumvents the Sakkhevi mountain from the right side and emerges onto a small, rocky viewpoint.

Here, the character of the terrain changes drastically - pointy mountain range is replaced by wide flat meadows, used for grazing. That also means that the trail disappears again (as well as the marked trail, which turns left to Dochu village), but Pitsilanta hill, your next destination, is right ahead of you. Walk towards it through the meadows, past the ruined shelter. You don´t even need to climb it, remains of the old road can be found to the left of the actual hill.

Behind Pitsilanta, the trail is pretty straightforward - just keep walking northwest on the top of the ridge. The trail goes up and down all the time, but nothing extraordinary. Soon, it turns a bit to the right, then to the left and suddenly see Nakle-Kholi pass ahead (and below). If you have time, I recommend climbing nearby Makratela hill (3100m) for even better views. Then head to the pass, path at this section is well-trodden again.

Nakle-Kholi pass is flat and wide, there is even a pointer showing the direction to Verkhovani. Start walking in that direction - path heads to the southwest, you will even see marking from time to time. Then comes the tricky part - there is a spot where you will need to leave pleasant, slowly descending trail heading to the west and start the sharp descent. The place is hard to describe and poorly marked, use GPS or keep in mind that you can’t get too far away from the river valley to the south because you will eventually have to end up there.

Follow a barely visible trail to the south, it soon becomes obvious again. It descends to the river and leads to the abandoned village of Dadikurta. Below the village, it turns into a serpentine and descends to the small river, with the forest at the other side.

Next section is short but may take a while as it’s necessary to cross the stream three times. First crossing is doable without getting wet, but the remaining two are not so easy - if you have sandals, I recommend to put them on. Finally, after third crossing, the trail climbs a bit uphill, circumvents the hillside and enters Verkhovani village.

The village is built on a steep slope, they are only a few places to camp (moreover, ground is very rocky). If you think you deserve to sleep in the bed after today’s effort, you can do so in the “Guesthouse Lamata” (+995 99 70 03 78)

Day 2: Verkhovani - Tushetis Alazani valley 6 hours

Descend to the river and cross the bridge to the main road. Turn right, walk some 50 meters and turn left onto the wide track climbing into the forest. Follow it for a few kilometers - it doesn’t follow Tushetis Alazani valley, but turns back and emerges in the valley of its small, nameless right tributary.

The valley is interwoven by many trails, as several groups of shepherds spend summers here. Pick one and head to its upper part, more or less staying on the contour line, to the west of the valley bottom. Pass the last shepherds hut and head to a pass between two small elevations. From here, view of Tushetis Alazani valley opens up in front of you.

Trail from here is pretty straightforward. It navigates the valley, mostly on the contour line some 100 meters above the river - there are also several climbs and descents, but nothing really serious.

The trail alternately crosses meadows and forests with many smaller streams. It is very easy to follow, as it´s frequently used by local shepherds - on your way, you will pass several of their huts. But places for camping are limited.

Eventually, you will see a big shepherds camp far ahead, at a place, where the river bends to the west. This will be your camping spot - but it takes several more hours to actually get there. During the last hour of walk to the camp, we saw three vipers, so watch your step.

Shepherds at the camp are producing “guda” - traditional Tushetian cheese, aging in sheepskin bags. They are friendly, we used their water source and got a large piece of cheese as a gift. Right behind a camp is a flat meadow, an ideal place to camp.

Day 3: Tushetis Alazani valley - below Borbalo pass 6 hours

Continue walking up the valley - after 10 minutes you will come to the bridge and cross to the left bank of the river.

For the rest of the day, you will be following the river, heading to the upper part of the valley. But today, unlike the previous day, you will walk quite close to the river. You will pass several chalets of local shepherds - thanks to them, the trail is well-trodden and easy to spot.

Then, in the early afternoon, comes the biggest surprise of the day - a brand new tourist shelter with 12 bunks and toilets built close to the Kvavistskali river. Not sure why it was built right here as almost no hikers use this trail, but let´s be thankful for what we have.

A shelter is a good place for a lunch. Few miles later, near the confluence of Tushetis Alazani with Samruli river, the valley gets much wider. Here, we find another shepherd´s hut and few streams to cross (to cross the first one, use the bridge hidden by the hut). Further up the valley, the river enters a small canyon so you have to climb a bit uphill to bypass it.

When you descend to the river again, the trail almost disappears. From here, it’s more comfortable to walk in the riverbed, it’s pretty wide. You may be forced to ford a river several times, but here, it’s already quite small. Soon, we come to the last hut in the valley - it belongs to an old shepherd named Ilo.

Your camping spot lies almost 1km behind this hut, on the right bank of the river behind its another smaller tributary. The riverbed is rocky and slopes are quite steep here, we had to climb a bit to find a good place to build our tents.

Also, the situation with water is quite complicated. Ilo says that the water from the smaller tributary is good, but we saw his sheep grazing high above around it, so we are not so sure about it. Luckily, there are several small underground springs emerging around, but it takes some effort to find and clean them.

Day 4: Below Borbalo pass - Mariamtsminda 7 hours

From the campsite, start climbing uphill, while staying close to the small tributary of Tushetis Alazani. There is a solid chance that Ilo will wait for you there and show you the way. If he is not there, you need to climb onto the small ridge to your right. Look for a wooden pole sticking from the ground and try to reach it - it lies some 350 elevation meters above the riverbed.

From the pole, the trail becomes more comfortable - remains of the old cart road can be clearly seen. You will be heading to the northwest, slowly getting closer to the top of the ridge on your left. Finally, the trail disappears in the steep shale field and once you cross it, you will appear on the top.

It´s too soon to celebrate. Mountain ridge separating Tusheti from Khevsureti lies further to the west, this is just a side ridge. Follow the ridge for a while. In front of you, it rises again and connects the main ridge. There lies the mountain Patara (Lesser) Borbalo. You can climb it, but more comfortable is just to circumvent it from the left side.

Borbalo pass lies some 500m south of Patara Borbalo and is marked by numerous stone pyramids. Once you reach this spot, you can´t keep walking on the ridge, there is a steep drop ahead. Look to the right, you should see a small trail below. Follow it for a while. Now, you see the deep valley of Andaki river right ahead and further to the left, approximately at your elevation, is the Andaki pass . Traverse towards it - there is no trail, but the terrain is not hard to navigate. While walking this section, we saw a man with a horse walking in the opposite direction some 100 meters above us, so maybe there is some real trail.

At the Andaki pass (2877m), the trail reappears. From here, you will be mostly traversing the main ridge - rarely on top, usually some 100-200 meters below.

The section behind Andaki pass is quite flat - after about 2km, you will come to a small pond with a spring. This is the only source of the water we found right of the ridge. The area is also flat enough to build a few tents.

Trail then climbs some 100m and leads you to the small pass. From there, the view of Mariamtsminda mountain (3104m) opens in front of you. You will have to pass it from the right side - there is nowhere to get lost, just follow the ridge. To pass by the mountain, it´s better to lose some elevation and walk on the lower, more flat terrain instead of trying to traverse steep, rocky slope. Then you will cross another small “pass” and come to the small flat place.

If you are walking the whole trek as it´s posted here, this is probably most optimal camping place, as it lies halfway between 3rd camp and Datvisjvari pass. However, there is no water.

Day 5: Mariamtsminda - below Datvisjvari pass 6,5 hours

From the camp site, keep walking to the east. Trail is here well-visible and slowly leads you to the another small pass (marked as Foggy pass in the GPS file, 2969m).

Cross the pass, turn right and traverse the hillside again. This section is a bit problematic, as the trail disappears again and the terrain is quite steep. And what´s worse, there are several deep gullies in your way. Crossing them is difficult and exhausting, it´s much better to climb a bit uphill so you will walk above them. Eventually, you will find here also some kind of a trail, which will eventually lead you a bit down, onto the wide and relatively flat terrain.

The trail then passes unremarkable Borola hill (2954) and turns north, towards Chanchakhismta hill (3024m). It the last mountaintop on your route so it´s worth visiting - but if you don´t want to, you can easily bypass it. From Chanchakhismta, descend west to the small pass and from here, descend to the Chanchakistskali valley (not directly from the lowest point of the pass, but continue a bit to the northwest and find a descent route there). Trail is quite obvious, it leads on the left side of the valley. Eventually, you will reach the bottom of the valley, where two larger streams come together.

If you plan to continue to Khakhabo, a bit downstream is a good place to camp. If you plan to head to Datvisjvari pass, right ahead of you, on a hill behind a left tributary, you can see a serpentine climbing uphill. Climb the steep hill, the trail then turns northwest and leads you to the Chanchakhi pass (2849m). Beautiful views open in front of you.

From the pass, descend directly to the west, on the right bank of the river. Trail will lead you to the southernmost point of the road connecting Shatili with Datvisjvari pass, on a spot, where it sharply turns to the west.




The morning below Andaki pass Climb to the Borbalo pass Trek starts at the Ghele meadow Below Pirikita range Flat section of Pirikita range Heading to Nakle-Kholi pass Descent to the ruins of Dadikurta Stream below Dadikurta Leaving Verkhovani The valley of shepherds Herds inn Tusheti Small valley in Tusheti The first steps in Tushetis Alazani valley Traversing Trail ahead Heading up the valley Tushetis Alazani valley Landslide Tushetis Alazani valley Tushetis Alazani valley Tourist shelter in Tushetis Alazani valley Upper Tushetis Alazani valley Heading up the valley Trail ends, time to ford the river Behind Ilos hut View from the third campsite Climb to Borbalo pass Short break by the marker Climb to the Borbalo pass Climb to Borbalo pass Heading to Andaki pass Borbalo pass Behind Andaki pass On the ridge Towards Mariamtsminda mountain Traverse of Greater Caucasus Towards the Foggy pass The last photo before the Foggy pass earned its name Shepherds hut below

Copyright © 2016 Jozef Antala. All rights reserved

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