Great day hike which climbs onto the prominent ridge lying northeast of Mestia.
Probably the best day hike doable from Mestia. It reminds a hike to Koruldi lakes, but is better in every aspect - the ridge you will climb on is not flat, but very narrow so the views are better. There is no road and no jeeps, only a narrow trail and sometimes not even that. And since the are area is not used for grazing, you will see countless flowers instead of tons of cowshit. Of course, there are also a few cons - it takes a while to get to the foot of the ridge long. Also, there is nowhere to hide once up there so pay attention to the weather forecast.
This hike can be also incorporated into Mestia - Ushguli trek (with sleepover around Lakhiri instead of Zhabeshi). However, the resulting route would be much more difficult compared to the classic one.
Duration: 6-8 hours
Depending on how high you will climb.
Difficulty: Moderate / Hard
The hike will be as difficult as you will make it since you can turn back anytime. But let´s say that if you climb to 2750m, the difficulty is Moderate and if to 3100m or above, it is Hard.
From Zugdidi: Marshrutkas to Mestia leave from Zugdidi train station every day. The first one departs around 6:30 a.m, after the arrival of the night train from Tbilisi, but there should be several others before noon. The last one usually departs at 14:30. The trip takes about 3-4 hours (1-hour break included) and the price is usually 20 GEL per person.
From Tbilisi: In my opinion, the best option is the night train to Zugdidi and marshrutka from there. Train departs from Tbilisi at 21:45 and reaches Zugdidi at 6:05 am. Price of the ticket is 30 GEL, tickets for sleeper berths can be bought in advance at biletebi.ge website (the official web is railway.ge, but that never worked for me).
If you want to save time, you could also consider a flight - there are 4 flights a week from Natakhtari airport near Tbilisi, operated by VanillaSky company . You would see Caucasus from a completely different perspective and for 65 GEL it´s quite a bargain. On the downside, they ocassionally get canceled because of the weather and during the summer, you should book at least month in advance since they get booked up pretty fast. For more info, pls check this excellent post about the flight (covers also flight from Kutaisi).
The last option is the direct marshrutka - it departs at 6:00 from the area in front of Railway Station, come at least 30 minutes earlier to catch a spot. The price is 30 GEL, so it´s quite cheap, but I can´t recommned it since this uncomfortable journey takes grueling 9-10 hours.
From Kutaisi: The most reliable way to get to Mestia is the use the service of Georgian bus (they have a stand at the airport) - the price is 40 GEL per person. You ask also ask some taxi drivers loitering at the arrivals hall, they may be willing to give you even a better price.
From Batumi: Marshrutka is the only option, it departs from the main bus station. Since you will have switch the bus in Zugdidi (you may have to wait for several hours there), this ride takes a better part of the day. The first bus departs at 8:00 am, then there should be another one at 9:30 am.
Marshrutkas to Zugdidi depart every day in the morning. There are usually a few more during the day, depending on the demand.
In a high season there should also be daily marshrutkas to Tbilisi and Batumi, departing in the morning). For actual timetables and booking of tickets,
please visit Bus Office near the new gate leading to Seti Square.
Description of the route
The hike starts on Mestia's main square. Leaving the square through the eastern gate, take the first street to the right/south. Follow it down to the river. After the bridge, turn left. The trail is now marked and climbs slowly passing the Hotel Tetnuldi and later a row of wooden chalets to leave Mestia behind.
After a while on a large dirt track, you will see some ruined buildings ahead. Before, turn right for a short steep section which quickly turns north-east again to climb more moderately. The trail goes through the light forest and over pastures from which you will have a nice view of Mt. Ushba (if the weather is good).
The track will bring you to another hiking pointer. It navigates you onto the small trail leading to the short but steep section through the forest. You should reconnect the road in less than 10 minutes. Here, turn right and walk another 300 meters until you see a huge meadow on your left.
Here the trail leaves the classic Mestia - Ushguli route. Turn to the left onto the meadow and walk towards the small ridge at its opposite end. Follow it till it ends - there is a small fence with a gate. Here you will join another road - turn right and follow it for about 200 meters as it traverses the hillside.
Then it bends around the ridge and the scenery changes. To the right, you will see large sloping pastures, to the left is the forest. Your goal here is to find a small trail which will eventually lead you onto the Chkhuti ridge. On the left side a road, there are a few small pines as well as one big one. The trail snakes between them - it´s not too obvious but if you know what are you looking for, you will find it. It will lead you through the forest, essentially running in parallel with the larger road.
After 200 meters, it will emerge on a small meadow with first views on Tetnuldi mountain. Walk to the top of the meadow and look left between the trees, the trail continues here. Follow it uphill until the forest ends. From here, start climbing through the meadow towards the elevation you see above. Once you are there, you can congratulate yourself - you are on the Chkhuti ridge (elevation 2300m).
From here, the path is pretty straightforward - just follow the ridge. The trail will take you higher and higher and offer great panoramic views. To the left, you will see Ushba and Chatyn-Tau, to the right the pyramid of Tetnuldi and Gestola. Ahead lies the Gvalda range - Chkhuti ridge heads towards its second highest point, Ahalgazrdoba (3702m, means youth in Georgian but is often referenced by its original name Peak Komsomol). To the left of this peak lies prominent Banguariani (3804m) and mountains Gvalda and Latraldashi.
Enough watching, let´s do some more walking. Follow the ridge and in less than an hour, you will reach the first prominent viewpoint, the grassy elevation at 2750m. It´s no shame to turn back here, but if you can, I recommend to keep walking - you should be able to see your next objective, three stone cairns higher at the ridge at 3100m.
It takes about 45 minutes to reach the cairns. On your way, you will pass another place suitable for a campsite - it´s quite large flat depression where you can find some snow even in the early August. From here, it´s short, but quite steep climb to the cairns.
Three cairns are quite a good spot to turn back. You can continue even further up the ridge (there should be one more cairn not far ahead) but keep in mind that you also have to hike all the way back.
To return to Mestia, return the same way you came. But if you would like to continue to Ushguli, follow the ridge heading from the three cairns to the southeast and descent south to Zhamushi village. Haven’t scouted that route yet, but it should be doable - the first section may be a bit rough but then starts a normal trail. Also, this may be a good escape route for people who overestimated themselves and after making it to the top, they feel too wasted to return to Mestia - it should be possible to get a driver in Zhamushi.