From Kistani to Akhielli through Kalotana pass

Difficult, but very scenic trek navigating remote northern parts of Khevsureti.

This remote and beautiful 2-day trek truly presents the vastness of Caucasus - most of the time, one can enjoy views of countless, huge mountains. Because of very few tourists and no shepherds, usually there is no path at all and one has to choose his own.
Trek starts by the Kistani tower, climbs up the ridge and follows it all the way to Kalotana pass, from where it descends to the valley of Asa river. The first day is the one being more difficult, but also very rewarding, the second day is easier but less interesting.
Three important remarks: 1. Don´t try this trek on rainy or stormy days, because most of the time you walk on the beautiful, but very exposed ridge at a high altitude.
2. Generally, there is a lot of water in Caucasus, but this is not the case as you will spend a whole day at the top of its main ridge. Especially, be prepared that on the first night, at camping spot, there is only snow to melt.
3. You really need to have a map and compass, ideally also a GPS device. Walking on the ridge sounds easy, but there is a lot of valleys, ridges and nobody to help in case you would get lost.

Duration: 2 days

If you don't want to carry extra water, you have to spend about 12 hours on the first day to get to a reasonable campsite with a river nearby.

Difficulty: Hard

There is no path most of the time, so you have to walk through the grass or traverse quite steep screes on the slopes.
Trek is also quite long - from Kistani to Khalotana, there is approximately 17,5 km with over 1000m ascent, and some tiring traverses. On the second day, it is easier but still you have to walk another 14,5 km and descend more than 1000m (on a path mostly leading through the bushes).

When to go:

Best time is August (probably June and July are also OK, but we haven't checked it) . August is hot, but not so rainy.

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On the first night you have to sleep in your own tent. There is a possibility to sleep in a „guesthouse” at the end of the trek - in Akhieli.

How to get to Kistani:

On foot from Shatili, but the road is long and dull; you can try to hitchhike or pay for a 4WD (it costs up to 100 GEL per car, 4 people).
If you want to come from Tbilisi, marshrutka to Shatili departs on Wednesdays and Saturdays from Didube station. It leaves at 9. am, but it's good to come 30-60 minutes earlier as it's almost always full. Ask the driver to drop you by the Kistani tower.

How to leave Akhielli:

Only on foot (maybe on a horse) to Juta or Roshka. From Juta you can arrange a transport (50 GEL per car to Stepantsminda. In Roshka, there is no public transport, but there are some guesthouses where you can arrange a jeep. Of course, you can also keep walking and follow the blue trail either to Chaukhi pass or to the main road.
In 2017, a new road connecting Akhielli and Roshka will be finished so it should be possible to leave Akhielli village also by car. If there will be any to hire, that's another question.

Description of the route

Trail parameters

Distance 30,8 km
Trail type: AB trip
Max. elevation: 3116m
Min. elevation: 1606m
Total climb: 2197m
Total descent: 2427m

Day 1: Kistani - Kalotana pass distance 15.7 km, 1770m and 806m

The day starts with a steep ascent, altogether more than a 1000m. There is no marked path, most of the time you walk in grass, so you have to be careful and go in a right direction – head towards the ruins of the medieval towers. Then you have to continue, always staying on the ridge, until you reach the first peak (we marked it as Lucia Peak in the gpx log, it has no name on the maps; it has 3068m in GPS trail and 3061 on maps).

The views from the top, in a good weather, are astonishingly beautiful and good news - generally there are not many more ascents. From this point on, for the most of the day, a little path sometimes shows up and unexpectedly dissapears. You simply continue with the ridge, which takes two slight turns right. In this area, about 30min from Lucia Peak, you can spot a water spring.

After leaving Anatorisghele pass behind, the trail turns slightly left and on the right hand you can see quite impressive Tsroli peak (prominent, covered with snow even in the middle of the summer, seems a little sinister). After going through something like a quasi-plateau, you start a traverse of a slope, which is partly covered with a scree. Trekking poles really come in handy, this (not long) part will be uncomfortable for people sensitive to steep slopes or exposition.

At this point you can already spot a green trail to Tanie lake, which adjoins the route. It is a good idea to head towards it and then start walking its path - it is easy to follow and leads through streams. If you plan to sleep near the Kalotana pass, than this streams are the last convenient source of water. After you finish the ascent, stay careful, the green trail heads north to the Tanie lake and you should go left. You once again start walking with a ridge. You can run around the hardest, rocky parts of the ridge going to its left and traversing the slope.

It is hard not to spot the Kalotana pass – it is huge and stunning. There are quite many places good for camping (pretty flat) beneath it, however the only water source here is the snow. If you are tired, don't be picky – after going through the flat parts, watery meadows start, full of bush and stones.

If you still have some energy left, or you want to have an access to the fresh water at the camping site, than you will need about 2,5h to find another place suitable for setting up the tent. It is near the river, but in a grass, and not as flat as camping spots beneath Kalotana.

Day 2: Kalotana pass - Akhielli distance 14.3 km, 427m and 1621m

The second day begins with a descent – about 1300m alltogether, but the slope is not very steep so it isn't very tiring for the legs. Right after you go pass the flat parts, just below Khalotana, you can spot a path that leads through dense (sometimes more than two meters high) bush.

There is no other way down and please believe – this one is comfortable, but once again it is good to have trekking poles and also clothes with the long sleeve. After the river shows up, stick to its right bank all the way down until you come across the bridge, that gets you to the other side of Asa river. Then, the path turns left and from now on the trail is marked red with the markings which are usually visible. It leads on the right bank of the Asa river, which we cross at the Amgha village (no shops or official sleeping places).

Go through the village and head to Akhieli following (more or less) the electricity network (the markings are not that consistent around here, so the best option is to find your own way, sometimes you can use the streambed). In Akhieli you can sleep in a „hotel” (dorm in a separate building) or buy bread and cheese (bread – 3GEL, >0,5 kg cheese – 7GEL, very tasty), as well as have coffe or tea.

For camping, we recommend to leave the village behind and set up about 500m further, near the path, at the river bank. There are only few people there, views are beautiful and the terrain is flat. Water is available only from the river (the stream before Akhieli is not very clean), we drank it boiled, and we are still alive (September 2016).

Note: I know a group of hikers which from Kalotana pass didn't descend into the valley to the north, but followed main ridge further to the west, to the Arkhotistavi pass. I am not recommending it as this route is rocky and exposed, could be very dangerous during a storm. But in case someone is curious whether it's doable - yes, it is.

This article was written by Polish hikers Julia and Olgierd, who finished the trail in summer of 2016. Thanks a lot!
Photos were provided by them, by Jana and Martin they met on the road and also by Vojtek.

Mountains near Kalotana pass Main ridge near Kistanistavi peak Mouth of Kistani valley Towers of Kistani Leaving Kistani Looking back at Kistani Ridge near Anatorisghele pass The valley below Rocky ridge before Kalotana pass Horses in Kalotana valley Kalotana valley Overgrown bottom part of the valley Mountain above Akhielli Kalotana pass elevation

Copyright © 2016 Jozef Antala. All rights reserved

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