Crossing Khde gorge to Juta

Trek crossing remote Khde valley and offers great views from 3500m high Kibishi pass.


Overview

This route connects Darial gorge with Juta village. It crosses beautiful, wild Khde valley with several waterfalls and offers great views from 3500m high Central Kibishi pass. Even though it lies in the close vicinity of Kazbegi, it´s almost unknown to the broader public. The reason is its difficulty - to get to the Kibishi pass, it´s necessary to cross the glacier so this hike should be classified also as mountaineering, not just trekking trip. Therefore, this route is recommended only to experienced hikers such as those who climbed Kazbeg and look for another trek in the area.
Trekkers willing to explore this beautiful valley can either do return trip to Kuro ridge or walk all the way below the glacier, then turn west and cross LeraKT pass to Sno village (for this one, I don´t have GPS file, only approximate description from one Polish forum - if you scout it, pls let me know). Just keep in mind that even though you don´t need special equipment for these alternate treks, they are still quite difficult and not recommended to beginners.

Duration: 3 days

Difficulty: Hard

Trail navigates overgrown Khde gorge, but the main obstacle is Kibishi pass - to reach the pass, one has to cross the small glacier and even though it’s solid and not steep, great care and ropes/crampons are needed during a crossing.

Accomodation:

You will have to carry your own tent.

How to get to Dariali gorge:

Most obvious way is to sleep in Kazbegi village and take a taxi there in the morning. It´s only 12 km so it shouldn’t be too expensive. I think that price about 20 GEL should be just right.

How to leave Juta:

By hired 4WD, drive to Kazbegi should cost 40-50 GEL. Juta became quite popular in the past years so there should be some jeep drivers waiting by the bridge.
If you are really low on cash, you can also prolong the walk and get to Kazbegi on foot, it takes 4 to 5 hours and Juta valley is quite nice (at least for the first 2 hours).

Trekking permit:

To hike in Khde gorge, you need a permit. It can be obtained from border guards at the Dariali gorge border crossing (some 300m north of mouth of Khde river, takes at least 20 minutes, depending on the size of your group). Deeper in the valley there is another border post, but guards there don´t issue permits and may send you back if you don´t have one.


Description of the route

Day 1: Darial Gorge - Khde valley 6 hours, 10km, ascent of 850 meters

Trail starts at the elevation of 1300 m in Dariali gorge, at the right bank (northern side) of Khdestskali river, in Russian sources also known as Kistinka. First, it follows a dust road and in serpentines climbs upwards and deeper into the valley. After one hour of walking you will come to Khde Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP), currently under construction.

Here the road ends and you will have to find a trail - it lies some 30 meters above the road, on the right bank of the river. To reach it, you will have to turn sharply to the north at HPP and climb 30-40 meters on a steep slope, covered by scree and rocks. Trail is not clear, often disappears - sometimes it appears right on the bank of the river, other times leads tens of meters from the riverbed.

At the elevation of 1750m trail reaches the rocky ledge which stretches all the way to the river and blocks the way. It can be crossed through a crevice, located approximately in its middle. Trail then leads onto a heavily overgrown meadow full of nettles and disappears. You have to cross it - vegetation is really tall near the river, so you could consider climbing a bit uphill, where it shouldn’t be as high. But don’t stray too far from the river and after you pass the worst section, descend to the riverbed again. Trail should continue there, leading you through a thin forest.

About one walking hour behind the forest, the path climbs onto the beautiful meadow at the elevation of 1960 m. On the opposite bank of the river can be seen a powerful waterfall, first of many. After another hour and 200 meters higher, you should come to the border post - trail here significantly moves off the river, which is now far to the right.

Checking of permits may take 20 to 30 minutes. Then the trail slowly descends back to the Khde riverbed again. Some 30 minutes after you leave the border post, you should come to the flat, grassy meadow - the place is quite unusual as the river here disappears beneath the stones. This is the good place to spend the first night.

Day 2: Khde valley - below Kibishi pass 7 hours, 14km, ascent of 1000 meters

Continue deeper into the valley. The route, in the beginning, follows the riverbed, as the water runs deeper below the stones. When it finally appears, you will probably find yourself on its left bank. Cross it to the right bank, find a small trail and follow it. You will eventually come to the spot, where the trail got destroyed by a landslide, so cross back to the left bank of the river and carry on.

Trail here climbs up through a beautiful valley, you will see more waterfalls on the left side (elevation 2350m). The terrain is mostly scree covered by grass. River then branches into several streams, could be another great place to camp. The trail follows the left bank of Khde river and climbs again.

Eventually, you will reach a large grassy meadow at the elevation of 2400m and ahead you can see another, much higher level of the valley (elevation 2800m) with another waterfall. It´s called “Kibishi ledge” (ok, I made this name up - it is mentioned only in Russian articles, where it is called “Ustup Kibishi”. If you can invent a better, English name for this geomorphological formation, I am open to suggestions. Does it even have a name in Georgian?).

To climb Kibishi ledge, follow the barely visible trail in the grass to the right of the waterfall. You have a great view of mountains Shino and Kuro to the west and Rustavi glacier to the east. South of the Shino mountain (don't confuse with Shani mountain on the Russian border) you can also see LeraKT pass, which can be used by trekkers without glacier equipment to leave the valley.

Once on the ledge, stay to the right of the river and traverse the slope (mix of scree and grass). Eventually, you will have to descend a bit to the river (water could be quite dirty here). Now you are in the moraine and see Kibishi pass right ahead of you. Keep approaching the glacier, while looking for a good place to camp.

Day 3: Below Kibishi glacier - Juta village 6 hours, 11,5km, 250m up and 1250m down

Navigate the moraine to Kibishi glacier. It´s much smaller than on the old Soviet maps, currently, it starts at the elevation of 3280m and is 900 meters long. It´s solid, without cracks, covered by firn and reasonably steep (gradient 15-20°, in upper part up to 25°). Put on ropes and crampons. The route is obvious, climb directly to the pass - it shouldn´t take longer than 1 hour.

Kibishi pass lies at the elevation of 3500 meters and is a great spot for a break, but don´t stay here too long, there is still long march ahead. The terrain on the other side of the pass is steep and rocky - it´s recommended to descend through the rocky couloir, more to the right (watch for the arrow painted on one of the rocks on the pass). The terrain here is pretty steep (25-30°) and you have to watch for stones loosened by people above you, but luckily this section is only 200 meters long.

Ahead of you is now long descent on rocks and grass. According to some sources, it´s recommended to descent to Sharovanistskali riverbed as directly as possible and follow its left bank, but hikers I quote here found this path very uncomfortable as they had to traverse steep, grassy slope. They recommend slower descent, staying higher on slopes on the right bank of the river and descend later.

No matter which route you take, you should eventually reach Juta river - from the pass, it takes about 3,5 hours, during which you lose 1200 meters of elevation. The route here follows the left bank of the river, but it´s not necessary to ford the river. Just follow the right bank and after 200 meters you will come to the border guards post. Your permit will be checked here and there is also a steel beam laid across the river, so you can cross to the other side. From here it´s just an easy walk on the road to Juta village.

This article is based on excellent, very detailed trekking report published by "Federation of mountain tourism" from Dimitrovsk area, Moscow - it's original can be found here. They also provided me their gpx log and photos - more of them can be found at this address. Thanks a lot!
Remaining photos were provided by experienced Russian trekker and photographer Vadim Turkin. I would like to thank him here as well.




Khde/Kistinka gorge Kibishi glacier with pass in the background Rocky ledge in Khde valley Look back in Khde gorge Look back in Khde gorge Below Kibishi ledge Climbing onto Kibishi ledger Rustavi glacier View from Kibishi ledge Trekking towards Kibishi glacier LeraKT pass Moraine of Kibishi glacier Camping below Kibishi glacier Detail of Kibishi glacier On the Kibishi glacier Almost there View to the other side Rocky couloir used to descent from the pass Down the couloir Descent from Kibishi pass Below Kibishi pass Sharovanistskali valley Sharovanistskali valley Juta village in the distance

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