Trek from Svaneti to Racha

Difficult trek connecting some of the most remote parts of Caucasus.



"Most of the long way down I spent upon my arse."

Tony Anderson, Bread and Ashes: A Walk Through the Mountains of Georgia (Vintage, 2004)

Overview

This beautiful, but very demanding trek takes you to some of the most remote parts of Caucasus. It follows the old road, which once connected Zeskho village in Svaneti with Ghebi village in Racha, but fell into disrepair long time ago and now it's mostly overgrown.

Duration: 3-4 days

Under the ideal circumstances, this trek can be finished in 3 days. Therefore, calculate with 4 days for this one.

Difficulty: Very hard

Trail crosses two steep mountain passes, but the biggest obstacle is completely overgrown Tskhenistskali valley. Be prepared to spend the whole day fighting yours way through dense undergrowth of hogweeds, nettles and various others weeds.
There is no clear trail to follow once you descend to the Tskhenistskali valley, you will have to find your own. Therefore this trek is recommended only for experienced, well-equipped hikers.

Accomodation:

For this trek, you need a tent.

Which way to hike:

Doesn't matter that much, but walk starting from Zeskho is easier as this village lies higher than Ghebi.

How to get to Zeskho:

You will need to hire a car in Mestia/Ushguli (Upper Svaneti) or Mele (Lower Svaneti). You can also try to hitchhike, but the road through Zagar pass is barely used and cars riding through it are usually full of tourists.
Another option is just to walk from Ushguli or Mele to have a warm-up - it can be done in one long, tiring day.

How to leave Ghebi:

The bus from Ghebi to Oni departs only on Thursdays - the days when the market takes place. The first time it departs around 9.am - this one takes the people to the market. It returns around 6.pm and immediately returns to Oni so this is your second chance to leave Ghebi.
On the other days, you will have to hitchhike or take a taxi - price for the transport to Oni should be about 60-70 GEL for a car.


Description of the route

Day 1: Zeskho - Tskhenistskali river 8 hours

Trail starts at the almost abandoned Zeskho village, only 4 adults live here all year long. Road follows the river, crosses 2 bridges and after a mile comes to the mountaineering centre (big building on the right side). Here it becomes more muddy.

Follow the road for another mile along the Zeskhura river, until you cross its smaller left tributary. Some 100 meters behind it is a meadow with ruined shepherds huts to the right and behind them also small trail heading to the southeast. Huts are overgrown and hard to spot when coming from Zeskho, so if you come to the bridge crossing to the right bank of the Zeskhura river, you have gone too far and need to return. On a way back you will spot these huts easily.

Follow the small trail heading past shepherd huts. At first its well visible (used by cows) but as the ascent becomes steeper, it will gradually disappear and you will have to fight yours way through vegetation. There is also recent car path, but it doesnt lead to the pass - if you followed it, you would end up too far to the north. Eventually, you may find a small stream and follow it to the southeast - if you don't, just keep climbing up in its original direction, towards the lowest part of the ridge over you and you will eventually make it to the Lapuri pass at the elevation of 2500m.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Of all hikers I spoke to, only one was able to hit the pass directly. The others (no matter from which direction they came) reached the top of the ridge several hundred meters north of the actual pass. So they were forced to do a very risky traverse on a steep, unstable slope. So keep an eye on the direction you are walking and try not to stray too far to the north.

From the pass descent to the southeast to the nameless right tributary of Tskhenistskali river - this section is very steep, as the rains in the past years have changed a path into deep ditch. Banks of the river are mostly overgrown, so its much easier to simply walk in the riverbed as far as possible. Follow the tributary until you come to its confluence with Tskhenistskali river. Here is a good place to camp.

Also be aware that there are numerous bears living in the valley so take all standard measures to avoid the encounter with them.

Day 2: Tskhenistskali river - Sasvanostba lakes 9 hours

In the morning, ford the nameless right tributary and walk upstream along the right bank of Tskhenistskali river. After some 4 km of slow ascent, you will see two left tributaries of Tskenistskali river - follow the lower, smaller one. And do not just follow, the best bet not to get lost is move right in the riverbed, even though it is very slippery and very risky (out of the riverbed you'll need a good machete to break through).

You'll have to exit this in few places, but do return to it asap. Higher up the creek splits in two, you follow the one to your right. Do not climb out of it before the rododendron fields on the slope come to an end and you will see a path heading to your right, to a nose-like ridge. Then you'll follow this path and head for the big green hill in the southeast. That's the Vatsistsveri pass - even though the passes are usually the lowest part of the ridge, it is actually one of the highest parts. Here, you are already walking through alpine meadows where the movement is rather easy.

There is also an alternative route to the pass described on svanetitrekking.ge site, which follows an old cart road. If follows the left bank or Lapuri river (left tributary of Tskhenistskali), then turns north and climbs to the Vatsistsveri pass from the south. However, I don't know anybody who actually finished it - all people I consulted had a feeling that terrain here is just too steep. So I recommend the trail in gpx log.

Once you make it to Vatsistsveri pass, path is quite obvious. Just follow the narrow top of the ridge in the southeastern direction, soon you will see group of small lakes in front of you. At these lakes, you can break a camp and refill water (even though they are quite muddy and shallow).

Day 3: Sasvanotba lakes - Ghebi 7 hours

Continue descending on the ridge to the southeast - here you should see also remains of the old road. You will have gorgeus views of the Rioni valley, especially of the Edena peak and glacier to the north. Enjoy them while you can, because once the trail descents to lower elevations, you will once again get stuck in dense undergrowth. But just follow the top of descending ridge and "the trail" will eventually lead you into the Rioni gorge at the confluence of Rioni with Sasvanotskali river. Here are also a remains of the tourist shelter where you can spend a night, if necessary.

Follow the Rioni river, walking on the right bank - you will have to cross its several tributaries. Rivers first flows to the south, but after some 2 hours of walking bends to the east. Not far from here you will come to the group of houses - settlement Brili. Few kilometers behind Brili is a bridge on which you will cross to the left bank of Rioni river. Here you will find solid road, which will comfortable lead you to Ghebi lying some 5 km downstream.

All photos provided by Zuzka Egertova and Michal Sochor. Except of those those by Lukas Bady and Vahur Lokk :)




Edena glacier Shepherd's huts behind Zeskho Below Lapuri pass Ridge separating Zeskho from Tskhenistskali valley Tskhenistskali valley from Lapuri pass Descent to Lapuri pass Overgrown Tskhenistskali valley Upper Tskhenistskali valley Horribly steep gorge - first section of the climb to Vatsistsveri pass View from the climb to Vatsistsveri pass View from Vatsitsveri (Eagle) pass Walking to Vatsitsveri pass Near the pass Steep slopes near the pass Sasvanostba lakes ahead On the Lechkhumi ridge One of Sasvanostba lakes Leaving Sasvanostba lakes Edena mountain Above Rioni valley In the ruins of hiker's refuge Settlement Brili

Copyright © 2016 Jozef Antala. All rights reserved

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