Beautiful 5-day trail visiting probably the most beautiful Georgian lake.
This beautiful trek crosses Egrisi mountains, which separate Svaneti from Samegrelo lowlands.
You will not come close to the highest mountains of Caucasus, but this small drawback is fully compensated by a very diverse environment.
High passes with great views, magical lakes, rocky gorges, waterfalls, shepherds huts, remote valleys - this trek has everything.
Or almost everything. There are no medieval stone villages, so typical for many Georgian regions. So, if you are coming for your first visit and have time for only one trek,
I wouldn´t pick this one. It´s more suitable for people who have already seen the "highlights".
There are several alternative routes to the lakes, this post describes the one starting in Mukhuri village and ending in Khaishi.
Duration: 5 days
If you hire a jeep to take you all the way to the Namipuru hut,
it can be done in 3 and half days. Maybe it's even better this way as the Namipuru road is tough and not that interesting.
But no matter which option you pick, you should have at least one day as a buffer. Egrisi mountains are quite rainy because of the proximity of Black Sea and
it would be a pity if you walked so far and saw nothing because of the mist. In such case, it's better to spend more time at the lake to get best possible views.
The trail has 90 km from start to end and crosses 4 mountain passes. Especially second half of the trek is quite remote and in case of any problems, it wouldn't be easy to get any help.
The best time is from the second half of July till the beginning of September because of the most pleasant weather and lowest rainfall.
I would like to stress that my description is relevant to this "ideal" period. Overall, lakes are usually accesible from late June (when they are still frozen) till late September. I really don't recommend to try to visit them earlier or later - I am not saying it's impossible (nothing is "impossible"), but high passes will be covered by snow and crossing them could be tough and possibly life-threatening. Also, during the late spring, lakes get quite a lot of rainfall.
You will have to carry your own tent.
Except of the trail to Khaishi or Mukhuri there are three other ways to leave Tobavarchkhili lake.
All head to the west, descend into Magana gorge and follow the river. Then you can walk by the river all the way to Jvari or turn south at its confluence with Jolora river,
follow this one instead and end up in Skuri or Naguru.
According to shepherds in Magana gorge, walk from their hut (which is 2 hours away from Toba lake) to their home village Skuri takes some 10 hours.
How to get to Mukhuri:
The best place to start your trip is Zugdidi. Marshrutka to Mukhuri departs at 9 am. from the local bus station -
it's the one by the bridge (42°30'31.9"N 41°52'09.0"E), not the one near train station. Ride costs 3 GEL and takes more than two hours.
Another option is to take a taxi. Price for the ride to Mukhuri should be some 30-40 GEL (it's 40km) and trip takes less than an hour.
How to leave Khaishi:
Several marshrutkas heading either to Mestia or Zugdidi pass through Khaishi every day.
Description of the route
Day 1: Mukhuri - Gunzha gorge distance 16.7km, 1082m and 577m
Trail starts at the bridge over Khobistskali at the elevation of 300 meters - its big dirt road following the right bank of the river.
First few kilometers it leads between some houses, then leaves them behind.
After 7 kilometres you will come to Lugella mineral spring. Its a meadow to the right of the road, seems to be popular camping spot. Lugella water flows out of metal pipe
and is extremely salty. You can also take a dip in the river here so its quite good place for a lunch break.
Follow the main road, its slowly climbing. There are several water springs on the way. After another 10 kilometers and 300m ascent you will come to impressive Gunzha gorge,
there is a wooden bridge over the river. We camped by the road some 50 metres before the bridge, but I dont recommend it. There is much better spot (not so close to the road)
few hundred meters behind the bridge, just get water at the bridge as there will be none for a while.
Day 2: Gunzha gorge - Namipuru distance 18.8km, 2036m and 580m
Follow the main road. Soon you will come to the intersection - right path keeps following the river, but you need to turn left. Subsequent climb is long,
arduous and not very interesting. You will be just walking on a dirt road in a forest with very limited views and no sources of water.
During next 5 hours you will have to climb 1300 meters from elevation 600 to 1900m. Your climb will be occasionally sweetened by blackberries/raspberries.
But I still recommends to hire a jeep for this section if possible.
Options to get water during climb are quite limited so you will be probably happy when you reach spring at the elevation of 1900 meters.
This is also the farthest spot you can reach by jeep. Search for the small footpath on the slope to the right of you. After some 10 minutes you should come to the hut
below Namipuru mountain, where you will finally get some great views. And from now it will get only better.
2016 edit: In 2016, woodcutters built a new road in the area, which leads all the way to Namipuru hut. It's shorter, but not that useful to hikers,
as it branches from the main road prior to the water spring. If you take it, you miss the water spring. Therefore, it's recommended to follow the trail in gpx log.
Path at the hut sharply turns to the left and starts climbing while circumventing the Namipuru mountain from the left side. Behind the mountain you will find another crossroads,
but both paths will eventually merge after few hours. Left path leads to the hut you see in the distance, then climbs onto the small ridge (better views?).
Right path is shorter and recommended - it dives into the forest, crosses 4 smaller streams and after few kilometers comes to the big flat meadow with a shepherds hut
with roof made of blue plastic bags (abandoned at the time of our visit), ideal place for camping.
Day 3: Namipuru - Tobavarchkhili lake distance 10.6km, 1233m and 626m
From the hut start climbing directly uphill until you find a footpath traversing the slope. Here you need to turn right and head towards small saddle to the east, close to the treeline.
Path then turns to the north and starts traversing steep slope, crossing several rocky ledges. After some 30 minutes you will come to a big square stone, quite good place for camping if needed. Here you need to turn left and start climbing up the valley to the depression some 400m above you, which most closely resembles a pass. Its was quite tiring, especially since we lost a path for an hour (I marked in gpx log where we found it again).
When you make it to the depression you find out that this is not Okhoje pass yet - to reach it you will have to climb another 200 meters. But good thing is that you cant get lost here.
Finally at Okhoje pass, elevation 2750 m. Enjoy the views and slide down to the Okhoje lake - in late August there were still snowfields at the north side of the pass.
Okhoje lake is ideal for a break and a dip. You can camp here or continue to Tobavarchkhili lake - but take into consideration that this walk takes another three hours.
Lets push on. From the lake start climbing between huge rocks towards a pass to the north. There is no path, you will have to find yours own. Keep direction with the help of gpx,
basically its better to stay more to the left side of the valley.
You need to overcome some 200 meters of elevation to make it to the "pass". When at the top you will find yourself on a rocky meadow. There is a hill in front of you.
Walk around it from the right side and after some 30 minutes you should see Eastern Toba pass in the distance. Its pretty steep and you should expect snowfields close to the top,
but not that high, you will have to climb just another 200 meters.
Pass offers fantastic views during good weather, but lake in not yet visible, its hidden behind rocks to the left. Start descending, path goes on the right side of the valley.
It will take some time as you will have to descend 250 meters. Its better to camp at the farther side of the lake because of nearby water source (marked on map).
Day 4: Tobavarchkhili lake - behind Natachtish-Dudi pass distance 14.2km, 1250m and 1430m
Start early and climb to the pass to the north of the lake. It should be quite fast as its only 100 meters of elevation and path to the pass is clearly visible from the lake.
Path on the other side of pass is well visible. On the right you should see small lake Didi Ghele, usually covered by ice. Not much later you will come to Kailashi lake - it has a shape of a heart.
Here is the tricky part. Cross the small stream at the spot where it flows out of the Kailashi, but dont follow it to the left - instead of that turn right
and start climbing onto a ridge behind a lake. There is also a path, if you look for it, you should find it pretty quickly. Follow the path,
it slowly climbs above the lake and then circumvents nameless hill from the right side.
Before you will open up amazing view into Khobistskali valley - this way you will descend. Path is clearly visible,
it is a series of endless serpentines which will bring you some 400 meters lower to the river. When you come to the bottom of the valley, path fades and will eventually disappear.
Now you should cross the river, but its not easy as it flows between huge rocks. Walk by it until it leaves the “canyon”, then you can cross it easily.
It should be also noted that there is a chance that valley will not be completely abandoned. In 2014 there was a company of shepherds, paths were in better shape
and there was a bridge over the river. However, when we came there in 2014, we found nobody and valley was completely overgrown. Later we found out
that that year were shepherds herding in different valley.
Ok, where did I …. back to the trek. Follow the river. Your advance will be slowed down by several gullies formed by smaller streams joining the river.
Behind one such glen you will find semi-decent path (marked in gpx log). This path will lead you northeast, slowly away from the river. You will also climb a bit.
Another obstacle here will be few patches of young, but very dense forest. Last one was especially tricky as path disappeared and we had to climb 30 meters to find it again.
Right behind this forest you will find flat place suitable for camping. Depending on the time you will have to decide whether to stay here or continue -
but if you want to make in the next day to Khaishi, you will have to walk (or walk next day 12 hours as we did, but I wouldnt recommend it to anyone).
From here to another suitable campsite behind Natakhtish-Dudi pass its another 4 hours.
So lets hurry. Some 100 meters behind a campsite path turns to the north and dives into major side valley, at this section its already well visible.
It crosses two small streams and begins climbing to the pass. You need to climb on a big, wide side ridge in front of you that eventually narrows and bends to the right.
In lower parts the path is hard to follow, then reappears again. Your advance will be slowed down by fields of big, tasty blueberries.
After you make it to the top of the side ridge, path turns right and starts traversing the ridge.
It leads you to the pass, which lies on a “not-so-rocky” part of the ridge.
Descent a bit from the pass and you will come to green meadow suitable for camping. However, you will probably have to descent another 100 meters to get some water.
Day 5: Behind Natachtish-Dudi pass - Khaishi distance 27.2km, 447m and 2273m
Another tough day. Continue descending to the bottom of the valley, you will cross rhododendron fields, hogweeds and eventually dive into the small forest.
Then you will have to ford a river and appear amonst hogweeds again. Path at this section is always more or less visible, just look carefully. Basically, it just follows the river.
After some time you will have to ford a river and after 10 meters last, third time. Here appears decent path and first signs of civilization such as cows.
Some 30 minutes after last fording you should come to shepherds hut called Garaguandra. But you havent won yet, from here to Khaishi its another 5 hours of brisk walking.
Behind the huts terrain becomes quite muddy. Path later turns into a dirtroad, after some 4 km you should see Zeda Vedi seetlement on the opposite bank of river.
Stay on the left bank, its quite a long walk. Then, few miles before Kveda Vedi comes one last obstacle. Road here crosses Urashi river twice, but there is no bridge.
4WD should pass easily, but it looked pretty dangerous to me. One girl trekking with us passed only with difficulties, but maybe we just had bad luck and water level is usually not so high.
2016 edit: In 2016, new dirt road was built on the left bank between two places, where it was previously necessary to ford the river.
Therefore, it's now possible to stay on the left bank all the time and you don't have to risk at those crossings. However, I don't have gpx log for that.
After fording you should come to Kveda Vedi without problems, just stay on the left bank.
Behind the village road dives into beautiful canyon and after another two miles of walking you should finally arrive to Khaishi.
The cover photo of the lake (or at least a part of it) is published here with kind consent of
Max Richter. Thank you, Max!