A longer, more difficult and more interesting version of the hike to the Buba glacier .
A longer version of the hike to the Buba glacier.
This one crosses the Buba river, traverses to the Tbilisa glacier and returns to Shovi via Mamisoni road.
A pretty solid trek, though not the best around as almost half of the trail follows the dirt road. On the positive side, you can skip this not so interesting section by a car.
This trek can be done in 2 days if you are really fast but the usual duration is almost 3 days of relaxed walking. If you use the jeep to shorten the trek, you will need two days.
Depends on how fast you want to do it. If you have only 2 days, the difficulty is Hard, otherwise, it´s Moderate. However, keep in mind that even though the distance is not that large, there are other factors which make this trek more difficult than it seems to be - especially one really overgrown section and numerous river crossings.
How to get to Shovi by public transport? Honestly, I don´t have a clue. I asked several villagers about the public transport but their answers were so chaotic that I can´t use them here. If someone can shed light on this, pls contact me.
Still, to get to Shovi, you have to pass Oni which lies nearby and the situation is much clearer here. Daily minibus leaves Didube station in Tbilisi at 8 am. The ticket costs 20 GEL and the ride takes 6,5 hours - as usual, it's better to come at least 30 minutes earlier to have a guaranteed spot.
If you need to reach the city from Kutaisi, there are two buses a day leaving from the bus station by the chain bridge below Bagrati cathedral (not the Central bus station by the McDonalds). One departs at 9:00 (ride takes 5 hours as it follows the bad road through Rioni valley) and second, much faster departs at 2 pm (this one takes the direct road through Tkibuli). These buses sometimes continue further to Shovi - ask the driver.
Another option is to take marshrutka to Ambrolauri since the city is only some 20km from Oni - marshrutkas depart daily from the Central bus station at 10:00 and 14:00. However, both take the longer route through Rioni valley. From here, you can take a taxi, hitchhike or hope to catch some local bus.
Again, hard to tell. You will have to ask around, hitchhike or even pay a taxi back to Oni.
I think it´s better to head to Buba glacier first and return by the Mamisoni road (clockwise direction), no matter if you do a 2-day or 3-day variant. I recommend the opposite direction only if you manage to arrange the car to take you up the Mamisoni road.
There is a border guards post on the Mamisoni road, not far from the bridge over Chanchakhi river.
If you follow the “clockwise” direction and don´t have a permit, they can only reprimand you as you are already returning.
However, they may pose a problem if you are taking an opposite direction by car or on foot. When we traveled there, they stopped us and asked for our passports. Then they told us that the trail is too dangerous and we need a permit to hike between Buba and Tbilisa glacier. We had to be really vehement and persuade them that we knew what we were doing. Then, after about 2 hours, they issued us our permits and let us go. If you want to prevent this situation, get the permit at Border Department office in Oni (lies in the north part of Oni on the Baazovi street, the building by the playground.
You can skip the least interesting part of the trail if you hire a car to take you up the Mamisoni road - that means that you will hike in “counter-clockwise” direction. Jeep can drive you first 16km to the place marked as “Road starts” in the gpx log. Expect to pay 150 - 250 GEL, depending on whether you will hire a jeep or a large truck.
Just one last warning - this ride is not for the faint-hearted. I found it much more stressing than the famous “Tusheti drive”. Maybe that´s because we rode a large truck but there were several moments when it really seemed that we were going to tumble into the valley below.
Approaching Tbilisa glacier
The trail starts at the entrance to the Shovi resort, by the large info panel. Walk across the resort, there will be numerous, mostly abandoned chalets and one pretty solid restaurant on your right side. After 1km, you will reach the ruined hotel and turn right in front of it. Here, you will find the first hiking pointer - the first section is marked by red color.
After a while, you will reach a nameless tributary of Bubastskali river and the road turns into a footpath. Then comes a pretty steep climb through the spruce forest (spruces are later replaced by maples and beeches). Eventually, you will leave the forest and follow a small trail through completely overgrown alpine meadows.
At the elevation of 2100m, you will reach a shepherd’s hut and the imposing Buba mountain with its glacier appears right in front of you. Keep walking towards it and cross another two streams not far above their confluence (be careful, though, as the area is a bit swampy). Behind the streams, you will find the last pointer.
The trail then crosses several small meadows and groves of young birches. The whole area is crisscrossed by cowpaths, but the direction is obvious. When you leave trees behind, you will see Buba mountain to the left and in-between one last small ridge you will have to climb. The trail here disappears, so just climb up the meadows between the groves.
Once you are at the top, follow the ridge to the north until you reach the tourist pointer. From here, look across the valley and you will see a trail traversing the opposite hillside. You will need to descend to the bottom of the valley and reach the spot where it starts (southeast from your actual position). This section is more difficult as there is no trail to follow and you will have to cross at least cold, fast-flowing, but otherwise small streams. If you are doing the 3-day version of the trek, the eastern side of the valley is a good place to break a camp.
But if you want to get this done in 2 days, you will have to carry on. The trail you saw from the other side of the valley is easy to spot since the contour line it follows is pretty obvious - 30 years ago, there might have been a dirt road here. But nowadays is completely overgrown, you will have to fight your way through various weeds and even small trees.
This worst section is about 3km long. The trail then bends to the east, the jungle suddenly disappears and Tbilisa glacier comes into sight. The surprisingly nice road leads you to the concrete bridge over a small river. Head further east and ford the second branch of the river - this one can be quite strong so pick a place to cross well. Climb onto the small ridge with a shepherd´s hut and break a camp.
Compared to the previous day, today awaits you only quite comfortable walking. Follow the small elevation to the south, cross another stream and you will reach a pretty solid gravel road. Follow it as it circumvents the Tsitelmta mountain (2691m). Once you reach the southern slopes of the mountain, a really nice sight open up in front of you - Gurshevi valley to the south and Mamisoni pass to the east.
Follow the track till it joins the road leading to Mamisoni pass. Don´t even think about the climbing towards the pass is it´s currently under the control of Russian soldiers. Instead, turn right and head down into the valley. After 4 kilometers, you will reach the border guards outpost, show them your permits. After 200 meters, the road proceeds over the bridge to the left bank of Chanchakhi river and turns west.
From here, it´s pretty straightforward - just follow the road. There are several rivers to cross but they shouldn´t pose a problem. In less than 2 hours, you should be back in Shovi.
View south, towards Gurshevi valley from the Mamisoni road