Popular trail in the area known as "Georgian Dolomites".
The popular trail connecting Kazbegi region with Khevsureti. It is compelling due to a proximity of imposing Chaukhi massif with its seven sharp peaks
and necessity to scale 3341 meters high Chaukhi pass. At the other side of the pass, you will find meadows with intriguing rock formations (Roshka stones) and Abudelauri lakes
- three beautiful alpine lakes with different colors (green, blue and white).
The trail can be combined with the Sadzele pass crossing into a nice 2-day loop starting and ending in Juta. If you have a tent, it´s recommended to sleep by lakes and then hike northeast till you reach Sadzele trail. If you don´t, you will have to sleep in Roshka.
Duration: 1-2 days
The hike can take one or two days, depending on how you plan it. I will focus on the 1-day version of the trek, which takes 8-9 hours and starts in Juta.
Starting in Roshka, it´s almost impossible to finish this hike in a day.
It's a long hike, but you will be gaining elevation quite slowly (from Juta side) and the path is well-trodden. From Roshka direction, I would rate it as Hard.
If you go for 1-day version, you can sleep in the guesthouse in Roshka. Otherwise, you will need a tent.
I recommend Juta - Roshka direction; the trek is less strenuous this way as Juta lies higher by almost 400 meters.
You also ascend more slowly, walking up the long valley. There is only one steeper section before you reach the pass.
If you want to climb to the pass from Roshka side, prepare yourself for the arduous ascent from Abudelauri lakes.
When to go:
Chaukhi pass is one of the highest and steepest "tourist" passes in Georgia and therefore remains inaccessible longer than the others. It becomes passable in the second half of June (the exact date differs year from a year) and even then you will have to tackle the substantial amount of the leftover snow.
Overall, the best period for this hike is from the beginning of July till the end of September.
If you are lucky with the weather, you can have a nice hike even in first weeks of October. Later usually come first severe snowfalls which block the pass till the next season.
How to get to Juta:
There is no public transport, so probably the best option for solo hikers and couples is the daily minibus arranged by Mountain Freaks agency. It departs twice a day, at 9:15 (return at 16:30) and 11:15 (return at 18:30) from their office in Stepantsminda. Price of the return ticket is 30 GEL and the bus departs when there are at least three passengers. It can take only 7 people, so during the high season (Jul, Aug), I recommend to book it at least one day in advance - at this ocassion, check also those departure times since they change them from time to time.
Larger groups or people going only there may prefer a private taxi - ask the owner of your guesthouse or people at the main square. Price for the one-way trip is 40-50 GEL and the ride takes 45 minutes. A return tip with 3-4 hours of waiting time included costs about 80-100 GEL.
Finally, if you want to walk by foot, from Kazbegi its almost 4 hours of walking (17 km) and there is also a possibility to hitchhike.
2023 Update: There was a landslide along the route, about 2,5km before the Juta village. As a result, road was damaged and some taxis might not pass (or be willing to risk it), Mountain Freaks cancelled their Juta shuttle for this season as well. Some taxis manage to squeze through - still, if the driver wants to continue, I would cover that risky section on foot and get back into taxi only after it.
How to leave Roshka:
Leaving Roshka is tricky as there is no public transport - you will have to walk around a village and ask for a driver, ideally at guesthouses. These often ask 150 GEL per ride to Barisakho and 350 GEL for a ride to Tbilisi. But if you have more time, I recommend walking, trail to the valley is recorded in a gpx log, but it´s not used too often, so easier might be just to use the dirt road. From the valley bottom to Korsha, it´s just south by the main road.
In Korsha and Barisakho, there is a marshrutka departing to Tbilisi at 9 am - it runs on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday (tho not always all the way to Tbilisi, sometimes you have to switch bus at Zhinvali). If you want to continue north to Shatili, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, there is a marshrutka from Tbilisi passing the village before noon. Only other options are paying for a ride or hitchhiking.
The driver will drop you at the beginning of Juta by a huge hiking map of the area, the courtesy of Polish trekkers - the route is marked by blue marks.
Cross the bridge and turn right onto a small track, which climbs uphill. After some 15 minutes, you will come to Zeta camp.
The trail from here continues to the newly built "5 Seasons" guesthouse. From here, it mostly traverses the eastern side of the valley, crosses the river
(no bridge, you will have to ford it) and heads directly towards striking green/yellow tent.
After a closer look, you see it´s another pub and lies on the bank of small, artificially created lake. This is a good destination if you are visiting Juta on a daytrip from Stepantsminda and want to do just some easy stroll around the valley.
Keep walking, pass several more or less dirty campgrounds. Valley here bends to the east, you will have to cross several smaller streams on your way.
At the end of the valley, the path turns to the south, steadily climbing over rolling terrain. Soon, you will reach the flat meadow when the trail turns to the left and climbs very steep hillside - the hardest section of the day which many confuse with the actual pass. But you are almost there - from the top, it takes only some 20 minutes of relatively easy walk to the actual pass.
Chaukhi pass is a great viewing point and also a place to have a lunch. Walk from Juta takes over 4 hours so it should be around noon when you get there.
There are two trails going down into the valley. The one I took both times is easier to find since it goes down straight from the pass. If going downhill, it's not that bad as the terrain is loose, so you are descending and sliding at the same time. But I would hate having to climb this way.
2016 edit: Climb from Roshka side by the western trail is every inch as tricky as I expected. Not only it is very steep, but the trail is often made of very soft rubble,
which slides down at every step. So you have to climb at the edges of the trail, where the terrain is a bit more solid.
Luckily, there is one more route from (or to) the pass. To find it, from the pass, follow the top of the ridge over small hill to the east for some 200 meters until you see a small trail descending on a side ridge to the southeast. This trail is generally considered to be more pleasant, especially if you are climbing from Roshka direction - the ascent is much more manageable thanks to numerous switchbacks.
Both trails join not far from Blue Abudelauri lake and continue to the Green lake (if you want to visit also the white lake, it lies further to the west). In this area, there are several suitable camping spots (as well as water sources).
The trail then continues down the valley in parallel with the river, slowly losing elevation. To the left, you will see so-called "Roshka stones" - wandering boulders, that have been brought here by glaciers from Chaukhi massif during the last Ice Age.
Also, you see an ugly road (I know, I know, it´s important) being built in the direction of Arkhoti valley.
The road is clearly visible, but it's quite a walk - you will need another 2 or 3 hours to get to the Roshka village.
Also, road close to the Roshka turns into some muddy building site, I recommend to get around it to the north, closer to the river.
The 2-day alternative of the trek
Just to make it clear - this variant doesn't end in Roshka. Since you will have extra time, you could walk way beyond the village and descend to the main road where it's much easier to find any transport.
The trail begins as a one-day variant, but you don't have to make it to Roshka. Break a camp near Abudelauri lakes, there is one beautiful spot above green one, between the rocks.
On the next day walk to Roshka, cross the bridge (leaving the large car road at this point) and follow the tourist pointer - the trail follows the track to the right, past the small barricade .
Descent a bit into the hogweed jungle below the ancient toilet, trail here turns into the footpath again.
You traverse the valley on a nice rocky trail and end up in another field of hogweeds. Ahead, you see a small hill with trees on top.
Circumvent it from the right side - trail here may be overgrown but should appear again at its other side.
From there, it´s straightforward. Follow the trail. First, it's descending slowly,
then a steep serpentine finally takes you down to the river. There is a bridge - some wooden planks look a bit suspicious, so be careful here.
You will emerge on the main road to Shatili close to the bridge over Aragvi river. Walk from Roshka to the main road is 5 km long and should take no more than 1,5 hours.
Where to stay in Roshka:
In Roshka, there are two guesthouses, both owned by various branches of Tsiklauri clan, that constitutes the majority of the village.
Roshka guesthouse - A pleasant guesthouse situated in the upper part of the village, by the start of Arkhoti road. Friendly hosts, great food - this place can be only recommended. It is quite large - together, it has 27 beds split into 11 bedrooms. Owners can arrange you also horse riding or transfer back to civilization. At the guesthouse, you can also buy local souvenirs such as honey stored in jars resembling "Roshka rocks".
Booking: While the guesthouse is present on several booking portals, owners will be happier (and richer) if you call directly. Patriarch of the house Shota (+995 599 399 789) handles requests in Georgian and Russian, so if you prefer English, you should call his daughter Shukia (+995 591 71 05 17).
Rock Side guesthouse - guesthouse located at the lower part of the village, by the "main road". In total 5 rooms with 12 beds. Mindia, the owner, speaks only usual Georgian/Russian combo, but his daughter can communicate in English as well. Wasn't able to get their phone number but guesthouse owners in adjacent villages such as Juta could help with booking.
Mountain house - while the description of this guesthouse says it's situated at Korsha (a different village down in the valley), in fact, it lies in the very centre of Roshka, between two guesthouses mentioned above. What more to say? A family run guesthouse. Two or three rooms. Teenage daughter and son can communicate in English. It costs 100 GEL per person with half board which sounds about right.
Where to stay in Juta:
Finding an accommodation in Juta is easy. The village is already quite "guesthousified" and combined with the fact that the majority of people visit it only on a daytrip from Kazbegi means there are always some good places to choose from.
MetiTsa guesthouse - beautiful, modern place in the upper part of the village, on the way to the Chaukhi mountain. Nato is a great host, really attentive and caring - moreover, she is fluent also in English and Russian. Also, the food is plentiful and tasty, overall, this is one of the best places in Juta.
Levan & Megi's guesthouse - pleasant guesthouse located at the beginning of the village, down by the river. Rooms are not modern by any means but the place is very cozy and has welcoming owners who really care about the satisfaction of their guests. Moreover, Megi is an excellent cook and it shows each morning and evening :)
Fifth Season - a modern guesthouse/mountain hut lying above the Juta village. I am not exactly a fan, but this place cannot be overlooked since it has the best location in Juta with best views of the Chaukhi mountain. In my opinion, the place has an incredible potential but there is also lots of room for improvement.
It is not exactly the serene, calm place in the mountains as it looks to be. It has friendly, party atmosphere but staff is not always effective when it comes to enforcing the rules so earplugs are recommended. Also, they could turn down the volume of music they tend to blast into the valley. And the last but not least, they start serving breakfast only at 9 am. which is very inconvenient if you plan some longer trek such as crossing to Roshka.
Zeta camping - traditional camping place located above Juta village, on the way to the Chaukhi mountain. It offers accommodation in cottages as well as in tents - not a place for me since I always carry my own (and there are way nicer camping spots upper in the valley), but if you don´t have it and still want to camp in some beautiful location, this is a great (tho a bit expensive) pick. Also, the staff is very helpful and friendly. Overall, a very pleasant place.
Several great photos used in this article were taken by Mario Sklenar. More of his photos can be found here.
One photo (Chaukhi massif was also taken by Tanveer Singh.