Great day hike which climbs onto the prominent ridge lying northeast of Mestia.
One of the best day hikes doable from Mestia. It reminds a hike to Koruldi lakes, but is even better in many aspects - the ridge you will climb on is not flat, but very narrow so the views are better. There is no road and no jeeps, only a narrow trail and sometimes not even that. And since the are area is not used for grazing, you will see countless flowers instead of tons of cowshit. Of course, there are also a few cons - the view of Ushba is not that impressive and it takes a while to get to the foot of the ridge. There is no water so take enough for the whole day. And there is nowhere to hide once up there so pay attention to the weather forecast.
This hike can be also incorporated into Mestia - Ushguli trek (with sleepover around Lakhiri instead of Zhabeshi). However, the resulting route would be much more difficult compared to the classic one.
Duration: 6-8 hours
Depending on how high you will climb.
Difficulty: Moderate / Hard
The hike will be as difficult as you will make it since you can turn back anytime. But let´s say that if you climb to 2750m, the difficulty is Moderate and if to 3100m or above, it is Hard.
The first marshrutkas to Zugdidi, Batumi and Tbilisi depart early in morning, around 7 am. every day in the morning at (these should be booked one day in advance). There are more during the day, depending on the demand. The last marshrutka to Zugdidi leaves around 19:00 and it´s ideal if you want to catch the night train to Tbilisi which departs at 22:15. However, since marshrutka schedules are not 100% fixed, better visit station in advance to confirm this and book tickets.
For exact timetables and booking of the tickets, visit the travel offices at the station. Just keep in mind that there are several offices and don't buy tickets too far in advance. We met tourists who entered the first office, bought there tickets for the next bus which departed in 2 hours and then had to wait even though there were several other marshrutkas (operated by another offices). If you can't find a suitable tickets and are not under a time pressure, I recommend just to grab a beer at the bar by the station, sit on the terrace and check the situation once in a while - sooner or later, some driver driver will show up.
From Zugdidi to Mestia:
Marshrutkas to Mestia leave from Zugdidi train station every day. The first one departs around 6:30 a.m, after the arrival of the night train from Tbilisi, but there should be several others before noon. The last one usually departs at 14:30. The trip takes about 3-4 hours (1-hour break included) and the price is 20 GEL per person.
From Tbilisi to Mestia:
In my opinion, the best option is the night train to Zugdidi and marshrutka from there. Train departs from Tbilisi at 21:45 and reaches Zugdidi at 6:05 am. Price of the ticket is 21 GEL, tickets for sleeper berths can be bought in advance at matarebeli.ge website (the official web is railway.ge, but that never worked for me). Just one important thing - tickets are released for the online sale only some 20 days in advance. So don´t freak out if you can´t buy your ticket online because of the "no tickets available" error :)
There is also a day train option for those who don't like sleepers. This train departs from Tbilisi at 8:10 and makes it to Zugdidi at 13:45, just in time to catch some of the last marshrutkas to Svaneti. The price of the ride is 16 GEL.
If you want to save time, you could also consider a flight - there are 4 flights a week from Natakhtari airport near Tbilisi, operated by VanillaSky company . You would see Caucasus from a completely different perspective and for 90 GEL it´s quite a bargain. On the downside, they ocassionally get canceled because of the weather and during the summer, you should book at least month in advance since they get booked up pretty fast. For more info, pls check this excellent post about the flight (covers also flight from Kutaisi).
The last option is the direct marshrutka - two minibuses depart at 7:00 from the area in front of Main Railway Station, come at least 30 minutes earlier to catch a spot. Another one departs at 8:00 from Samgori railway station. The price is 30 GEL, so it´s quite cheap, but I can´t recommend it since this uncomfortable journey takes grueling 9-10 hours - besically, it's just slower, marginally cheaper and less comfortable alternative for the day train.
If you want to take bus, it much better to take comfortable long-distance buses operated by the Turkish company Metro bus. The downside is that they will get you only as far as to Zugdidi. There, you will have to switch to marshrutka to get to Mestia.
From Kutaisi to Mestia:
This depends on whether you want to get to Mestia from the city or from the Kutaisi airport.
In the first case, your best options are the direct minibuses (the price is 25 GEL) departing from the station behind McDonalds. The first one leaves at 9:00 but if you want to secure your spot, get there between 8:00 - 8:30 am. since it's quite popular among tourists. The next marshrutka then departs at 10:00 or even earlier if full. If you miss both and there is none other direct bus available, look for a marshrutka to Zugdidi (price 7 GEL) - it's the same way and you can find there transport to Mestia more easily (especially if you notify your driver in Kutaisi that you need to continue to Mestia).
If you are travelling directly from the airport, the most reliable way to get to Mestia is the use the service of Georgian bus (they have a stand at the airport) - the price is 40 GEL per person. You ask also ask some taxi drivers loitering at the arrivals hall, they may be willing to give you even a better price.
From Batumi to Mestia:
Marshrutka is the only option, it departs from the main bus station. Since you will have switch the bus in Zugdidi (you may have to wait for several hours there), this ride takes a better part of the day. The first bus departs at 8:00 am, then there should be another one at 9:30 am.
Description of the route
The hike starts on Mestia's main square. Leaving the square through the eastern gate, take the first street to the right/south. Follow it down to the river. After the bridge, turn left. The trail is now marked and climbs slowly passing the Hotel Tetnuldi and later a row of wooden chalets to leave Mestia behind.
After a while on a large dirt track, you will see some ruined buildings ahead. Before, turn right for a short steep section which quickly turns north-east again to climb more moderately. The trail goes through the light forest and over pastures from which you will have a nice view of Mt. Ushba.
The track will bring you to another hiking pointer. It navigates you onto the small trail leading to the short but steep section through the forest. You should reconnect the road in less than 10 minutes. Here, turn right and walk another 300 meters until you see a huge meadow on your left.
Here, the trail leaves the Mestia - Ushguli route. Turn to the left onto the meadow and walk towards the small ridge at its opposite end. Follow it till it ends - there is a collapsed fence with a gate. You will join another road - turn right and follow it for about 200 meters as it traverses the hillside.
Then it bends around the ridge and the scenery changes. To the right, you will see large sloping pastures, to the left is the forest. Your goal here is to find a small trail which will eventually lead you onto the Chkhuti ridge. On the left side a road, there are a few small pines as well as one big one. The trail snakes between them - it´s not too obvious but if you know what are you looking for, you will find it. It will lead you through the forest, essentially running in parallel with the larger road.
After 200 meters, it will emerge on a small meadow with first views on Tetnuldi mountain. Walk to the top of the meadow and look left between the trees, the trail continues here. Follow it uphill until the forest ends. From here, start climbing through the meadow towards the elevation you see above. Once you are there, you can congratulate yourself - you are on the Chkhuti ridge (elevation 2300m).
From here, the path is pretty straightforward - just follow the ridge. The trail will take you higher and higher and offer great panoramic views. To the left, you will see Ushba and Chatyn-Tau, to the right the pyramids of Tetnuldi and Gestola. Ahead lies the Gvalda range - Chkhuti ridge heads towards its second highest point, Ahalgazrdoba (3702m, means youth in Georgian but is often referenced by its original name Peak Komsomol). To the left of this peak lies prominent Banguariani (3804m) and mountains Gvalda and Latraldashi.
Enough watching, let´s do some more walking. Follow the ridge and in less than an hour, you will reach the first prominent viewpoint, the grassy elevation at 2750m. It´s no shame to turn back here, but if you can, I recommend to keep walking - you should be able to see your next objective, three stone cairns higher at the ridge at 3100m. Those were built many years ago by hunters from Lakhiri village.
It takes about 45 minutes to reach the cairns. On your way, you will pass another place suitable for a campsite - it´s quite large flat depression where you can find some snow even in the early August. From here, it´s short, but quite steep climb to the cairns.
Three cairns are quite a good spot to turn back. You can continue even further up the ridge (there should be one more cairn not far ahead) but keep in mind that you also have to hike all the way back.
Descent to Lakhiri
There is another descent route - the one heading straight south to Lakhiri (included in the gpx log, not not reflected in trail parameters). I don't want to recommend it too much since it's not easy - the trail that once led here got overgrown years ago. Also, the views are not that special compared to the top of Chkhuti ridge. Still, it's there. And it could be a good option for hikers who want to trek from Mestia to Ushguli but the standard trail is too easy for them. On day 1, they can take this route, sleep in Lakhiri (one of the most charming villages in Svaneti) and on the day 2 trek all the way to Adishi. OK, now to the description of the route.
From the cairns, descend to the east onto the small plateau. From there, you should be able to see the shiny roof of some building far to the south - this will be your beacon, the place you need to get to. Start descending to the south. There is no trail, you need to descend "where the mountain lets you". For this reason, use the attached gpx log only as a loose inspiration, we also had to improvise at these moments. After some time, you will get to the piles of rocks, sticking out from the everpresent weeds (there is also an old camping site protected by stones). Here you shall find an old trail which will lead you to the west, onto the top of the ridge.
The next section is the most scenic part of the descent since you just follow the top of the ridge to the south, losing elevation rapidly. After some 500 meters, the ridge splits into two. Follow the left branch and soon you should find another trail - this one will lead you further south, to the forest and very close to the shining roof you saw all the time. However, it doesn't reach the building, some 40 elevation meters higher it turns to the west and descends into the valley which separates "your" ridge from Chkhuti ridge. The trail then turns to the south, closely following the edge of the forest and once you get out of the valley, turns to the east and leads you to the Lakhiri village.