Fantastic day hike with a great 360° view on Elbrus, Aragats, Ararat and other peaks.
This hike climbs Didi Abuli, an extrinct volcano and one of the highest mountains of Georgian share of the Lesser Caucasus. While the mountain itself looks a bit unremarkable, once you make it to the top, you will admire the main strength of this hike - a magnificent 360° panorama that includes the Greater Caucasus in the north, close-by Paravani Lake in the north-east, as well as Mt. Aragats and Mt. Ararat in the south-east (of course, only if the weather is good). Your hike will start in the remote village of Abuli and will soon leave the dirt road first into a small meadow and then up the stony slope and ridge of Didi Abuli. Though the ascent is physically very demanding, all your efforts will be paid off by a unique view you cannot get from any other peak.
Duration: 8-9 hours
The basic hike from the village of Abuli to mount Didi Abuli (3.300m) takes about nine hours with breaks. In case you want to explore the surrounding ridge a little more or also climb close-by mount Abuli (3.100m), some additional time is needed.
The hike starts on a typical dirt road behind the village but soon crosses more and more stone fields. Towards the end, the stones get smaller and smaller and the path steeper and steeper, which makes it technically and physically more demanding – especially in case of snow or rain. The regularly strong winds might also be a challenge.
Due to its height and the rather isolated position of the peak, Didi Abuli is quite exposed to the weather. Accordingly, even a sunny summer day in July can feel very cold due to winds up to 70 km/h or more – always check a detailed forecast in advance and do not simply trust the maybe tempting temperature. As for most hikes in Georgia, the optimal time should be between mid-June and mid-October. However, there are people who do this day-hike in December and the villagers seem to go up there all year round under good weather conditions.
Although you may have perfectioned your Georgian lately, these skills are of rather no usage in this area. The region around Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda is mainly populated by ethnic Armenians, who don’t know too much Georgian. Most of them speak Russian very well though and are very happy to indicate you the right way.
How to get to Abuli:
Samskhe-Javakheti region is large and due to its lagging infrastructure, it´s not the easiest place to explore by public transport. The best option would be to have your own can or hire a driver for a few days, especially since you will probably want to explore also other interesting places spread out all over the area (Gorelovka, Dashbashi canyon, Shaori and Abuli megaliths or one of many local lakes).
To get to Abuli village by public transport, your best bet would be the bus from Tbilisi to Akhalkalaki, the closest larger town. There are two daily buses leaving from Didube station, both in the afternoon - one at 13:00, the other at 17:00 and the cost of the ride is 17 GEL. At Akhalkalaki, you can then hire a taxi to drive you remaining 12km to the Abuli village.
Btw, Akhalkalaki should become much easier to reach in next few years since it´s a major transport hub on the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project, the place where trains chance their gauges from Russian to European system. However, the route hasn´t reached its full potential yet - as of 2021, there are only a few cargo trains a week and no passenger trains.
Finally, some info about driving from Akhalkalaki to Abuli. First, follow the road to Kartikami until the asphalt ends. As long as you don’t have a 4x4 and are ready for possible adventures, don’t trust Google Maps at all but drive until the church in the centre of the village and take the road to the left around it. Behind the church, turn to the right and descend slowly. After crossing the Abuli river a first time, turn left at the end of the solid stone wall. Soon you will cross the Abuli river a second time; you should then turn right onto the lower street. From here on, simply follow the mostly wide road always close to the river on your right-hand side. After about 8km you will cross the river a third time and arrive in the village of Abuli. Already on the way, you will catch some nice views on Didi Abuli.
How to leave Abuli:
Again, if you don't have your own car or a driver, leaving Abuli village might be quite complicated. Your best bet will be to hike a taxi to adjacent Akhalkalaki, where you can catch adjoining bused to Akhaltsikhe, Tbilisi, or wherever you need to go. The bus to Tbilisi departs at 8:00 and 15:00 .
Where to stay in Abuli:
As driving to Abuli and going up the mount on the same day is very time consuming, you may consider staying in or around Abuli for the night before your hike. As far as we could see, there is no guesthouse in the village, but the locals seemed to be very inviting and excited to chat with us. Accordingly, you may find a nice and cosy spot for the night at one of the villagers. An easy and safe alternative is obviously camping. We spotted at least three good campsites: a small location down at the river before you cross it the third time; behind the last bridge on the right-hand side next to the power poles; or on the meadow close to a drinking trough 2km after the village (all spots are marked on the map).
Didi Abuli from the road
Description of the route
Hike starts at the church in the middle of the village where you may catch the attention of the locals which are happy to exchange some words with you; here you can also fill up your water reserves and leave the car. Take the street to the left behind the church and turn right after the football pitch. Some meters and some protective but non-aggressive dogs later, you are already outside the village and on a slowly ascending dirt road, which you will follow for approximately the next two kilometres. While the road turns slightly right, you will turn to the left into a flat meadow and stay close to the foot of Mount Abuli (3.100m).
Mount Abuli is on most maps and applications a nameless peak, but the villagers referred to it as "Abuli". It is kind of a pre-peak to Didi Abuli (3.300m) and shares the eastern-ascent and a connecting ridge with its big sibling. Sticking close to it also ensures that you are on the right way. After about another kilometre of comfortable walking you will pass by a long drinking trough with clear spring water. From there on, you can start already to hike up the stone fields; on the way up, we headed quite straight towards the peak while we walked more in the meadow on the way back. There is no right or wrong, but don't be too tempted by the flat lands in front of you as you have to climb some 1.000 m in height earlier or later. Get your trekking poles ready and look out for a path which seems manageable for you: there is no chance to avoid the stone fields, but you may find a way to traverse around some of them in the beginning.
Stone fields along the route
After about three rocky kilometres, you will reach a stone plateau between Abuli and Didi Abuli, which is also marked by a cairn. Pending on the time of the day and your energy level you may think about taking a break there. As it will turn steeper (probably around 30° at points) and probably windier with every metre up, you will otherwise have no proper spot for taking a moment to relax until you reached the top.
While it was already physically demanding up to there, it will get even more exhausting for the next two kilometres. Look towards the ridge which you can see between Abuli on the left and Didi Abuli on the right (three kind-of peaks; the real peak is "hiding" behind). Leave Mt. Abuli on your left and head more towards the three connected peaks in front of you. We went mainly straight for the ascent and picked the safer ridge for the descent as the snow is trickier on the way down then up.
Stone plateau along the walk
The final ascent may take another one to two hours pending on the local weather conditions and your stamina. A small stone wall marks the peak of Didi Abuli. Once up, you are rewarded by magnificent views on the volcanic plateau between Didi Abuli and Mt. Samsari (3.285m) which is scattered with appealing lakes like Panda and Levani. Further in the north, you can also see Tabatskuri Lake close to Bakuriani, the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park and even further under good weather conditions the Greater Caucasus with its magnificent peaks like Elbrus (5.642m). When turning around you have the unique chance to see the four-peaked Mt. Aragats (4.090m) and Mt. Ararat (5.137m) in the south-east and the Turkish mountain range further south. A bit closer in these directions you can catch perfect sight on mount and lake Madatapa and the Tiger Canyon close to Ninotsminda – both locations are worth some rather relaxing day hikes.
To get a perfect view on Paravani Lake walk from the small stone wall over to the further south – this would also be your way down in case you want to extend this hike to the Morena pass or down to Vladimirovka (see extensions and variations at the end).
Whenever you soak up enough positive energy from the panorama around you, turn around and head down the ridge between both Abulis – it is less steep and more comfortable to walk. The way down to the village should take you about three to three and a half hours.
Break on the way down
Alternations and Extensions
In case you feel like some additional metres you can first head to Mt. Abuli before you go down. Though you won’t have a 360° view anymore, you may have a nice sight on the village and its surroundings. The villagers seem to do this hike at times.
Paravani Lake, Patara Abuli and the Abul-Samsari Range
Instead of walking simply back to the Abuli village, you can also head towards the east through the Paravani viewpoint and head down to Vladimirovka, which should be about 15km. Down on the Abuli Pass you can also decide to climb Patara Abuli (2.800m) or to head into the Abul-Samsari Range towards Tabatskuri Lake, which may require another two to three days. If very motivated, you can also extend this hike through Lela’s Morena Pass towards the Bakuriani region.
Towards the north you can also decide to walk down to Buzaveti instead of Abuli. It’s about 7km. From there you can try to get to Kartikami again and get onto the asphalt road.
Views to the north from Didi Abuli peak
The trail was hiked by Chloé Tremblay, Christina Nefzger, Cosima Reichert and Philipp Bienek, who also provided pictures, gpx and the hike description.