Trek explores Keli plateau - a rocky piece of land west of Georgian Military Highway.
This trek, starting in picturesque Truso valley, explores the Keli volcanic plateau - barren, rocky piece of land lying west of Georgian Military Highway.
Only a few people ever come hiking here as this area is in the proximity of the separatist territory of South Ossetia (or, in Georgian, Samachablo) and the terrain is quite difficult.
The highlight of the trip is a crossing of two 3400m high mountain passes and a visit of the glacial Kelitsadi lake.
Duration: 3 days
Distance (27 km) is more suitable for a 2-day trek, but there is no proper camping spot around Khorisar pass, so most of the people split this trek into three days.
Not far on the map, but it´s necessary to cross two mountain passes and the area is quite remote.
You will need a tent.
Since this trek crosses volcanic plateau, there are very few water sources. There is one spring mentioned at the end of Day One but yhou shouldn´t rely on it too much as it tends to disappear during hot and dry summers. That means that you should carry about 4-5 liters when leaving Kvemo Okrokana. Water can be then found only after Khorisar pass.
Entrance to Truso valley, the source of the Tergi river lies on Georgian Military Highway, some 20 km south of Kazbegi at the Kobi village.
You can ask your marshrutka driver to drop you there.
However, it's much better to start the walk in Kvemo Okrokana village 4 km deeper in the valley.
So I recommend taking a taxi. We were quite unlucky with the drivers on Kazbegi main square; they kept asking 60-80 GEL for a one-way ride.
The only driver willing to take us for a reasonable price (40 GEL) was well-known "Vasil the Schumacher" (+995 599 918787).
2018 edit: This year, Mountain Freaks - Mountain Travel Agency organizes a daily bus which takes tourists to Kvemo Okrokana village. 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.
How to leave Ketrisi:
Easiest is to call a driver to pick you up. Otherwise, you will have to walk out of the valley and hitch something at the Georgian Military highway.
There is also an option to extend the trek by another three days and explore the gorges of Mna and Suatisi.
In the past years, a special permit from the Border department was necessary to finish this trek since it gets very close to the border of South Ossetia territory. However, from 2017,
it is not required. Still, keep in mind that you will be trekking in the border zone, don't push your luck and don't venture closer to the border than necessary.
Description of the route
Day 1: Truso valley - Keli plateau distance 8.5km, 1028m and 281m
Trek starts at Kvemo Okrokana village. Walk on the main road some 500 meters to the southeast, towards the mouth of the valley. Here we turn right onto the hill serpentine,
which climbs in the southwestern direction. As we climb higher and higher, nice views into the opposing Mna gorge open up in front of us.
Serpentine leads to the upper part of Truso valley, bypassing the river gorge, but we don’t follow it all the way there.
After one hour of walking, we turn left and start climbing on a steep slope, towards the actual plateau. This turn-off is easy to overlook, so I recommend to use GPS device -
it lies at the elevation of about 2300m.
The plateau is covered by grass mixed with rocks. We navigate the almost flat terrain to the small grassy/rocky ridge we see in the southeast.
Cross the ridge and descend into the small gully. There is a solid chance that you will find water here, but don’t rely on it too much as it may be depending on the weather.
Walk down the valley in the southern direction and eventually make a camp.
Day 2: Keli plateau - Kelitsadi lake distance 8km, 1061m and 752m
In the morning, continue walking south. Ahead of you, you see two volcanoes, both of distinctive red color - Higher Khorisar to the right and Lesser Khorisar to the left.
You need to reach the saddle between both volcanoes - in the beginning, traverse the southern slopes of Higher Khorisar and then start climbing; the path is quite apparent.
The terrain consists of volcanic scree, grade up to 30 degrees.
Saddle between Higher and Lesser Khorisar lies at the elevation of 3220m and provides a nice view over sharp granite peaks to the south. But you are not yet at the actual Khorisar pass -
to reach it, you will have to overcome another 200 height meters. Turn west and head to the small depression covered by a snowfield, where the red rock of Higher Khorisar meet granite massif.
It´s not too far, just a little more than 1km.
Khorisar pass lies at the elevation of 3429m. From there, you can already see the Kelitsadi lake to the west. Descent is steep and quite problematic as you have to hike down through the loose boulder field. Navigating this field is arduous, very time consuming and at times downright dangerous. Finally, after 1,5km you will reach the source of the river White Aragvi. Cross it and continue west, traversing northern slopes of Sherkhota volcano. After another 2km, you will come to the Kelitsadi lake - it will be also your source of water so better have some water filters or other water treatment tools ready.
Alternate return path: To return, you can also use the alternative trail,
bypassing Khorisar volcano from the north (pass elevation - 3569m). GPS log of the trail can be downloaded here.
You can either return in a single day or spend two days and on the way back also climb Khorisar itself (3736m, usually approached from the west).
Day 3: Kelitsadi lake - Ketrisi village distance 11.5 km, 753m and 1681m
On the following section, you need to be careful since it goes very close to the "occupation line" - if you lose your way here, climb the wrong pass and venture into South Ossetian territory, you may end up in Tskhinvali prison.
So, let's do it. Bypass the Kelitsadi lake from the north (or take a stroll around it, as you wish) and head north-west, towards the High Esi pass.
You need to overcome some 350m of elevation, the terrain is mostly composed of screes. The pass lies at the altitude of 3435m and offers superb views of Kazbeg massif to the north.
From the pass, descend to the north-east, into the valley of Esi river. Head a bit to the right and follow the nice grassy ridge,
which separates both sources of Esi river until you come to their confluence. From there, follow the left bank of the river. Water has a typical sulfur taste, stinks and doesn’t taste that well. In spite of this, however, it is safe to drink if no other spring water is available around.
Next section is quite problematic, as the river enters a small canyon and to continue, you have to traverse steep, overgrown slopes.
There are several segments which could be dangerous, especially in bad weather.
Eventually, you will come close to the mouth of the valley. Use the wooden bridge to cross to the right bank of the Esi river and Ketrisi village lies right ahead...