Trek is crossing remote Khde valley and offers splendid views from 3500m high Kibishi pass.
This route connects Darial gorge with Juta village. It crosses beautiful, wild Khde valley with several waterfalls and offers splendid views from 3500m high Central Kibishi pass.
Even though it lies in the close vicinity of Kazbegi, it´s almost unknown to the broader public. The reason is its difficulty - to get to the Kibishi pass, it´s necessary to cross the glacier
so I would classify this trek also as mountaineering, not just trekking trip. Therefore, this route is recommended only to experienced hikers such as those who climbed Kazbeg
and look for another trek in the area.
Trekkers willing to explore this beautiful valley can either make a return trip to Kuro ridge
or turn west below the glacier and cross LeraKT pass to Sno village (for this one, I don´t have GPS file, only approximate description
from one Polish forum - if you scout it, pls let me know).
Just keep in mind that even though you don´t need designated equipment for these alternative treks, they are still quite hard and not recommended to beginners.
Duration: 3 days
Trail navigates overgrown Khde gorge, but the main obstacle is Kibishi pass - to reach the pass, one has to cross the small glacier,
and even though it’s stable and not steep, great care and ropes/crampons are needed during a crossing.
You will have to carry a tent.
How to get to Dariali gorge:
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 daily at 12:30 (no idea when it returns) 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.
You will need a car to get out of Juta. Luckily, especially in the afternoon is the small parking lot at the beginning of the village full of taxi drivers. So you should be able easily able to find someone willing to drive you to Kazbegi - the usual price is 40-50 GEL.
If you are really low on cash, you can also prolong the walk and get to Kazbegi on foot, it takes 4 to 5 hours and Juta valley is quite nice (at least for the first 2 hours).
To hike in Khde gorge, you need a permit. You can obtain it from border guards at the Dariali gorge border crossing (some 300m north of the mouth of Khde river). Deeper in the valley there is another border post,
but guards there don´t issue permits and may send you back if you don´t have one.
Getting the permit at the border may be problematic if you don't know where to look - only few people go hiking to Kibishi which means that people working at the customs building might be dumbfounded by your request, not sure what you are even talking about (personal experience). You need to get to the administration building, but it is not easy to find. You need to find an unmarked dirt road on the left, starting some 100 meters before the customs building, by some cargo insurance offices. It immediately turns right, so you will pass the customs building, but don't worry, you are not taking a backdoor to Russia. Soon, you will pass some power substation and an office building with red roof is right behind it. Jump over the small stone fence, walk around the building and enter by the front door. As I said, it is not too intuitive :)
Here, all goes smoothly, local officers are friendly and know what to do. You just need to look fit and experienced and they should pose no problems. This paperwork will take 20 minutes or more, depending on the size of the group - combined with the fact that the office is open from 9:00 till 17:00, you might want to arrange everything a day before so you won't face delays on your trekking day.
Route to the administrative building at the Dariali gorge border crossing
Description of the route
Day 1: Darial Gorge - Khde valley distance 8.7km, 1240m and 490m
The trail starts at the elevation of 1300m in Dariali gorge, at the right bank (northern side) of Khdestskali river, in Russian sources also known as Kistinka.
First, it follows a dust road and in serpentines climbs upwards and deeper into the valley. After one hour of walking, you will come to Khde Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP),
currently under construction.
Here the road ends and you will have to find a trail - it lies some 30 meters above the road, on the right bank of the river.
To reach it, you will have to turn sharply to the north at HPP and climb 30-40 meters on a steep slope, covered by scree and rocks.
The trail is not clear, often disappears - sometimes it appears right on the bank of the river, other times leads tens of meters from the riverbed.
At the elevation of 1750m trail reaches the rocky ledge which stretches all the way to the river and blocks the way. It can be crossed through a crevice, located approximately in its middle.
The trail then leads onto a heavily overgrown meadow full of nettles and disappears. You have to cross it - vegetation is tall near the river, so you could consider climbing a bit uphill,
where it shouldn’t be as high. But don’t stray too far from the river and after you pass the worst section, descend to the riverbed again.
The trail should continue there, leading you through a thin forest.
About one walking hour behind the forest, the path climbs onto the beautiful meadow at the elevation of 1960 m. On the opposite bank of the river can be seen a mighty waterfall, first of many.
After another hour and 200 meters higher, you should come to the border post - trail here significantly moves off the river, which is now far to the right.
Checking of permits may take 20 to 30 minutes. Then the trail slowly descends back to the Khde riverbed again. Some 30 minutes after you leave the border post,
you should come to the flat, grassy meadow - the place is quite unusual as the river here disappears beneath the stones. This is the good place to spend the first night.
Day 2: Khde valley - below Kibishi pass distance 13.5km, 1520m and 451m
Continue deeper into the valley. The route, in the beginning, follows the riverbed, as the water runs deeper below the stones. When it finally appears, you will probably find yourself on its left bank.
Cross it to the right bank, find a small trail and follow it. You will eventually come to the spot, where the trail got destroyed by a landslide,
so cross back to the left bank of the river and carry on.
The trail here climbs up through a beautiful valley; you will see more waterfalls on the left side (elevation 2350m). The terrain is mostly scree covered by grass.
The river then branches into several streams, could be another great place to camp. The trail follows the left bank of Khde river and climbs again.
Eventually, you will reach a large grassy meadow at the elevation of 2400m and ahead you can see another, much higher level of the valley (altitude 2800m) with another waterfall.
It´s called “Kibishi ledge” (ok, I made this name up - it is mentioned only in Russian articles as "Ustup Kibishi".
If you can invent a better, English name for this geomorphological formation, I am open to suggestions. Does it even have a name in Georgian?).
To climb Kibishi ledge, follow the barely visible trail in the grass to the right of the waterfall. You have a great view of mountains Shino and Kuro to the west and Rustavi glacier to the east.
South of the Shino mountain (don't confuse with Shani mountain on the Russian border) you can also see LeraKT pass, which can be used by trekkers without glacier equipment to leave the valley.
Once on the ledge, stay to the right of the river and traverse the slope (mix of scree and grass). Eventually, you will have to descend a bit to the river (water could be quite dirty here).
Now you are in the moraine and see Kibishi pass right ahead of you. Keep approaching the glacier, while looking for a good place to camp.
Day 3: Below Kibishi glacier - Juta village distance 8.2km, 496m and 1547m
Navigate the moraine to Kibishi glacier. It´s much smaller than on the old Soviet maps; currently, it starts at the elevation of 3280m and is 900 meters long.
It´s solid, without cracks, covered by firn and reasonably steep (gradient 15-20°, in upper part up to 25°). Put on ropes and crampons.
The route is obvious, climb directly to the pass - it shouldn´t take longer than 1 hour.
Kibishi pass lies at the elevation of 3500 meters and is a great spot for a break, but don´t stay here too long; there is still long march ahead.
The terrain on the other side of the pass is steep and rocky - it´s recommended to descend through the rocky couloir,
more to the right (watch for the arrow painted on one of the rocks on the pass).
The terrain here is pretty steep (25-30°), and you have to watch for stones loosened by people above you, but luckily this section is only 200 meters long.
Ahead of you is now long descent on rocks and grass. According to some sources, it´s recommended to descent to Sharovanistskali riverbed as directly as possible and follow its left bank,
but hikers I quote here found this path very uncomfortable as they had to traverse steep, grassy slope.
They recommend slower descent, staying higher on slopes on the right bank of the river and descend later.
No matter which route you take, you should eventually reach Juta river - from the pass, it takes about 3,5 hours, during which you lose 1200 meters of elevation.
The route here follows the left bank of the river, but it´s not necessary to ford the river. Just follow the right bank and after 200 meters you will come to the border guards post.
Your permit will be checked here and there is also a steel beam laid across the river, so you can cross to the other side. From here it´s just an easy walk on the road to Juta village.
This article is based on very detailed trekking report, published by "Federation of mountain tourism" from Dimitrovsk area, Moscow.
They also provided me their gpx log and photos - more of them can be found
at this address. Thanks a lot!
Remaining photos were provided by experienced Russian trekker and photographer Vadim Turkin.