Very difficult 4-day trek crossing a little visited border areas of Georgia.
Very demanding 4-day trek connecting Shatili, a historical center of Khevsureti with Kazbegi region. It leads through little-visited border areas of Georgia,
especially at Georgitsminda - Amgha stretch there are no roads or civilization except a few shepherds huts and one border post.
Duration: 4 days
Some people managed to finish the trek in three days, others needed five, but the healthy average is 4 days.
You will spend more than a day in narrow, overgrown valley without a solid path. Several possible dangerous river crossings and almost no other hikers around for the most of the time.
You will have to carry a tent.
When to go:
Trek is not recommended until the second half of July. Earlier, the water level of Kovgra river is quite high and crossings are more risky.
Which way to hike:
People usually start from Shatili, so they don't have to walk uphill in the Kovgra valley. But both directions are viable.
Marshrutka to Shatili leaves Didube bus station in Tbilisi on Wednesday and Saturday mornings at 9. am. If you miss it,
a bus leaves from Didube daily at 5. pm to Barisakho, halfway to Shatili. From there, you need to hire a driver (price for Barisakho-Shatili drive should be around 100-150 GEL) or hitchhike.
Of course, you can hire a driver also in Tbilisi, but it would be much more expensive - 250 GEL at least.
However, most of the people attempting this trek come to Shatili on foot from Omalo.
How to leave Juta:
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).
Description of the route
Day 1: Shatili - below Isirtghele pass distance 12km, 1320m and 80m
From Shatili head south on the main road, upstream the Arghuni river. After two hours, you should come to the mouth of Giorgitsminda river.
Turn-off from the main road can also be recognized by ruined farmhouse.
Walk up the Georgitsminda valley. Pathway doesn't follow the river, but in serpentines ascends to the slope to the right.
For a few kilometers it traverses the hillside, then crosses the stream and continues on its southern bank. At the confluence of two streams, it crosses the water again. Start climbing the ridge to the north while looking for a suitable camping spot.
Day 2: below Isirtghele pass - Assa military post distance 8.1km, 996m and 1495m
Before the noon, you will haver to climb the Isirtghele pass. The best way to climb to the Isirtghele pass is to climb the side ridge which joins the main ridge to the north of the pass and then descend a bit to it.
An the other side, a trail becomes visible again - there is also a flat terrain not too far behind the Isirtghele pass if you need to break a camp. A trail then sharply descends into the overgrown valley, where the camping possibilities are very limited.
The crossing of Kovgra valley is short on the map, but difficult and time-consiming in reality. You will have to fight your way through the narrow, overgrown valley of Kovgra river.
Path is at some sections visible, at others you will have to create your own. People usually walk right in the stream, but it's possible also to climb little uphill and traverse.
Later the stream merges with another small river and becomes stronger, so it's no longer possible to walk in it. You will need to traverse the hillside on the right. Just follow the river,
everything else is on you.
After several hours, you should come to the confluence with Taniestskali river; there is a big meadow with Georgian border guards post (don't forget your passports!). This is a great place to camp
and get information about the area (bridges, safety etc.)
Day 3: Military post - upper Arkhoti valley distance 19.2km, 1086m and 521m
Continue fighting your way through the river valley. The basic rule is: If you see a footbridge over the river, use it - if you don't, you will soon have to ford the river anyway. However, it seems that these bridges are regularly being destroyed by spring floods so the situation here could be different each year. So it's essential to ask any local you meet (there will not be many) about the actual situation. But overall, expect to cross the river about 8 times
After a couple of hours , you should make it to the confluence with river Assa. This used to be the trickiest part of the trek as the river is quite fast and deep. However, in 2015, a new sturdy bridge was built and it seems it survived spring floods and it's still there. It lies some 50 meters upstream from the confluence of Kovgra and Assa rivers.
Attention! Broken bridge!
The bridge survived nice six seasons but finally, in August 2021, ran out of its luck and collapsed. Asa river is no joke, I don´t recommend crossing it on foot, this is really a place where one could actually drown.
I guess this bridge will be eventually rebuilt by border guards from Kovgra station, but in the meantime, I recommend to check another bridge about 1 km downstream. Not sure if it´s still standing since everyone has been using the broken one since it was built few years ago, but it´s worth a try. If it´s taken, too, I would strongly consider returning via the other route, such as through the Tanie lake. Take care.
After river crossing, turn south. Soon, you will have to cross the river again on another bridge. The trail hugs the river till the valley opens up close to the Amgha village - in past years, a new road replaced the old trail here so the walk is easier and more dull at the same time. Continue to the Akhielli village. Here the valley splits, but we just follow the new road to the south. After some 1,5 hours of walking south it bends again to the west - here you will have to cross the stream again (and finally leave the road).
From here its just 20 minutes of uphill walk to the camping spot. Follow the path, don't stray away from the river and soon you will see a waterfall on your right.
look to the left - some 10-15 meters higher is a grassy mound with nice flat terrain. You will have to leave the road here since it continues south to Roshka
Day 4: Arkhoti valley - Juta village distance 16.3km, 849m and 1184m
In the morning cross the stream not far from the camping spot and continue east to the pass. The path is pretty straightforward, after some 2 hours you should reach Arkhotistavi pass.
From here descend to the other side, to the bottom of the valley. Here you will find a stream, which will accompany you all the way to Juta.
The path first heads southwest, then after some 2 hours your valley will join another one and you will turn west.
Another 2 hours, one river crossing and one Georgian border post later you should arrive at the Juta village.
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 :)
Lali's guesthouse - small guesthouse in the heart of the Juta village and the one I stayed at two years ago . This is one of those basic places where you feel that you came to visit your granma to the village (but bathrooms and some rooms are also quite new). However, the hosts are simply great - very friendly and accommodating (speak German and also some English). Also, the food is very abundant and tasty. The only minor downside is the location of bathroom - accessible only from the outside of the house.
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.
Many photos in this post were taken by Jim Visschers, Lubo Ostrovsky and Luca Anasta. And by one dude named Ado, but I don't know his other name :) Thanks to everybody!