Beautiful 5-day trail visiting some of the most beautiful Georgian lakes.
This beautiful trek crosses Egrisi mountains which separate Svaneti from Samegrelo lowlands.
You will not come close to the highest mountains of Caucasus, but this small drawback is fully compensated by a very diverse environment.
High passes with great views, magical lakes, rocky gorges, waterfalls, shepherds huts, remote valleys - this trek has everything.
Or almost everything. There are no medieval stone villages, so typical for many Georgian regions. So, if you are coming for your first visit and have time for only one trek,
I wouldn´t pick this one. It´s more suitable for people who have already seen the "highlights".
Duration: 4-5 days
If you are a swift walker, you can hike this trail in 4 days. Still, you should have at least one day as a buffer. Egrisi mountains are quite rainy
because of the proximity of the Black Sea and it would be a pity if you walked so far and saw nothing because of the mist. In such a case, it's better to spend more time at the lake to get the best possible views.
Also, you can save almost a day of time if you hire a truck to take you all the way to the Natipuru hut. It´s probably even better this way as the Natipuru road is tough and not that interesting. For a transport, you will have to ask around Mukhuri village, the standard price of one-way ride these days is about 350 GEL.
The trail is almost 80 km long from start to the end, crosses four mountain passes and several potentially risky water bodies. Especially the second half of the trek is quite remote and in case of any problems, it won't be easy to get any help.
The best time is from the second half of July till the mid of September because of the most pleasant weather and lowest rainfall.
I would like to stress that my description is relevant to this "ideal" period. Overall, lakes are usually accessible from late June (when they are still frozen) till late September. I really don't recommend to try to visit them earlier or later - I am not saying it's impossible (nothing is "impossible"), but high passes will be covered by snow and crossing them could be tough and possibly life-threatening. I know several people who went there in late June and all, even though they are active climbers, admitted that it was just too risky and probably not a good idea. Also, during the late spring, lakes get quite a lot of rainfall.
Tobavarchkhili lake in late June
There are no villages or guesthouses where you could spend a night, you will have to pack everything necessary for a prolonged camping trip.
There are several alternative routes to the lakes. This post describes Mukhuri and Khaishi variants which are, in my opinion, the most scenic ones. The third, shorter route starts in Skuri.
How to get to Mukhuri:
The best place to start your trip is Zugdidi. Marshrutka to Mukhuri departs at 9 am. from the local bus station -
it's the one by the bridge (42°30'31.9"N 41°52'09.0"E), not the one by the train station. The ride costs 3 GEL and takes more than two hours.
Another option is to take a taxi. Price for the ride to Mukhuri should be some 30-40 GEL (it's 40km) and the trip takes less than an hour.
How to leave Khaishi:
Several marshrutkas heading either to Mestia or Zugdidi pass through Khaishi every day.
Description of the route
Day 1: Mukhuri - Natipuru hut distance 26.2km, 2320m and 720m
First, just a side note - below, I describe the 4-day version of the trek. Trying to reach the lake in 2 days is very demanding and while it's definitely doable, it's not for everybody. It's therefore completely fine to split these two days into three sections (especially if you start late on the 1st day). Also, if you came by taxi, ask your driver if he could take you at least to the Lugela spring so you skip the first 7km of the quite boring road.
OK, now to the trail description. It starts at the bridge over Khobistskali river at the elevation of 300 meters - it's big dirt road following the right bank of the river.
For the first few kilometers, it snakes between some houses, then leaves them behind.
More than an hour later, you will reach Lugela mineral spring. It's a meadow to the right of the road - seems to be a popular camping spot. Lugela water flows out of the metal pipe
and is extremely salty. Nearby, you can also take a dip in the river (but if you try to reach the lake in 2 days, you won't have time for that).
Follow the main road, it's slowly climbing. There are several water springs on the way - take enough water since in the next few hours, there will be none. After another 10 kilometers and 300m ascent you will come to impressive Gunzha gorge, there is a wooden bridge over the river. Overall, there are very places to camp, but few hundred meters behind the gorge, there are a few suitable ones.
Follow the main road. Soon you will come to the intersection - right path stays by the river, but you need to turn left, onto the branch which heads uphill. The aubsequent
climb is long, arduous and not too interesting
. You will be just walking on a dirt road in a forest with very limited views and no sources of water.
During the next 5 hours, you will have to climb 1300 meters from elevation 600 to 1900m. Your climb will be occasionally sweetened by blackberries/raspberries.
At the elevation of 1760m, you will come to the junction - a newly built forest road branches from the main road to the right. This road leads directly to the Natipuru hut, but I recommend to turn left to stay on the original road. If you turned right, you would miss the water spring which lies one mile later, at the elevation of 1860m.
From the water spring, a small trail snakes across the forest - to find it, you need to turn sharply right and backward, using the clock position terminology, "this route is on 4 o'clock". After some 10 minutes you should come to the hut below Natipuru mountain, where you will find a nice campsite and finally get some great views. And from now it will get only better.
Day 2: Natipuru hut - Tobavarchkhili lake distance 13.1km, 1548m and 839m
From the hut, the trail turns to the north and starts climbing while circumventing the Natipuru mountain from the left side. Behind the mountain you will find another crossroads, you need to turn right here. The trail dives into the forest, crosses 4 smaller streams and after few kilometers comes to the big flat meadow with a shepherds hut with the roof made of blue plastic bags.
The surrounding of this hut, abandoned during our visit, would make a great camping place. However, during 2018, a couple of shepherds lived in the hut and I heard several warnings about them. I even spoke with a couple which they invited for a drink and then one of the shepherds stole some things from their backpacks. Therefore, I wouldn't spend around more time than necessary.
From the hut start climbing directly uphill until you find a footpath traversing the slope. Here you need to turn right and head towards small saddle to the east, close above the treeline.
The path then turns to the north and starts traversing the steep slope, crossing several rocky ledges. After some 30 minutes, you will come to a big square stone, quite a good place for camping if needed. Here you need to turn left and start climbing up the valley to the depression some 400m above you, which most closely resembles a pass. It was quite tiring, especially since we lost a path for an hour (I marked in gpx log where we found it again).
When you make it to the depression, you find out that this is not Okhoje pass yet - to reach it you will have to climb another 200 meters in the northern direction. But good thing is that you can't get lost here.
Finally at Okhoje pass, elevation 2750 m. Enjoy the views and slide down to the Okhoje lake - in late August there were still snowfields at the north side of the pass.
Okhoje lake is ideal for a break and a dip. You can camp here or continue to Tobavarchkhili lake - just take into consideration that this walk takes another three hours.
Let's push on. Follow the bank of the lake to its northernmost point and from there, start climbing between huge rocks towards a pass to the north. There is a hiking pointer showing the direction and some kind of a rough trail between the stones.
You need to overcome some 200 meters of elevation to make it to some kind of a large mountain plateau. When at the top you will find yourself on a rocky meadow. There is a hill in front of you. Walk around it from the right side and after some 30 minutes, you should see Eastern Toba pass (2902m) in the distance. It's pretty steep and you should expect snowfields close to the top,
but not that high, you will have to climb just another 200 meters.
The pass offers fantastic views on the peaks of Chitaghvala massif (3226m), but the lake is not yet visible, it's hidden behind rocks to the left. Start descending, the path goes on the right side of the valley. It will take some time as you will have to descend 250 meters. Its better to camp at the farther side of the lake because of nearby water source (marked in the gpx log).
Day 3: Tobavarchkhili lake - behind Natachtish-Dudi pass distance 14.2km, 1250m and 1430m
Start early and climb to the pass to the north of the lake. It should be quite fast as its only 100 meters of elevation and path to the pass is clearly visible from the lake.
The path at the other side of the pass is well visible. On your right, you will see small Didi Ghele lake, usually covered with ice. Not much later you will descend to the Kailashi lake - it has a shape of a heart.
Here is the tricky part. Cross the small stream at the spot where it flows out of the Kailashi, but dont follow it to the left - instead of that turn right
and start climbing onto a ridge behind a lake. There is also a path, if you look for it, you should find it pretty quickly. Follow the path,
it slowly climbs above the lake and then circumvents nameless hill from the right side.
Before you will open up an amazing view into Khobistskali valley - this way you will descend. The trail here consists of a series of endless serpentines which will bring you some 400 meters lower to the river. When you come to the bottom of the valley, path fades and will eventually disappear.
Now you should cross the river, but it's not easy as it flows between huge rocks. Walk by it until it leaves the "canyon", then you can cross it easily.
It should be also noted that there is a chance that the valley will not be completely abandoned. In 2014 there was a company of shepherds, paths were in better shape
and there was a bridge over the river. However, when we came there in 2015, we found nobody and valley was completely overgrown. Later we found out
that that year, the shepherds were working in a different valley.
Ok, where did I …. back to the trek. Follow the river. Your advance will be slowed down by several gullies formed by smaller streams joining the river.
Behind one such glen, you will find a semi-decent path (marked in gpx log). This path will lead you northeast, slowly away from the river. You will also climb a bit.
Another obstacle here will be few patches of young, but very dense forest. The last one was especially tricky as path disappeared and we had to climb 30 meters to find it again.
Right behind this forest, you will find a flat place suitable for camping. Depending on the time you will have to decide whether to stay here or continue -
but if you want to make in the next day to Khaishi, you will have to walk (or walk next day 12 hours as we did, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone).
From here, you will need to walk for 4 hours to get to another suitable campsite behind Natakhtish-Dudi pass.
Some 100 meters behind a campsite path turns to the north and dives into a major side valley, at this section, it's already well visible.
It crosses two small streams and begins climbing to the pass. You need to climb on a big, wide side ridge in front of you that eventually narrows and bends to the right.
In lower parts, the path is hard to follow, then reappears again. Your advance will be slowed down by fields of big, tasty blueberries.
After you make it to the top of the side ridge, the path turns right and starts traversing the ridge.
It leads you to the Natakhtish-Dudi pass (2770m), which lies on a "not-so-rocky" part of the ridge. From the pass, you can admire the panorama of Greater Caucasus ridge as well as Mt. Elbrus lying behind (at least on the sunny days). Descent a bit from the pass and you will come to green meadow suitable for camping. However, you will probably have to descent another 100 meters to get some water.
Day 4: Behind Natakhtish-Dudi pass - Khaishi distance 27.2km, 447m and 2273m
Another tough day. Continue descending to the bottom of the valley, you will cross rhododendron fields, hogweeds and eventually dive into the small forest.
Then you will have to ford a river and appear amongst hogweeds again. Path at this section is always more or less visible, just look carefully. Basically, it just follows the river.
After some time you will have to ford a river and after 10 meters last, third time. Here appears decent path and first signs of civilization such as cows.
Some 30 minutes after last fording you should come to shepherds hut called Gvandra. But you haven't won yet, from here to Khaishi its another 5 hours of brisk walking.
Behind the huts, the terrain becomes quite muddy. Path later turns into a dirt road, after some 4 km you should see Zeda Vedi settlement on the opposite bank of the river.
Stay on the left bank, it's a long walk. But apart from that, there is not much to talk about, just follow the road.
Eventually, you will pass by Kveda Vedi village - it mostly lies at the eastern bank of the river, but you need to stay at the western one. Behind the village, the road dives into beautiful canyon and after another two miles of walking you should finally arrive at Khaishi.
The cover photo of the lake (or at least a part of it) is published here with kind consent of
Max Richter. Thank you, Max!