The best time for climbing Caucasus Mountains is August. The weather is warm at this time, there is no everyday rains or any significant temperature fluctuations. So in August we decided to climb of Mount Kazbek, which is located on the Main Caucasian Ridge from Georgia.
Kazbek is an extinct volcano of Caucasus, with five thousand meters height and located in the eastern part of the Central Caucasus, on the border between Russia and Georgia, the eastern part of Khokh Range.
As a starting point to the top of Kazbek we chose Gergeti village. You can reach it from the central bus station in Tbilisi. Usually buses depart in the morning, so the trip takes about 7 hours. The road goes along the plains, and then changes to the highlands, through the ski resort, lots of tunnels and dangerous turns over the precipice. The driver make stops at lunch places, where you can drink water from a source and take a little trip break because of roadway, which is sometimes not very high quality .
We arrived in Gergeti in evening and immediately located in the guest-house, where hospitable hosts immediately fed us with dinner. We sat in on the terrace with mountain views, discussing our plans.
The next day the weather was sunny and we decided not to waste time and take a stroll to Trinity Church ( Church of St. George). Built in the XIV century shrine is the only temple in the area of Hevy. Medieval bell tower is still preserved and situated near the Hevy. It was interesting to explore this ancient place, and at the same time locate products and supplies. Also, this walk will help us with acclimatization to the altitude. View from the terrace of our guest-house :
The road to the church goes through the village. Basically, all the houses are built of stone with tiled roofs and tall fences, behind which backyard is not visible. But the path goes up steep and opens an interesting view on the old part of the village and you can see all in details:
Then we come to the pasture surrounded by a fence. The locals here are actively engaged in farming and breeding cows, sheeps, make delicious cheeses and a variety of ethnic foods from the milk.
After pastures we went to the forest. The road winds through the serpentine. There are many steep areas here and therefore it is very fond of tourists on huge SUVs , enduro bike riders on the and motocross bike riders, and often, almost silent, huge groups of bicycle downhill fans rushing down the hill. These places are very convenient for such extreme sports, so besides from climbing the local peaks, here is what to do .
At noon we went to the church. It stands on a hill , surrounded by vast grasslands, where tourists stroll or going further climbers before climbing to the top. We left all of the products and equipment in the woods, where no one could find and during few hours we examined the old church and just relax:
A few hours later the clouds began to gather over the valley. The Caucasus in general almost always clear for the first half of the day, and in the evening is going to rain, so we filled bottles with clean and fresh water from the source and went down in the guest-house. We had to collect all the remaining equipment in large backpacks. It was tents, ice axes, safety equipment, ropes, safety hooks, sleeping bags, our mobile kitchen, photo and video equipment. So after a lunch the next day we are ready to go the route. In the guest-house we can felt national hospitality again. We gathered for a dinner with a huge group of Germans, English , Polish and Russian and taste the local cuisine. All these people were climbers and either returned from climbing , or just preparing for it . We talk about the weather at the top and difficult areas. In general, climbing Kazbek in the summer does not have much complexity , it’s mostly tracking, but dangerous areas still exist, such as the passage of annuals “Ortsveri” and the area from the old weather station to a snowy plateau. We must be careful there/
The next morning was sunny again, but we decided to go to the meadows near the church in the afternoon, because the whole climb takes about 3 hours with large and heavy backpacks. There we had planned first overnight. By yesterday, we went out on the meadows and camped. Around us were other tents and constantly wandering cows and steers that night trying to get under our tent. They break the silense and our sleep.
I woke up before dawn with a aim to catch the beautiful light. All around was covered with fog and almost nothing is visible. But I still took a tripod, camera and went on a small hill. For my luck, the fog disappeared and the rising sun add some color to the landscape:
Beautiful colors dawn did not last long: at one time fog overcast again and drizzling rain began. Unfortunately, today the weather was bad exactly like in the forecast. We took the equipment, which was previously brought and spread out on backpacks. Rain soaked tent and it added some weight to it . We did not use horses or porters, so we took large backpacks and slowly went up. The trail was steep enough: it was constant climb which led to the top of the glacier “Ortsveri”. Here relief flattened so we have got access to the water and plenty of space for tents, around which climbers build wall of stone for protection from the wind. In meadows grazed horses that locals used to carry all the equipment for large expeditions. At this place we came in the afternoon, the clouds were in the valley and beautifully flowed through the hills:
In cloudy weather the easiest photography objects are rivers, lakes, streams. It is all because the sun glare, which sometimes does not look beautiful on picture:
We were little tired of climbing, so after dinner we went to bed. The forecast for the next days is a good weather. So I awakened before dawn by the alarm call and this meant it was time to go for a morning shoot. The first minute is always difficult to get up, but interest in the beautiful photographs are always stronger. And my earl awaking gave me a good result. At that time I was not so experienced, so result is here:
This photo was published in the National Geographic TRAVELER journal, April- May 2013:
This place is very suitable for those who are interested in landscape photography, because it’s variable relief you can always find a good angle.
After shooting, we began to prepare breakfast. I also make some promotional photos for our sponsors and after that we walked the route. Area of alpine meadows ended and stone trail through the hills smoothly come into the glacier. We go to the glacier with climbing crampons, which are interconnected by safety rope. These precautions are necessary because of glacier huge cracks. We move very slow, because at some area we came upon a huge rift and had to get it, making a detour. We have lost a lot of time at that moment. It was a couple of hours before sunset when we came to the trail that led to an abandoned weather station. At this place the glacier ends and begins the stone steep with a narrow path. We fully laden with equipment and very tired , moving up slowly. We were overtook by drovers on horseback, fully of equipment. In general there is not a problems with cargo transportation here.
Came to the weather station, which was not such abandoned at all. Rescuers and guides living here. Here you can buy gas and some food. Also you can rent a room. There was a lot of tents around the building with national flags on some of thems.
That evening sunset:
The weather station is located at an altitude about 3,800 meters. It’s like a starting point for a climb to the peak, which starts from additional 1,200 m height. This method is quite feasible, but in a climbing day you need to lost a lot of energy.
Other climbers pass from weather station on a snowy plateau, which lies at an altitude of 4300 meters . You need to overcome a very dangerous section of the left side of Kazbek. On this side of the ice-hanging stone wall , which melts during the day and all crumbles down forming a permanent blockages . Therefore it is better to pass this part of the early morning, when the wall is not as mobile or make a huge detour on the glacier .
View of one of the sections of the ice- rock wall:
We chose the second way and went out early in the morning to the plateau. During the movement we must watch where stones falling and move very quickly and carefully. At the one moment we had to throw backpacks and quickly take refuge on a huge boulder. So if suddenly collapse on the large covered with small fragments. We’ve got to the snow plateau just at the moment when the real storm started. We had a little time to put up a tent and build a wall of snow for protection from the wind. Group from Holland did the same quickly. As soon as we finished and hided in the tent to cook dinner, the storm covered plateau. We sat on the corners and with every gust kept tents arcs, otherwise powerful wind may broke it . By the way , the tent is designed to withstand storms and more, but we had concerns. About 2 hours the wind pulled down and then suddenly fell silence. Storm clouds quickly left the plateau.
Climbing to the peak was assigned on 2 am, therefore we lay down to rest watching sunset. In the morning we got up, dressed warm and light clothes, took ice axes, camera and some hot tea in a thermo cup. It was a great luck – nice weather because of clear and windless night. Group from Holland came before us, so we were almost alone. When the sun rose, I made one shot while relaxing:
There is no time to rest, but the weather was clear, the air is fresh and I wanted to stop to take a few shots:
On lower side, from the Russia side, I saw a group that just started climbing . In my head I imagined the finished picture, so I waited a bit for them to made this. Climbers on the background of a mountain valley and Kazbek shadow:
Next I had to put down the camera in the coffer and catch up with my friends fast. All this time we were traveling without climbing cats, because the snow was not like the ice crust and the trail was done quite well. Just below the peak, there were about 50 meters, we fixed the cats , because of ice under feet. And so, with two ice axes and cats we climbed to the top of Mount Kazbek, 5023 meters altitude! Panoramic view from the top:
This journey came to an end, and new one started: Svaneti was the next!