Glaciers and snow-capped mountains in the distant landscape fire us up. Bouncing around in the backseat of a minivan on twisty mountain roads for hours never felt better once we enter this remote Svaneti region of Georgia. We will hike through the Greater Caucasus Mountains, which run the length of Georgia’s border with Russia!

Medieval style villages and towers on lush mountain hillsides surround us in the town of Mestia, located in the center of Upper Svaneti. This entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as over 175 towers remain standing in the region.

The Svans live here. They are tough, rugged people. The kind that does everything the hard way, like stand on a plow pulled by a steer and turn dirt on a sharp sloped garden. The proud Svans speak their own language and boast a long history of survival in this isolated part of Europe.

Good thing that we have a five-hour hike in the mountains tomorrow morning to burn up some calories, because dinner turns out to be a feast. The friendly women at Roza’s Guesthouse continually bring plates full of different foods that cover the entire tabletop. Fresh, homemade (sulfate-free) wine, and then more wine, help to wash down the meal.

In the morning, Merab, our local trail guide drives with us to the farm village of Lakhiri, where we will hike back to Mestia. This five-hour trail ascends through a farm where cows and sheep graze. Merab knows every inch of this area, as he grew up hiking, skiing, climbing, and living in this region. Not an ounce of fat on his wiry frame.

He stops to explain the local flora and fauna, while we catch our breath on this steep ascent. “I thought this was primarily downhill today,” I say to Merab.

He laughs and says, “You always must go up first. And guard your daypack if a cow comes towards it. A cow once ate my socks when I was drying them out.”

Near the top of the trail, a bird’s-eye view shows Chalati Glacier hugging the top of a valley in the sharp-edged mountains.

Collisions between the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates formed the Caucasus Mountains. These scraggy mountain views remind us of the Chilkat Mountain Range surrounding Haines, Alaska, one of our favorite places on earth. Meanwhile, our leg muscles remind us of their existence as we descend the steep path into a meadow of wildflowers. Wonderful place for a break.

As we tramp back into Mestia, Merab tells us that an annual horse race will go right through town soon. So much for taking a shower.

We sit at an outside table at a café known as “the place to see and be seen.” Waiters wearing interesting shirts serve us well-earned beers while we wait for the event.

Eventually, horses clop through this charming town on a victory lap.

Just enough time to sneak in a shower before cooking class. To make the Georgian staple “Khachapuri”, you need to make cheese from fresh, raw milk, slowly warmed and hand-squeezed into a more solid substance. Form the bread dough into a round pizza with no crust, place a ball of cheese in the middle, wrap it, press dough into a round again, slice the middle, and then bake. We notice that those friendly women do not serve us the khachapuri that we made today for tonight’s dinner. Thank goodness.

Onward ho! Via a three-hour, wild mountain road where we drive to one of highest inhabited areas in Europe.

Enter the Medieval village of Ushguli, well known for its 9th to 13th century-built watchtowers. Villagers lived in them during times of invasion and blood feuds. Community members helped each other construct the towers, so long as the person wanting a tower proved trustworthy and helpful to others as well. Secret passages connected the homes to evade attack. A man with a tower had the best chances of attracting a wife, which was no easy task in this remote region.

We huff and puff up another steep trail. It leads to the top of a “hill” where the view from the remains of Queen Tamar’s Tower shows the entire landscape below. Legend says there could be a fortune of gold buried somewhere around here.

Mt Shkhara, the highest mountain in Georgia at over 17,070 ft (5,203 m), looks down upon us like an eagle as we eat lunch, as if it knows that we will try to hike up to one of its glaciers tomorrow.

Views of Ushguli and the towers as we descend this hill return us to fantasy land.

After a pleasant walk down through the village to the 12th century “Lamaria Church,” we all feast together and share social, religious, and yes, political concepts and ideas. Travel opens the heart, touches the soul, and expands the mind’s perspective.

To Shkhara Glacier this morning! This hike will take five to six hours. It promises a gentle ascent along the Enguri River.

Accompanied by a stray dog, we navigate several gushing water crossings on thin, flimsy boards barely above the water, while marveling at the magnificent mountain ahead. Our canine friend loves the khachapuri we made the other day. At least someone can eat our cooking.

Thunderstorms behind us threaten our venture. “We will keep going. The storm could still go another direction,” Mareb says. We keep our fingers crossed.

Here comes the rain. Time to put on rain gear. BOOM! The sky explodes with thunder, lightning and vicious rain. Okay, things are getting wild.

“If this keeps up, we’ll have to turn back,” Mareb says. “There are too many gushes and waterfalls that come from the top of the mountain. It can get too unsafe.”

We are only fifteen-minutes away from the glacier when the downpour intensifies, this time with hail. “I’m sorry, but we must turn back. It’s too unsafe.” Mareb says. He did not get any argument from us. He knows every inch of these places and has even climbed much of it.

“Walk at least 2 meters apart from each other,” he instructs. “That way if something happens it will only get one of us rather than us all.” Well, that’s a reassuring thought. We are not sure if he is worried about lightning or landslides. Not that it matters.

We are friggin’ freezing and exhilarated at the same time. That song, “It’s a Rainy Night in Georgia” gets stuck in my head. Meanwhile, our stray companion stays loyal to his shepherding duties, even amongst bomb-like thunder.

Although we did not touch the glacier, this hike was marvelous. These are the things you remember from any adventure. Click on the video clip below if you want to see a bit of our hike that includes the dog:

Back at the guesthouse, we slip into dry clothes and then make the drive back to Mestia, where we will spend our last night in the mountains. The continuing  heavy rain makes the drive even more interesting.

Tomorrow, we will travel to the coast of the Black Sea and say goodbye to our new friends.

Thank you, Abundant Universe!



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