The next part of our trip in Georgia involved leaving the resort far behind and travelling by splitboard to some remote villages in two opposite corners of Svaneti.
The weather forecast was perfect sunshine, as we set off to the remarkable village of Adishi. This place is so remote it’s cut off for most of the winter. In the summer, hikers can follow a beautiful alpine trekking route to Adishi, but in winter we were on our own armed with a map and our split board. We had a homestay arranged by Nino Ratiana, but now we just had to find the place in the wild Causcaus mountains. Bears and wolves still roam the hills here and hopefully they were still hibernating despite the warm weather!
With a slight lack of confidence in the Ex-Soviet GPS maps it felt easy to get lost. Then there was reading avalanche risk in somewhere alien, with the warm weather this meant sticking to North aspects if we could.
The skin uphill was superb under the blue skies and scorching sun, we were loving the vitamin D after a winter in Scotland. If it’s not powder snow then T-shirt spring touring/skiing is second best.
We had eyed up a small couloir at the head of the first valley, steep for 100 metres then flat and cruisey. We easily headed up the ridge to the drop in point. It was a stunning line that Marion hit first for the camera! We then rode an untouched, perfect bowl before the next uphill climb to 3100m towards the second valley. All the time we got closer to Mt Tetnuldi and it’s glaciated summit higher than MT Blanc. A couple of more ambitiously steep couloir lines caught our eye but we didn’t have time today.
We trusted our map reading and followed the far ridge down towards a defined cluster of trees. In theory Adishi was directly below and after what felt an eternity we spied the distinctive defence towers of an upper Svaneti village. Adishi was a compact settlement nestled above a curve in the river, sheltered but catching the winter sun still.
We rode down on the ever diminishing snow and to our surprise we got all the way to the first tower. We’d lost 1300m of height in the last run – tomorrow we had to get back up and start heading back!
The village was a beautiful mix of ramshackle stone buildings, some abandoned others alive with animals and people. The first householders invited us into stay with them but we headed for the homestay that was arranged.
Next up we reached three older kids trying to push a wheel spinning 4×4 up a steep icy slope. We dropped the boards and offered to help. Pushing hard the car got a bit higher but then Marion slipped and fell I worried the car might roll back on her but instead it hit a particularly large patch of cow poo which subsequently sprayed off the wheels into her body. I caught the side of it but nowhere near as much – in hindsight it was pretty funny but at the time it was disgusting! It was clear the car was stuck, next up an old man rocked up with two cows towing a sleigh filled with what else but even more cow dung.
A quick manoeuvre and the cows were harnessed to the car. With out the slightest apparent effort they nonchalantly pulled the car up the slope, who needs 4×4!
We headed on to our home stay for the night. The cow dung infested slushy snow underfoot was getting pretty intolerable, however our homestay appeared to save us. The friendly family directed us to a beautifully furnished bedroom and a hot shower in a warm room like a sauna. It was perfect. Many houses here had long corridors with large expanses of south facing windows to catch the warming sun and here was no exception. Feet up and fresh cake with tea in the sunlight was better than any catered Alpine chalet. The cake had bizarrely been made in a steel frying pan but tasted good. Dinner was delicious but huge the language barrier was frustrating preventing us chatting with our friendly hosts. We had vegetables like a ratatouille preserved in a jar for winter, with grilled meat, bean stew, soup, fresh bread, local cheese a weird green jam and spicy tomato sauce.
These ladies did the cooking:
After a good night’s sleep we just had to get back up the slope to start the trip back. The snow was hard and icy requiring crampons rather than skins.
We called into a small ancient church and admired brightly painted frescos inside. We were heading for a defined peak we had spotted the day before that must offer good snow on the hidden north face. We were right and it was probably the run of the holiday in deep soft powder.
The next village we would ski from was Mazeri about 25km away where we spent 4 days exploring. We drove to the village along a slippy muddy track which was all good fun in the Nissan truck but on arrival it appeared our guesthouse wasn’t here.
A kind family invited us to sit in their house while we worked out where the guest house actually was. It turned out to be back the way we came, but being Georgia the kind owner arrived to escort us back 5km to his random house. A roaring fire invited us in and yet again more traditional Georgian food awaited us within 30 minutes of getting there. More cheesy bread and an offer of local Cha Cha moonshine!
A snowy ridge about 1500m above us on the flank of Mt Ushba had caught our eye so we headed up through the forest to ski it the next day. The snowboards were on our back until we reached good snow about 200m and then the skin was through the beautiful pine forest. The ridge itself was not quite what we expected. It was actually catching the sun a lot and not too stable so we abandoned the plan and gambled on snowboarding a line through the trees. It turned out better than expected and was deep soft snow with pillows and jumps all the way down, finally spitting us out in a wide valley that we rode all the way back towards the car. We tried to slide every last inch!
The walk back to the car involved a few cows:
The next day we went Nordic splitboarding from Mazeri towards the Ushba glacier and a huge waterfall. A popular summer hike it was entirely deserted in winter as we slid along the valley floor. A river crossing posed a challenge resulting in cold wet feet for Marion but otherwise a nice day out avoiding the unstable sun affect slopes higher up. The frequent crash and roar of more snow avalanche in wet slides reminded us not to venture close to anything exposed. We passed an abandoned military building reminding us that we were a long and high stones throw from the Russian border.
The return leg saw us follow a track downhill through trees that had never caught the sun leaving pillows of soft snow and a few rather disconcerting bear tracks in the snow. This holiday never let us fully relax and this was just the latest fear we encountered. However we saw nothing and got back to lie in the sun at the guesthouse. The Becho valley where Mazeri lies is a quiet and beautiful pace that we both wanted to return and explore in the summer too.
While the snow was getting heavy in the warm weather the deep base and frequency of finding powder in shaded corners told us that it was unusually warm and the snow here was every bit if not more reliable than the Alps. There’s so much to explore and so few people exploring here that we will surely be back sooner rather than later to get those never ending fresh tracks.
The drive back to Tbilisi was broken up by a stop at Mtskheta the old capital of Georgia. An old town filled with history. We stopped to find a hotel and next thing we knew a patrol car had pulled up and we were asked for documents. No idea what was going on. With no English spoken the Police tried to pronounce my name before issuing us a ticket. They then inspected the car, we were both nervous, not being 100% sure whose name it was registered in and in fact anything about the car of if we were insured to drive it. It passed thankfully and we only had to visit a bank and pay the $15 fine. After the stress of the police we explored the amazing Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and then a 17th century nunnery. It was a pleasant spot to end the trip before the hustle and bustle of Tbilisi and getting home.
Getting arty in Tbilisi: