Hiking Georgia’s Transcaucasian Trail: Chuberi to Mestia

Author credit: The below article was co-written by myself and Andrew Moffatt. 

If you’ve heard about the country of Georgia, then you’ve most likely heard that it’s an outdoor lover’s paradise.

The hiking trails of this beautiful and very welcoming country are home to horizons lined with jagged snowcapped peaks, glacial river crossings, moody forests, quaint villages, ramshackle ruins of former villages, and switchbacks taking you up to stunning  mountain passes and viewpoints.

DSC_7751

The most well known hike in Georgia extends from Mestia to Ushguli in the northwest pocket of this rapidly advancing post-Soviet country, but it is just a small section of a much larger trail – and one that is constantly being improved and expanded – the Transcaucasian Trail.

The Transcaucasian Trail, currently incomplete, aims to combine the Lower Caucasus mountains in Armenia, with the Upper Caucasus mountains in Georgia and Azerbaijan via 3,000km of hiking trails. Geopolitics makes this extremely complicated for the time being, but Georgia’s Svaneti region is home to the start of a successful hiking trail for Georgia. The trail is currently built out for 10 days of hiking – less if you’re fast, more if you want to enjoy the stunning sights.

The other multi day section of Georgia’s Transcaucasian Trail extends from Chuberi to Mestia. If you’re  up for a challenge and want to skip the crowds of the Mestia to Ushguli trail, then this is the hike for you.

DSC_7713

Trail Facts

Length: 83km

Time: 3-4 days

Starting Point: Villages of Chuberi or Nakra, located west of Mestia

End Point: Mestia

Minimum altitude: 844m

Maximum altitude: 2954m

Guesthouses can be found in the following villages: Kickhuldashi, Pari, Iskari, Becho Mazeri and Mestia. Guesthouses also offer filling and tasty meals on request starting from 20 GEL per person (about $7 USD). If starting from Chuberi, you will need to pack a tent. Wifi is available at the Hanmer Guesthouse in Iskeri.

DSC_7770

When to go

Hiking this trail is possible from June to around early October. In June and early October, you’ll likely find snow patches along the higher altitude sections of the trail such as Bak Pass and Guli Pass, and care is needed.

Before you head out

Before you pull on your hiking boots and strap on your backpack, make sure you download the Transcaucasian Trail map for Georgia onto your Maps.me app. Once downloaded, you will see a highlighted route in Maps.me to help you ensure you stay on track. It is also handy to download the track notes to your phone to read an overview of what to expect for each day.

Trail markers were also freshly painted on this section of the Transcaucasian Trail in summer 2019 so you will follow these for most of the time, but may need to refer to the maps in some sections such as through forests. The trail markers on the Chuberi to Mestia section of the Transcaucasian Trail alternate between yellow and white and red and white blazes.

Gear list

It’s recommended to have the following gear for this hike:

  • Hiking shoes. You’ll need good grip on the steep trails that can be slippery underfoot due to mud or scree.
  • Warm clothing and a rainjacket as the weather is unpredictable in the mountains.
  • A tent and sleeping bag if you’re starting from Chuberi. Guesthouses along the way provide bedding so no need to bring a sleeping bag if you start from Nakra.
  • Snacks such as fruit, museli bars and lollies (trail snacks can also be bought along the way at markets in several villages).
  • Water bladder or water bottles capable of carrying at least 2L per day. You can fill up at guesthouses straight from the tap or from streams along the way using a water purification or filtration system.
  • Georgian Lari for the guesthouses along the way as there are no ATMs. Small notes are best. Expect to pay around 30-40 GEL ($10-14 USD) per night per person for a room. If you want dinner or breakfast, expect to pay 20-25 GEL ($7-8.50 USD) per meal.
  • Camera to capture all the amazing scenery along the way.
  • If your knees aren’t so good, hiking poles may come in handy for the steep descents but you can easily pick up a stick in the forest sections along the way.

DSC_7640

Where to start

You have the option to start this trail at Chuberi or Nakra – small villages located to the west of Mestia and accessible by marshrutka from Mestia or Zugdidi and a few kilometres of walking and hitchhiking to the trailhead.

Your starting point depends on how many days you want to hike and if you want to bring a tent or rely on guesthouses.

If you plan to start from Chuberi, you’ll need to come armed with a tent, however if you start from Nakra, there are guesthouses available along the rest of the route.

Chuberi Pass 2Photo by Andrew Moffatt.

To get to Chuberi, take a marshrutka towards Mestia from Zugdidi and ask the driver to drop you off on the side of the main road just after a town (really a small collection of roadside stalls) called Khaishi. You’ll see a bridge on your left and a roadsign pointing to Chuberi. It will take about two hours to reach this point from Zugdidi.

From the road sign, it’s about an 8km walk to the trailhead in Chuberi – or you have the option to hitchhike. Any passing car will likely take pity (and confusion) on any hikers coming through this seldom explored part of the Transcaucasian Trail.

Day 1

The start of the first day’s trail winds out of Chuberi on a dirt access road, until you eventually come to a wooden bridge that, to a discerning eye, one might realise is just a fallen over tree. From here, the hike really begins. You will ascend more than 2km vertical on this day, and will surely begin to wonder why you decided to start this hike. But once you break the treeline the reason becomes clear as amazing views of the mountains open up before you.

Chuberi PassEven on an cloudy day, heading over the Utveri Pass is magical. Photo by Andrew Moffatt.

After hiking over the Utviri Pass, settle into your camp for the night and watch the day’s afterglow over the mountains from the comfort of your tent.

It’s important to note there are plenty of springs close to the pass, but about 10km either side of the top of the pass there isn’t much in the way of water, so ensure you bring a minimum of two litres, and some water purifiers or filters.

Pass viewPhoto by Andrew Moffatt.

Day 2

The second day starts from Utviri Pass with a downhill section for about four hours, heading towards the village of Nakra. This town is apparently known for its mineral water – news to me, but it’s true, there’s no sulphur smell, no unpleasant metal tang, just tasty bubbles!

If you are starting your hike in Nakra – ask the marshrutka driver to drop you on the side of the main road to Mestia, in between the towns of Dizi and Nodashi, next to a roadsign that says Nakra just near a bridge. It’s about a two hour drive from Zugdidi or an hour’s drive from Mestia. Then it’s an hour’s walk to the trailhead from here or you may get lucky and be able to hitchhike with a local.

From the Nakra trailhead, you start by winding up through forests, then along sections of dirt access roads passing village ruins, and through open plains with views of rolling hills, big mountains and sweeping valleys until you reach the village of Kichkhuldashi.

DSC_7618DSC_7630

While most of this village has been abandoned, a single family remains there and will offer your food, stories and even a place to sleep if you need it. The daughter in law speaks a little English, and the owner speaks with his hands and arms more than his words, so the stories still come across.

After refreshing in Kichkhuldashi, you’ll follow a forested trail winding down and up the sides of the mountains, dipping to cross streams over rustic bridges, then ascending back to villages on your way to Pari, another small village with a handful of guesthouses.

You can choose to sleep in Pari, or continue on for another four kilometres to Iskari mostly along a dirt road with some forested sections in between.

road after pariThe road leading out of Pari towards Iskari. Photo by Andrew Moffatt.

Iskari offers up the wonderful Hanmer guesthouse and market. You can top up your trail snacks here, and also order up homemade wine, khachapuri and cheese to settle your hunger pangs after a day of trekking. The views offered from the guesthouse also make it well worth staying here, and the guesthouse is owned by a Canadian-Georgian couple so English speakers can communicate easily.

DSC_7645The view that will greet you outside your bedroom window at Hanmer Guesthouse.

The guesthouse is also right on the trail so literally head out the door and onto your next day of hiking to the village of Mazeri.

Day 3

The third day of this hike is made up of a one kilometre ascent and descent to reach Mazeri. 

You’ll start on a dirt access road leading out of Iskari, before steadily winding up towards the 2,462m Bak Pass. The trail is mostly open here but the uphill slog is gradual, rising more steeply towards the end. The trail may be loose underfoot due to small rocks.

But your uphill slog is rewarded when you reach the top of the pass and see the stunning mountains soaring above the town of Mazeri.

DSC_7689The view from the top of Bak Pass.

From there, the trail is undulating for the next hour or so as you head along a ridgeline curving below the summit of Mt Detsili, but roughly staying at the same elevation as the pass. Care is needed on this narrow ridge, particularly if there’s snow. Then you’ll reach a great little lunch spot at a shepherd’s hut complete with church and a lake before you start the descent through the forest down to Mazeri.

DSC_7707

The descent is a steep series of switchbacks through a moody forest, respite from the open trail earlier in the day. You’ll pop out of the forest onto a dirt road and then simply follow the signs to Mazeri. Again there’s a handful of guesthouses here and there’s also a market across the road from the trailhead for your final day.

forest mazeriThe trail leading into the forest from the shepherd’s hut to the village of Mazeri.           Photo by Andrew Moffatt.

Day 4

The final day of the hike is not easy. From Mazeri to Mestia, it’s a 21km hike that starts with a challenging 1.5km ascent up to 2,954m Guli Pass. But trust me, the stupendous views of Mt Ushba make it all worth it. It’s best to get an early start as Mt Ushba tends to get covered by clouds around noon – also this hike can take up to 10 hours, however fast hikers will be able to do it in 7-8 hours.

You may also find that there will be quite a few hikers on this section of trail as many people venture up Guli Pass on day hikes – so start early to beat the crowds!

DSC_7738

The trail starts on a dirt access road winding past hamlets, before you’ll reach a bridge and you need to take a hard right before the bridge and head along the right side of the river. From there, head towards the ruins of Guli village and follow the red and white markers painted on rocks and trees.

DSC_7725-2DSC_7729The ruins of Guli village.

Once past Guli, basically you’re heading up. Some people followed the trail, while others just pushed up. You’re not aiming for the lowest point of the pass, rather somewhere off to the left, but you’ll see it when you get close. The highlighted Transcaucasian Trail map on your Maps.me app is a good reference at this point. You’ll reach the top of the pass in 3-4 hours and I bet you will instantly forget about how out of breath you are and the pain in the legs when you see the views.

DSC_7796DSC_7776The incredible views from Guli Pass.

Guli Pass is a great spot for lunch, then it’s another 3-5 hour walk down to Mestia.

From Guli Pass, you want to head right from the signpost along a ridge that gently heads down. After about 10-15 minutes, you’ll see another signpost pointing you towards Mestia and it’s a steep downhill from here. The first downhill stretch is very slippery and slow going so watch your step. There’s a few sketchy sections of scree, rock, and river crossings over the next couple of hours. Be especially careful at the river crossings though, care is needed due to loose and slippery rock. After the first downhill stretch, you mostly stay at the same elevation until you reach the Koruldi Lakes access road.

Once you reach the Mestia Cross, it really is all downhill from here and you can opt to take the official Transcaucasian Trail forested route down to the right of the cross or take the longer but not as steep path to the left, which will pop you out on the eastern side of Mestia.

Then it’s time to put your feet up and relax with a few litres of Georgian wine and some delicious, cheesy Georgian food.

DSC_7818

Things to Know

  • Trailheads for each day of this hike are listed below. You can opt to start at any of these points but if starting from Chuberi, you will need a tent. If starting the hike at Nakra, you will find guesthouses along the way.
    • Chuberi – 2.5 hours walk from marshrutka to trail head
    • Nakra – 1 hour walk from marshrutka to the trail head
    • Iskari – 15 minutes walk from marshrutka to trail head
    • Mazeri – 2 hours walk from marshrutka to trail head
    • Becho – 5 minutes walk from marshrutka to trail head
  • You can pick up basic trail snacks from markets at Chuberi, Nakra, Iskari and Mazeri.
  • Ensure you carry a minimum of two litres of water each day. You can drink the tap water in Georgia so refill at guesthouses. There are some springs on the trail but be aware that:
    • About 10km before the Utviri Pass on the Chuberi side, there are no water sources, however at the pass there are plenty of streams to refill from.
    • There are a few streams as you head out of Iskari going towards Bak Pass, but none for several hours after, so ensure you top up somewhere along the way. Maps.me shows water sources on the pass but the streams were too low in late summer.
    • There’s only a few trustworthy water sources heading up to the Guli Pass, but about two hours down from the pass, there are a couple of decent streams to drink from using a water purifier.

Author’s Note: Thanks to Andrew Moffatt for providing information, insights and photos on the Chuberi-Mestia trail and contributing to this blog. The information above was a joint effort to provide readers with detailed information on this section of the Transcaucasian Trail. Andrew walked the Chuberi-Mestia section in early September 2019. You can follow his hiking adventures in Georgia on his Instagram page @regulartravel. I walked the Nakra-Mestia section in late September 2019.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *