In your Face, part II: Becho, Svaneti

Last month, I found myself photographing Mt Ushba reflected in a small pond above Mazeri, part of Becho. But I could get closer, so I began walking up.

There were plenty of thistles, as well as the last remnants of mountain wildflowers, but this being mid-September, autumn colors were just beginning to turn the local palette redder and yellower. The way was not hard, but at this altitude, my legs certainly protested at the climb. However, Becho kindly remained in sight, clouds building but far from obscuring it yet, and this called me on.

Everywhere I walked, there was evidence that cows had been there too; they seem to prefer the higher mountain grass enough to make the effort to reach it. But the vegetation waned with the height, and rock took over.

Both small outcrops of lumpy rocks and the prevalent, thin-layered slate were everywhere. The latter gets pummeled and broken thinner and thinner, smaller and smaller, by the ferocious action of water and ice breaking it apart over each winter. Soon I was scrambling up scree, which at least had the advantage of being made of flat pieces rather than more slippery round ones due to its composition.

Every now and then I stopped to catch my breath, and several times I took a set of vertical photos overlapping to make a full stitched 360-degree panorama for later. There were enough clouds in the far off landscape to make it much more interesting than a simple blue sky: always a bonus for the landscape photographer. Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” played over and over as my inner inspirational soundtrack.

At one point I startled a huge golden eagle only about 10 m away from me, and it magnificently took wing and was gone. With my widest-angle lens on the camera at the time, it would have been very small in the frame anyway. But the images remain in my memory to treasure.

Finally, I reached a point where a whole other side of Ushba’s surroundings was revealed, along with its main glacier now at about eye level, the drops precipitous. Here, the swivel of my feet while getting my 360s was precarious, and I did it slowly so as not to end up falling thousands of feet!

Up ahead I could see a signpost, put there somehow by my friend Richard Baerug, who runs his own hotel at the top of Mazeri, and does a lot for the local community’s tourism and development. Later, he wrote to me that this sign is at about 3100 m, twice the height of our own guest house. Another 1600 m or so would see you at the twin summits of Ushba… if you survived. But I was 2/3 of the way there. Far enough!

The Mountain had cooperated gloriously, but only just; starting to wrap itself up with clouds just as I strained the last few steps up and put my hand on the signpost for a final shot. Then, a long scramble back down, other leg muscles now protesting, to the car and pond, either of which I could obliterate with my pinky fingernail from the distance. I had my shots, over 160 of them, and was delirious with joy.

I also suggested to Gigla and Marta, my local hosts, that they make this trip a special offer to their guests for a day. Drive up before or after breakfast, and have 1 or 2 meals up there along with the walk. It’s a unique opportunity to get so close to one of the world’s most beautiful peaks, safely and without too much effort.

Next on my list: paragliding around Ushba at some point! (IF I can take a camera; otherwise likely not.)

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

By Tony Hanmer

07 October 2019 17:12