Walking in Circles: Days 3-4


As we tried to get used to our new daily life of walking through unfamiliar terrain in Svaneti with extra weight on our backs and camping every night, a few things became clear. For example, every little niggling irritation from a strap or shoe could develop into a blister over time, and one of these in the wrong place could halt a person altogether. Or, just a little too much weight would be too hard to get used to instead of building up the necessary muscular resistance to it.

This, while ascending from 2000 to 3000 m on the Guli Pass, then going down to about 1600 m at its end! The paths are well marked for walkers, as this is a very popular route. But due to the Virus, instead of it being crawling with other foreigners walking in both directions, we had the whole thing to ourselves. Nice for us, sorry for the local tourism industry relying on all that regular income.

So this was our entire walk’s single biggest day of altitude change, along with about 24 km of trekking under backpacks which were still too heavy despite lightening them somewhat the day before. Gnats had attacked our legs, and the itching which persists into Day 12 as I write this was taking hold. We took many short rest stops as our way climbed towards its summit, and the altitude affected our muscles more. But we were making progress. It also became clear that Josh prefers descents, while I find ascents easier. All the while, Ushba was dazzling us with ¾ views of its twin peaks, providing plenty of reasons to stop for photos.

A brief drizzle near the 3000 m pass made us gear up for more rain: a poncho for me, jacket and backpack cover for Josh. But it only lasted for a light 15 minutes or so, and soon we reversed the cover, having seen that it was easily in reach and adequate for our needs. Down we went, seeing the immense new landscape before us which would lead step by step towards Lenjeri, the last village before Mestia and our goal for that evening.

I was also realizing that one’s simple mental attitude makes a huge difference in long-term endurance tests. If you can cope with irritations and minor pains for some hours at a time, knowing they won’t last forever, you’ll probably be okay. If you start hating the action of hoisting that backpack onto your shoulders, though, instead of getting used to it, it might finish your desire to continue altogether. We’re GOING to do this: the main question is, how?

We also both saw that a full day’s rest stop in Mestia, where I have many friends to put us up for the night, would be necessary, as we were rather shattered after Guli. I was even contemplating the drastic measure of leaving my tent behind altogether to cut down on weight to the maximum; sleeping in the open in fine weather, under shelter otherwise. Fortunately, Josh talked me out of this unnecessary step.

We stayed at Roza Shukvani and Vitia Chartolani’s new hotel for two nights, and caught up with our former hosts from 10 years ago and great friends. There was also time to look around the town, sadly bereft of its usual crowds of tourists given the season; eat “proper” food and sleep on normal beds; wash ourselves and our few clothes; and even cut down further on unnecessary things which added weight to our backs. (The backpack’s weight should be all on your hips, but it’s all on your body somewhere…)

Then, much refreshed, it was time to head towards Ushguli. From now on we would stick to the roads, except where we could scramble across the many switchbacks and save quite some distance in the process. Our pace began to pick up, and we were into 20+ km days as a rule rather than an exception. I was noticing my backpack less, making further small adjustments with big consequences in comfort. We got past long Mulakhi, up the pass and down the other side, through Ipari, and stopped for the night at the lone Tower of Love, right on the river. Ushguli was less than 20 km away. Georgians, if there’s ever been a time to discover your own country’s many unique corners instead of pining for the international travel which is denied you for a while, that time is now!

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

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri: www.facebook.com/hanmer.house.svaneti

By Tony Hanmer

16 July 2020 18:00