In 2011 as I got home from Patagonia I decided I’d be focusing on the regions with less travel distance from home. I was thinking the air travel took way too much time. Now after having visited Caucasus I still think the same. The travel time to Caucasus was 6 hours compared to the 48 hours of Patagonia. The granite spires may not be as vertical but there are lots of other things to do.
I managed to talk Teppo in for this project quite easily. I showed him one picture of the Ushba and he was hooked instantly. After having agreed on the main objective we booked the flights.
We arrived in Georgia on Saturday July 13th at 3AM. We found a local climber, Oto Jafaridze, through the Internet and he was waiting for us at the airport. Oto had a jeep and he drove us to Svanetia so we could sleep in his car. Oto was also kind enough to buy us Primus camping gas so we were ready for action in Becho the next morning.
Ushba 1st try – July 14th to 16th, 2013
Our first try on the Ushba was a learning experience. We packed food for four days and asked a border pass for five since the weather report said it would rain on the fifth day. We hoped for the best but we knew the chance of success was slim. We had browsed some Google Earth and Summitpost.com but we had no real knowledge of anything.
We learned some lessons on our first try. First and the most important one was about the border pass. For climbing the Ushba you don’t need a climbing permit but you’ll need a border pass which is a permission to enter the border zone. You can get it for free in Becho and you can ask it for as many days as you want. So it’s better to ask few days extra. We thought five days would be enough and we soon realized it was too little. We discussed briefly about pushing the days but as the border is rather sensitive we figured it might be a bad idea not to arrive back in time. The border guards were nice but they had Kalashnikovs and they didn’t smile.
With the first try we had a good look at the route and we got the plan sorted. We decided on slow and heavy tactics for future attempts. In practical terms this was to be a four day approach plan to the Ushba plateau with eight days of food and a ten day border pass. Preferably with good weather at least on the summit days.
Hike from Becho to Guli pass – July 17th, 2013
We knew the weather would be bad in few days and we walked back to Becho. There was one more good day and wanted to check the approach on the south side. The Guli pass is the start of the regular route up the South Ushba and it was the best we could do in this time frame.
Svanetia is the perfect place for hiking. The terrain is rather inclined but the meadows are green and the grass is short. There are plenty of cows and horses pasturing and the animals keep the grass short. The animals keep the paths in condition, too, so the hiking is very pleasant if you can handle the height differences.
Climbing wise the Ushba really seems to gather some cloud. Except for few short moments there’s always quite a lot of cloud higher up. At the same time lower down the weather is good and the lower mountains seem to be relatively free of this cloud trouble. On this day, for example, we didn’t see the Ushba at all but the Ushba Little, only 400 meters lower, was visible most of the day.
The altitude difference we hiked was from Becho at 1600m to the horses at 2850m. The start of the routes would have been few hundred meters further. I’ve posted the workout data for the hike below.
The next day it was raining and Shalva, the owner of place we were staying, drove us to Mestia.