The Borjomi Debacle

Posted on April 1, 2012 by

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And the cautionary tale begins like this: the weekend I planned to go to Lagodekhi to hike, the town flooded. Rather than risk hiking in the cold, wet rain and mud, my two friends and I changed our plan at the last minute and went to Borjomi instead. Little did we know that we would experience the very thing we were trying to avoid.

Everything started out really well. We talked to the people at the information center, who were very helpful. They said that we were in for great weather and no rain, so we were pretty confident in our choice. We decided to go for the three day trail (trail 1) which started in Likani village and ended in Marilisi village, and since we were told that only one shelter along the way had a stove with pots and pans, we went to the store and bought our food accordingly.

My friend Nigel had done a lot of camping, but this was Michelle’s first trip. We assured her that it would be a good beginners trip, even though neither of us really knew that for sure. How hard could it be? The weather was perfect, we had a good map and there was a good safety net with the information people, who had given us their phone numbers and could speak English.

We started out and discovered that the trail was very well marked but extremely steep in spots. I’ve done a fair amount of hiking and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such vicious switchbacks. It was also pretty muddy from some recent rain, and to add to that it is also used as a cow trail, so there was poop everwhere. The going was slow, but it was still a really nice hike. We saw cool little houses, groups of cow herders (who offered us chacha) and horses. Cautionary tale #1, by the way, is to avoid petting the horses because they WILL charge you.

It was surprising how long it took us to get to the first shelter, but we made it just as it was getting dark. We made a fire in the petchy and found the one pot, which was extremely dirty. We cleaned it as best we could with water and a leaf, made our spagetti and ate it with chopsticks fashioned out of sticks (we forgot eating utensils).

The next day, we started the EXREMELY steep ascent that came immediately after the shelter. It was unbelievably hard and if it had been any steeper it might have been considered climbing. It was only the beginning of a tough day. The trail markers quickly became sparse and we took a couple wrong turns. We tried calling the information center to clarify which markers we were to follow, because for some reason the colored trails on the map do NOT match the colors on the actual trail markers (cautionary tale #2). We discovered that Geocell apparently does not have service in this part of the park (cautionary tale #3). We took a guess and were wrong, so we wasted a bit of time before we found the right trail. Back on the right one, we came to the highest point of the trail, a bald mountain which included a really awesome church detour and some great views. Soon after this, however, the clouds came and we lost the trail yet again because of the elusive markers and the absence of an obvious trail in this wide open space. It took us awhile, but we found it again. Then it started to rain. We had faith that it would stop because it was supposed to be sunny all weekend, but it didn’t. We were supposed to be going 18k that day and we began to worry about our progress. We couldn’t tell where we were on the map, but we knew we hadn’t gone as far as we needed to. To add to that, all three of us had already taken turns wiping out in the mud/poop mixture because of the steep, muddy parts of the trail.

We plugged on and came to a river, which ended up becoming the trail. Cautionary tale #4: wear waterproof shoes to Borjomi. We literally waded through the slippery river for a long time as it began to rain harder and harder (cautionary tale #5: don’t believe the weather report from the visitor center). At this point, it was beginning to get dark and I think we all felt like crying and swearing. In my head, I renounced backpacking. We walked and walked and walked and walked. We pulled out our lights and kept walking, but there was no sign that we were getting close. We kept thinking we had taken a wrong turn, but then we would see a marker and feel better temporarily. After a quick break to scarf some food, we kept walking until we came to a large river crossing. The water was high because of the rain and we didn’t see how we could safely cross in the dark, so we held a conference and made the call to give up and make a shelter in the woods. We didn’t have a choice! We hadn’t passed anything resembling a shelter in a long time, so we found a tree and our hero Nigel went to work making a shelter for us. He laid down some ferns for us to sit on under the tree. Then he took my umbrella and raincoat and fashioned a tarp to cover a small area. Luckily I was carrying some extra shoelaces and those were very valuable. We all had sleeping bags, so once the shelter was created, we laid one down, sat on it and covered up with the other two. We had all changed into our dryest clothes, but we were still wet. As it was almost September in the mountains, we started getting cold, so we cuddled up and waited. At this point we had accepted our fate and began to laugh at the snapshot of our situation, which was pretty hilarious: three pathetically wet, sleeping bag-covered people huddled under a tiny tree in the pouring rain. We were cold, but were weren’t going to die and we did have food we could eat without cooking. We sat there, ate a little and tried to sleep. I should also mention that there were spiders everywhere, which I had to force myself to ignore. It eventually stopped raining and we could look up and see stars through the trees.

After 12 hours of sleeping/tossing and turning, we finally woke up to a sunny day! We had made it with little damage done! Cautionary tale #6 speaks for itself here: be overprepared! Because I had been prepared and Nigel knew how to build a quality shelter, we weren’t as miserable as we could have been. Poor Michelle hadn’t known what to pack (and I don’t blame her), but she was thankful to become an Amy/Nigel scarecrow as we lent her all of our extra clothes. We deconstructed our shelter and laid every item we had out in the trail to dry. After we finally headed out again, we came back to the river crossing and found a tiny bridge hidden off to the side in the woods. Oh. We crossed it easily and not five minutes later came to the shelter. Seriously.

Near the shelter we found some cattle herders, who we asked about our location. We thought we had accidentally continued on to the next shelter because of the way the trail was laid out. They had a hard time reading the map, but they told us that we were exactly where we were meant to be! The real kicker is that this particular trail doubles back a ways and then continues on (hence our confusion about which shelter we were at). So, we had to walk back the way we had come, pass our ghetto sleeping spot and continue on in a different direction, using markers we had not seen the night before but probably should have. Had we seen them, we would have been REALLY confused and possibly gone that direction too early. What a confusing trail! Cautionary tale #7 is pretty simple: allow lots of extra time for each day of your hike because for one reason or another, you WILL need it.

We ended up following a herd of cattle for a while, then we found a man with a horse who let me ride it for a long time. I had my backpack on, so this was a challenge, but also fun. We finally made it to Marilisi and stayed in the very comfortable Marilisi hostel before heading home on the train the next day at noon. We were alive and even Michelle hadn’t decided to hate camping! On the contrary, this was a bonding adventure the three of us will not soon forget.

Oh, and I did decide to un-renounce backpacking. I even want to return to Borjomi-Karagauli Park this spring to do another hike. All the same, I can really only recommend hiking here as long as people heed the warnings of my cautionary tales!

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