Posted on June 26, 2012 by


Due to popular demand, TLG organized a second excursion to Kazbegi National Park. The park is huge, of course – far too big to see all of it in one day. However, the tour we took was enough to show me that, someday when I have the time, I’d love to spend a couple of weeks exploring the region.

We began with a long and beautiful drive through the Aragvi River Valley. The Aragvi has several tributaries, also called Aragvi: Mtiuleti’s Aragvi (also called the White Aragvi) and Gudamakari’s Aragvi (also called the Black Aragvi) meet near Pasanauri; Khevsureti’s Aragvi flows into Pshavi’s Aragvi; these Aragvis combine at the Zhinvali Reservoir, after which the fully formed Aragvi continues south to meet the Mtkvari in Mtskheta. In this picture, you can see one of the Aragvi’s many roots:

The (an) Aragvi River Valley

The various Aragvis are known to be very cold rivers, because they are basically runoff from melting snow and ice. Even in June, the mountains that line the Aragvi valley still have ice deposits hidden in the crevices that get the least sunlight:

A mountain with ice deposits

Some of these mountain streams carry minerals; according to our tour guide, this one deposits sulfur (maybe with traces of iron or copper) resulting in a weird foamy orange look to the rock underneath:

Mineral deposits by the side of the road

The arch on the left side of the picture is the entrance to a tunnel built to serve as an alternate roadway in case the main road should be buried by snow in a storm or avalanche. These tunnels were fairly common in the higher mountains up around Gudauri.

We drove through Gudauri on our way to our destination (which turned out to be Stepantsminda). Gudauri seemed sad and empty outside of ski season; there were a number of hotels, restaurants, and ski rental places – and even a block of flats, all of which seemed to be for sale – but not a soul was to be seen in the entire town.

Then it started raining.

We thought our hike would be canceled, so we drove right past Stepantsminda and all the way to the Russian border. Our driver thought – and rightly so – that it might be something we would be interested in seeing. We learned that the road we were on (the Georgian S3) was a main shipping lane from Russia to Armenia and Azerbaijan (Russia has a border with Azerbaijan, but it requires going through Dagestan, which is a highly troubled region; and Stepantsminda is one of only two passes between Russia and Georgia that don’t include disputed territories). We got to see the Russian border checkpoint, and one clever volunteer asked if anyone could see Sarah Palin’s house.

We couldn’t; instead we could see the plans for a new power plant…

Plans for the new Stepantsminda Hydroelectric Power Plant

…and what looks like the very beginnings of its construction. According to the Internet, it is due to open in 2016.

The construction site of the Stepantsminda HPP

Disappointed at not being allowed to jump back and forth across the Russian border, the group piled back into the TLG-mobile and headed back toward Stepantsminda village. Luckily, the weather had cleared!

Hiking up the path to Stepantsminda-Sameba Church

We walked several kilometers up the road, enjoying the vistas, taking pictures, and socializing. Some Georgian students were taking a more direct route – hiking up dusty mountain trails and bypassing all the road switchbacks – but they didn’t make better time than us; we simply crossed paths every time the road intersected their trails. Here’s a map of the road we took, the village, and the church:

The road we hiked from the village to the church

The weather was cool, the scenery was beautiful, and the walk was a nice workout. Downhill was much easier.

On the way home, we stopped at Ananuri and some Georgian kids on some kind of class trip decided to dance for us. Alas, I failed to get any good pictures of the dance, but here’s one of some of us buying some churchkhela outside the church:

The Ananuri Fortress Complex

From outside the fortress complex, you can see the Zhinvali reservoir stretching out into the distance. It’s huge and beautiful and it supplies clean energy:

The Zhinvali Reservoir

It makes me wonder what the Stepantsminda power plant will look like – will the valley that we drove through be under water when the new dam opens? I imagine, whatever it looks like, it will be magnificent. When I look at these mountains, and this reservoir, it seems like a beauty contest between humanity and nature.

Here’s Zhinvali from space – in the bottom right you can see the dam where the power is generated:

Satellite view of the Zhinvali Reservoir and HPP

As always, thanks to TLG for bringing us on this excellent tour.