DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE ROUTE
The trail begins from the bridge (Picture 1) over the Mulkhara River in
Zhibeshi, the last village of the Mulakhi community, which is located 300 meters
down from the confluence of the Tviberi and Tsaneri Rivers (Picture 2). After
this point, the river is called Mulkhara. Next to the bridge, to the left of the
road (elevation 1,580 m), we see our start marker "S" painted in yellow on a
rock. To the right of start, on the left bank of the Tviberi River, against the
background of the Tsaneri glacier, we see a tower without battlement (Picture
2). We follow the sledge route, pass a residential house covered in long
shingles and, following along the Tviberi River's right bank, enter the narrow
Karieli valley. At an elevation of 1,620 metres, we come across the marker "D",
which marks a gate. This site was once home to a large stone fort.
There are about ten mountain passes (Lekhziri, Bashili, Laskhodari, Tviberi,
Qvitlodi and others) along a 12-km stretch of the Greater Caucasus Ridge that
lead here from the north. Narrow footpaths that go along them converge in the
basin of the Tviberi River to form a single path that joins the Mulakhi through
the narrow Karieli valley. Two gates have been constructed in order to oversee
and protect these footpaths. We are currently next to one and will pass the
second soon. These gates no longer have any function and are in ruins, though
they have clearly left their mark. There are many legends and heroic tales
connected to these gates in Svanetian oral tradition.
After passing the first gate, the path forks, with one fork going west and up
into the mountains while the second, our route, follows along the Tviberi River
and heads north. After this, the path crosses a small stream (Picture 3).
Nearby, in some bushes, we find drinking water. Here, yellow dots warn us of
areas where there is a danger of falling rocks. We follow along the bank of the
turbulent Tviberi River (Picture 4), passing raspberry and currant bushes on our
way. At an elevation of 1,790 metres, we reach a fallen pine tree with a jagged
yellow line painted on it. From this place, in the direction of the road we have
already traveled, we can see the village of Zhibeshi (Picture 5), where we
started our journey.
After walking for about one hour we approach another, outer gate, indicated
by a marker nailed to a tree growing out of the gate's ruins. Behind us is the
pine forest of the Karieli valley and in front of us is a mixed forest and a
patch of rhododendron bushes.
We then come across two caves formed from the pieces of gigantic boulders
(Picture 6), and at 1,860 metres above sea level, we see a bas-relief image
attached to the cliff (Picture 7).
At 1,900 metres we come to a meadow that was created by an avalanche. This
area may or may not be covered in snow, depending on the season. We then
approach a cliff from which a waterfall cascades (Picture 9). The path that goes
along the cliff, which locals call Mashelani, goes through a patch of bushes
bearing currants and other sour berries, then through a mixed birch and cedar
forest. The path takes us out into the Mashelani plain, where there is more
drinking water. From this point, there are signs pointing the way on the left
side of the path. At an elevation of 1,920 metres above sea level, we come
across yet another waterfall with the exotic name of "Tired Woman's Tears"
(Picture 10). From here we go out into a meadow and see a building (2,050 m),
which once served as shelter for tourists coming from the mountain passes of
Tviberi and Qvitlodi (Picture 11). We see here: to the north, Mount Toti, Mount
Lukhvili and to the south the Tviberi Ridge with the meadows and rhododendron
groves of Zhabeshi. Afterward we cross the Lukaia stream, enter a birch forest
and go down toward the river bank. This part of the trail is steep and
difficult. To the right of the path is a sign on a large boulder pointing us
toward a meadow that formed as a result of an avalanche. From here the main
landmark is the Diebachi cliff mass (Picture 12). 100-150 metres before we reach
it, we leave the birch forest. After we come up from the meadow (2160 m), we see
signs posted on birch trees to the right of the path. Later signs are on the
right side, near hunter's caves atop Diebachi (2,290). From here we see: to the
east - the Qvitlodi glacier (Picture 13) and Mount Tikhtingeni (4,618); to the
right - the Semi pass, which goes into the Tsaneri River Valley; straight ahead
- Mount Toti and the Tviberi ice pass; to the left - Toti.
Here we reach a snowy slope (Picture 14) and after approximately 500 metres
enter a rocky area, where on the right side of mineral water springs, an "F"
painted on a large boulder marks the finish. The elevation here is 2,310 metres
above sea level. Directly in front of us is the Tviberi ice pass.
At the beginning of the 20th century this area was home to several glaciers
of the northern circus (Seri, Tviberi, Toti, Bashili, Dzinala) and the Qvitlodi
glacier from the east. This snow-ice system created the largest glacier zone in
Georgia, though throughout the last century the glaciers have undergone notable
degradation and are receding up into the mountains. As a result, the Seri
glacier has lost active contact with the Tviberi and the place where they once
met is filled with detritus. The situation is similar at the meeting point of
the Tviberi and Dzinala glacers. Qvitlodi, meanwhile, has moved 700-800 metres
away from Tviberi. Unfortunately, the process of dispersion continues and we are
witnesses to it.