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PILGRIM PROGRAM

USHBA TRAIL

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE ROUTE

This route includes a relatively easy 5.5-kilometre stretch and a more difficult 3-kilometre stretch. The starting point is 1,600 metres above sea level. The total variance in elevation of this route is 230 metres on the first stretch and 870 metres on the second. The average time it takes to walk the route on foot is 8-9 hours*. The route allows the hiker to get better acquainted with one of the Caucasus- most beautiful and stunning areas - the Ushba-Shkhelda-Mazeri range.


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DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE ROUTE

The route begins at a bridge over the Dolora River atop the village of Tvebishi (1,600 m), where the word "Start" is painted in yellow on a large boulder (Picture 1). The entire route is marked with yellow arrows painted on boulders, trees or signs.

The trail follows along a sledge route the right bank of the Dolora River. To the left of the trail is a meadow surrounded by a wooden fence (Picture 2). To the right of the trail we can see Mount Mazeri and the south peak of Ushba (Picture 3). After walking for 30 minutes we come across a stream, which may be running dry. From here we come upon a patch of azalea bushes. To the right we see a shepherd's camp made of stones. Fifteen minutes later we come to a well that gives delicious mineral water. From this point, to the right we see Mount Mazeri, which has already concealed the previously visible part of Ushba. Afterward, the road crosses the Dolora River's right tributary. To the right, along this tributary we can see Mount Mazeris two impressive peaks called gendarmes by local people and on the left face of the mountain - the charred remains of a coniferous forest.

At an elevation of 1,700 metres we cross the Dolora's second right tributary. To the left of the road we can see a snow-capped mountain, Mount Cherinda (3, 580 m). A steep incline begins at this point. The sledge route ends and a path leads us into a coniferous forest. On the left bank of the Dolora the glacier's tongue comes down, the same does a river. We reach a plain at 1840 metres and pass an azalea bush and then a coniferous forest with birch trees mixed in. We go downwards, into a grove and come across an especially large boulder on the path. From this point to the right we can see the more difficult part of the route, as well as two waterfalls. We continue on our way up a rocky incline and then head down into a forest.

After walking for about two hours we can view a full panorama of the more difficult part of the route: a plateau that forms the source of four waterfalls (2400 m). The three on the left are rather small, where as the one on the far right is quite powerful. Coming up is the single most difficult part of our journey: we must reach the point where these waterfalls descend from, cross the three small waterfalls and in parallel follow along the stream created by the more powerful waterfall toward the Ushba glacier. This view allows us to assess our abilities and choose whether or not to continue on the trail.

After another few minutes of walking, we approach a footbridge made of logs over the Dolora River. After crossing the bridge, the path goes into a forest, where we immediately come across a shelter built of logs. At this point the path forks in two- one follows the Dolora River valley and leads to the Becho pass. (Cold drinking water is available a few steps away in this direction). Our path begins at a cabin and is perpendicular to the Dolora River. The path goes into a mixed forest where birch trees predominate. At about 2,000 metres above sea level from the forest we go out onto a triangular ledge, both sides of which have been endured avalanches (Picture 4).

On this stretch, the whole forest lies upon both sides of this ledge. Depending on the time of year, there may be layers of snow on the ground. On the ledge, the path goes through an area which is first grassy, then rocky. This stretch has the greatest incline, as we ascend 450 metres over the course of one kilometer. Up from the ledge we can see one of the most helpful landmarks along our route - the aforementioned plateau of waterfalls, towards which we continue on our way. Below we see the path we have traversed the Dolora River, the village of Mazeri and further on, the snow-capped peaks of the Svaneti Ridge (Picture 5).

On top of the ledge we come up to the base of the left waterfall. From this point the path turns sharply left along the rocky slope and approximately 100 metres later goes directly up a steep rounded ledge. This 200 metre stretch is the steepest and goes over a rocky slope covered in grass. This impedes our movement and calls for extra caution, so that we do not cause a stone to roll down and create a danger for the person behind us. To the right on this slope is a deciduous forest, to the left a coniferous forest. The path runs along the edge of the deciduous forest. To the left of the path, in the coniferous forest, we see two rocky cones. This is a good landmark, about 50 metres down from the cliffs the path turns right and enters a short deciduous forest. After traversing the forest we come to the top of the small waterfall on the left. We cross it and enter the short deciduous forest again. After going through it we go across a stream created by the second waterfall. We now reach an alpine meadow and, after going a short ways uphill, approach a stream created by the third, more powerful, waterfall. From here we can see the points of origin of all three waterfalls, but we can no longer see the fourth waterfall on the right, which is the strongest. From this point we can already see the twin peaks of Mount Ushba (Picture 6), which stands 2,500 metres above sea level.

After passing the third waterfall we follow along the rounded ledge, the left side of which is generally covered in snow from avalanches. It is this snow that feeds the third waterfall. After walking for about half an hour, the path begins to follow along the right bank of the stream created by the strongest waterfall, which takes its source from the Ushba glacier. From here we reach the Ushba glacier (2,700 m). The yellow finish marker appears on two large collections of icy debris (Picture 7). An old sheet of metal with a Russian poem embossed on it is attached to a rock. On the right side the forceful stream gushes out from the Ushba glacier. From here we can easily see the Ushba glacier, where mountain climbers seeking to conquer Mount Ushba's twin peaks often set up camp.

We now find ourselves among the gigantic beauties of the Caucasus: the eleven peaks of the Shkhelda (4,390 m) wall look down on us from the north, to the west we see the majestic twin peaks of Ushba (4,710 m and 4,690 m) and to the south the cliffs of Mount Mazeri (4,012 m).

We have completed the trail in about six hours. We now travel calmly down the same path and reach camp in three hours.

We must cross a number of streams along our way. It is a good idea to have sturdy plastic bags to put on over our shoes when we cross water. It is desirable to wear shoes especially designed for hiking and take along a ski pole and tinted sunglasses.

 


* There are two ways to hike this trail:
1) on foot from camp (in the village of Mazeri, Chokhuldi or Tvebishi) for the duration of the route;
2) on horseback for the first 5.5 kilometres up until the bridge over the Dolora, and on foot for the more difficult stretch.


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