The first morning we awoke in Svaneti was a beautiful one. I felt very well rested after a long trip the previous day and the air was crisp and cold. Being from Maine I am a sucker for the cold. There’s really nothing like waking up in the freezing winter but remaining in bed under several layers of blankets and comforters. The perfectly insulated bubble keeps me warm and comfortable though the air around it remains frigid. I can toss and turn and always remain toasty warm, as long as I don’t accidentally breach the bubble, of course. Heaven forbid a bubble breach!
I tried to look out Pauli’s and my tiny window from bed, but it was rather difficult. I got up and poked my head outside to see what I could see. As we had arrived in Mestia in the dark of night, I had not properly viewed my surroundings.
It was unbelievable. I could also see across the river to a large Georgian Orthodox Church with a whisper of smoke coming from the episcopal residence next door. It was quite the setting. I was already pleased with the progress of my day.
We got up and had a small breakfast (Did we? I cannot recall) before heading out to the hiking agency’s office. From there we decided on a solid plan of making the relatively easy hike to the glacier the first day and the harder hike to the TV Tower the second day. The first hike ran for a long while along the main road out of town and so we wouldn’t need a guide. We did decide to hire a guide for the second hike, however, as parts of the trail were under construction and, therefore, unmarked.
Embarking on our journey we stopped for a few photo opportunities on our way out of town.
As we walked down the road, trucks and cars kept coming and going–it was a surprisingly busy route considering we were leaving Mestia and heading towards the mountains (aka, not in the direction of anything). The road was also extremely muddy. As one of the few people who was wearing boots, I didn’t mind too much. I was able to slosh my way through small puddles and I didn’t have to worry about side-stepping mudpiles or, for that matter, cow poop. I quickly resigned myself to stepping in poop because I realized that if I spent all my time worrying about the nasty shit on the road I would never see the beautiful shit all around me (read: the mountains) (Also, please forgive my crudeness, I was looking for a little wordplay and found it in this “dirty” word. The mountains were stunning, not just “beautiful shit”).
At one point two trucks came by and, in an effort to escape the crushing power of their wheels, I stepped out one pace off the road. Both feet immediately sank into the solid-looking ground up to the ankles. This is when I was really glad to be wearing boots! With Ian’s help I escaped the mud trap and despite my best efforts was forced to wear a mudshoe the rest of the day. By “mudshoe” I refer to the fact that my shoe was literally consumed by the mud and dragged a lot out with it. My left foot was heavier and thicker than previously, due to my temporary dalliance off-road. Whoops.
The helpful woman at the hiking agency had told us that we should follow the road until we reached a bridge across the river. This portion of the trip should have taken about one and a half hours. From the bridge it would be another three or so hours to the glacier. Or so she told us. After having walked for the better part of an hour, past the airport, past the outskirts of Mestia, and past backhoes and trucks digging in the riverbed, we began to question how far it was to the bridge.
From behind us, we heard someone shout, “Raughley! Pauli! Come back!” and we turned to see this:
Pauli, Stephanie (whose presence in the leading troika my jogged memory just recalled), and I hurried back to climb aboard the good ship dumptruck. Pauli and Stephanie hopped into the cab with our backpacks while I joined the rest of the group in the dump-part of the truck (Any Tonka enthusiasts want to help me out with the name of that part of the truck?)
The bumpy ride was reminiscent of Subway Surfing–the sport wherein you stand in a subway car without holding on and try to maintain your balance. We rode in the truck for a good long while. It seemed like it would’ve taken us forever to walk the same distance and we were quite thankful to the truck for taking us further than it had to. At one point we even drove past the quarry where the truck presumably was supposed to go.
Finally, after probably twenty five minutes of hitch-hiking, the truck stopped and we were forced to go back to regular-hiking. The truck had taken us far beyond its workplace and helped us cross several flooded sections of path, a combination of wide streams and large puddles that would have been trouble to traverse on foot. It was time to say farewell to our dumping days.
Dumptrucks have handy ladders on the side so that, presumably, one can climb in to it or climb on top of it to scope out the cargo. The inside is, tragically, ladderless. For some this was no problem. Ian is super tall and Max and Yev also easily hopped over the side. Despite some of the efforts of the shorter among us, we could not climb out with the facility and limberness of our compatriots. This led to an act of chivalry on my part, if I may toot my own horn for just a moment. I got down on one knee and asked Alyssa if she would be so kind as to use me to stand on in order to get out of the truck. She obliged. Nicole and Marissa followed suit.
Helping the ladies out was good and all, but it put me in a difficult-ish position when I was the only person remaining in the truck bed. With some trouble I heaved myself over the lip of the truck and clambered down.
Having left our wonderful mode of transportation behind, someone suggested that we go to the river to wash our hands off and just check it out in general. We still had no idea how far it was to the bridge, so we decided to trailblaze and strike off in a non-path direction towards the sound of the water. I led us to the river and proceeded to foolishly hop across some stones to a small island in the middle. I will leave the bulk of this particular story to another, possibly more competent blogger with photos of my travails. I got no photos of my misadventure, but suffice it to say that I soon found myself shirtless, shoeless, and hatless, standing in glacial water and holding my camera above my head, hoping it wouldn’t fall. Shame on me.
I made it ashore safely, if somewhat red in the face, and we left the riverbed, bottles full of glacier water. We walked back to the road with Max picking up the perfect walking stick en route. Well, it would become the perfect walking stick after he spent two days carving and whittling it. I’m pretty sure he’s going to take it back to America with him.
As we reached the bend in the valley we suspected that the bridge couldn’t be much further away. The craggy snowcaps began to emerge from beyond tree-covered hillsides and reveal the epic nature of our hike.