Key information: Above Ushguli
- A steady climb up a long, gorgeous valley to a glacier falling off Georgia’s highest mountain in its ridge of rock and ice. Explore remarkable Ushguli and its bristling towers on the way.
- One of the Caucasus’ finest walks.
- Walkopedia rating94
- Natural interest17
- Human interest10
- Negative points0
- Total rating94
- Length: 3.5-4hrs
- Maximum Altitude: Abt 2,200m
- Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Talk about cultural walking!
Ushguli, probably Georgia’s most fascinating mountain village and at 2,100m claimed to be the highest inhabited village in Europe, nestles at a remote valley junction in a high, grassy bow east of Mestia. It is a marvellous series of stone-built hamlets; the main village climbs to a knoll crowned by a tower and wall and the roof of a little chapel. Towers are the theme here - around 30 of them, slender and austere, dating from the C10 onwards, bristling out of the hamlets. There were more before the Soviet Army did their bit.
The main Enguri valley passes through a narrows above the village, to enter a long, wide, level valley of extreme beauty between high, grassy slopes. The vast ice-and-rock ridges around Mt Shkhara, at 5,193m Georgia’s highest mountain, dominate the view. Various ice-falls and glaciers tumble off it, the Shkhara Glacier, at the valley-head, being the main one. It is clean white at its top, and very dirty by the time it reaches its base.
The glacier is most people’s target, but there are tracks off up the ridges, which are enticing if you like getting up to higher views.
The trudge up the track is walking heaven, a gentle, steady climb on ground so easy you are free to drink in the visual joy all about. You reach the beginning of a steeper, rocky climb over the crushed base of the retreating glacier, with an overlay of dumped boulders and debris. First up is an area of twisted dwarf birch, which opens out to stretch of wide, stony slope with water tricking down it. Hints of the glacier, which had disappeared from sight, show themselves. The track become a puff up steeper, broken rock; at its crest you find you are close under the now-huge walls of the glacier.
A steep wall of ice towers above you. Collapsed slabs choke what looks like a huge ice cave. This glacier is dirty, and trickles trickle off it; there is a constant scuttle of grit and rattle of pebbles. On the rim high above, big stones wait to crash down. Enjoy some of the best-ever impromptu sculptures, single-stone piles way above even a giant’s reach. How were they made?
The valley is just as beautiful viewed from above, with its wide sward dotted with ponies, its bright, wooded, snowy-ridged flanks and the icy peaks of the Svaneti Range towering behind. Beyond the narrower lower valley, cross the river and climb to the tower and C12 Lamaria church in a walled enclosure on the knoll just above Ushguli. The church is a dark little glory, its walls all faded frescoes, including a soft-faced Christ above the altar.
Through the low door in the southern wall, the long valley falls slowly away, with the Ushguli hamlets, all towers and decrepitude, nestled below. Walk slowly down through the hamlets, revelling in the extraordinary atmosphere of this World Heritage Site.
For more information and photos, including detailed practical information and some warnings, see our Greater Caucasus Mountains walk page.
WILLIAM MACKESY'S ACCOUNT
of this walk
We are off to the remote valley junction which nestles Ushguli, probably Georgia’s most fascinating mountain village and claimed to be the highest inhabited village in Europe. The drive is long and consistently beautiful, heading east up above the Mestia valley then down into the long Enguri valley which we climb, in a deep gorge, until it debouches into the high, grassy bowl of Ushguli. We are met by a marvellous spectacle of a series of stone-built hamlets sitting comfortably in their fields above a vigorous stream, one of them on the divide of the stream.....READ MORE
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Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
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