To Lomisa Chapel
Gt Caucasus, Around Gudauri, Georgia
William Mackesy’s account of this walk
We are making another climb to a ridge, this time to the C9 Lomisa Chapel, which is perched high across the deep very long-named main valley, on the ridge which forms the border with South Ossetia.
After a dull breakfast in our soulless ski hotel (one thing sadder than a ski resort in Summer is one under construction), we board our minibus at 9.10, and switchback down the sides of the beautiful long-named valley.
Just across the river, we begin the long, pretty-well unremitting, slog straight up the hillside towards the chapel some 750m above us.
Beyond the carefully tended (yet scruffy) veg gardens behind the village we trudge up (and up) a long, steep meadow, very quickly gaining wide views across and along the valley. At the meadow head, we join a worn old track which angles steeply up through pretty beech and birch woodland, which is already, in mid September, sporting gorgeous autumnal yellows.
My legs aren't what they should be. I find myself very tired and heavy, as I labour up the stony track.
The wood ends abruptly, and we emerge, above the local tree line, into vivid meadows, with views now laying claim to grandeur.
After a short, steep slog, we are indulged with 30 level seconds on a little knoll. From here, it is a steady climb, with some steep sections. I stop regularly for views, so it is a good thing that they are getting ever finer and wider. We get some brief respite with a gentler detour around the hillside, then it is a final push to reach the chapel, 750m higher, in just over 2 hrs. Given that I normally expect to climb at a bit better than 300m (1,000ft) per hour, this is not bad considering it felt like I was struggling. Not dead yet!
The chapel is crouched and ancient, with a single, fat central pillar, rough dingy walls and tiny windows which recreate the feel of an Ethiopian rock-hewn church. In other words, it is dimly numinous.
Outside, we introduce ourselves to the long ridges and valleys of South Ossetia, which is noticeably emptier and more wooded than Georgia. We hear that Russian patrols hide in the forest, and a local hunter who strayed over the border was shot not long ago. Our ridge climbs steeply to our south; to the north, it winds to the local peak, then on, very green and tempting, for a number of kilometres. Almost anywhere else, it would be a famous ridge walk which people come to experience. But tourism is still in its early days here. Behind us, and across the deep long-named gorge, vivid green ridges dominate the skyline. It is startlingly pretty.
After a cup of tea with the somehow surprisingly young resident monk, who is all smiles, we begin our descent, down through long grass, dwarf rhododendrons and yellowing little birch, crossing above the local slippery ravine-head to the next ridge down. We then drop along the ridge, through meadows and bright, varied woodland. Really gorgeous.
There are plenty of vignettes to enjoy. We pass a group including a naked-torsoed man with a large lamb slung over his shoulders in full Biblical manner, apparently on their way to sacrifice it at the chapel: pagan customs still survive, merged into Christian practices. In the gentler meadow at the bottom, a pair of peasants lean on huge scythes and rakes, talking slowly. Their diminutive hay piles are sharply shadowed and look like malnourished Monets (stunted Sisleys?).
The hamlet at the bottom is nondescript and scruffy, but gets away with charm and authenticity.
What a walk.