Gt Caucasus, Svaneti, Georgia
William Mackesy’s account of this walk
The upper Becho valley, west of Mestia, leads arrow-straight up into one of the most dramatic valley-heads in the whole Caucasus range, a huge bowl of spires and broken cliffs on the border with Russia, with glaciers falling off their upper reaches and beautiful forests and waterfalls on their flanks and a wild pale glacial river on its floor.
This walk starts at Mazeri, half way up the valley. You drop to cross the river, turning right onto a good track, which leads you for some 7km through pretty meadows separated by scrubby hedges and copses, then into richly diverse forest of low trees - hornbeam, aspen?, birch? And pine? - with undergrowth including great patches of low rhododendron, which glow white in Spring and are glowing reddy orange when we were there in September.
We come and go from the river bank which, on our misty day, feels like the Canadian Rockies. It is raining properly for most of our time, but we are compensated for the shrouding of the highest peaks by beautiful, poetic glimpses of impossible crags and forested promentories appearing through shreds of gauzy mist, like classic Chinese landscape paintings, missing only a hermit or a scholar sitting contemplatively by a pagoda. We do stop at a tea hut in a glade, which isn't quite the same thing, but it has hammocks slung between the trees which, on a hot day, we would be fighting over.
The trail gains height in steps up onto new platforms of, presumably, long-overgrown glacial debris. We eventually cross the river. A path carries on upstream, but we head straight up the steep hillside, through a lonely army outpost and on up (climbing maybe 200m) to a junction where we traverse right round to a final short climb to some rocks close to the pair of Shdugra waterfalls we have come to admire (and in theory swim in, although, give they are glacier fed, only a masochist (ie Serena) would do that), where we see.... thick cloud. Arrgh!
We retrace our steps, actually perfectly happy as the whole valley is so beautiful. Schmaterfall.
16+ km, 4 hrs or so.