9 USEFUL THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT TREKKING IN GEORGIA
With the Caucasus Mountains spanning the north and south of the country, Georgia is prime trekking territory. From challenging long-distance hikes through remote regions, to easy day-hikes in the shadow of spectacular snowy peaks, Georgia’s mountains have something to offer every kind of traveller. But, whether you’re planning a hike of a few hours or a few months, there are some key things to know about trekking in Georgia that will help you get the most from your Caucasus adventure.
In this guide we’ll cover the best regions for trekking in Georgia, the various types of accommodation available, the best months to hike, practical tips for trekking in the Caucasus, and more.
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TREKKING ROUTES MAP
This map gives an overview of the Georgia hiking trails featured in our guides. Tap the menu button at the top left to get more details, toggle layers on and off, switch between satellite and terrain view, and for links to each guide.
1 // THE BEST TREKKING REGIONS IN GEORGIA
TREKKING IN GEORGIA
1 // THE BEST REGIONS
The Greater Caucasus Mountains form a natural border along the north of Georgia, from Svaneti in the west to Lagodekhi in the east. It’s here that the most spectacular scenery can be found, alongside the best trekking in Georgia.
KAZBEGI AND SVANETI
Kazbegi and Svaneti are the most accessible regions both in terms of transport links and tourist infrastructure. They are also home to some of Georgia’s most iconic mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls – Mt Kazbek, Mt Ushba, Adishi Glacier, and Shdugra Waterfall to name a few.
Unsurprisingly, they are also two of Georgia’s most popular tourist destinations, meaning you’re unlikely to have any of the main hiking trails entirely to yourself, or feel truly remote (with the odd exception like the Kelitsadi Lake trek). Both regions offer a variety of trekking trails, from easy day-hikes to multi-day adventures. Guesthouses are plentiful, making a trip to Kazbegi or Svaneti ideal for those looking to hike with minimal gear and avoid camping.
Mt Kazbek glowing in the morning sun, with Gergeti Trinity Church still in shadow (seen from Kazbegi town/Stepantsminda)
Mount Kazbek glowing in the morning sun,
with Gergeti Trinity Church still in shadow
(seen from Kazbegi town/Stepantsminda)
Tusheti is another mountainous region in Georgia’s Greater Caucasus, with beautiful landscapes, unique culture, and numerous treks suited to a variety of abilities. But, it sees far fewer tourists compared to Kazbegi or Svaneti, largely because it is only accessible for a few months over the summer, via a somewhat notorious road.
There are a number of villages dotted throughout the region which make good bases for day-hikers, or allow for guesthouse to guesthouse trekking. But, Tusheti also has a lot to offer more adventurous hikers looking for multi-day camping treks, with routes crossing mountain passes into Khevsureti to the west, or Pankisi Gorge and the Kakheti lowlands to the south. What Tusheti lacks in lofty snow-capped peaks, it definitely makes up for in remote beauty.
Looking down from Nakaicho (Nakle-Kholi) pass to the Pirikiti valley below, this stretch lying between Girevi and Dartlo
Looking down from Nakaicho (Nakle-Kholi) pass
to the Pirikiti valley below, this stretch lying
between Girevi and Dartlo
Like its neighbour Tusheti, Khevsureti is cut off by snow from around October to May. From a trekking perspective, this region is best suited to more experienced hikers carrying their own camping equipment, as it’s a remote area with high passes to cross and limited infrastructure.
Upper Racha is another Georgian region best suited to more experienced and self-sufficient hikers. Udziro Lake is the main draw for most hikers making the trip here, although for those keen on extended multi-day routes, Racha connects to both Svaneti and Imereti by way of challenging trails under development by the Transcaucasian Trail, and to Lower Svaneti by way of the Lechkhumi Range. The main towns of Ambrolauri and Oni are accessible by road year round.
Standing at Udziro Lake appreciating the morning views of the Greater Caucasus and Georgia’s highest peak, Shkhara (5193 m)
Standing at the end of Udziro Lake, appreciating
the morning views of the Greater Caucasus and
Georgia’s highest peak, Shkhara (5193 m)
Lagodekhi, situated at the far north-eastern corner of Georgia, is home to the country’s oldest protected landscape. While there are a few short hikes in the national park, the big draw here is the 3 day loop trek to Black Rock Lake, sitting at 2850 m. This is a very scenic but not too challenging option for self-sufficient hikers. It is easily accessible from Tbilisi, and sits close to the Azerbaijan border crossing, very handy if you’re planning a multi-country Caucasus adventure.
Situated in the Lesser Caucasus, about 100 km to the south of the Greater Caucasus Range, Borjomi-Kharagauli NP has numerous marked hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulties. Compared to hiking trails in the Greater Caucasus, those in Borjomi NP are accessible much earlier and later in the year, making it ideal for those visiting Georgia outside of peak summer trekking season. There are even a couple of snowshoe trails open in winter. You won’t be getting up close to any of Georgia’s most famous snowy mountains, but on a clear day the views of the Greater Caucasus Range are impressive, and the autumn colours in Borjomi are beautiful.
GEORGIA TREKKING GUIDES
2 // WHEN TO TREK IN GEORGIA
TREKKING IN GEORGIA
2 // WHEN TO TREK
Generally speaking, the main trekking season in Georgia runs from July to September, but this can vary depending on where you want to visit and how high you plan to trek.
Stepantsminda itself is typically accessible year-round, however any high altitude hikes in the region (for example Chaukhi Pass or Kelitsadi Lake) are usually only passable between July and mid-September. If you’re planning on doing a short day hike to Gergeti Trinity Church, Gveleti Waterfall, or Truso Valley, then this should be possible in late Spring and Autumn, too. In Winter, snow and ice makes a hike even to Gergeti Trinity Church fairly challenging.
Gergeti Trinity Church on an atmospheric day of shifting clouds
Gergeti Trinity Church on an atmospheric day
The road to Svaneti is usually accessible year-round, but once again, any high altitude trekking is out of the question from around October to mid-June. July and August are peak trekking months, but it’s definitely worth considering late September or early October, when the Autumn colours start to show and fewer people on the trails makes for a more enjoyable experience overall. Water levels are also lower later in the year, making the river crossing on Day 3 of the popular Mestia to Ushguli trek less tricky. However, less water means that some springs and streams are likely to be dry.
The only way to get to Tusheti is via a high altitude narrow mountain road, or on foot over a high mountain pass. Both become impassable in winter, limiting the trekking season in Tusheti to July, August, and early September. It’s possible to do some shorter hikes around the villages in June (assuming the Tusheti road is open) but the high passes linking Tusheti and Khevsureti will be blocked by snow.
Just like Tusheti, Khevsureti is very much a summer trekking destination. Upper Khevsureti (beyond the Datvisjvari Pass) becomes inaccessible in winter. On the high mountain passes, such as Atsunta on the Shatili to Omalo trek or Chaukhi on the Juta to Roshka trek, snow lasts until around July and usually falls again in late September or early October.
The historic Khevsur settlement of Mutso, perched on a rocky outcrop above the trekking route between Shatili and Omalo
The historic Khevsur settlement of Mutso, perched
high on a rocky outcrop above the trekking route
between Shatili and Omalo
Although the region itself is accessible by road year round, as with most other trekking regions in Georgia, the hiking trails in the high mountains of Upper Racha are best tackled from July – September (possibly mid June – early October).
Short day hikes in Lagodekhi NP are possible from Spring to Autumn, but the high altitude Black Rock Lake trek is best tackled between July and September. If there has been wet weather, the steep descent can become very slippery and the park administration might close the trail, so bear this in mind too.
Maggie, the best trail dog ever, at Black Rock Lake in Lagodekhi National Park
Our friend Maggie, the best trail dog ever, at
Black Rock Lake in Lagodekhi National Park
Borjomi NP has trails open year-round, with 2 out of the dozen or so marked trails being winter snowshoe trails. Regular trekking is possible here from around Spring to late Autumn.
VIDEOS AND GUIDES FROM THE TRANSCAUCASIAN TRAIL IN SVANETI
3 // GUESTHOUSES, CAMPING & MOUNTAIN HUTS
TREKKING IN GEORGIA
3 // GUESTHOUSES, CAMPING & MOUNTAIN HUTS
Many treks in Georgia can be done as village to village guesthouse treks while others require self-sufficient camping, and a few national parks offer self-catering mountain huts. So, whatever your preferred hiking style, there’s bound to be a trek out there for you.
The best regions for multi-day guesthouse trekking in Georgia are Svaneti and Tusheti. Outside of these regions, you usually need to carry your own camping gear.
Guesthouses usually provide dinner, bed, and breakfast. Expect to pay around 60 – 80 GEL per person, per night in Svaneti and 80 – 120 GEL per person, per night in Tusheti. A packed lunch can usually be provided in addition to this. Generally speaking, we found the quality and quantity of food served in guesthouses in Tusheti to be better than in Svaneti.
Private rooms are most common, with few places offering dorm style shared rooms. Some places offer rooms with private bathrooms but many have shared facilities. Guesthouses provide bedding and towels. Some places serve dinner and breakfast at one set time, especially if many guests are staying, while others will serve meals at a time you request.
It’s possible to book via booking.com for many guesthouses, and if you’re hiking in July or August it’s a good idea to book accommodation in advance. If you prefer not to, there are usually guesthouses available which don’t have online booking, so you should be able to find a bed somewhere but you might need to hunt around a bit. It’s also possible to ask at your guesthouse to call ahead and book your next guesthouse for you.
The traditional Tushetian village of Dartlo, home to a number of guesthouses
The traditional Tushetian village of Dartlo,
home to a number of guesthouses
Trekking from Mestia to Ushguli is the most popular guesthouse trek in Svaneti, generally done over 4 days. If you’re looking for something longer, it’s possible to extend your guesthouse trek up to 8 + days by starting in Chuberi or Nakra, instead of Mestia.
In Tusheti, there are guesthouses in almost every village, which opens up plenty of 2 – 4 day hiking opportunities. The somewhat challenging trek from Omalo to Jvarboseli via the Ghele ridge is the most scenic route. If you’re looking for a more easy going trek, you can hike the first 2 days of the Omalo to Shatili route, as far as Girevi, then take a car back. You can also hike from Omalo to Shenako and Diklo in one day, and on to Dartlo the following day via Chigho.
CAMPING TREKS IN GEORGIA
It’s possible to camp wherever you plan on trekking in Georgia. And in the more remote regions, self-sufficient camping is the only option. Wild/free camping is the norm, with zero facilities available apart from at certain designated camp spots in some national parks. Be sure to plan ahead and Leave No Trace. Among other things, you must take all your rubbish with you, bury human waste and carry out used toilet paper, and minimise the impact of campfires, ideally using a stove instead.
Note that officially marked camp spots on many of the trekking trails are generally to be avoided and at the very least shouldn’t be relied on (with the exception of national parks like Borjomi and Lagodekhi). Two examples spring to mind: the marked campsite on the trail down from Utviri pass to Nakra in Svaneti, a muddy clearing next to a cow herder camp with a loud, aggressive dog; and Sakisto Lake below Mt Tbatana on the Tusheti to Pankisi Valley route, a grazing area close to a nearby shepherd camp with a number of aggressive and territorial dogs.
A quiet morning camping at Koruldi Lakes, around 1300 metres above Mestia in Upper Svaneti
A quiet morning camping at Koruldi Lakes, around
1300 metres above Mestia in Upper Svaneti
Some National Parks in Georgia, including Lagodekhi and Borjomi, have self-catering mountain huts available to stay in for a fee (usually 20 GEL per person). These are pretty basic, but provide shelter from the elements along with a few conveniences such as a table and benches, bunk beds, drop toilets, and an outdoor fire pit. You still need to carry your food, cooking equipment, sleeping bag, and so on. It’s also possible to camp outside the mountain huts and make use of the toilet and picnic table facilities (usually 5 GEL per person).
VIDEOS AND GUIDES TO PLAN YOUR TREK IN AND OUT OF TUSHETI
4 // GEORGIA HAS A WIDE VARIETY OF TRAILS
TREKKING IN GEORGIA
4 // HIKE VARIATIONS
Whether you’re looking for a straightforward stroll to a magnificent glacier, or a challenging multi-day camping adventure, we guarantee Georgia has the trek to suit you.
A high number of scenic day hikes, with plenty of majestic mountain views, can be found in Upper Svaneti. Mestia, Mazeri, and Ushguli all make great bases from which to explore. Some easy yet highly rewarding short hikes include Shdugra Waterfall (from Mazeri), Chalaadi Glacier (from Mestia), and Adishi Glacier (from Adishi). More challenging day hikes include Latpari Pass (from Ushguli), Gul Pass (from Mazeri), or Bak Pass (from Etseri).
The Kazbegi region also has some great day hikes, and just like in Svaneti, there are plenty of guesthouses and a well established tourist infrastructure, meaning you don’t have to rough it. A day hike in Truso Valley or towards the Chaukhi Massif from Juta requires minimal effort for maximum reward. Or opt for a more challenging hike to Gergeti Glacier, at the foot of Mt Kazbek.
Gergeti Glacier is a challenging full day return hike from Kazbegi (Stepantsminda)
Gergeti Glacier is a challenging full day
return hike from Kazbegi (Stepantsminda)
The remote Tusheti region is also ideal for day hikers. Travelling between villages by vehicle and staying in atmospheric guesthouses allows you to see much of these mountains without the need for a multi-day trek.
Lagodekhi and Borjomi National Parks both have numerous marked trails of varying length and difficulty, many of which can be done in a day or just a few hours.
A multitude of guesthouses in villages across Svaneti means that even a multi-day trek here is fairly straightforward. On the popular 4 day Mestia to Ushguli trek, you can hike with a lightweight backpack and have all your meals and accommodation provided. For a more challenging multi-day hike, still with the comfort of guesthouse accommodation each night, opt for the 5 day Chuberi to Mestia route instead.
In Tusheti, with guesthouses in almost every village too, it is also possible to do multi-day treks from village to village without the need to camp. However, for those inclined, more challenging multi-day camping treks in the region include Omalo to Shatili (crossing Atsunta Pass), Tusheti to Khevsureti (crossing Borbalo Pass), and Tusheti to Pankisi Gorge (via Sakorno Pass).
For those looking for adventure around Kazbegi, the 3 day Kelitsadi Lake trek is strenuous but truly spectacular. Trekking from Juta to Roshka via Chaukhi Pass, with a wild camp at Abudelauri Lakes, is another great option for experienced, self-sufficient hikers.
Kelitsadi Lake, a challenging 3 day hike in the Kazbegi region
Kelitsadi Lake, a challenging
3 day hike in the Kazbegi region
EXTENDED GEORGIA TREKKING ROUTES
If you’re looking to spend an extended period of time trekking in Georgia, it’s possible to combine a number of treks into one longer trekking route. A good example of this is the 8 – 10 day Transcaucasian Trail route from Chuberi to Ushguli in Upper Svaneti (a combination of Chuberi to Mestia and Mestia to Ushguli). You could add on a hike from Ushguli to Chvelpi to turn this into 9 – 12 days, then add on another 3 days trekking the Lechkhumi Range to Racha. Alternatively, continue east from Ushguli and hike for 3 – 4 days from Zeskho to Ghebi (in Racha) via the future TCT route.
Mountain views on the Mestia to Ushguli trek: the twin peaks of Ushba (in Georgia) on the left, Chatyn-Tau (in Russia) on the right
Mountain views on the Mestia to Ushguli trek:
the twin peaks of Ushba (in Georgia) on the left,
Chatyn-Tau (in Russia) on the right
In the northeast of Georgia, some great treks to link together are Juta to Roshka via Chaukhi Pass and Shatili to Omalo. From here, you can explore more Tusheti villages like Shenako and Diklo, then trek 5 days to Pankisi Gorge in the lowlands, or back to Khevsureti via Borbalo Pass. This whole itinerary would take at least 2 weeks.
5 // NAVIGATION TIPS
TREKKING IN GEORGIA
5 // NAVIGATION TIPS
Many hiking trails in Georgia have waymarkings painted on rocks and trees, even in remote areas, and in many cases there are actual trekking signposts pointing the way and giving distances. While these are very useful, they can’t be relied upon 100%, so it’s best to have some other navigation tools at hand.
OFFLINE GPS MAPPING APPS
Having an offline mapping app with your relevant route info is essential when trekking in Georgia. Our preferred apps are Maps.me and Gaia GPS, however there are many other options such as Guru Maps, Organic Maps, or OsmAnd.
Maps.me is the most straightforward offline mapping app we’ve come across, and invaluable while trekking in Georgia. There are many trails already marked on maps.me, plus you can download a KML track of your route to your app. Just make sure you download the country map and any KML files while you are connected to the internet in order to use them offline later.
TIPS FOR USING MAPS.ME
To use Maps.me, first download the app (iOS/Android). Hover over the region or country that you want to visit and the app will prompt you to download this map. Once downloaded, it can be viewed offline.
You can tap anywhere and save it as a ‘bookmark’ by tapping the star/Favorites symbol at the bottom. Hit the pencil symbol to edit the bookmark colour, organise your bookmarks into different folders, and rename them.
You can navigate easily or plan routes in advance by tapping your start point and selecting ‘route from’, then tapping your end point and selecting ‘route to’. Tap the car, walking, or cycling symbol at the top of the screen to indicate your mode of travel. If you want to plot a different route to the one suggested by Maps.me, just tap a third (or fourth, fifth, etc.) bookmark between the start and end points and select ‘add stop’.
Maps.me shows the distance and travel time, plus elevation profiles for hiking trails. Note that the estimated time isn’t always reliable, but we’ve always found the distance and elevation gain/loss to be largely accurate. It only shows very basic contour lines.
You can track your progress on the trail using GPS. The arrow shows your direction of travel. Tap the compass at the top right of the screen to keep the map in a fixed position (the arrow will rotate). Alternatively, tap the arrow at the bottom right of the screen to rotate the map in the direction of travel (the arrow will stay in a fixed position).
TIPS FOR USING GAIA GPS
Gaia (iOS/Android) is another offline mapping app that is very useful. It shows the contours in much more detail than Maps.me, and you can download both the topographical and satellite view of your route in advance for offline use. The app has existing OpenStreetMap trails marked and you can import GPX tracks and view them offline. You can also create new routes online yourself and export them as GPX or KML files. The desktop version of Gaia GPS is particularly useful for scouting out routes in advance, using the topographical, satellite, and 3D functions. Any routes you create on desktop are automatically synced with the mobile app.
You can navigate easily on the trail using the arrow that shows your GPS location. You can also check distances between places offline, however you will only get elevation profiles while online. There are a lot of useful features in the free version and even more benefits if you have a paid annual membership, so if you spend a lot of time outdoors it is worthwhile learning how to use the app to its full advantage.
In our experience, Gaia drains your phone battery much quicker than Maps.me, even in flight mode, so it’s best to shut down the app completely each time you finish using it.
WHERE TO DOWNLOAD GPX/KML TRACKS
You can download GPX and KML tracks from each of our Georgia trekking guides on this website. Caucasus Trekking is also a fantastic resource with downloads available for every trek outlined. Transcaucasian Trail provide downloads for their Upper Svaneti route, with more due to follow as their cross-country thru-trail develops. The National Parks of Georgia website provides downloads for Lagodekhi and Borjomi, as well as others, with downloads for all trails in Borjomi NP also available from our own Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park guide.
You can buy paper trekking maps at Geoland in Tbilisi (41.6989, 44.8048). You can also pick up paper hiking maps of the local area at the tourist info office in Mestia and at national park visitor centres. These are best used in conjunction with an offline GPS map. Occasionally they show routes on their maps which are waymarked in real life, but don’t appear on any OpenStreetMap sources like Maps.me or Gaia. This saved us a couple of times when we lost the waymarkings and our only way of navigating was with the paper map and our phone gps.
6 // CAMPING AND HIKING SUPPLIES IN GEORGIA
TREKKING IN GEORGIA
6 // CAMPING & HIKING SUPPLIES
If you’re coming to Georgia specifically to trek, chances are you’ll be bringing most of your gear from home. But you’ll likely still need to stock up on food, maps, or camping gas in the country. And for those of you who are already in Georgia and find yourself planning a trek, you have no choice but to source all your gear here. Below are a few tips.
WHERE TO BUY CAMPING GAS
You can buy screw-in style camping gas at Geoland or MPlus in Tbilisi. Outside of Tbilisi it isn’t always easy to source. Mountain Freaks in Kazbegi (Stepantsminda) sell it. Various shops in Mestia (Svaneti) sell camping gas, and we also saw it for sale in the small store at Hostel Tishe in Lower Omalo (Tusheti). It’s best to stock up in Tbilisi.
WHERE TO RENT CAMPING GEAR
You can rent camping gear at MPlus in Tbilisi, and Mountain Freaks in Kazbegi (Stepantsminda). It is not easy to rent camping gear anywhere else.
WHERE TO STOCK UP ON TREKKING & CAMPING FOOD
Large supermarkets in Tbilisi such as Goodwill (bottom floor of Galleria Mall at Liberty Square 41.694542, 44.800338) or Carrefour (near Geoland 41.697837, 44.804183) are ideal for stocking up. Among other standard supermarket goods you can buy trekking snacks like dried fruit and nuts, camping food like pasta or muesli, and traditional Georgian snacks like churchkhela (strings of nuts dipped in dried grape juice) or tklapi (fruit leather).
You will, of course, also find supermarkets and smaller shops in many other cities and towns, such as Mestia, Kazbegi (Stepantsminda), Borjomi and Lagodekhi. But smaller settlements such as Ushguli (Svaneti), Omalo (Tusheti), or Shatili (Khevsureti) have very limited supplies.
More remote settlements such as Ushguli in Upper Svaneti only have small shops with limited supplies
More remote settlements like Ushguli in Svaneti
only have small shops with limited supplies
We have not come across anywhere selling dehydrated trekking food in Georgia. It is best to bring this from home, but if this is not possible, you can get dehydrated meals (and anything else you might need) sent to Tbilisi from the UK or USA via Kiwipost, a cheap and reliable postal service.
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7 // WHAT TO WEAR TREKKING IN GEORGIA
TREKKING IN GEORGIA
7 // WHAT TO WEAR
Clothing for hiking is of course similar the world over, but there are a few conditions particularly relevant to trekking in Georgia that lead us to make these recommendations.
Giant Hogweed is native to the Caucasus and seemingly grows EVERYWHERE. Brushing against it and getting any of its phototoxic sap on your skin can cause serious burns or blisters. Wherever you’re trekking in Georgia, chances are you’ll come across it on the hiking trail. Vegetation is particularly thick during the summer months, with hogweed, stinging nettles, and other nasties encroaching on the trail. In more remote areas, entire sections of trail can lead right through overgrown hogweed patches. As such, it’s highly recommended to wear long sleeved tops and long trousers when trekking in Georgia.
The weather can change fast in any mountainous region, and the Caucasus is no different. Additionally, the temperature difference can change dramatically between lower and higher altitudes. So, make sure you pack appropriate clothing for every single hike, even if it’s ‘just’ a short day hike.
Weather conditions can change quickly in the mountains; be sure to pack all-weather clothing for each and every hike
Weather conditions can change quickly in the
mountains; be sure to pack all-weather clothing
for each and every hike
You need waterproofs and layers (including a base layer, mid layer, and outer layer). Ideally your base layers should be made from merino wool or sweat-wicking material. Avoid jeans or any cotton materials – if they get wet they are heavy, take forever to dry, and you’ll get cold easily. A sun hat and sunglasses are also needed. Make sure you have proper footwear (ideally hiking boots) that are broken in already.
OK, so you don’t exactly ‘wear’ hiking poles, but we’re throwing these in here and recommending you have some if you plan on doing any multi-day treks. When trekking in Georgia you’ll often come across steep ascents and descents on tricky terrain, plus landslides and rivers to cross. Hiking poles are a big help, especially if you carry a heavy bag.
ALL OF OUR FAVOURITE HIKING AND CAMPING GEAR
8 // WATER SOURCES WHEN TREKKING IN GEORGIA
TREKKING IN GEORGIA
8 // WATER SOURCES
Mountain springs are often found on trekking trails in Georgia and this water is considered safe to drink without treating it. These springs sometimes dry up later in the season though, so it’s always best to ask locally about the situation in advance, or err on the side of caution and take extra water with you.
Streams provide another source of water, but unless you are trekking at high altitude, well above grazing land, this water should always be treated before drinking.
Personally, we filter and sterilise all water when hiking in the mountains as we’d rather be safe than sorry. It’s best to bring water purification tablets, a Steripen, Lifestraw, or other such method of water treatment from home as these are not easily available in Georgia.
TWO SPECTACULAR TREKS IN GEORGIA
9 // DEALING WITH AGGRESSIVE DOGS
TREKKING IN GEORGIA
9 // AGGRESSIVE DOGS
Herding is a way of life for many Georgians living in rural and mountainous regions, and with sheep (also cows), comes dogs. These dogs are trained to protect the flock from bears and wolves, and act aggressively towards anything or anyone encroaching on their patch, including hikers.
If you encounter a flock of sheep while trekking in Georgia, it will most likely be accompanied by 1 – 5 sheepdogs and at least one shepherd, depending on the size of the flock. These dogs will likely bark, run at you, growl, and bare their teeth. In our experience they usually don’t get closer than 1 – 2 metres, but of course the behaviour of any given dog can vary it and also depends on your own reaction. Herds of cows usually have 1 – 2 dogs with them, with often no herder. Cow dogs tend to be less aggressive, but should still be avoided.
HOW TO DEAL WITH AGGRESSIVE DOGS
Always keep watch for flocks of sheep when trekking in Georgia. As soon as you spot one, scan the area to locate the shepherd and dogs. The safest way to proceed is in the company of the shepherd. If he hasn’t seen you already, call out ‘gamarjoba!’ and hope that he comes to you. He will usually keep the dogs at bay and escort you past the flock.
Sometimes there isn’t a shepherd around, or they don’t come to help you for whatever reason. In this case, give the flock a wide berth where possible. If dogs get close, do not run or provoke them by throwing things directly at them or physically attacking them. Instead, hold out your hiking poles or stick while raising your voice firmly, and continue walking away from their territory. You can also drop your hand to the ground and pretend to pick up a stone (or actually pick one up), then raise your hand high as if you are about to throw it. Usually the dog will understand that this means it’s about to get hurt and it should back off. Basically, you need to show them that you are also scary and not to be messed with, but that you aren’t a threat to the flock.
A meadow on the ridge between the Pirikiti valley and Gometsari gorge in Tusheti, a place to commonly see sheep and aggressive dogs
A wide meadow on the ridge between the Pirikiti
valley and Gometsari gorge in Tusheti, a place to
commonly see sheep and aggressive dogs
If you’re camping, always check for shepherd camps nearby and avoid pitching up anywhere near them. The flock, and dogs, will return at night and if you’re camping in their territory, you won’t be in for a fun night. We learnt this the hard way on our Tusheti to Pankisi Gorge trek.
WHERE TO TREK IN GEORGIA AND AVOID AGGRESSIVE DOGS
Tusheti in particular has a lot of sheepdogs. If you are trekking here, it’s more or less guaranteed that you will encounter aggressive dogs at least once, if not a few times. You do get used to them and learn quickly how best to deal with them, but it can wear you down.
People in the Svaneti region don’t graze sheep, so you are less likely to encounter aggressive dogs on the trails here. But, we did encounter plenty of territorial dogs in each of the villages. Often they are tied up at the family home, but not always. This was actually the one place where a dog did attack me, out of the blue and from behind while walking through Mazeri village. Thankfully it didn’t break the skin, but only managed to grab my trouser leg and rip a hole in it. It backed off once I whipped around, trekking poles in hand, and yelled.
Lagodekhi NP is one of the few strictly protected mountain areas in Georgia, where the only dogs you’ll meet are friendly ones like our pal Maggie
Lagodekhi NP is one of the few strictly protected
mountain areas in Georgia, where the only dogs
you’ll meet are friendly ones like our pal Maggie
If you want to rule out any chances of encountering aggressive dogs, you’ll need to trek in strictly protected areas that don’t allow grazing, like Lagodekhi NP. After two weeks trekking in Tusheti and Khevsureti (and having numerous dog encounters), it was such a pleasure to hike the 3 day Black Rock Lake loop without a single sheepdog in sight. Outside of these areas though, it’s best to always be on guard and assume that territorial dogs accompany any sheep or cows that you see on the trails.
RESOURCES FOR TREKKING IN GEORGIA
TREKKING IN GEORGIA
From websites and apps to maps and books, there are a number of useful resources helpful for trekking in Georgia.
For planning treks around the country, Caucasus Trekking has the greatest number of routes outlined, from popular trails to seldom used routes. Our own Georgia Hiking page features detailed guides for many of the treks mentioned in this article, along with a video for each (part silent hike, part informational chat). The Transcaucasian Trail also has trail notes for Upper Svaneti, with more sections soon to follow as their thru-hike route continues to develop. They also have group treks available and volunteering opportunities for those keen to join trail building crews.
On Facebook, the Trekking in the Caucasus discussion group is a great place to ask questions from those in the know, get up to date info on trail conditions, etc., and share your own advice and experiences. You can also follow this page for more updates about trekking in Georgia.
The National park website has some useful stuff but they are often lacking in up to date information and could be more user friendly. We have found that it’s best to call the particular national park office directly – there is always an English speaking member of staff who can let you know the current situation.
It’s easy to miss the start of this steep climb on the Juta to Roshka trek; having the correct trail info and a downloaded GPX/KML file is invaluable
It’s easy to miss the start of this steep climb on
the Juta to Roshka trek; having the correct trail
info and a downloaded GPX file is invaluable
For specific information about road conditions, check the Georoad website or call the hotline ((995 32) 2 31 30 76).
Good apps for accurate weather forecasts are Yr.no (iOS/Android) and Windy (iOS/Android). Yr.no has an hourly breakdown and very specific locations including many mountain peaks and passes. With Windy you can drop a pin on the map and get the forecast for that location, but the free version only has the forecast in 3 hour periods. Mountain Forecast is also helpful for detailed weather reports in the areas around significant peaks such as Ushba, Tetnuldi, Shkhara, or Kazbek. None will work offline, so be sure to check the weather when you have a signal or wifi connection.
MAPS AND BOOKS
As mentioned above, you can buy paper trekking maps for most trekking regions of Georgia at Geoland in Tbilisi (41.6989, 44.8048). Maps are also available at the tourist information office in Mestia and various other national park visitor centres.
For general travel books on Georgia which cover the main trekking areas, the Lonely Planet Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan and Georgia Bradt Travel Guide are good places to start. For a book on specific walks, Peter Nasmyth’s Walking in the Caucasus, Georgia is a slim volume with over 50 day hikes around the country and information about flora and fauna. Also look out for Jan Richard Baerug’s new book, The Essence of the Caucasus: Svaneti & Upper Racha. It has well over 100 detailed routes outlined, complete with interesting pictures from around the region. You can currently order a copy here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the history and culture of Georgia’s mountains and the country in general, we recommend Georgia, In The Mountains Of Poetry, also by Peter Nasmyth. It is a fascinating account of Georgia’s journey since the fall of the Soviet Union, based on the author’s travels and personal experiences.
To source these books and many others while in Georgia, head to Prospero’s Books on Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue.
USEFUL THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT TREKKING IN GEORGIA
We hope you’ve found this article about trekking in Georgia useful. If you have any questions, opinions, experiences, or tips to share with fellow trekkers, drop a comment below. Happy hiking!
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