A nice day hike offering interesting perspective of the Ushba mountain.
A pretty nice day hike connecting two valleys of Upper Svaneti, which is also a part of a full Svaneti west-eastern traverse. It offers great views of Mt Ushba with surrounding glaciers as well as a nice view of Enguri valley and Svaneti ridge. On the final descent to the Mazeri village, you will come across a really nice fir forest.
The trail is marked and mostly easy to follow, yet somehow "below the radar" of most tourists as they usually drive directly to Mestia and overlook villages on the road.
Duration: 6,5 hours
An ideal day hike - not too easy, not too hard. There is Baki pass (2430m) to cross, but the climb is manageable (1000m up and 800m down).
How to get to Etseri:
Just wait for a marshrutka traveling between Zugdidi and Mestia and ask the driver to drop you at the Etseri (25km before Mestia).
He should charge you up to 20 GEL.
How to leave Mazeri:
There is no public transport to Mazeri. The closest road served by marshrutkas lies 7 kilometers away, at the mouth of Becho valley. Therefore, you may have to hire a taxi - the price of the ride to Mestia starts at 50 GEL (but can be also much higher, depending on the driver, situation and the level of your desperation).
There are also are two nice day walks connecting Mazeri with neighboring villages - Mestia and Etseri.
The situation with village names in Svaneti is somewhat complicated since the places are known not only by the names of individual "villages" (often just a bunch of houses), but also as by the overall name of the community. In guidebooks, you can usually find community names, but Google Maps prefers village names (until recently, it couldn't find even such famous communities such as Ushguli). In this case, Etseri is the name of the community which encompasses several smaller villages (Iskari, Ughvali, Tsalanari, Kurashi, Barshi) bunched at the mouth of Leshta valley. And, unlike these smaller villages, it cannot be found correctly by the Google Maps.
Description of the route
The hike starts at the main road in Etseri, by the tourist marker at the bus stop - the whole trail is marked by white/red rectangles. Follow the vilage road to the north - after one mile, you will pass the Tony Hanmer guesthouse/shop (good place to spend a night if you reached Etseri in the afternoon).
Continue north through the Barshi village where you can find another couple of pointers, nice fortified compount with a tower (seat of Dadeshkheliani princes, which rules the western, "tamed" half of Svaneti), and a water spring. The road from here climbs slowly, but steadily across the western side of the valley and eventually turns to the east. On your right side, you will see several shepherd huts and for a while, walk by a wooden fence. When it ends, climb a bit and join a large cowpath. You will pass several smaller streams, but I don´t recommend taking a water here because of the intensive herding activity. The trail then takes you through extensive fields of yellow flowers.
The cow path eventually turns into a trail and after another 200 elevation meters, you should make it to the Baki pass (2428m). From here, there are two routes down to Mazeri
village - we will take the longer, nicer one (the direct descent is described at the end of the post). Follow the top of the ridge to the south, bypassing the small elevation from the right side. The trail then leaves the main ridge which rises towards Mt. Detsili (2578m), turns left and navigates the hillside. It goes up and down a bit (there is also a plenty of blueberries), then goes down through a sparse birch forest.
Once a forest ends, there is a small crossing which can be confusing if you come from the opposite direction - another trail bypasses Detsili from the south. But you just walk straight to the small chapel known as the Meziri Church of the Archangel. From there, it´s only a short walk to the top of Mt. Meziri (2279m). The trail then heads a bit further to the southeast on the bare side ridge, past the small, muddy lake and turns east to another pointer.
From the pointer, you can make a detour to the viewpoint with the wooden cross which offers great views in all directions - it’s also a good place for a break as it’s the last panoramic break on the trail. Once done, return to the pointer and head north into the forest.
The next section consists of a long series of switchbacks through a beautiful fir forest. After some time, you will reach a clearing used by forest workers, with some old machinery lying around. The trail here joins a forest road. Follow it for about a mile, then, at the elevation of 1800m turn right onto another smaller trail (there is another pointer, you won´t get lost). The trail leads you to the meadow - at some sections, it´s not too obvious but if you stay at the right part of the meadow, close to the forest, you should find it soon enough.
Finally, the trail descends to the Tvebishi village and joins the larger road again. Pass the village, cross the bridge over the Dolra river and reach the main road. Mazeri village lies nearby on your right side.
Looking back at the Baki pass
Alternative route from Mazeri to the Baki pass: There exists one more route connecting Mazeri with the Baki pass. It's shorter, steeper, and overall more straightforward. Also, it's quite overgrown and not as scenic as the classic route. Still, it has its uses. If you are started from Etseri late, you can use it to get down to Mazeri faster. And if you are staying in Mazeri and want to climb the ridge as a day trip without continuing to Etseri, you can climb to the Baki pass by the classic route and use this route to get back, so you don't have to return the same way.
How to find it? Will descrive it from the Mazeri direction since that's how Eric, who walked it, did it. Once you cross the bridge by Grand Hotel Ushba, turn right, just like if starting to go to the glacier. A couple of hundred meters later, you see a pointer indicating Baki pass that elevates in the forest. The start of the hike is really violent as it is very steep, the path is tiny but you never loose it from sight.
At one point, you get onto a land rover track. The track goes in zig-zags which makes the effort more gentle. After reaching the elevation of about 2000m, we finally emerge from the forest into the first pastures, and find a wooden hut in poor state. A pointer to Baki pass is located shortly after the hut, but for a couple of hundred meters the terrain is very overgrown with high vegetation, including hogweed. Long trousers or gaiters advised ! We need to guess a little the direction at this point, aiming at the meadow where the grass gets more "walkable", and keeping the Baki pass as a target direction. We see some rocks marked with the familiar red and white marks.
In the early summer, this meadow that goes almost until the pass is a heaven of flowers. The hike to the pass seems at this point very straightforward, but it is not as we get nearer. Some wet gullies allowed patches of forest to grow quite high, and they are circumvented upside on the right. The last patch of forest before reaching the pass is problematic as the trail almost completely disappear in the flowers. It is required to figure out the optimal route by reading the slope. Do not wait until you are in front of of the trees (there is no path going through it) to realize you need to elevate right. It is very steep at this point, and it is preferable to anticipate this situation by climbing before reaching this piece of forest. Once we circumvent it, most probably due to the fact all possible routes converge to an obvious conclusion, the path becomes visible again. It takes us without any major issues to the pass after the last few hundred meters, mostly flat.
Alternative route to Baki pass
Where to stay in Mazeri:
Mazeri is, from the hikers perspective, the best village to stay at since it provides the best access to the hiking trails. Of the numerous guesthouses in the village, these are some of the better ones
Lia Jamdeliani´s guesthouse - traditional homestay established in the old house at the center of Mazeri (location on Booking.com is way off). Rooms and beds are quite basic, but this place is still a very pleasant - it has a nice, laid-back atmosphere. Moreover, the food is very tasty and abundant. The house is inhabited by friendly 3-generational family. When we got there, they were fully booked but offered us at least dirty, unused room at the upper floor (with a discount) with an option to move to the normal room on the next day.
Guesthouse Shuan - modern, very pleasant guesthouse at the southern edge of Mazeri village, close to the mineral springs. Malkhaz and Rita are wonderful hosts and in spite of looking new, the place has still retained its "family atmosphere".
Grand Hotel Ushba - first just one clarification, the name is a bit misleading - this is rather an upscale guesthouse. It is located few hundred meters north from Mazeri village which adds to the sense of isolation. Overall, it provides higher quality compared to other Mazeri guesthouses, but also for a higher price. It´s main assets are good food, nice rooms and very comfortable beds. And, of course, it´s co-owner Richard. This Norwegian academic knows about Svaneti more than you will ever need to know - if he is not around, check at least his books :).
Mila guesthouse - traditional Svan guesthouse known for terrific, homely-grownd food. Ladies running the guesthouse are very kinddly and while they don't speak English, with mutual effort, there is no problem with communication.
Meziri church of the Archangel
The biggest thanks goes to Eric Visentin who hiked the alternative route from Baki pass to Mazeri and wrote its description. Then there are photographers - s
everal photos from the hike were provided by Olga Drewnowska who also wrote
report from the trail (in Polish).
Few other photos were provided by Martin Lazar and the rest are mine :) Big thanks to all of them!