If I were a regimented person that obsessively needed to stick to schedules, my life experiences would probably have gotten me institutionalized by now. Thankfully, however, I am in no way like that, hence why I’ve enjoyed the country Georgia so much. If this place has taught me anything, it’s that nothing will ever happen as planned, but if you can roll with it, you’ll always have a good time regardless. Well, it was now mid March and I was standing outside a parked car up in a mountainous section of the Georgian Military Highway with some newfound friends. Although we were only about a 20 minute drive to our ultimate destination Mt. Kazbek (my old and destructive friend), we were unable to go forward. It had been nearly an hour since we had moved, and despite our driver’s repeated instance that we would be going in just a few minutes, the police road block up ahead seemed to suggest otherwise.
Our crew consisted of Rowan and Kerri, a couple who had spent the past few months living in Georgia, Selma, a German girl on her first big solo trip, Eriko, who just joined us this morning, and a middle aged Russian couple. While we waited, we decided to get out and explore a little. Rowan, Kerri, and Selma went over to a cliff’s edge and began making/throwing snowballs at one another while Eriko and I went to go check out the roadblock and see if there was any place to buy coffee and snacks (because waiting makes my hungry). From what we were able to see, it looked as if there was a car accident ahead. The police were now relaxing by the side of the road, chatting with some of the stuck drivers and townspeople, enjoying coffee and cigarettes. No one seemed to be in any hurry, so we figured there was plenty of time for us to find something to eat.
We wandered a bit further, enjoying the open, snowy mountainous surrounding. Soon I noticed a distinct smell unlike any other: Georgian bread. I turned to Eriko to tell her, but she was one step ahead of me. “Look!” she said, pointing at an older man carrying a loaf about the size of a human torso. “Let’s go get some!” I happily agreed and we went forward with an eager spring in our steps. Moments later, a lady at a roadside stand was handing us a loaf of our own in exchange for one lari (40 cens). It was still warm, seemingly fresh out of the oven, and tasted as good as we hoped. While it was tempting to eat the whole thing, we both decided that getting sick on the mountain was not in our best interest, so we took it back to the car ND shared it with the rest of our companions.
Minutes later and the bread was finished (as delicious things tend not to last long). Just as we began to run out of ways to occupy our time, we began to notice commotion. Could it be? Yes! The vehicles were starting up their engines, we were finally going to hit the road and complete the outbound part of our journey. Quickly, we piled into the car and drove off. Less than half an hour passed by the time we reached the town Stepansminda (Kazbegi) and the mountain.
However, before we even had the chance to breath the fresh air and admire our surroundings, we were accosted by taxi drivers, offering to take us to the ancient church on the mountain for a fee. I attempted to shake them off by saying that we would walk instead. This did not settle well with one of the drivers. “You can’t walk there,” he said. “It is 25 kilometers away and the snow is this high” He motioned up to his waist. Unfortunately for him, I had already done this walk in previous years and knew the walk was actually just 3km, not 25. Plus, I had eyes and was able to see that it was far closer than he insisted. With that, our group decided to stop engaging in conversation and start our walk up the mountain. The taxi driver looked disgruntled.
As we walked through the town, it quickly became clear that the path was not waist-high, as the guy insisted. There were no other people on the pathway, but the numerous cows and horses made us feel as if we were not alone “This reminds me of Lord of the Rings.” Selma commented as she began to hum the theme music to the movie. Meanwhile, we all began swapping snow stories, with Kerri telling us of how she had to trudge through knee-high snow to and from school every winter. But then, things got more difficult.
Right as we exited the town, the trail suddenly became exponentially steeper and snowier. Did that stop us? No! We were not going to prove that taxi driver right! We were going to make the journey with our feet! Neglecting the fact that neither of us had proper snow-hiking shoes, we marched forward. At first, it seemed pretty manageable, but then Rowan sank down into the earth. The show gave out underneath his height dropped about a foot, meanwhile Eriko started sliding every which way. The rest of us checked to see if they were ok, but the two of them smiled, shrugged it off, and insisted we keep going. The walkway ahead continued to get narrower, but nothing was going to break our spirit… we thought.
Another thirty minutes passed by. The once meager snow had grown from our ankles up to our knees and the path that used to be wide enough for each of us to stand side to side was now only a couple inches across. One small slip could cause any one of us to slide into the gorge down below. It was now time for us to discuss our next move. We took a couple more steps forward, but a couple dangerous wobbles made us stop in our tracks. Kerri then stepped in as the voice of reason, suggesting that it was no longer worth the risk and if we head back now, we would still be able to treat ourselves to food and wine before the last ride back to Tbilisi. Ultimately, we all agreed, but upon turning, we realized that the hardest part of our hike hadn’t even begun. Going up was one thing but now we had to go down, fighting against instability and gravity together.
Leaning backwards, I slowly stepped and fought against the momentum to topple forward. Rowan decided to do the opposite and instead of resisting, he ran down headstrong. Sure, there would be some slipping and falling, but getting down sooner mattered most for him. Neither Kerri nor Selma seemed to face as much difficulty as they methodically descended the steep slope. Eriko, on the other hand, resorted to her own method. Of the five of us, her shoes were the least designed for snow. Therefore, she decided to sit down and slide. Jeans be damned, she was gonna make her own way and laugh as she did.
Wet, cold, and with a couple new battle scars, we we back into the town and not a single one of us had fallen to our deaths (success!) We took a victory picture (see below) and continued back into the town. There was now just one thing we all needed: hot mulled wine! On the way up, we had spotted a small shop that was selling glasses for just 4 lari ($1.50) each, so we instantly made a beeline in its direction. We still had an hour left before our ride back to Tbilisi and we were gonna enjoy it.
The shop was small, just lare enough to fit two tables, and was heated by a large space-heater. The owner of the place stood at the entranceway wearing a ski coat, and greeted us as we arrived. Quickly, we placed our order, and within a minute or two, each of us was handed a coffee mug with warm, sweet, alcoholic goodness. The day may not have gone as planned, nor did complete our intended climb, but nonetheless, I was able to relax now in my chair with a wine-induced slime on my face. If the group of people is great and the setting is interesting, it’s gonna be a good time regardless what happens. Now (even though Rowan nearly missed the bus), all we had left to do was take our ride back to Tbilisi and doze off to sleep in the vehicle.