LOST IN GEORGIA
Story telling from Sebastien VARLET:
Tuesday 12th of April 2022,
We are meeting up at Geneva’s airport with Yann Rausis to board a night flight toward Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.
5am, we pick up our ski bags, really happy to have all our luggage show up, always a bit of stress with this. Now we know we are ready to start this trip. In Tbilisi we meet with Corentin Croisonnier, the cameraman who took another flight.
The next morning, Car is picked up and fully loaded, we are taking the road towards Mestia. The roads are so tricky you need a lot of focus to avoid all the potholes, animals, and other cars… There are no real traffic laws, people pass other cars whenever they want. The more committed you are, the better your chances are to make it. It took us a moment, but after couple of hours we were driving like them - getting into the Georgian’s traffic flow.
In the evening we catch up with Nick Phaliani, the local guide and Fabian Lentsch, an Austrian Freerider to plan our expedition. Nick gives us some information regarding the trip. Apparently, there is no more helicopter around town, all the companies have left.
Our first support in case of emergency would be a helicopter from Tbilisi, one hour away in good flight conditions with some extra time to load the doctor in the Heli. We realize that we will have to take care of each other, one injury and the expedition will be over.
We take as much information as possible about the snow conditions, Nick shows us 2-3 recent pictures of mountain faces around Mestia. The whole team looks at each other, we decide we want to go explore some other Georgian mountains. We want to get lost in the middle of the giants from the Caucasus Mountain range!
Fabi shows us a picture that a guide took a month ago from a nice zone that has never been skied. We can only see the beginning of the valley, most of the mountain’s face remains in shadow. With the help of satellite app, we can imagine the potential of the zone.
Thursday 14th of April,
The weather is pretty bad, we haven’t seen the top of the mountains around us since we arrived. We can see it’s snowing on top; some rain showers are falling in the village.
We go ski touring to check out the snow. Snow is not that good, heavy, and wet…At low elevations spring is already there, we are hoping that the freezing level is not too high.
In the afternoon we finish packing our gear for the expedition
Nick lends us a tent and a few backpacks to carry the food to basecamp.
Friday 15th of April,
We meet in the center of Mestia and leave towards Ushguli. The road is right on the ridge of a cliff, some part of it has fallen into the river.
Near the end of the drive, the sky clears up and we can start to notice the beautiful mountains around us.
After getting the car stuck on ice a couple of times, we arrive at the starting point. Ushguli is a really beautiful village, we can feel the border between civilization and wild nature around us.
Some dogs come and say hi while we are getting ready.
Around noon we arrive to the middle of the valley where we will install our basecamp for the next three days. We leave towards the closest mountain faces to the basecamp, they face west. Temperatures are warmer than expected so we are going for the west face today and will focus on the north aspects in the coming days.
At the end of the day, Coming back to the basecamp with big smiles on our faces! We had a lot of fun; snow was still good and looks promising on the north faces. The pressure of finding bad snow is over, we are excited to ski some epic lines in the next few days. This trip is lining up nicely!
Saturday 16th of April,
We wake up after a cold and humid night in the tents. We did not sleep well; we understand the importance of small details in this kind of context. Opening the tents, we notice that the dogs are still here, they slept right next to us in the snow.
We wait impatiently for the first sunshine to warm us up and dry some of our gear. And we decide to split the group, the next face on the plan « Little Alaska » isn’t wide enough for 4 lines and Nick and Fabi have found a good-looking face further away. We will keep contact on the radio through the day to make sure all is going well.
We are giving some names to faces and lines that we’ve found. We’re pretending to own the mountains for the time of this trip.
Back at the campsite. Another great day spent in the mountains, another big smile on our faces. Our bodies are starting to feel tired. The dogs followed us all day long. We share our food with them, we are all starving.
Sunday 17th of April,
Tough morning, we had better sleep, but our bodies feel really tired, sore muscles and tiredness is accumulating.
Moreover, we left all our wet stuff outside the tents to avoid humidity, and all of it is frozen…
Wondering what the best solution between humid nights in the tent or frozen ski boots is to put on.
Today’s temperatures are rising; it’s going to be super warm. We cannot wait for the sunshine at camp, we leave early to minimize the risks.
It’s our last day. Snow will get warm and wet today, tomorrow all will be frozen. We enjoy a big breakfast, we won’t need our extra food and we need some energy for this 5 hours hike. We decide to go ski the north faces at the end of the valley. We start from 2100 meters to 3600 meters to reach the highest peak.
At the end of the day, we come back to camp, another amazing day spent with an amazing team! Everybody got some good lines.
We take some time to remember the lines we’ve drawn on these mountains. We are likely the first team to ski those faces, and until the next snow falls they will have our marks.
We finish our last dry food and tear down camp. Back at the car it’s time to say goodbye to the dogs. Having them around us for the last 3 days created some bonds, we’re a bit sad to leave them here.
We return to Mestia and go straight to a restaurant. We missed the delicious Georgian food, and beers are on to cheers for the successful expedition.
Just enough energy for a shower before sleep, we are exhausted. We will unpack our gear tomorrow.
As the sun rises between Ushba and Tetnuldi our eyes are sticky. It’s so peaceful to be in the mountains with only the sound of the birds waking up.
We enjoy the first rays of sunlight and contemplate one last time the beautiful mountains around us. We are already planning our next expeditions to reassure ourselves before leaving this magical place. We had an amazing journey full of discovery and sharing, with beautiful people.