After hiking up 2000 vertical meters, and spending a sleepless night with a very present headache in a decrepit old meteo station (3700 m) I was questioning why on earth I would want the pain involved in climbing another 5000m+ peak again.
Although Kazbek is not technically difficult, nor an extremely long trek, I must admit I had my moments thinking I should find more pleasurable things to do on my spare time. Why does normal people want altitude sickness, exhausting walks and freezing? I suppose the views have something to do with it.
Mt. Kazbek is the third highest peak in Georgia, and the seventh highest in Caucasus, and lies on the border between Georgia and Russia, near North Ossetia. Together with my friend Lars we had decided we wanted a physically challenging element to our Georgia and Armenia trip. And this mountain provided just that.
There are some glaciers on the mountain, and we had to watch out for crevasses. The weather was changing a lot, and a lot of the time the mountain was in cloud. In addition the wind was at times fierce. Especially as we neared the peak the wind was so strong that we could not stand up, but had to “crawl-climb” with our axes and crampons to not lose grip.
Sitting in Tbilisi a few days before heading to the mountain we were concerned about the weather. The forecasts we could get did not look promising by our standards. After all, we are not very experienced mountain climbers, even though we have a few peaks under our belt. Before coming to Georgia, we were considering tackling the mountain without a guide. However, Lars had been in contact with a company called Climbing Georgia. Now that we were unsure about the weather, it seemed prudent to ask them to come see us at our hotel, so we could vet them, before deciding to bring a guide or not.
We decided on taking a guide. In hindsight that was a good call. First of all, Shota and his friends organise climbing trips all over Georgia (including Svaneti), and they were very professional, and made us feel safe and taken care of all the way. Secondly, we were at the mountain in early June, early in the season, which means more snow and less people. It would have been easy to get lost and disorientated in the thick fog we experienced, as all our tracks would vanish behind us due to the wind. And there were very few other climbers. So, to not worry about the weather and finding the right route we decided it was a small price to pay for peace of mind and a support network by bringing a guide.
We spent just under 8 hours going from the meteo station (3700m) to the peak. Our guide, Gezi, dragged us up more or less without breaks. We must have spent at least an hour on the last 50 m or so, as this last part of the mountain was really steep. Probably 35-40 degrees, and the wind kept pushing us down. Once on the top, we took the obligatory photos, but after just a few minutes we packed up again and started descending as the wind was so strong that we couldn’t hear each other talk.
We were really lucky to see the magnificent views at the top, because we didn’t have to descend for very long before we were in a thick soup of fog. I made a stupid mistake to not wear my sunglasses in this. The light in the fog and reflecting on the snow gave me some serious issues with my eyes later on. Now I have some real empathy with people who become snow blind.
Returning down to the Tsminda Sambeda church, where the road starts again, I felt great. Completely battered, but great. The sense of accomplishment is not little after such a peak. So, after a quick stop in Tbilisi, we hired a car and drove to Jerevan, Armenia and booked into one of the few hotels with a roof-top pool in the former Soviet state. Because we’d earned it…