Georgia TCT Expedition 2017

Our first summer expedition this year saw 13 UBESters head to Georgia for 3 weeks in June/July in support of the Transcaucasian Trail (TCT). The TCT project aims to establish a new long-distance hiking trail (approx. 3000km total) through Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan to promote outdoor tourism and conservation in the Caucasus. We backpacked 175km through Svaneti (in northern Georgia near the Russian border) from Ushguli to Nakra recording GPS tracks and gathering route data for the project before heading south to explore the capital city of Tbilisi.

The team (minus Iloni, who joined us later in the trip) on the Tsvirmi ridge, with Ushba in the background

Highlights included the stunning views of glaciers and 4000-5000m peaks (notably Ushba, Shkhara and Tetnuldi), river crossings on horseback, visiting the 3000-year-old cave city of Uplistsikhe, and the delicious Georgian food: how can you beat Adjarian khachapuri (a giant bread boat filled with cheese and egg) or kubdari (a bread/pastry hybrid stuffed with spiced minced lamb)! Some of the more ‘interesting’ moments included the road to Ushguli being washed away, rockfall on Guli Pass, and the Great Earwig Battle of 2017 (obviously the most traumatic part of the trip; if you catch us after a few drinks at the pub we might be able to explain!).

The village of Adishi (Hadish)

It was an incredible adventure and an opportunity to discover a region of the world we were almost entirely ignorant of before discovering the TCT. Our lack of Georgian and Russian language skills inevitably made communication a tad….difficult at times (although miming can get you a long way!), but we’ve returned to the UK keen to learn more and go back to the Caucasus for further mountain adventures and work in support of the TCT.

Check out Phil’s fab exped video below! And for all the juicy map/logistics details (plus trip diary) you can read the exped report here. We even have a Spotify playlist for your enjoyment, featuring the Russian pop songs we were tortured with on the 10-hour bus ride from Mestia to Tbilisi (can you tell we’re still not ready for the trip to be over yet?!)

The expedition was generously supported by a travel grant from the Knowlson Trust. The trust awards travel grants to University of Bristol students for travel outside of their academic course (typically for voluntary work or for individual physical/personal challenges); if you’re in need of funding for an overseas trip of your own, it’s definitely worth applying! We’d also like to thank the university’s Alumni Foundation, who funded the society’s new Garmin Explorer+ inReach GPS. We used the inReach for the first time on this expedition and it proved invaluable – GPS tracks are much more useful for hiking in Svaneti than the available printed topo maps, as they’re normally far more up-to-date. In the future the inReach will help us carry out mapping expeditions and trips to more remote areas – there’s some exciting plans in the works for the next few years already!

The TCT is still in development and trail-building volunteers are welcome every summer. If you’d like to find out more, check out the TCT website and get in touch with UBES committee members Val (who thru-hiked 1500km of the proposed north-south TCT route this summer) and Cat (leader of this exped).

Catherine Easdon