The two days of Tergi learned us respect and an important lesson: Coming to Georgia in summer doesn’t mean low water. Never! There is always water and often too much. Luckily there is an option when the glacial melt is too strong: the Lesser Caucasus. This mountain range in the South of the country extends into Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaidzhan. The surface structure is less steep, the elevations much more hilly. In many parts it rather seems like a low mountain range although the highest peak Aragats in Armenia reaches 4090 metre. It is a classic kayak destination in spring and early summer. This year there is such a lot snow that we give it a try even in July. Et voilà: A perfect level on Paravani is waiting us. This river (rather small compared to the ones in the Greater Caucasus) drains the large swamps around the volcanic Paravani Lake near the Armenian border.
Due to the swamps the Paravani keeps the water for a while, the colour is a natural brown, the temperature is so warm that you don’t mind to take a quick swim. Just two drawbacks cloud the picture over. Right at the put-in to the classical section the river crosses the town of Akhalkalaki which means the banks are decorated with occasional plastics and the water is not the cleanest. A bottle of wodka at the take-out helps! And more severe: A huge dam is being built at the moment. So take your chance as long as water is flowing. Once on the river you feel amazed. Partly pool and drop character the river is a continuous blast of perfectly shaped rapids. We have to scout from the bank twice, all the rest of the 30 kilometre run we can do by read and run. Stoppers are big, but not big enough that you cannot punch them with full speed. Rocks are round and made from solid granite. No nasty undercuts, no trees, no flat sections to bore us and let drop the adrenaline level. What a river!
Such a top level creeking we hardly expected in Lesser Caucasus. After having escaped all the holes and fighted hard for our lines our bodies cried for relaxation. What could be easier? The Vardzia spa is waiting us! I discovered that spot on my journey in autumn 2011 and although it is a bit busier in high summer it is still a special place you must see when you visit Georgia (and love sulphur water!). On the banks of Mtkvari which is the longest rivers of the country and reaches from Turkey to the Caspian Sea Orthodox monks cut an enormous cave settlement into the sheer walls. The cave monastries with its churches, countless rooms in a dozens floors and scenic balconies is one of the first class tourist sites of the country.
Still today there are living monks in the caves. Old ways are carefully restored and the site can be visited with or without guide. Right opposite on the other site of the river the tourists catch a view on a run-down building next to a basic camp site. Its roof is nearly collapsed, sulphur water leaves a yellow trace flowing to the Mtkvari. Well, not many words what’s inside. Just: the old bath is really run-down, but the hot water is the best treatment after a day full of boofs, melts (and maybe swims). And of course, the view on the caves from the pool is excellent.
In the evening we pitch our tarp on the campsite and enjoy some beers at the bar. Yeah, and also some of the monks come down to the bar to have a drink in the warm sunset light.
The next day is meant to be a chill-out day. Sleeping long (which means 7.30 thanks to our beloved but insomniac slave driver Boby), having coffee and then just slipping down the bank. Vardzia Gorge is the mission of the day. It is said to be a class 3+ in summer low water, few rapids slightly more difficult. On the first kilometres you feel that this is a huge river in May and June when the melt water from the Turkish highlands cuts its way through the mountains. Wide gravel rapids are partly dry now but still about 20 cumecs form nice boulder gardens and modest wave trains. When you see a ruined fortress on river left the cliffs get higher and higher, now we’re on the bottom of the famous Vardzia Gorge. Some siphs and narrow gaps between huge boulders lie off the current in calm water. You can easily imagine what kind of adventure waits the paddlers when 150 cumces roll here in spring. Surprisingly powerful rapids leave no time to get bored and we feel just ready for a small lunch beer as we see our Sprinter at the take-out bridge above Khertvisi.
Quick discussion, then six hands opt for Paravani, second run. What follows consider some of us as the best run of the whole trip (and be sure, there were many good!). 12 kilometres Paravani in its core section, fast and furious class 4-5, all lines knowing by heart. Bam, bam, bam! Disko Disko Paravani!
Continue with part 3 …
Go back to part 1 …