2011, mid of July: The snow melt in the Alps has widely finished, European white water kayakers climb the glacial valleys in Tyrol and French Alps to hunt class 5 rivers. 2700 kilometres to the east six Verfechter bums doze in an overheated dorm in downtown Tbilisi. Last night’s flight was longer than expected. Strong wind in Istanbul delayed both flights for hours, the airport chaos also took us four bags with some t-shirts and paddle gear. That shouldn’t stop us from discovering the rivers in one of the most beautiful countries on that planet: Georgia, the unknown kayak paradise in the heart of the Caucasus. Five hours later we find ourselves at the put-in of Pshavis Aragvi 60 kilometres north of the capital.
Sleia, Basti and me present the haute couture of the East: helmets, life jackets and neoprene shorts (unfortunately, there were no dry jackets) we had to borrow from local riverman and raft guide Misha. Rock’n’roll! The Aragvi is the perfect warm-up for Georgian rivers. Alpine paddlers would call it fast-forward continous class 3+, comparable to the Soelk rivers in Styria or the Guisane in the French Alps. For Georgian scale it is a rather technical river. After having paddled some more Caucasian classics we would even call it pool and drop. Plus in its uppermost reaches there is waiting a clean four metre waterfall. If you like you might attempt also the following three miles of class 5 creeking … A great start for the next two weeks! Misha made us the contact to our driver Webkho who will carry us the next two weeks in his super-large Mercedes Sprinter. My friend Gio, always smiling mountain and ski guide in all regions of the country, plus owner of Tbilisi’s only bike courier service, completes our team and is in charge of cultural guiding and translating.
Next morning we finally fetch the missing backpacks at the airport and straight hit the road north towards the Russian border. This main axis in the Georgian road network called Georgian Military Road lost a bit importance during the last years as Russia closed the border for most travellers. Since the short war of 2008 only Russians and Armenian citizens are allowed to cross into the bordering republic of North Ossetia. The road winds along incredibly deep gorges cut into black slate rock and over the 2379 metre Jvari mountain pass. Most of the current road was built by German war prisoners in the Second World War. At the northern slope of Javri Pass the Tergi river is waiting. In the Soviet Union it was renowned as one of the big Caucasian white water classics, most of the interesting sections lie in Russia now. But still the upper part till Stepantsminda (the local main village, also called Kazbegi) delights us with its 30 kilometres of class 4 to 5+ big water. Next to 5033 metre high Mount Kazbek the Tergi offers a 25 kilometre road side run from Okrokana to Stepantsminda. It starts fairly easy but fast in a wide gravel bed before the river cuts through the debris of several side affluents. The style resembles the Upper Oetz in Austria. Two well visible pipe bridges can be paddled (mind your head!) or easily portaged. Nevertheless a short canyon surprises the unwary paddler: In the middle of the run the Tergi squeezes between 20 metre high cliffs and as soon as you realised you already missed the last eddy. Inside waits you a 1,5 metre drop, in July nearly 100 cubes press over huge boulders. Better having it scouted! If you’ve missed the chance, attempt the line on the very right!
Who gets along with the Tergi road side run might try out the upper section called Truso gorge. The put-in is near the border with the separatist republic of South Ossetia, so probably you will have encounters with the military. Normally the soldiers don’t mind the paddlers as long as they do not climb the valley higher than the put-in next to some sulphur springs. Anyway the road is really bad. If water level is high it is definetely worth to walk through the gorge before the descent using the old road. It is more or less three kilometres long and the easiest way to scout the river. In July 2012 the upper Tergi is still a high and a powerful class 5+. In this conditions a swim here would be probably lethal. Only four of us take the challenge. The run is quick, holes are big and many, the brain full of adrenaline, a day we won’t forget for long. In late summer when you find the Tergi with 20 or 30 cubes you will experience a first class big water run, rarely harder than a 4+.
Continue with part 2 …
All photos of the Verfechter trip to Georgia were taken by Boby Frieser and Sebi Bauer. Thanks for that, buddies!