A Journey to Georgia

Caja Schöpf & Sandra Lahnsteiner
with Ludwig Karrasch & Felix Schöpf & Michael Fischbacher
Photo: Thomas Marzusch
Film: Adrien du Cos de Saint Barthélémy
Client: Evoc Sports
Location: Georgia
- Kazbegi, Trinitiy Church, Lomisi Monastery, Gudauri, Tiblisi -

Print: Backline Magazine, raus! Magazine, Bergstolz Magazine
Text: Sandra Lahnsteiner

Instagram: @thomasmarzusch
What is the highest mountain range in Europe? The Alps with the Mont
Blanc (4,810 meters) will probably be the most popular answer, Elbrus
(5,642 meters) in the Russian Caucasus another. The truth is a matter
of geographical convention. Georgia is a country in the Caucasus region
of Eurasia. But does it belong to Europe or Russia? Georgia is a small
country with 3.7 million inhabitants far to the east on the edge of Europe.
Geographically, it belongs to the Asian continent, but because of its history
and politics, it is also considered part of Europe. Although the 2008 military
conflict between Georgia and Russia has put EU membership a long way off,
the EU is trying to consolidate relations.
We travel from Munich via Istanbul to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. With a
hired minibus, our crew wants to go directly to Stepanzminda, the former
‘Kazbegi,’ on the historic Georgian Military Road, which connects Georgia
with Russia. The way out of the capital is adventurous and requests us to
adapt to the chaotic and aggressive driving style of the locals. During a quick
stop at a bakery, we get to experience genuine Georgian hospitality. Even
though there is no common language, Caja and I are waved straight into the
kitchen and watch as the women prepare the Khachapuri, a baked cheese
bread, and a specialty of the Georgian cuisine. With a full belly, the 153
kilometers to Stepanzminda should only be a stone’s throw away. However, since the route meanders through high mountains, it is better to expect three
hours or more of driving, especially in wintery conditions. 18 switchbacks
lead up to Gudauri, the ski area, before reaching the highest point of the
road at 2,385 meters at the Kreuzpass. The remaining 30 kilometers to
Stepanzminda seem to take forever. The road is narrow, the tunnels are unlit,
and some are still single lane. The many trucks with Armenian, Azerbaijani
or Russian license plates appear suddenly and dangerously fast out of the
darkness. When we finally get to Stepanzminda, the tension falls off me. We
fall asleep in our beds at the luxurious Hotel.
Stepanzminda is located at 1,700 meters in the north of Georgia at the
foot of 5,033-meter Kazbek mountain, which towers majestically above the
valley. The Kazbek is not an unknown mountain among ski touring people
– the fivethousander is, however, a classic spring mountain, and since it is
February, the ascent is out of the question for us. However, the small village
is the ideal starting point for our ski touring missions. On our first tour, we
aim for the Gergeti Trinity Church on the 2,170-meter Kwemi Mta (“Lower
Mountain”). It’s rather a mixed hike and ski tour, because the snow line
is just below the church. Built in the 14th century, the church is a place
of pilgrimage and especially crowded in summer. Now, in the cold, harsh
winter, we are almost by ourselves and suck in the cold air while looking at the impressive mountains around us. The Bidara with 3,174 meters,
the local mountain of Gudauri, is the objective of our second ski tour.
The avalanche conditions are stable, and after patiently waiting for a
weather window at the summit, we can ski down the relatively steep,
westerly slopes to Kreuzpass. Once we arrive at the legendary military road,
we grab a taxi back to Gudauri. It is the largest and highest ski resort in
Georgia and, due to its reliable snow cover and easy accessibility, considered
the top destination of the Caucasus. Foreign investors have been driving
forward the expansion for years.
The 3,307-meter Sadzele is the highest mountain in the ski resort and
located exactly on the border between Asia in the south and Europe in the
north. Ever since a lift goes up almost all the way to the top, the ski tour has lost some of its appeal. Crossing the promising ridge to the highest point
is relatively easy. In safe conditions, you can start skiing from the summit
directly towards Kobi at the Kreuzpass. Due to fog and low hanging clouds,
we don’t get to ski down that day as the conditions make it impossible
to find our way above the tree line. The ski tour to the orthodox Lomisi
monastery on the 2,400 meters high ridge with 900 vertical meters marks
the highlight of our trip so far. Three monks invite us into their room and
offer chacha and bread and a tour through the church. They are obviously
happy to welcome some visitors.
The 3,488-meter Deda Ena is the
final tour of our extraordinary week. Ludwig Karrasch, Germany’s
youngest mountain guide, who accompanied us throughout the week,
picked this classic with 1,100 vertical meters. The tour to the top of this prominent pyramid starts and ends right at the Kreuzpass. The slopes are
first rather flat, but they become steeper as we approach the summit ridge.
The view from the top is impressive and no one can hide his or her love for
the Caucasus anymore.
On our way back to Kreuzpass, we skin up to an untracked slope which
becomes the undisputed skiing highlight of our entire trip. Our adventurous
time ends with an exciting day in the capital Tbilisi.
More pictures and information about this story are available
at www.backlinemagazin.com

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