This is the final Georgia post. Cheers if it’s blazing hot where you are with no thoughts of skiing on your mind, and yet you’ve continued to read my posts! Apologies if you’ve just stumbled upon this blog and you end up reading the whole story backwards. I’d suggest clicking on the Georgia category and then scrolling to the end, so as to start from the beginning.
So we’re headed home! Or are we?
Initially we planned to ski another line the day after, since clear weather was forecast. But after our epic it seems out of the question. Out of habit, Peter starts to take stock of our leftover food. If we share the last remaining bars, we could squeak out another line. But I’m too destroyed to think about it.
At 2:30am I wake up like clockwork, go outside and I find the stars out in full display. I crawl back into my sleeping bag, a little dismayed at the beautiful weather. We discuss the possibilities of skiing another line, but we don’t have the energy to commit and decide to fall asleep. But I end up lying awake. No matter how trashed I am, I’ll have all summer to regret not going for another one. So lets go!
We’d eyed this beautiful face on our first recon mission a couple of days ago. It seems like the best option. A totally worthy objective, and yet not as crazy as the day before. My ski boot liners and clothing are still wet from the day before, so time get moving and get warm. The glacier we’re on is like a highway in the center. No crevasses, so progress is fast. My legs aren’t working, but my Cho Oyu skis weigh nothing. We didn’t skin yesterday so I hope that my ‘skinning muscles’ are a little fresher than my climbing ones.
Soon we’re rounding the corner and seeing the Southeast face of Ushba. One of the most impressive mountains anywhere. Regardless of whether you’re and climber or a skier, we all appreciate the beauty of mountains like these. As the sun comes up, we discover that there is a steep ramp that gains access to the face above the lower icefall. With the weather being perfect, we now have no excuses for turning around. We cross our one and only bergschrund, and climb a high forties face. An hour later we’re traversing over all the lower seracs and are soon onto the main face. I get sick of the 45 degree front pointing and traverse over to this stunning ridge. I immediately see Mount Elbrus not too far away, poking above a sea of clouds.
The way up is light-hearted compared to the stress of yesterday. It becomes obvious that the great weather will last, so we take lots of pictures on our slow march to the summit. Once again, Peter charges and leads the boot-pack on the upper face.
Elation hits as we top out on the pointy summit. Finally a cloudless Georgian summit! The views are amazing and the air is warm. Peter pulls out his cell, and wishes his father a happy birthday back in Austria. I spread out all my camera gear on my pack, drying out my lenses that got foggy during the ascent. We can see our tracks from the day before, a few hundred feet away etched into the icy hard-pack.
After an hour or so we click into our skis. The position of this line is probably the most beautiful I’ve skied on. A perfect sustained face, with creamy powder, directly across from the massive vertical rock of Ushba. Impossible to get a photo that does it justice. We swap leads and navigate our way down the ridge, the lower face, the lower seracs, and finally out onto the glacier below. We end up making almost 2000 meters of turns all the way back to camp.
A perfect finish to the trip. The top section of this line is easy to access from the popular climbing routes by the Ushba Plateau. So there’s a possibility that an unrecorded ski descent of this top face has occurred. But we’re pretty sure our exposed route down the lower face and around the icefall at the bottom, would grant us a 1st descent of the complete Southwest face. A classic moderate line!
We spend the rest of the afternoon eating the last of our food, packing up camp, and heading back to the road. A quick cell phone call to Tato, and a friend is dispatched from Mestia to pick us up. Gotta love Georgian hospitality! The next five days are full of bus and plane rides back to Canada.
Georgia was amazing. The landscapes, the people, the history, and of course the food, were all such great experiences that I’d recommend the country to all ski mountaineers. The mountain culture and landscapes of Svaneti were especially impressive. Lots more spring steep potential in the high mountains and mid-winter potential in the smaller mountains. It’s such an honour to show up in the Caucasus and fire off 3 significant 1st descents. It was a humbling experience as well. The beginning of the trip was filled with doubt and last minute changes. Gear was forgotten (the reason why we only had a 1 man tent!), and some of it failed as well. Foreheads were burnt, legs cramped, and we failed on Tetnuldi. But in the end, we persevered and got lucky with those two 2000m descents in the final 48hours. Memories that’ll last a lifetime.
I was lucky to have Peter as a travel partner. He was essentially my tour guide, and the trip wouldn’t have succeeded without him. Georgians don’t speak much english, so his Russian was crucial. If you don’t have the help of a local though, travel would still be fine. Just allow time for mistakes to be made.
Stay tuned for a post about some of the gear used on the trip.