Sometimes plans change…
There are times when a day turns out different to the original plans. After our wanders through the peaceful and deserted Artkhmo Gorge we had planned to hike to the Devdoraki Glacier, winding its icy tongue into the Dariali Gorge from the slopes of Mount Kazbek, the highest peak in Georgia. Jerome had never seen a real ice field up close before and the Devdoraki Glacier seemed to be an achievable hike for him, in comparison to the tedious and longer trek to the Gergeti Glacier, another prominent glacier on Mount Kazbek. According to our hiking book it would take about 7-8 hours, still a long and strenuous hike but we knew we could manage it, Jerome had done similar exhausting treks before in Japan and on Mallorca.
We had set out early after breakfast at the beautiful Rooms Hotel. Mount Kazbek was still hiding behind clouds and we kept wondering if he would ever show his entire magnificent beauty. Aware that the proximity of the Devdoraki Glacier to the Russian border might be an issue, we took our passports with us, especially after our encounter with the border police on our way to the Tabatskuri Lake when we were staying Borjomi. Before driving to the start of the trail we stopped in Stepantsminda to buy a picnic of some fresh bread, cheese, tomatoes, fruit and water for the hike. The drive along the Military Highway was surprisingly uneventful – no trucks or cows slowed us down. 3 kilometers after the tunnel under Tsudo village, we turned off left onto a dirt track at Gveleti, then taking the right track towards the Devdoraki valley. The jeep track may be driven in a normal car, although a 4×4 is advisable unless you enjoy a very bumpy ride.
The Heart Shaped Gveleti Lake
The track was originally built to serve a former copper mine in the mountains and we stopped and parked our car near an abandoned village, only visible by the remnants of some crumbled walls in the grassy meadow. The heart shaped, Gveleti Lake, surrounded by thick reeds glimmered in the bright sunlight and I wish we would have taken the time to fly our drone to take a photo of the unusual shape, but with hindsight it might have been wise not to, in case soldiers would have taken us for spies…
Hiking Towards the Devdoraki Glacier
The hiking path to the Devdoraki Glacier follows the old copper mine road and we wandered along with determined strides. The views of the valley, the rushing sound of the Amali River and the towering mountains to all sides accompanied us on our hike. After about half an hour we spotted a hut, surrounded by barbwire and a Georgian flag ahead. A soldier must have followed us coming up the hill. He walked towards us, a machine gun over his shoulders. He was friendly but had only broken English and after showing him our passports he politely told us that we were not allowed to walk any further. His excuse was mainly that it would be too dangerous, but we think it was more of a political issue. It is well known that parts of Georgia are still a no go due to the disagreements with Russia over the borders and the occasional infringements.
Sadly we turned around, but before returning to the car we had a snack on a rock, overlooking the river valley and panoramic views to the mountains. The river water was very murky, a grey-blackish liquid from the glacier, rushing downhill where it would join the main flow in the Dariali Gorge. Over our picnic we pondered what to do next, considering that our plans for the day had been changed by the local politics. Nearby, to the other side of Gveleti settlement, lay hidden in the mountains, the popular Gveleti waterfalls. Announced everywhere as one of the major sights besides Sameba Trinity Church, we had been undecided if we would visit the waterfalls. However after our failure to hike to the glacier it seemed to be the obvious nearby alternative walk.
The Gveleti Waterfalls
The start of the walk to the Gveleti waterfalls, there are two, a small and big one, is well signposted and there was plenty of space to park a car next to the dirt track, close to the Alpine camp. Some of the local 4×4 taxis drive even closer to the start of the trail but we would not recommend doing so as it is very narrow, steep in parts and has no passing places. We chose to wander to the smaller waterfalls first, the sign posted time was advertised for 15 minutes, 20 minutes for the big waterfall and from our experience they seemed to be accurate, unless you are very inexperienced or slow.
Wear Proper Shoes!
The path is a narrow hiking trail and strewn with rocks. It might be slippery during wet weather conditions and we encountered a number of people wearing just flipflops and one girl even stumbled along in low heels. While it is not necessary to wear proper hiking boots you should at least wear a pair of decent trainers to avoid injuries.
Lazy Picnic Near the Big Waterfall
After walking to both waterfalls, we enjoyed a lazy picnic just below the big waterfall, in a peaceful spot next to the mountain stream. Every now and then we were sprayed with clear, cool water, a refreshing experience in the heat of the day.
A Bit of Disappointment
The Gveleti waterfalls are not the biggest or highest volume falls that you can discover and so for some both big and small could a bit of a disappointment. There is no doubt they might be impressive to those tourists who have not travelled widely even in Georgia other spots like Kaghu or Dashbashi Canyon will impress more, so maybe consider exploring different attractions in the area.
Scenic Spot for a Picnic
Having said that, they are a destination to keep in mind for half a day visit, and especially younger kids might enjoy visiting either, or both waterfalls. They might be a scenic spot to cool your feet but there are no chances for a wild swim or even a dip as the pools are too shallow and the force of the water rushing down too strong! The crowds of tourist, at times it felt like a pilgrimage, this also added to our personal disenchantment with the waterfalls.
Stunning Views of the High Caucasus
However, I do not want to make it sound like we wasted our time, on both the hike towards the Devdoraki Glacier and the two Gveleti waterfalls we were surrounded by stunning and ever changing views of the High Caucasus mountains and spending time together as a family is always precious on our trips. As these walks were over quickly, for the rest of the afternoon we hiked to the famous Sameba Trinity Church on the lower slopes of majestic Mount Kazbek. Discover that hike and religious site in our following post.