© Emily Lush 2017

Hiking in Georgia: Stepantsminda to Gergeti Trinity Church

A proper mountain hike was one of our top bucket list items for Georgia. The only thing is, I really don’t like trekking.

Give me a flat trail or city and I can walk all day, but as soon as there’s an incline involved, I’m out. Despite my complete ineptitude for strenuous walking or climbing of any sort, I always manage to sign us up for treks. I guess I enjoy the challenge. Or maybe it’s just FOMO that pushes me into it. Either way, our trekking experiences usually suck at the time, but we always wind up looking back on them fondly.

Serious trekkers might not even consider the walk from Stepantsminda (otherwise known as Kazbegi) to the 14th century Gergeti Trinity Church a trek at all. At an elevation of 2170m, the uphill walk takes the better part of two hours, but it’s nothing compared to hiking to Gergeti glacier or Mount Kazbek. I would class it as an entry-level trek, which is exactly what we were looking for.

The reason I wanted to do this particular trek so badlyand why I encourage you to do it to—is simple: this part of the world is absolutely stunning, and you can only get a true appreciation for the scale of the mountains if you’re travelling on foot. Besides, there’s not much else to do in Kazbegi aside from eating at Rooms Hotel—and trust me, that burger will taste so much better if you’ve done the trek first.

 

© Emily Lush 2017
Beautiful Kazbegi, with Gergeti Trinity visible on the top left.

 

We visited Kazbegi in May 2017. It was extremely foggy on our first dayso much so that we couldn’t see anything of the landscape on the drive up from Tbilisi. Luckily on the day of our hike, the clouds lifted and the weather was perfect. I saw photos of Kazbegi just a few weeks prior to our visit and was shocked at how brown and lifeless the landscape looked. May might be a bit wet, but I would definitely pick a time of year to visit Kazbegi when it’s nice and green.

 

 

THE PATH LESS TRAVELLED

I was originally going to make this blog post all about hiking tips, but I only have one: Choose the path less travelled. Literally.

When you first approach the base of the mountain to ascend to the church, you’ll notice there are three or four different paths cut into the grass. Choose the wrong one, and you could be setting off on the hike from hell. Choose the right path, and you’ll have an awesome hiking experience – even if you’re unfit like me.

One or two of these paths shoot straight up the mountain at an impossibly steep angle. It’s pretty easy to identify them. There is another path on the far right of the mountain that looks pretty gentle, but eventually becomes interwoven with the roadmeaning you’ll have to cross the road over and over again, constantly negotiating 4WDs and Jeeps. We came down on this path and it wasn’t very nice at all. Plus, nearer the top, it becomes very steep and treacherous.

The trail you want to go for is on the far left. At first, it looks like a flat track with no elevation at all, but eventually it starts meandering upwards. (At the time of our visit, there was a barking dog chained up right near the trailhead, but I’m not sure if it’s always there.) It probably takes longer to get up to the church via this route, but there are a few major advantages:

  1. It’s very lightly graded, so you’ll have more energy once you get to the top.
  2. The terrain is much better – no loose rocks or rubble.
  3. The path follows a pretty stream and takes you through fields and past a few ruined towers. There are some good photo opportunities on the way.
  4. You probably won’t see another person on the trail (we only encountered a few grazing cattle).
  5. You approach the church from a completely different aspect to the other paths. You get a much nicer view of the church, with green hills in the foreground and Mount Kazbek as a backdrop.

I cannot stress this enough: take the path on the left! (We got this tip from a couple staying at our guesthouse who had done the trek on the previous day. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I could have made it to the top.)

You should set aside at least three or four hours to do this trek justice. To get you inspired, here are some of my favourite photos from Kazbegi and Gergeti Trinity Church, plus a bit more information about the trek in the captions.

 

© Emily Lush 2017
See this gate? This is not the path you want to take! Go back down, and walk right until you see the steep dirt track. Keep going, and you’ll eventually come to the ambling track. This is the far superior path!
© Emily Lush 2017
Of course, you don’t have to hike at all. It’s possible to get up to Gergeti by 4WD, which is what most other tourists appeared to be doing. In my opinion, this would spoil the experience – the hike is challenging, but as the church comes into view, getting their on foot makes it so much better. Not to mention you get the best views (and photos) of the church as you approach. If neither walking or driving tickles your fancy, you can always hire a horse instead.
© Emily Lush 2017
Kazbegi, on the way to the trail head. The rest of the town is spread out over the valley below. If you’re planning on trekking and you want to save some time, choose a guesthouse like Red Stone, which is located at the bottom of the mountain. It saves you having to walk all the way across town first.
© Emily Lush 2017
Taking a break as we neared the end of the trail. If you can, bring some snacks along for the climb. We had a bag full of khinkali and khachapuri courtesy of our guesthouse.
© Emily Lush 2017
View of the church as we approached along the far-superior left-hand path. Further around to the left, the ground is muddy and churned up from all the 4WDs coming up and down the mountain. This aspect was obviously much nicer. To be honest, the church itself was a bit of a let down. This was truly one of those times when it was all about the journey, not the destination.
© Emily Lush 2017
Feeling hungry after all that hiking? There’s also a snack van at the top!
© Emily Lush 2017
A holy place indeed.
© Emily Lush 2017
Looking up at the church from a lower path. We took a different path back to Kazbegi to save some time – it was very steep and tough going, with lots of loose stones. We felt really bad for the people who were coming up this path. Most of them did not appear to be enjoying themselves.
© Emily Lush 2017
Those Caucasus mountains.
© Emily Lush 2017
Looking over the town of Kazbegi as we descended back down the mountain. The long, thin building sitting just under the low cloud is the Rooms Kazbegi hotel.

 


 

Do you have tips for the Kazbegi to Gergeti Trinity trek or other treks in Georgia? Please leave them in the comments.

 


 

2 comments on “Hiking in Georgia: Stepantsminda to Gergeti Trinity Church

  1. It’s so much greener than when we did it! I’m going to have to go back in Spring I think 🙂

    • The seasons seem to make a big difference! It was a little overcast in May, but worth the occasional rainy day for the beautiful green landscape. I’d love to see Kazbegi in winter, too!

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