Irakli inspects tall rock face. Concluding it is relatively safe, he slides his foot into a crevice on the cliff wall and reaches for a protruding rock. One false move could mean a plunge of several hundred meters. Prior to his next moves, Irakli notes his path with the help of a walkie-talkie. His friends observe from a distance. Most of the expedition team members are inexperienced and for some it is their first time camping in Georgia’s southeastern hills.
The expedition unfolded when a friend of mine extended an invitation for two days of camping in a place called Algeti. With a strong interest in camping but lack of experience, I agreed instantly. Come Saturday afternoon nine of us filled two cars for the 60 kilometer drive southeast of Tbilisi to Algeti. After unloading the car we embarked on an uphill 40-minute hike before finally reaching the campsite in Birtvisi.
I can tell you from experience, forty-minutes of uphill hiking is easier said than done. Many of us had never been camping. Stopping to catch our breath was a frequent occasion However, the effort of getting to the Birtvisi location was worth the struggle. The site is a picturesque flat surface surrounded by cliffs and caves of about 300 square meters.
Together with a dozen other campers who had already pitched tents, we prepared for our first night in Birtvisi. Darkness was approaching quickly so we had to promptly pitch our tents, gather wood and prepare a fire and food for dinner. The next few hours were spent relaxing around the fire grilling meat and toasting drinks late into the night. We retired to our tents when someone remembered we had a long day of uphill hiking to a tower in the nearby mountains.
Begrudgingly we woke early the next morning, pushing aside our thoughts of staying at the campsite instead of continuing with our scheduled hike. With our sights set on adventure we began following the narrow paths winding around cliffs. It took a lot of effort to follow the path, but the most difficult task began about halfway to the tower when it hit a near 90-degree angle and a fear of heights quickly kicked in.
Once the fear took hold of me I started to joke: “Why do we create problems for ourselves by leaving a civilized city for a place like this?”
A friend responded philosophically, musing, “Humans are the only mammals who go into the mountains for pleasure.”
“What about goats?” another friend asked.
“Goats do it to breed,” he replied.
I tried to laugh, but after scaling two-thirds of the cliff all I could think about was how getting down would be far more difficult than going up. Pleasure was the last thing on my mind.
Finally reaching the peak, we took a well deserved rest and admired the view.
“So this is it?! We needed to go up so long just to see this tiny tower?” my friend Nodar asked.
The reactions to the view were mixed, but we agreed that descending would be much scarier than ascending. We paused frequently as we crawled down the mountain’s edge.
After a long struggle we finally returned to camp, ate dinner and slowly started to gather our things. The evening was quickly approaching and we needed to get to Algeti by dawn.
As we approached Algeti, we were pleased with our camping adventure. Our muscles ached, but our curiosity was satisfied and our desire for the next expedition shined across our faces.
Published for Georgia Today, September 4, 2009 issue