Last summer, I visited Kazbegi with a friend. It was one of the most beautiful sites I had seen in Georgia. However, I was not able to get “The Shot” that I wanted. By “The Shot”I mean, if you Google, Kazbegi, you will see a very picturesque scene of a church on the hill with a mountain in the background. The day we went last summer, it was rainy which skewed the view. But I vowed to return.
The town of Kazbegi, (or Stepantsminda), is in the shadow of Mount Kazbegi. Mt. Kazbegi is the mountain that Prometheus is said to have been chained to by the gods for stealing their fire. This time I brought my tent and sleeping bag from the States to camp at the top near the church- Tsminda Sabeba.
We got to the town about mid afternoon. Marshut’kas run from Tbilisi to Kazbegi pretty regularly during the morning and early afternoon hours. Cost is between 8-10 Lari. The drive up the north is along a stunning, scenic route known as the Georgian Military Highway.
Once in Kazbegi, it was obvious that the view from the top was going to be stunning. We got some supplies and started hiking up. I don’t know if it’s due to sitting on my ass all summer, the pack on my back or what, but before we even got out of the town, I was sucking wind. We went a little further and I thought I was going to die. There was no way in hell I was going to make it up the rest of the two-hour hike.
As I was contemplating a way to tell my friends this horrible news, a jeep stopped on the road beside us. A tan blonde dude sticks his head out the window and says, “Want a ride?”
Kazbegi is one of the tourist destinations for visitors to Georgia. As soon as you get off the bus, various people with varying degrees of English greet you. Most of them are asking if you need a hostel to stay. Others are asking if you want a ride in a jeep to the top where the church is located. (They are catering to out of shape blowhards like me.) The jeep drivers charge an insane amount of money though. So I never listen to their spill. So I thought this guy who stopped was one of those industrious drivers.
When he said ‘no cost’, we all yelled and thanked him profusely for our salvation. Only then did I tell my hiking buddies that there was no way I could have made it up on my own. This guy was a literal angel.
He was from South Dakota and his companion was from Ukraine. They had met working at the ski resort, Gudauri several years back and had returned this fall to get married!
He asked if we were camping up at the church and when we said we were, he said, “Watch out for the bears. There are an insane amount of bears… and wolves. They are all over the place at night.” Bears… and wolves…
Needless to say, I was seriously rethinking our plan.
Everyone kept talking and chatting, while I was trying to visualize what “a lot” of bears and “a lot” of wolves looked like. I asked, “Did you ever camp up here?” His reply of “All the time.” relaxed me a little, but still. As we neared the top his wife chimed in, “Tell him about the birds.” He replied, “Oh yeah, the eagles are crazy. They sometimes swoop down and pick up people’s tents.” Finally I understood that they were joking with me. But one shouldn’t joke about bears and wolves.
We got to the top and it was as pretty as I imagined. Here is my version of ‘The Shot”:
We set up camp and started working on the fire. After my last camping debacle of not being able to start the fire because the ground was too wet, I bought a gadget (magnesium block from REI) so as to not EVER have that happen again. After several attempts, it was obviously happening again. Frustration began to set in. But we had a great team assembled. We fed the fire tissue paper, Kleenex, cigarette box, weeds, wheat shoots, and bark shavings. Finally after an overdose of dry wheat, it caught. We still had to fight it for the rest of the night though.
We brought up a jug of wine and just had the best time.
Dorothy: Do you suppose we’ll meet any wild animals?
Tin Woodsman: Mm, we might.
Scarecrow: Animals that eat… s-traw?
Tin Woodsman: Some, but mostly lions, and tigers, and bears.
Scarecrow: And tigers?
Tin Woodsman: And bears.