Dangerous beauty

4 min read

For Alex Preston, a close call while climbing Georgia’s breathtaking Mount Kazbegi made his adrenalin-fuelled trip to the Caucasus memorable in more ways than one

The Altihut bothy

THERE’S A TRADITION IN GEORGIA THAT YOU CELEBRATE A BRUSH with death as a second birthday, as if feeling the icy touch of the reaper and emerging unscathed bequeaths you a new self. Justin, my brother-in-law, earnt himself a second birthday at 9pm on a Saturday night last March, as we had set out too late in the day to climb the vast and storied Mount Kazbegi, the fifth-highest mountain in Europe, in the rugged stretch of the Caucasus that sweeps across the north of Georgia.

We had come to Georgia with Bally Peak Outlook, a charity that invests in mountain communities and projects from the Himalayas to the Alps. There were eight of us altogether – skiers, writers, climbers, come to visit the site of the charity’s latest undertaking: a mountain-rescue station just below the peak of Kazbegi. Six of the group had climbed the mountain early that Saturday. Justin and I were late, though, setting out from Gergeti Trinity Church – dramatically perched on a jagged outcrop of rock at well over 2,000 metres – when it was just after four in the afternoon, the sun already low in the sky to the west.

Our delay in making the climb was all my fault. I’d insisted on a morning’s skiing in Gudauri, one of Georgia’s best resorts, and Justin said he’d come with me. We’d got back from the slopes in time for lunch at Rooms, a former Soviet sanatorium, splendidly converted into a world-class spa hotel. Rooms manages to be both imposing, intimate and absurdly comfortable, packed with a glamorous mixture of young Georgians and rugged-looking adventure tourists.

Justin and I set off up the mountain well fed but anxious, looking at the darkening sky to the east, the build-up of storm clouds. We were climbing with Nikoloz Alavidze, a local entrepreneur who, together with his friends Mamuka Nikoladze and David Chichinadze, had founded Altihut, an organisation headquartered in a bothy – a climbing hut – more than 3,000 metres up Kazbegi. They were now working with Bally Peak Outlook on building the mountain-rescue station. We would be spending the night – God willing – in Altihut’s bothy.

After several waist-deep tumbles into drifts of snow, now turning pinkish in the afternoon light, we equipped ourselves with snowshoes and increased our pace. Even though we were heading up a cleft in the mountain, a relatively sheltered spot, the wind began to howl raveningly, snatching tears from our eyes. We fitted our headlamps; Justin, who’d bought a very expensive one for the trip, couldn’t get his to work.

My memory of the next few hours is of the whirl of the agitating blizzard in th

This article is from...

Related Articles

Related Articles