During April, while Graham Dudley was making a ski ascent of Kazbek (Kasbegi, or more properly Mkinvartsveri, 5,034m) in the Eastern Caucasus, he noticed an attractive range of lightly glaciated peaks ca 30km to the southeast and was determined to come back for a look. I joined him for a seven-day visit in September.
Research revealed these were the Chaukhi mountains, close to the Russian border and known as the Dolomites of Georgia, boasting fine alpine rock routes. The massif consists of a ridge of unusual, metamorphic, volcanic rock with four separate summits, the highest, Asatiani, 3,820m. It is surrounded by grassy hills rising to 3,500m, although to the southwest a steep peak holds a big wall that typically takes three days to aid climb and is rarely ascended. The area is attractive and can be reached in a three-hour 4WD from Tbilisi (local bus or normal taxi is much cheaper but slower), and a two-hour walk with horses (cheap and easy to arrange). We established base camp at 42°33.256' N, 44°46.321' E.
Our stay caused a little local excitement. Apparently we were the first foreign visitors to climb technical routes. The area is popular with trekkers. We saw a couple of parties each day, and invariably they proved to be from Israel. Non-local climbing parties, for example from Estonia, have either hill walked or made simple Grade I scrambles. However, we were certainly not the first overseas party, as it is possible that Asatiani was first climbed by the Scottish female, Una Cameron, in 1932. Russians must certainly have climbed here, and there was mention of a Czechoslovakian team in the 1980s.
Since we knew nothing of the area, we spent our first day climbing the Normal Route on Javakishvili (3,650m), Chaukhi’s second highest summit, with Georgian guide Tito Nadiratze. Graded 3A, this was about Alpine PD, following an easy snow/scree couloir, and then British VD rock to the summit. The next day we climbed the Normal Route on Asatiani. This took a long couloir, then climbed four, long, protectionless pitches up slabs at British Hard Severe. Graded 4A, the route equated to Alpine D-, and descending our line proved quite serious. The first ascent of this peak was made via the southwest ridge at 2, but is apparently rarely repeated these days.
We then took a rest day, and our run of good weather ended. I think we were unlucky because the previous eight weeks had been perfect. Thereafter we made three attempts to climb a 5A on the north face of Javakishvili, but on every occasion the cold and rain beat us down. However, we managed a route on the south face, which Nadiratze had pointed out to us as unclimbed. On September 10, starting midway between the Nadiradze- Gujabidze route and the ridge of the Normal Route, we followed weaknesses up the face at British VS (not sustained) to join the Normal Route a little before the summit. Our line, named Perseverance, was 320m (around six pitches) and grade 4A.
Despite the weather we managed to do something every day. After our various failed attempts we would go off walking in the rain, eventually reaching the tops of almost all the surrounding 3,500m peaks.
The Chaukhi region is breathtakingly beautiful and very much unknown outside Georgia. The best rock is on the north face of Javakishvili, where routes reached 600m in length. In my opinion a one-week visit to Chaukhi, followed by an ascent of Kazbek, would make an excellent two-week mountaineering holiday.
Simon Richardson, Alpine Club