The last 10 days have felt quite unreal. I met a German (Simon) and a Serbian (Dragan) in Tbilisi and we headed off to Tusheti. The road is supposed to be the most difficult in Georgia as we quickly learned. The vehicle didn't make it. In fact we actually damaged it and after a night camping in the mountains, we retreated to the safety of Kakheti (the wine region) to repair the car.
In Telavi (not to be confused with Tel Aviv) our new english-speaking Georgian friend Giorgi helped us find a welder, a mechanic and a wine maker. Driving in his car I asked Giorgi about the global economic crisis.
"Global economic crisis... pshh, we Georgians have 18 years of practice!"
So Giorgi what do you do for work now?
"What any educated man in Telavi does." He reached under his seat, pulled up a plastic taxi sign and laughed as we arrived at the winemaker's home.
Unfortunately in Georgia, when you are trying wine it is not like in California. You do not take a sip, taste it and spit it out. You are given a large glass for each variety that you are expected to finish. Since Dragan was driving, Simon and I shouldered the burden. I spent the next hour as the drunk navigator in the car, professing my love for Georgia the same way a drunk UC kid tells his friend "I love you man."
We sobered up as the landscape changed. It is quite powerful seeing how quickly the high snowcapped mountains of the Caucasus give way to lush forested hills, rich agricultural valleys and finally dry rolling plains. We hit the famous monastery of Davit Gareja on the Azerbaijani border (accidently adding Azerbaijan to the list of countries set foot in during the trip).
Long story short, in Tbilisi I met two awesome Swiss guys and one agreed to attempt to climb Mount Kazbek with me. Up the Georgian Military Highway!
The afternoon before the ascent I was attacked by Georgian hospitality. After long Georgian toasts to friends, family, hating Russia and loving Russian women I was forced to consume massive quanities of food and vodka.
Day 1: 2000 meter elevation change to sleep at the old Soviet weather station above Gergeti Glacier at 3700 meters.
We met a French climbing team and two Czechs and decided to skip the acclimitization day because we were worried that we would miss the window of good weather and the saftey of a climbing team. So after our long day up to the station, we slept 5 hours, woke up at 2:00 AM and began the ascent the the freezing darkness. The mountains were so stunning in the moonlight. I really can't express how I felt at the time so I won't attempt it.
At 4400 meters we crossed into Russian territory (the mountain stradles the border so I again accidently added another country to the trip). Unfortunately at 4500 I started getting altitude sickness and was forced to descend.
So close to the peak!
My partner suffering from snow blindness the next day: