The perilous journey in the Caucasus Mountains

Weโ€™ve just made it down the Abano Pass, after spending the last couple of weeks aclimatising Comet and Mr Sniff, and improving Mr Sniffs fitness, especially building muscle mass to his previously broken back leg, so he is now fighting fit and ready for the journey ahead.

Next Monday 11th October, we will be going back up Abano Pass, but this time we are walking from Pshaveli to Omalo, the journey will take 3 days covering a distance of 70km with an ascent of 12,000ft.

The Abano Pass is one of the most dangerous roads on Earth, and is the highest drivable road in Georgia, and only open from around June, and can close late September due to heavy snow. Sadly many people lose their lives each year, either by driving off the edge of the pass in poor weather conditions, or when landslides and avalanches occur taking out the road, just like last week. There are many memorials at the side of the pass with pictures of the people etched into Tushetian stone.

This will be a very difficult 3 days, with severe weather conditions, just like last week when we experienced heavy rain causing flash floods and landslides, which destroyed over 5km of the pass, so we had to stay up in the mountains until the road was rebuilt, we also endured extreme cold with snow and hailstones the size of tennis balls! then there was the winds of up to 185 kmph, with thunder and lightening storms that were so powerful that the shock waves knocked down one of the ancient towers in Omalo village, so next week we are prepared for every eventuality, well as much as possible, also taking into account the avalanches due to all the heavy snow.

As we make our way up the mountain, our paths will cross with the many shepherds that are making their way down the pass with their thousands of cattle, year after year these Georgian shepherds guide their flocks to pasture, and keep an ancient tradition alive.
This is the most spectacular of animal migrations, which takes place every autumn in Georgia’s remote region of Tusheti, when the shepherds bring down their thousands of sheep and other animals like goats, cows and horses, and also the fierce Tushetian sheep dogs! they bring them down to their winter pastures in Kakheti, the flock will then spend one week grazing on the plains to get used to the mild weather, then the sheep will continue around 200 kilometres to winter pasture along the border with Azerbaijan.
During this โ€œTimeless Traditionโ€ the shepherds trek 250km from the Shiraki Valley to Vestomta, returning in early fall. The journey takes about 10 days, not including an extended stop in Alvani, before the final push over a mountain pass.

We are only walking 70km in 3 days, but the same daily distance, so it will give us a good experience of what the shepherds endure, but obviously on a very small scale, and without all the stress of driving cattle, like one shepherd explained to me, “if the sheep stop to rest from injury or exhaustion they soon die of exposure and freeze to death at night, they also fall prey to wolves”

The Tushetian sheep dogs are important to the shepherds, the Georgian shepherd is a tough, ancient dog breed that helps keep the sheep in formation and protects them from wolves and other predators, thats why they are bred to be the same colour and size as the sheep they protect, and its impossible to spot the dogs from a distance, meaning the wolf packs that stalk the migrating sheep must treat all flocks with caution, and the same goes for us! as we are travelling with 2 dogs, and have often been attacked by them, so we keep Comet and Mr Sniff on a tight leash when near any animals.

Just like the shepherds, we will camp each night, but there are only a few safe locations to camp, as we need to avoid high risk areas which are prone to landslides and flash floods as weโ€™ve just experienced over the last couple of weeks, so maintaining our route each day is paramount, we also need to avoid camping near the shepherds, as their dogs will attack us at night.

Shepherd Camp

The shepherds donโ€™t carry tents and sleeping bags, theyโ€™re too heavy for traveling, they cover themselves with plastic sheets or a piece of tarp if it rains, and sleep on the ground, we on the other hand carry a tent, and have an inflatable ground mat for sleeping on, and a plastic bivi bag with a warm blanket, but we are certainly not as hardcore as the shepherds! There are many wild animals in the mountains, but the ones we need to be watchful for, are the wolves, leopards and bears, so getting a good nights sleep is rare!

โ€œNothing hints at a human presence except for the lone sight of Vestomta in the distance, the size of the palm of a hand against the backdrop of mountains,
hanging between sky and earthโ€

Thanks for reading, and we’ll post an update soon, wish us luck!

Chris, Gabs, Comet & Mr Sniff.

Happy Georgian Shepherds enjoying a well deserved feast after a long journey

If you would like to make a donation to Mr Sniffs funding page to help him fly to the UK to his future home, then please follow the link below to read more:

You can also watch Mr Sniffs story here:

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