By Maia Butkhuzi, Field Office Gori
… Dawn, an interesting journey ahead. The mountain chain was ahead of us to conquer. Emboldened by the splendid views of the peaks and glaciers the team started to get ready. Full of emotions and all necessary equipment, the two Toyotas were about to leave.
“ -Gata? ” , which means “ Are you ready?” from the Romanian patrol leader was the signal to start our adventurous duty trip to the Mamisoni Pass.
Mamisoni Pass, at an elevation of 2,892m (9,488ft) above sea level, is a high mountain pass located on the border between Georgia and Russia. It is one of the top 50 highest mountain roads in Europe. The road to reach the pass is tightly hairpinned and we bumped along an exquisite winding mountain drive with sharp and blind curves and hairpin switchbacks which led us over the mountains. The pass, the highest drivable by 4x4 cars in Georgia, is open only for some months due to heavy snowfalls, and it’s located in the central Greater Caucasus crest, at the place where the geographical border between Europe and Asia lies. Near the summit, at an elevation of 2,847m above the sea level, there’s a meteo (weather) station. This was exactly the place the team planned to monitor from the highest altitude possible.
The trip was challenging. On the one hand, because of its undeniably dangerous roads and weather conditions; and on the other hand, the team had the responsibility to welcome such honoured guests as the Head of EUMM, Kęstutis Jankauskas and the Italian Ambassador to Georgia, Antonio Enrico Bartoli. They joined the team in this difficult but at the same time unforgettable trip to Mamisoni. After crossing two rapid mountainous rivers and several summer streams, passing the narrow tracks along the precipitous cliffs, we reached a summer camp of the Georgian Border Police. They kindly showed us the path leading to the peak from where the team would be able to observe the highest areas of the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) which are monitored by the mission. Border guards also offered a supply of firewood which helped us later to overcome a long, cold yet peaceful mountainous night.
A couple of hours off-road driving led us to a small hut with a Georgian flag. This was the last Georgian post. The view was absolutely stunning. The highest glaciers around are standing stern as if they are not pleased to accept a stranger disturbing their constant silence. We stopped the cars nearby and started to get prepared for a long foot patrol in the direction of Chanchakhi Glacier, the South flank of which belongs to Georgia and the North flank is actually in Russia.
The ascent was long and difficult. The mountains were quite severe for us but their incredible beauty encouraged everybody to go farther to the nearest peak called Shabiamani Summit. I wondered why, as Shabiamani in the Georgian language means the blue coloured chemical, vitriol. But when I reached the top I realised why this name was given to the summit… the whole stony slopes of Shabiamani summit was covered by blue, tiny, field flowers, all blue.. wild and beautiful.
Constantly checking the GPS: 2500 m… 2899m…3100m…3214m... and the team reached the summit. The weather was clear, the sky was light blue and the visibility was as clear as crystal. From this position, the team was able to easily monitor a long stretch of the ABL. The ascent was finished, the area monitored and the goal achieved. We rested a little before the two-and-a-half-hour descent. There was an evening glow; the mist was slowly embracing the enormous mountains. Hence, we had no time to waste to make our way down to our camp. Snowy slopes gave us the possibility to descend quicker by gliding and on the grassy slopes we were slower and more careful. The beauty of the evening – glow was ahead of us. Exhausted but satisfied, we reached the camp just as night fell.
The team started to prepare for a long, cold and dark mountainous night. We set up the tents and set the fire without which it would be difficult to face the darkness-remote and peaceful. Our camp was not very far away from the Georgian Border Guard positions. They offered to help, chopping firewood, bringing the chairs, telling the legends or truths about the mountains and their history. From them I have learnt there was The Queen Glacier next to where we had ascended. The glacier was named after the British Queen Elizabeth as the first ascent on it happened on her birthday. Nobody knew if it was true or not, but the history of the huge mountains was very interesting to listen to. Over an open fire we cooked the dinner which tasted absolutely out of the ordinary and delicious after the long mountainous foot patrol. The night was long and misty. Everything was covered with fog, all was peaceful and silent and the firelight with some unclear voices probably upset the steadfast mountains, untouchable tracks, wild nature or mountainous streams or maybe they were happy to offer us the magnificent views that can never be erased from our memories.
Early in the morning the team was already ready to start back. When I opened my eyes everybody was busy by either cooking breakfast for colleagues or taking down our temporary camp. The open fire was still set with a casserole preparing rabbit with a special recipe of the patrol leader. After a couple of hours, we said good-bye to the Georgian Border Guards for their support and kindness and set off. The snow-covered Shabiamani summit was not visible in the morning under the mist to say goodbye to the fortunate team from EUMM that was able to enjoy the magnificence of its beauty.
Out of my world…up above the clouds,
Feeling of the freedom… sense of being proud,
Noise of the river streaming
Voice of the eagle screaming…
Colors of the sun rising
Valleys up above finding…
Light beams are falling down
Shining up our camping town
Time to start leading up ways
Beautiful gorge in forward lays…
Touching the white snow of life
Feeling the air in heart inside
Loving the fabulous views of site
Thinking of making something beside…
Achieving the sky high up the hills
That is the life if somebody feels…
To be the part of the paradise,
Of the beautiful countryside…
Feeling the light breeze on the hair,
And something magical in the air,
Something magnificent in the soul,
That you have done it by your own…
Time to go back down the towns
Along the summits like the crowns..
Along the spring shed-floods,
Along the fields…
Along the old ruins like the shields…
Now it’s sunset, ending the day
Somehow sun is still on my way
Somehow we wanted to stay
From our world away…
The High Life
Road to Mamisoni
Onward to the Pass