An Easy Hike, Away From the Trodden Trails
The area around Stepantsminda (Kazbegi) offers a variety of hiking opportunities. Keen explorers looking for an easy hike, away from the well trodden trails should head for the remote Artkhmo Gorge. En route to the popular hike from Juta to Roshka, most trekkers are not even aware of the scenic walk in this peaceful and abandoned valley that leads off from the start fo the Juta valley. It was going to be our first hike in the Higher Caucasus, after our arrival the previous afternoon following our prior discoveries in Georgia.
Driving Towards Juta
After the short drive south from Stepantsminda we turned off the busy Military Highway onto the quieter road leading to Juta. Just before the village of Akatshilke at a small bridge crossing the mountain stream we turned right, onto a dirt track and into the Artkhmo Valley. The track is rather bumpy and it is advisable to only be driven with a sturdy 4×4 car. Anyone without such a sturdy car should park near the bridge and walk the dirt track to the start of the hiking trail, although this might be a little bit boring for some, especially if you do have children with you on the walk.
Off Road Track
The boys rather enjoyed the ride along the off road track, especially when we passed through the narrow river at some point… After about 2km into the valley, the way narrows and the track splits. The right track leads uphill, the left deeper into the Artkhmo Gorge. This is where we parked our car, next to the clear stream, where Jerome soon discovered frogs and toads peeking out of the shallow water. In fact the croaking sound kept following us for much of the hike and jumping frogs surprised us many times along the way.
The Serene Gorge
Following the track to the right, we could see a waterfall, cascading down the mountainside and the abundance of flowers reminded us of our hike near Borjomi, although the blossoms were of a different variety up there in the High Caucasus Mountains. Clambering on, ascending higher above the valley floor, we stumbled onto a shrine in a serene spot overlooking the Artkhmo valley below. The lush green hillsides kept opening out and we were rewarded with incredible views of the surrounding landscape. Below we noticed a woman picking flowers and herbs, probably for the famous mountain tea of the area. She would be the only person we would encounter on our hike through the Artkhmo Gorge.
Hiking Past An Abandoned Village
The valley once home to a small settlement had been abandoned years ago. Further on the trail, the dirt track had long narrowed to a path and was overgrown here and there with low grass, we arrived at the remnants of buildings. The atmosphere was almost eerie, the derelict houses appeared to have been left, almost sudden, like after a catastrophic event, but that is probably just my perception. People had since entered the building and we could see some mouldy mattresses and broken furniture outside the wooden shacks. The windows were shattered and the roofs partly caved in. I would have liked to fight through the jungle of wild flowers and nettles to explore more of the abandoned village but the nettles looked rather tall and the boys had wandered on.
Abundance of Wildlife and Flowers
The path followed the contours of the gorge, with little ups and downs, and we continued ignoring the many small paths created by livestock down to the river. The meadows teemed with wildlife of all kinds, mountain flowers were attracting insects and birds soared overhead. Deeper in the valley and near the streams cascading down we kept seeing the frogs and toads springing into the water and out of our way.
According to posts I had found online the footpath we were following should eventually lead over the impressive Narvani Mountain range, but after as while it seemed to become overgrown and hard to find the right way, so at this point we turned around to head back to the abandoned village where we took the dirt track down into the river valley. It looked rarely driven and certainly would have been a challenge to drive up.
Heading Down Into the Valley
Following the dirt track down we met another track following the valley floor, considering the tire tracks, cars must sometimes venture deeper into the Artkhmo Gorge. Heading down we passed by a herd of cows and eventually arrived at the river. The mountain torrent was curving ahead round a steep section so we had no option but to cross to the other side, although we were aware that further down there was a swinging, hanging bridge we had gazed at earlier on from the path up along the mountainside, that would probably allow us to cross back.
Crossing the Mountain Stream
Crossing a mountain stream is never an easy feat and at certain times, wading through the rushing water may be life threatening! If this may be the case, head back up to the abandoned village and return on same footpath! Taking off our shoes, I packed my camera and phone into a plastic bag for safety and Chris started to test the waters and danger by going ahead. Thankfully the water was not too deep and we found a spot where we could safely cross without any incident, although the water passed our knees and the stones were rather slippery in places. The water was freezing and even after such a short time, despite the hot air temperature our toes felt almost frozen.
Walking Across the Hanging Bridge
The stretch of path down river to the hanging bridge passed fairly quickly. We noticed that there was a cottage that might have been inhabited hanging up above us on that side of the gorge. When we reached the bridge, although the structure appeared wobbly from a distance it was easy to cross to the other side. It looked like the track forded the stream but by this point the river was too probably deep to cross on foot. We guessed the bridge served the cottage high above on the mountainside.
A Local’s Grave
Before we reached our car we discovered a pile of stones, piled in a peculiar way, horns of mountain goats and coins had been placed on top. We think it possibly was a local’s grave.
One of Our Favourite Hikes in Georgia
Despite some troubles finding the path further into the Artkhmo Gorge after the abandoned village, it turned into one of the favourite hikes of our time in Georgia. The incredible landscape and wildlife, remoteness and the fact that we were the only walkers that day gave us the experience we had discovered a secret and special place, most travellers miss on their journeys into the High Caucasus. The hike is easy, not too long, and may be walked by even inexperienced and/or younger hikers, including kids provided there is not too much water in the torrent at the crossing point. Just bring along a picnic and enjoy the sweeping views of the peaceful Artkhmo Gorge!
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