• Alex Toshchev

Trip Report: Backpacking the Caucasus Mountains near the Black Sea

Recently a small group of RightOnTrek Russia employees, from Saratov, Novosibirsk and St. Petersburg, decided to test themselves with a five-day trip to the Caucasus Mountains. This route is interesting because it begins in the rocky Adygea region, and ends on the shore of the Black Sea in Sochi, which makes it possible to enjoy the tranquil beauty of both mountain nature and thousand-year-old coastal forests. The total walking distance is about 50 km with the elevation gain, taking into account the ascent to Mount Oshten, at 1120 m.


Hikers standing along a trail in front of some of the Caucasus Mountains in Russia near Sochi and the Black Sea.
The Caucasus Crew (from L-R): Max, Ilya, Alex, Konstantin, Alex, and Oleg

The first day of the hike immediately showed us that it was impossible to prepare for the weather in the mountains: so during the first 10 km of the way to the base camp - the Fisht Shelter - we were poured on with light rain, then, suddenly, the clouds parted and opened us to the gaze of a rather merciless sun. Then the weather changed again and every 20 minutes I had to take off and put on my jacket, which was quite funny.


The Fisht Shelter turned out to be in a rather cozy meadow; a fast, cold stream ran across the territory. The camp was surrounded on all sides by high mountains, which protected those staying in the shelter from the piercing mountain winds. However, at night the temperature still dropped to 5-6° C and we had to sleep in a hat and three socks. Also, the shelter was surrounded by an energized fence, because a large number of bears lived in the area - there were almost no cases of attacks on people, but the destruction of tents and theft of food products, before the appearance of this fence, was not a rare incident.



The next day, our guide offered us a choice - to go to Lake Psenodakh - a small reservoir 6 km from the pass, or to try to climb Mount Oshten (2810m). The majority voted for the first option, because the legs were not yet used to such a load and everyone felt tired. On the shore of the lake we had a long halt, where we had lunch and were able to take a break from the road. The lake is fed by groundwater, so its usual temperature does not exceed 4° C, which, however, did not prevent Oleg from trying to swim in it. The rest confined themselves to only wetting their feet.


On the way back, Vitaly (our guide), invited those who wish to try themselves in climbing Mount Oshten. Here the team split into two - and some went to camp, while others went to the top of the mountain.


I think I will not be exaggerating if I say that in my life I have never done anything more physically difficult than climbing this mountain. The last meters of the ascent were very difficult. The steep grassy slope was replaced by a crumbling rocky embankment, stones from which constantly rolled, trying to drag you down, the heart was beating at great speed, arms and legs were tired, losing sensitivity. However, the reward for all these efforts were perhaps the most beautiful views that I have seen in my life! Imagine what an impression this made on someone who has lived all his life in steppes (grasslands) as flat as a plate!


In addition, at the very top of the mountain, despite the fact that a cloud had settled on it, several pleasant surprises awaited us - a large patch of sticky snow (despite the fact that all participants were adults, making snowballs in September is still a big pleasure) and a weak internet signal that allowed me to send a few words home. Later, until the last day of the hike, there was no longer a possibility to do that.



Descent from the mountain became no less interesting and difficult an adventure, because the cloud settled on the mountainside even deeper and the descent took place in thick fog, with visibility of no more than 5-6 meters: the disappearance of the figures of teammates in the gray impenetrable haze looked very mystical and frightening.


In addition, due to these circumstances, the descent took longer than expected and the hike to the camp continued at dusk. The last kilometers to the camp go through high thickets, and at a certain moment, Vitaly asked everyone to put on headlights and keep in a group, because the time of bears has begun, which usually do not go out during the day. Suddenly, Elena (Vitaly's acquaintance, who also accompanied us) said, pointing to the thickets, “look - there are eyes!”. It turned out to be a pair of bears watching our procession. As the rules stated, we tried to behave quite noisily (Vitaly blew his whistle, and Oleg sang old Russian songs about Stepan Razin, by the way he sang pretty well) and made it out to the camp alive. Nevertheless, the road was rather creepy, because bears seemed to be behind every bush.


On the third day, after another walk, we found ourselves in a small settlement of the Armenian highlanders, who sent horses and cows there in the summer. In the village (it wasf called the Circassian Pass) there were only five houses in which the shepherds lived until the first cold weather. We were lucky and we still found some of them at home and were able to buy some hot flatbreads and matsoni (caucasian yogurt).


The height at which their houses were located was about 2,100 m, so it was very cold outside in the evening, although it was quite comfortable to sleep in tents.


Our next crossing was another shelter - Babuk-Aul, the road to which someone ironically called the Merry Descent, because it was 3 km of uninterrupted, rather rough descent, dotted with stones and thick roots of ancient trees, to which legs and trekking sticks constantly clung …


Babuk-Aul was not particularly remarkable, except that there finally appeared the opportunity to take an outdoor shower (very cold, but it was better than nothing). Just a nice clearing with a fence and gazebos, in one of which was born a dish that everyone considered the best for the entire trip - Mac Lasagna.



From Babuk-Aul, the final segment of our journey to the settlement with the name Solokh-Aul began. The ascent was at 5 in the morning and just at that time a thunderstorm began, which lasted until the very end of the route, to which there was 18 km of path along a gravel road. Hastily gathering our tents and having breakfast, we put on raincoats and set off towards Solokh-Aul. However, after 20 minutes it became clear that it was better to get completely wet than to continue on the road in plastic, unbreathable raincoats, in which, taking into account the fact that we were practically running, it was extremely hot.


This run lasted about 5 hours, under the incessantly pouring rain and, I think, became very "memorable" for all the participants of the trip.


However, the harder the challenge, the sweeter the reward. It was a great joy to be on the seashore and understand that the road was over. It was equally enjoyable to swap through the photos on the phone, as if to look back, and say to myself "Gosh, during these five days I seem to have lived a whole life!"


 

Alexander Toshchev, the author, lives in Saratov, Russia and is the Inventory Manager for RightOnTrek. Alex loves exploring the outdoors, playing with his son, and cooking and eating different recipes from around the world.

 

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