Day 1: Stepantsminda to Betlemi Hut, 3600m
The First Section: Stepantsminda to Altihut
I have to admit, I felt a bit anxious before going on this trip, the first time I ever felt that way before going on an adventure. Because of the COVID situation, I haven’t travelled internationally for more than a year, now I was in a foreign country, on my own, far away from home, trying to climb my first, two 5000m peaks. What was my normal a couple of years ago, now felt extraordinary, a bit crazy even. But I decided to push through those feelings, ignore them and allow myself some time to get back to the life I loved so much, before the pandemic started, a life of travelling and extraordinary, of chasing dreams and never stop moving.
After spending the first night in Stepandsminda, it was time to get my gear ready and head to the mountains. Because my climbing partner, whom I havn’t never met before, already was at the Meteo Base Camp at 3600m, I joined a group of climbers who were heading in the same direction.
The track started easy yet steep uphill, with a rather adventurous drive to the base, following some rivers 🙂
The views of the surrounding glaciers of the southern Caucasus were amazing, the fresh mountain air felt so good after spending two days of travelling in rather warm weather. Everything’s inspiring in places like this.
We stopped for a short break at Altihut 3014, around halfway, shortly before crossing the first glacier.
The second part of the hike to base camp started at 3000m asl and took us up to 3600m. We followed a small river, which was growing bigger, the further we approached the edge of the mighty glacier.
The Second Section: Altihut to Betlemi Hut
It was sometimes a bit tricky to cross it, the water level got high at some locations, the currents were strong. It was all about jumping from rock to rock, not trying to fall. We took a short break, before continuing the hike on the glacier. Once we started on the ice, I immediately realized that this glacier was not at all comparable to any glaciers in the Alps. It was full of crevasses, rivers, streams. It was bigger, unpredictable, hostile yet so attracting. I couldn’t wait to explore it’s hidden treasures. A beautiful wonderland. My love to the mountains was growing, with every step, with every meter of altitude gain.
After arriving at the Meteo Base Camp at 3600m I could immediately feel the altitude change. It wasn’t an intense feeling, rather a minor headache which became stronger the less I moved. I tried to drink plenty and add some minerals like Calcium to the water, because the melted glacier water usually lacks them.
After a quick lunch, I met with my climbing partner Shota to discuss the next days. He immediately could tell that I wasn’t feeling so well and forced me to do a hike. I wasn’t really sure about that, the weather didn’t look too good, also I was dizzy and had a headache. Why should I go for a hike under these circumstances, I thought.
The Third Section: Betlemi Hut to Betlemi Church
Anyways, I agreed, and we started a couple of hours climb up a steep ridge. The volcanic rocks partially slipped away under my feet, it was difficult to walk and I had to sit every now and then on the steep slope to get my heart rate back to normal. Due to the sudden change in altitude, my usually low heart rate increased with every minor movement, the exhausting hike got my pulse up to 163bpm sometimes.
After reaching 4000m we stoped at a small, metal chapel, Betlemi Church. The views were incredible, when the clouds coverage cleared every now and then, I could see as far as Stepandsminda. Only now, I realized how big that glacier actually was. The biggest I’ve ever seen, crevasses everywhere.
We spent about an hour at altitude before we headed back, shortly before the thunderstorm hit. I felt immediately better, my headache was gone, I was motivated and ready for the next days.
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