This post is also available in: polski
I am sitting on the rescue equipment in the border guard hangar at Tbilisi airport. In my ears I still hear the “cherry, cherry lady” that was playing in the Georgian taxi. Full sun outside, the watch shows a few minutes before eight in the morning. I’m yawning from lack of sleep, but I need to gather energy. A cistern with aviation fuel drives up to the hangar, and in the distance I can hear the noise of an approaching helicopter. We’re flying a helicopter to Kazbek in a moment.
We had a whole day off in Tbilisi. It was a lazy but necessary time. Walking around the old town and eating Georgian khinkali, khachapuri, ostri stew and drinking a beer are certainly more enjoyable part of the Safe Kazbek project. In addition to the rest, of course, there were also other key elements of the puzzle – it was necessary to confirm and coordinate the transport of us and the equipment to the base near Kazbek. In addition, less important matters such as buying a Georgian SIM card or making a decent purchase of fresh vegetables and fruit for the base. Unfortunately, we forgot about the second one 🙁 .
The Mi-17 helicopter of the Georgian border guard landed on the tarmac.
The rotors lose power and in a moment the pilot turns off the engine. We start loading the equipment onto the helicopter deck. About a ton of different packages take up most of his holds, but take it easy – we’ll manage. Georgians help with loading, we also take care of the bureaucracy, leaving signatures and everything is ready for flight. “Are you ready?” Asks the pilot, pointing to the entrance to the helicopter. A nod of the head, a farewell handshake of the military who stay and we get into the machine.
Georgia is a very mountainous country. This is especially noticeable when flying over it. Wherever the eye can see, we see mountains reaching the horizon. Smaller, forested peaks, grassy peaks or snow-covered rocky ridges. Engines are loud, rotor blades chop the air, and a helicopter with Polish rescuers on board flies north towards Stepantsminda.
The distance, which takes about three and a half hours by car, through the serpentine of the Georgian Military Road, takes us about 20 minutes. We land in a clearing in Sno (south of Kazbegi), where we help in quick loading of wood into the helicopter. It will be used as fuel at the Meteo Station near Kazbek.
We’re taking off again and we’re gaining altitude very quickly. We’re flying a helicopter to Kazbek.
As we fly, we see familiar landscapes – the town of Stepantsminda, the Gergeti church, the pass with a chapel, the Altihut shelter, the snow-covered Gergeti glacier and finally the familiar Meteo Station. The characteristic peak of Kazbek towers over the landscape all the time.
The flight to Meteo at 3650 m above sea level takes us less than 10 minutes. Normally, it takes all day for tourists loaded with equipment to climb Kazbek, and often it is divided into two days – with an overnight stay at the Altihut shelter (3014 m above sea level), for better acclimatization.
The helicopter sits on the landing pad, but the pilot does not turn off the machine. We get off quickly and start unloading.
It’s sunny, but the piercing, cold wind sucks all the heat out. After a few minutes, the helicopter takes off, and we stay in such a well-known place. Stones, rocks, ice and snow all around. Ukrainian tourists help in moving the equipment to the station building. It’ll be safe there before we set up our base camp. And there is a lot of work.
We start with clearing snow and widening the platforms for tents.
We work with ice axes, shovels, a hammer drill and even a steel hammer found on site. After a while we feel the influence of the altitude. All it takes is a few harder movements to make your head dizzy. It is also easy to get out of breath.
After a few hours of shoveling, ice-axing, stabbing and throwing stones, we can see the bearable effects of the work. Enough for today, we need to rest.
Tea, a quick snack, we pack our bags and start our descent. We want to spend the first night in Altihut, which is located 600 meters below. It will greatly help us in faster and proper acclimatization. Taking pictures with the Kazbek in the background, we walk on the wet snow covering the Gergeti glacier.
Then we go down among the boulders lying on the moraines and jump over several streams. The body feels higher atmospheric pressure, and the lungs happily take in oxygen richer air. It is only 600 meters of height, but what a hudge difference!
There is a warm welcome waiting for us – we happily eat dinner and after a while we go to sleep. Everyone is very tired – long day, heights and physical work. I have problems falling asleep, but after some time I’m sleeping in the warm Altihut shelter.