Mktveri (Vardzia Gorge)
|Stretch:||Vardzia to Khertvisi Fortress|
|Difficulty:||Class III- (III+)|
|Flows:||No gauge. Estimate at put-in: 2,500 cfs|
|Gradient:||37 fpm average|
|Put-in:||Access at Vardzia Caves visitor center|
|Take-out:||Access downstream 1 km from Khertvisi Fortress|
|Shuttle:||17.9 km (20 minutes one-way)|
|Season:||Spring and ? (dam release)|
|Featured in A Wet State #130|
Two Blade Adventures Review:
Our trip to Georgia was with Two Blade Adventures. I first heard of them when I met the founder, Tomass Marnics, a few years ago in California. At the time, they did only Altai and Sayan mountain trips in Russia. Two years ago however, Egor moved to Georgia and their trip offerings expanded. Georgia is a country that would be hard, if not impossible, to travel without a guide. First, the primary language is Georgian, a language I know no one who speaks. Additionally, anyone over 30 speaks only Russian as a second language, no English. Second, there are no English guide sources. So, all of this adds up to a great excuse to hire a guide.
Two Blade Adventures trip was affordable, for sure. Where some guided trips in places like Chile or Italy will run you $3,500 for 10 days, Two Blade Adventures ran us 1,000 Euro for 13 days of boating (2017). The trip was advertised as a bit of a dirt bagging type of trip, where camping would be the norm and cooking for ourselves would be the standard. However, this is where I found the trip exceeded expectations. We did cook breakfast every day, however, lunch and dinner was about an even split between cooking ourselves and sampling local cuisine at cafes or restaurants. And where we did camp about half of the trip, the other half was spent in local guest houses, host family houses, or at Egor and Alonaís own house. This meant showers were more of the norm rather than the exception.
Another area that the trip exceeded our expectations was the cultural experience. Egor fit a lot of site seeing into the agenda, all in route to various rivers, and which also provided great excuses to stretch the legs or allowed Egor and Alona to go shopping. This is the first kayak trip I have been on where I feel like I experienced every aspect of the country.
Finally, the rivers. Egor knows his Georgian rivers. He himself has many of the first descents on the rivers. However, a lot of these were recently explored so the total descents are limited. Out of Egorís hands, we had really high water which scrapped a lot of our plans for rivers. Egor had Plan B and C thought through to maximize our river experience and calculating in the weather and other possible activities that should be considered, like hiking in the high mountains on a clear day. On the river, Egor proved to be one of the best paddlers I have ever seen. He is fully capable on all of the rivers, and was a solid lead to provide guidance and safety on our way down the river. His background on the river means though that he paddles fast downriver. A few days in we asked for a more leisure pace, partially because we were having to race to keep up and were wearing out, but also just to go slower and enjoy the places that we were experiencing for the first, and likely only time. We didnít have to ask twice, as Egor adjusted his paddling and pace and accommodated our desire perfectly.
So, in summary, this trip exceeded our expectations of experiencing and seeing Georgia at a cultural level, and Egorís knowledge and expertise regarding the rivers is unparalleled. I would highly recommend using them for your Georgian vacation.
Republic of Georgia 2017 Day 1:
I wanted to do this trip as soon as Two Blade Adventures started offering the trip. I figured what an opportunity to paddle in a place that had no beta, that surely I would never be able to arrange a trip myself. I began planning the trip a year before, but as typical with kayakers a lot of my early invites backed out as the time got closer. Luckily, my friend Kevin was healing up from a recent injury and was healthy enough to join, and a new acquaintance whom I met in New Zealand this winter, Jo, was also game for the adventure.
Diane and I landed in Tbilisi at 3:30 am on Sunday. Kevin and Jo landed the night before, where Egor met up with them and they went out for an evening in town. We all met up around 6 am the next morning at the airport, loaded up and began a long drive west towards the Black Sea, where we would spend the first half of the trip. The drive was about 5 hours, but we stopped for two sight seeing stops, the first at Rabati Castle and the second, right at our put in, the Vardzia Caves. We spent the afternoon walking around these locations before getting to the river and putting on late in the afternoon for a nice class III float through a wonderful canyon. This allowed those of the team who were renting boats to outfit and get used to them, and allowed all of us to prolong the jetlag induced sleep to a more appropriate time.
The run that we did was the Mktveri. Putting in at the base of the Vardzia caves we quickly found ourselves in class III whitewater as we entered a canyon which encapsulated the river in its tall walls. Keep an eye out for remnants of the old stone stairs from the monastery that was on the cliffs high above up until a recent earthquake. The canyon opens up, but not before throwing some class III-IV at you. But donít relax too much, as even after the walls peal away the fun rapids continue. When you pass the huge pipes from the water project, you are getting close to the oldest fortress in all of Georgia, which stands alongside the river. Soon, the river mellows and you find yourself at take-out.
The night, we camped along the river, cooking a nice dinner and enjoying a few bottles of wine, before we all quickly fell asleep. The next morning, the plan was to wake up at 8 so we could leave by 10. And we learned that for Egor and Alona, waking up at 8 means just thatÖ waking upÖ with tent exit expected sometime within the next hour. At least they didnít have to wait for us!
Next: Republic of Georgia 2017 Day 2 - Adjaristskali (Below Chao)
- The river starts with some warm-up water. Make sure you enjoy the view of the Vardzia Caves to your left and the gorge in front of you.
- Rapids Start (III-). Not far downstream from put-in, you bend to the right and then back to the left, the rapids start. Although I donít call out many rapids, there is a lot of class III- in here, it just isnít super unique and mainly wave trains with a few holes to dodge.
- Gorge Starts (III). You will see the gorge in front of you for the last mile, it is super scenic. Within the gorge are the most pushy rapids of the run. Make sure as you enter, you look at the left wall. There used to be a fortress on the walls high above, an earthquake collapsed much of it and the cliffs. One kinda cool artifact of that is a house size piece of rock on the left short that has stairs carved into it. The rock was obviously once somewhere else as the stairs are now upside down!
S-turn (III). One of the bigger rapids I remember in the gorge had a constriction of s-turns. We moved right and then back left.
- Biggest (IV). The biggest rapid of the run wasnít super hard, but it was pretty long. Probably about 1 km of class III continuousness that felt class IV to me. Start far left and work back to the center. 2/3rds of the way down the crux move was to drive right to left in front of a nasty looking rock.
- The walls quickly open upÖ they actually mostly opened up before the Biggest rapid, but it is certainly noticeable that the character changes after the rapid.
- A bridge orange shore marks the location of a hotsprings. The hotsprings has been leveraged for thermal power, so there is not a tub to sit in. But, it is a nice stop.
- Footbridge Rapid (III- to III). As a footbridge approaches you enter a nice rapid that ends with a good size hole in the middle of the river. Easy to avoid to either side.
- Road Bridge Rapid (II+ to III-). You can see this rapid from the road as you drive up to put-in. The rapid is straight forward, just go down the center and avoid any rocks that may be exposed. Downstream rapids tend to be mostly class II.
- Huge pipes come down the hill on river right, marking where the powerplant is and the water level increases. I be this would be an excellent take-out location too if you didnít want to go down to where we took out and camped.
- Khertvisi Fortress is located on the right shore and the confluence with the Paravani. This fortress was first built in the 2nd century BC though its present walls were built in 1354 AD. Legend also says it was destroyed by Alexander the Great.
Put-in / Take-out: Use the GPS coordinates in the map and a mapping program on your phone. The street names will not be legible anywaysÖ
Put-in: Just downstream of the cafť at the Vardzia caves is an access.
Take-out: We took out about 1 km below the fortress on river right. There was an obvious access. We also camped there.
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