Spirit dogs and snowy slogs: hiking in Mestia

Mestia is a tiny town nestled in the mountains of Svaneti, a region in northern Georgia. The location is epic, and the buildings in the region are known for their Svan towers. Svan towers are big stone structures where, in the days of yore, families under attack would retreat and shoot at their enemies until everybody was dead in some way or another.

Alas, nowadays, the bloodbaths have ended, and the towers are mostly just decorative. Instead, the area is known by many an Eastern European for its hiking and developing ski areas–some of the resorts plan on having more than one lift soon!

Cow sitting on road in Mestia, a town in Svaneti, Georgia

In the background: Svan towers. In the foreground: cow giving zero f*cks, another common occurrence in Mestia.

Alas, though avid skiiers/boarders, we were not prepared for anything remotely close to skiing… nor any kind of cold weather, really. But, not to be deterred by something so simple as a lack of winter clothing, Sebastiaan and I donned all of our available layers, pulled on our “walking shoes”–hiking boots without insoles and lightweight road running shoes, respectively–and headed out into The Great Outdoors for a day of hiking.

Our brilliant plan? “Go up.”

What that actually meant, we were not sure. There was some sort of cross at the top of one of the mountains that maybe we could head to somehow, and the Lonely Planet mentions something about some nice place somewhere, but we were not sure what or where. The handy dandy Mestia tourist information office, purveyor of fine maps and informations, was also closed, to reopen ??? So, up it was!

Heading to Mestia? Check out this article to find the best places to stay in Svaneti!

Trail signs in Mestia

Informative trail signs in Mestia. Their intentions were good I’m sure, but note that several of the locations have multiple directions…

As we began our journey down the main road in Mestia, we started to be followed by a pack of dogs. I am somewhat of a canine Pied Piper (they can sense my desire to pet them, I swear), and often have a stray or two trailing behind me when we walk, but two of the dogs were particularly persistent. Amused that they were so determined to follow us, and not too concerned because they were some of the cleanest strays we’ve seen, we walked along with them and continued up the mountain.

Stray dogs and Svan towers in Mestia Svaneti Georgia

Sebastiaan and his bitches: the journey begins.

We had read beforehand that March is not within the hiking season for Mestia. Guidebooks warn that trails may often be obscured in the off-season, and are not so well marked that trails will be clear when there’s snow and sliding rocks/mud. Being clueless noobs expert mountaineers, we did not consider this to be an issue… until we reached the base of the mountain, and realized that we had no clue where we were actually supposed to go.

(There’s a reason this blog is called “Lost With Purpose”…)

While standing and scratching our heads, pondering which of the paths (if they were even actually paths) we should take, we noticed that the dogs had trotted on ahead of us, and realized that they were walking along a path. Given that we had nothing better to navigate by, we decided to follow them. Lo and behold, the dogs were definitely in the know!

 

Stray dogs trail marker mountain Mestia Svaneti Georgia

Wait, is that… the trail marker?

Several times we would struggle up an ungainly rocky stretch, only to see them waiting patiently at the end of a much easier, if less noticeable, path. We eventually hit a point where snow and landslides had washed out the path completely, and were debating on turning back for fear of death by sliding off a cliff, but the dogs continued on, thus so did we.

Stray dogs hiking mountain Mestia Svaneti Georgia

Crossing that landslide like it ain’t no thang.

We hiked up the mountain with our canine companions like this all day, occasionally stopping to take a breather and pay our guides with the only currency they were interested in: cheese.

Stray dogs cheese mountain Mestia Svaneti Georgia

Definitely just using us for our dairy products, but so be it.

 

Stray dog mountain path Mestia Svaneti Georgia

Move, human, you are in my way.

 

Stray dogs sun mountain Mestia Svaneti Georgia

Lounging luxuriously in the sun with our stately hunting hounds.

 

Stray dog mountain Mestia Svaneti Georgia

Where do we go? The spirit dogs know.

 

Stray dog mountain Mestia Svaneti Georgia

 

Stray dog mountain Mestia Svaneti Georgia

We made it to the top! Dogs: confident. Sebastiaan: lost and confused, still.

 

Stray dog mountain Mestia Svaneti Georgia

 

Mountains in Mestia Svaneti Georgia

View from the top: 10/10

 

Stray dogs and cheese in mountains of Mestia Svaneti Georgia

The final dose of cheese before getting back to civilization. Note that it was wrapped in the expenses tab. Budget for the day: lots of grease.

As the day came to a close, and we miraculously made it back down the mountain sans broken bones, we had to say goodbye to our spirit dogs.

Stray dogs mountain Mestia Svaneti Georgia

The dog whisperer says his farewells.

… or we tried to, anyway. Sebastiaan is far too popular with beasts of the furry variety–or they just wanted more cheese–and the dogs ended up following us for the rest of the evening in true spirit animal fashion. I was trapped somewhere between heartbreak over how adorably loyal they were, and pure fear from all of the other much-less-savory-and-possibly-rabid street dogs they were attracting as they loped alongside us.

Unfortunately, all good and furry things must come to an end, and we had to leave the dogs behind in Mestia (they would not fit in our backpacks). On the bright side, no creatures–including ourselves–were harmed (to our knowledge), we did not incur a need for more rabies shots, and we did not have to witness any repercussions of feeding dogs large quantities of cheese. Well done team!

Stray dog mountain Mestia Svaneti Georgia

Have one more adorable dog photo because why not?

Disclaimer: You really definitely should not pet/play with/lick/sensually rub any stray dogs you see running around in most places. They’re often filled with fleas, or worse, worms, and those buggers can move from creature to creature much more easily than you’d think. There’s also always the chance that the dog is not actually as sweet and adorable as it may seem, and if it bites you, that’s 5 weeks and a couple hundred in rabies shots you’ll have to pay out.

Yes, we are hypocrites. Of course, sometimes exceptions may be made…

 

 

Quick camera tip: Want to start taking photos like this yourself? Don’t know where to start? I always carry a Nikon D7100 camera wherever I go, and I absolutely swear by my 18-200mm lens. When buying a camera, the body is not so important–it’s the lens that matters most! The 18-200 allows for wide-angle shots AND telephoto zoom. You’ll never have to switch your lens ever again.

Alex

American by birth, British by passport, Filipina by appearance. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

More about Alex

8 thoughts on “Spirit dogs and snowy slogs: hiking in Mestia

    Yavaunee says:

    hi my name is yavaunee, I love your blog. I myself am interested in traveling, but with it being just myself not sure where to get started, as you stated I want to avoid to many touristy places, and expierence the country in its entirety. Any suggestions for traveling alone and being sure to be safe?

    Hi Yavaunee. Where are you from? Perhaps it’s a good idea to start traveling in your region, and see how things go from there. If you’re looking for travel in Georgia specifucally, it’s generally safe and a great pace to head to.

    Nathan says:

    I’m going to Georgia in 4 days, very interested in big mountains and dogs!

    Alex says:

    Awesome! If those are your interests, I’m sure Georgia won’t disappoint 😉

    Marc says:

    Hey guys,

    I loved your posts on Georgia and Armenia.

    I’ll be heading there lat March for Easter. However, time is limited and would only be able to make it to either Svaneti or Kazbegi. For Svaneti I would need to fly but the flight seems rather unreliable. How does Kazbegi compare at this time of the year? Would I be missing out much?

    Also, I will be spending some of the Easter time in Armenia. Which are the monasteries I should not miss?

    Thanks a lot

    Alex says:

    Hi Marc,

    Svaneti is beautiful, but if you’re limited on time, Kazbegi is also a stunning place, and much more reliably accessible. Don’t worry, I assure you you’ll be satisfied with what you see there!

    As for the monasteries – will you be entering Armenia by land from Georgia or plane? If by land, Haghpat and Sanahin near Alaverdi are on the way from Georgia. A post on Haghpat: https://www.lostwithpurpose.com/view-top-visit-haghpat-sanahin-alaverdi/

    Shikha says:

    I’m so glad I stumbled across your blog today 🙂 Planning a trip to Georgia in June, hopefully it will be good weather. Have included all your tips 🙂 Where did u stay in Mestia? And whats the best way to get there? Do u recommend hiring a car and driving around Georgia? Or will public transport be easier and cheaper? We’re a couple of travellers from India and I saw that you were recently here. Hope you enjoyed your stay 🙂

    Luka Matijasic says:

    I just got back from Georgia recently, and it was love at first sight! What a country! Just wanted to let you know, that your blog was really helpful for tips.
    => Sun Hostel Guest House was my favourite of your tips!
    Chacha was almost the end of me in Mestia 😀 And I also met some spirit dogs along the way to Ushguli!

    Keep up this amazing work!
    Luka

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