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Koruldi Lakes is one of the most accessible high altitude hikes in Svaneti, but don’t let anybody convince you it’s not worth the effort. Camping overnight at Koruldi Lakes is one of my most treasured experiences while travelling through Europe and Asia to Kyrgyzstan. Caroline might not agree with me due to the thunder and lightning storm that raged all through the night. However, I’ll take the bad with the good, and the good was, well, exhilarating. Aside from all of the beauty, a fair few bizarre happenings occurred during the two day excursion. I suppose being in Georgia, one should come to expect the unexpected, of course all will be detailed throughout!
The hike can be done in one day but I’d argue it’s too much and you miss the best parts of the day at Koruldi Lakes, sunrise and sunset. Not to mention, you will have barely any time to enjoy the views. Unless you hike in the high summer months where the days are much longer. In any case, we’d really recommend camping over by the lakes, it’s an incredible experience that you won’t forget. In fact, I regularly day dream about the elation I felt in those moments of serenity as the storm clouds cleared and a perfect rainbow arched around our little yellow tent against the backdrop of the menacing lime stone peaks, protruding like swords and needles. It’s my all time favourite camping spot, and that’s a tall order to top.
If you’re after accommodation info, pack lists and travel information, just head right to the facts section at the bottom.
If you are planning to hike up and down to Koruldi Lakes on the same day, there is not so much preparation to do. Fill up your water bottles and pack enough food for the day.
There is a spring around half way up where you can refill your bottles, check the facts section for more info.
If you plan on staying the night, of course you will need a little more preparation. You will need some more food and possibly a camping stove to cook or make tea and coffee. If you want to keep it minimal you could avoid that and just bring pre-prepared food. There’s nothing like drinking a coffee on the mountain though!
This is our first hike since Caroline’s appendix ruptured, she’s lost a lot of weight and strength. We’re doing this hike as a precursor, strength training for the four day trek from Mestia to Ushguli which we will embark on shortly after.
We’ve heard the hike is quite easy but we’re apprehensive. Almost 1500 meters of ascent is far from easy, in our opinion. In any case, even without the ascent our rucksacks with all the camping gear in are proving to be somewhat heavier than we remember.
The hike starts at Seti Square, the main square in the centre of Mestia. We are at the nearby campsite so we start from there and head towards Old House Hotel. You should be walking up a cobbled street with low stone walls. Just before Old House Hotel you will pass through a tunnel attached to a Svan Tower. The road soon turns into a dirt track and if you look up, you should see the Mestia Cross, the half way point to Koruldi Lakes and a good place to take a break and eat some lunch.
The steady incline from the centre of Mestia to the tree line, where the real fun begins, is already making us break a sweat. It’s going to be a tough day, but before that, let’s get to the first bewildered laugh of the day.
We hop out of the way as a 4×4 truck speeds up the dirt track leaving a dust cloud behind it and spraying stones and gravel off the road. As the dust begins to settle, we wonder if this is the road (because we do know there is a road that leads to the cross). It soon becomes apparent that it isn’t, for as soon as the track meets the forest, it’s incline becomes sharper and the track turns in to a more narrow trail.
For whatever dumb reason, the driver is convinced that as a matter of fact, it must be the road and just attempts to go, swerving off the track and speeding up a steep slope cleared of trees. The truck is immediately flailing but the driver does not give up. The passengers in the back appear to be in total shock as the driver revs the engine, attempting to climb over the rocky obstacles. Huge plumes of black smoke are shrouding the vehicle as it stands at almost 90 degrees on its two back wheels. Sensing defeat the unnerved driver attempts to reverse and turn around, in the process almost slipping into a gully. The driver loses control for a second as the truck slips and slides around. As we and other gobsmacked hikers watch, the truck sheepishly descends back to Mestia.
The trail enters the forest and immediately steepens, there is quite a bit of clambering up and over rocks here. Shortly after, the ascent is somewhat softened and the trail weaves through the forest. Just before the trail meets the dirt road (the actual road to the Mestia cross) we take our first rest of the day.
It’s a wonderfully romantic scene, a winding path leading to snow-capped mountains. Lush untamed green meadows smother the mountain, separated from the path by a ramshackle wooden fence. Spring daises nevertheless break through the barriers and spill onto the walkway. We sit in silence, knowing we have a long way to go and it’s already taken us much longer than the estimate. Before heading on we eat some snacks to gain energy and drearily don our rucksacks. Black clouds are beginning to form. A precursor to the events of the night ahead.
The trail soon joins the road where it stays for the remaining section of the hike towards the Mestia Cross. There are various shortcuts to take as small trails climb the meadows in between the switchbacks. Look out for the multi-storey lookout platform, you will have to take a slight detour off the road to reach it. On a normal day there will be many people here enjoying the views. For reference, the cross is located here. It’s the perfect location for a spot of lunch, especially if the weather is not so great, as the lookout tower has a roof.
According to the estimate this section of the hike should have taken about two hours. It is the hardest section of the hike, as it covers 800 meters in elevation gain. It’s taken us almost double with breaks. Do consider that we are out of practise and are probably carrying much more gear (camera and camping equipment) than most would need, especially if you do not plan on camping.
While Caroline takes a much deserved break I run around with my camera, in awe of the spectacular views. The mountains are incredible. A gargantuan wall of rock, towering above all, a spine of dangerously sharp knives. As time passes, the storm brewing over the craggy limestones splinters grows ever darker, a thin strip of light fades as the storm descends ready to unleash its force. It’s time to leave – we want to get to the lakes to find a spot and set up camp. The way towards Ushba and Koruldi looks more promising, the diffused light of the sun through a wispy layer of clouds illuminates the sheer faces of the so-called cat mountain. We wonder which way the storm will ride.
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The fairly steep climb up the incline behind the cross leads to a plateau where a water source can be found. A few shepherd’s huts inhabit the plateau along with a wooden shack purporting to be a cafe named Cafe with a great view. They’re not lying about the view but it’s not open.
After the huts and cafe the trail again joins the road where it winds on a steady incline until it reaches the first of the lakes. This would normally be the easy section, but we’re exhausted. In spite of the struggle to the top, the views are magnetic, sweeping panoramic vistas, thousands of snow-capped peaks in every direction.
We look back as we hear the humdrum drawl of an approaching car, an unimpressed passenger, an older woman wearing black sunglasses looks onwards, avoiding the disapproving gazes of nearby hikers. The woman gives the impression of someone who has lived a life of privilege without ever lifting a finger. A mere five minutes later, much like the previous car, it is driven back in the opposite direction, this time the passenger looking ever so slightly less smug.
The next event is so bizarre that it is hard to put in to words, we navigate a corner and look up, I turn to Caroline… no… it cannot possibly be… another lady is squatting on the floor, in the middle of the path, in broad day light, pissing. Her bottoms around her ankles with her behind directly reflecting the sunlight drawing all attention to it. We can’t believe our eyes.
The final section of the hike traverses a barren ridge with a sheer drop on the left side, before plateauing and opening up at the magnificent lakes. As we triumphantly reach the top and set eyes on the lakes the first drops of rain splatter on our foreheads.
We race to find a nice flat spot with a great view and unpack the tent. The rain starts to fall harder as we pitch the tent, diving in for safety from the elements. The storm hammers the plateau for the next few hours.
The hike to Koruldi was absolutely brutal, 1500M up over 10KM. This is not an easy hike, especially with all our camping gear. The time estimate was 3.5 hours, it took us almost 6 hours.
An hour or so later the hammering of rain on to our tent begins to subside and with it, a desire to go outside and explore grows within me. I peek out from the tent and my suspicions are confirmed, the storm has cleared in an instance. I grab my camera and leap out of the tent and low and behold a magnificent rainbow has formed perfectly over our tent. It’s simply magical, I’m in awe.
The next hour is one of my fondest memories on a mountain I can ever remember. The storm traces from our plateau, across the valley and along the spine of mountains separating Georgia from Russia. Paradoxical light shines through the eye of the storm creating a heaven-and-hell like scene in the mountains with light and shadows of extreme contrasts. Watching the shifting tones and raging storm unleashing fury is better than any movie I’ve seen. For the grand finale, the winds drop and the lake shimmers and reflects the mighty Caucasus.
Somewhere in the distance the sun drops below the horizon and casts a deep orange and purple light over the landscape. The black rock against the purple sky is a masterful gradient, and as if to signal the finish of the show at Koruldi Lakes, rain begins to patter on the lake and the wind begins to pick up, disturbing the absolute serenity. The sky fades to grey and the storm rages all night long. Thunder rumbles through the arteries of the mountain and lightning strikes. The tent is illuminated for a split second and we witness the terror on each other’s faces.
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As one might imagine, there is not much sleeping through the night. The storm rages throughout the whole night until the early morning. There are so many lightning strikes it’s hard to imagine how we might escape untouched. But as the storm calms, so does the fear. It’s an hour before sunrise so I decide to go for a wander. As I navigate the tent, I notice that we have a friend. A huge fluffy, seemingly stray husky dog is curled up right outside the tent door. I wonder how long he’s been there, and kneel down to say hello. He follows me around the lake.
The sky is on fire. As if to reward us for our endurance, the sun conducts an exquisite display of light and colour. A burning band of yellows, oranges and reds emanate from the peaks, and the scene is twofold, perfectly reflecting in the lake. The water is eerily still with no indication there was a blustering storm here but a few hours ago.
In the opposite direction a milky blue sky filled with pink and orange pastel coloured clouds glows warmly. Mount Tetnuldi with its hundred peaks rises from the idyllic green pastures. A brightly shining full moon is setting behind the distant snow-covered ridges awash with pink alpenglow.
It’s truly a perfect morning. As soon as the sun rises above the peaks, warm light smothers our tent. It’s time to boil some water for a coffee. We bask in the sunlight, enjoying the magnificent views and fine weather, with barely another soul in sight. However, we are not the only campers, there are some more tents a few hundred meters away, but we don’t hear or barely notice them. There are no cars or jeeps here, no fumes and nobody who didn’t earn their reward the hard way. A few hours later we begin the slow descend back to Mestia, but not before a herd of wild horses gallop up to the lake for a drink. Another scene of tranquility unfolds as the horses navigate the shoreline juxtaposed with snow and glacier-ridden mountains. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster.
Our friendly husky is still following us (even though he did piss on our tent) and as Caroline approaches a horse to pet it, the dog becomes incessantly jealous and aggressively barks at the horse. It’s hilarious. The rest of the day is beautiful, the sun shines, the mountains are calm, the meadows are green and the sky is blue. It’s a cliche alpine paradise, which makes the steady hike back down to Mestia ever more pleasant.
There are two main options to fly into Georgia: Kutaisi or Tbilisi. Kutaisi is the budget option. Check Skyscanner for your options.
Mestia is the best place to stay when starting the hike to Koruldi Lakes. It’s easy to reach, has lots of guesthouses and hotels and you can buy all the supplies you might need. You will most likely want to visit Svaneti from Tibilisi, Zugdidi, Batumi or Kutaisi.
Take the train to Zugdidi and then a marshrutka for the final section (you don’t want to be on a marshrutka for 10 hours). The train departs at 8.25AM, check the schedule for more up-to-date information. You can book your tickets online. The train station is here. The price is very cheap at 16 GEL, roughly €6.
From Zugdidi it’s Marshrutka time. They depart from the main train station (where you will arrive from Tbilisi) from 6:30 to 14:30. Keep in mind departures are not very frequent and inconsistent. The journey takes around 3-4 hours and costs 20 GEL (~€7).
The only real option is via marshrutka to Zugdidi. They depart from the bus station from 8AM onward. It’s hard to find up to date schedules online so best check at the bus station or ask at your hotel/guesthouse.
Take the direct marshrutka to Mestia from the train station at 10AM. It costs 25GEL, around €9. It’s apparently a popular line so you might want to get there a little early.
You can also drive yourself. The roads are quite okay, paved at least and the journey is wonderful with many places to stop and appreciate the landscape. The final option is to hitchhike! Georgians are friendly people and we are quite sure it will not be a problem to get a ride.
Before and after the hike we camped at Camping & Hostel Svanland, which is great value for money and the owner is helpful and knowledgeable.
After the 4 day trek to Ushguli we stayed in a hotel a little more upmarket than usual: Old House hotel. It was fantastic and we could barely bring ourselves to leave. Gorgeous comfy rooms with great views. Incredible restaurant.
There are many other properties for all luxury levels in Mestia. Explore yourself on www.booking.com.
A lot of the stuff in this list will depend on whether you camp the night or not, so make the necessary adjustments based on your itinerary.
Food & Cooking Gear
There is a spring around halfway just after the cross, you can find it here. Make sure to take an extra empty bottle if you plan on camping the night.
Distance: 21 KM (10.5 if camping)
We use a combination of apps. Maps.me we use for routing between two points. It gives pretty spot on information regarding the elevation difference and the distance. It’s walking estimates are quite accurate as well. The second app we use is Gaia GPS. The app is not as intuitive as Maps.me but it allows to import GPX trails so you can always see where you should be walking in relation to where you are. It also provides much better contour lines so you can easily spot elevation changes.
We didn’t record our hike but if you want a GPX trail, grab it here. That’s the one we used.
There are various other extensions you can attempt from Koruldi Lakes. We didn’t attempt them but if you’re interested you can check on Caucasus Trekking for more info and GPX trails.
The best time to hike this trail is the summer to autumn. It’s possible from early June to late October, depending on the weather of course. We did the hike in mid June.