The glacier Ushba lays at the feet of Mount Ushba’s summit, one of the most technical and photogenic mountains in the Caucasus. It is only accessible through the village Mazeri, itself reachable by minibus, taxi or autostop from Mestia. Worth a visit for: the proximity of the blue glacier, a quiet trail and several great views on the mountains around during the whole trek.
Level of difficulty: medium
It is vital to keep in mind that a glacier is an enormous mass in constant movement. It is important to be careful at all times and not to approach it from its iced face/wall (see the picture below). As it is mostly covered with rocks and it is always melting, stones of all sizes keep falling off and big ice pieces can break off at any time. At least one hiker was killed while approaching a glacier the wrong way in Georgia during the summer we went to the Ushba glacier.
Mestia’s tourism information office provides useful and free maps which allow 9 hours for this 18km hike, as a round trip from Mazeri. The trail is a dirt track for a few kilometers before it starts going up and then reaches a river and, on the other side, the border police’s camp.
There is a river crossing during the second half of the hike toward the glacier which can be tricky as the water flowing straight from glacier is ice cold and gets deeper and wilder as the day advances. It is recommended to cross it as early in the day as possible to avoid the peak flow in late afternoon. A good place to cross is in front of the last paint mark by the river. Still, always make sure you have stable feet and use walking poles to help you cross.
The hardest part of the path is between the camp and the glacier itself, with steep ascents in the forest – sometimes muddy – and a little maintained trail hard to distinguish after the forest. Near the end, a fork toward the right also allows to reach a big waterfall. A GPS (or GPS app) facilitates the end of the hike a lot although it is possible to do without one.
You can eat and sleep at Hiker’s Cafe (3km from Mazeri, on the trail), and to sleep at the border police’s camp if you prefer to split the hike in two.
Important: it’s impossible to pass the border police’s camp without an authorization from their office located in the village of Mazeri (your guesthouse will show you where they are). The written authorization requires your passport, is free and only takes a few minutes to obtain. It is used to keep count of people approaching the glacier and Mount Ushba.
Where to sleep
Mazeri has plenty of guesthouses offering private rooms from 50 GEL to over 200 GEL per night, usually including three meals of traditional Georgian cuisine. But be careful: if you book online, expect to pay more than the online price and/or to have to strongly negotiate in Russian to get the price you booked for!
The Hiker’s cafe (3km from Mazeri towards the glacier) also offers a few basic rooms and a limited restaurant.
We suggest to those who have the time to camp to pitch their tent at the border police’s camp, located in the forest and next to the river. The place is peaceful, in the shade and has drinkable water. The policeman there will tell you where you can camp.
When to go
The climate in Northern Georgia implies long, cold and snowy winters. It is advised to go from spring to autumn, i.e. from late April to early October. The summer can be quite hot (regularly between 30 to 35 Celcius degrees in the south), but the mountains in the north make it the best time to visit.
How to go there
To reach Mazeri you first need to go to Mestia. The easiest and cheapest way for that is the minibus – the marshrutka – leaving from Zugdidi’s train station regularly in the morning, every day for 20 GEL (2017). The new road allows for a long and winding journey, but a safe one.
It is also possible to take a one hour flight from Tbilisi to Mestia for around 65 GEL (without luggage) with the company Serviceair, and from Kutaisi for 40 GEL (2016). Four flights per week are available from Tbilisi and two from Kutaisi, but the tickets are sold out a long time before the dates.
What to do next
Apart from the trek to the Ushba glacier, three main options are offered around Mazeri:
- Mount Mazeer: a summit located west of Mazeri requiring only 5 hours walk (round trip).
- The trek Mazeri – Mestia: a difficult hike that can be done in one very long day or – if you have a tent – in two days, offering absolutely stunning landscapes.
- Go to Mestia for the Mestia – Ushguli trek: for less experienced hikers and those preferring to sleep in guesthouses and homestays, this trek is the most accessible, popular and one of the most beautiful itineraries in the Svaneti region.