Torchlight Trails: Etseri- Lake Meziri


Well, I’m home alone for a week or so while my wife attends to family and other concerns in Tbilisi and Kakheti; she’ll return just before school starts in mid-September. Time to take the 4x4 on a little test-run and then walk the rest of the way up.

My target: once again, Lake Meziri, tiny, but reflecting Ushba when The Mountain cooperates. First time going for a sunset shot, which means I’ll have to walk back to the car in darkness, unaided by moonlight, using my phone light. On the way, I debate staying long enough to get some good starlight photos as well, but we’ll see whether cloud or anything else will change my plans and possibilities.

Once I’m out above Etseri, the road devolves into rather a nightmare, with deep gullies coming and going along its center. I’m forced to straddle these with the car’s tires for as long as I can, and cross a few of them when they veer off the road and get shallow enough to drive over. Too stressful to go right up to the cluster of cowherders’ huts right at the top; I risk damaging the thing, or getting it stuck and having to beg for help to pull it out. I find a place wide enough to turn around, do so, and abandon the vehicle.

My small backpack contains my camera, three lenses, a bottle of water and an extra layer of clothing as it’s likely to cool down fast at these altitudes as evening sets in. Plus, separate, the tripod in its custom shoulder-sling soft case made for be by a friend in St Petersburg a quarter-century ago. Just in case I need to make some long exposures.

As last week, so again, as soon as I get my first glimpse of Ushba, it’s just about to shroud its peak in cloud. This time I’m fast enough to fire off a couple of shots before losing the peak. I must press on, and hope for the best at the lake, about another half hour away.

The path is clear. I walk down quickly, and yes, The Mountain does give me a couple of glimpses of its peak at the lakeside, as the sun’s last light is hitting it and the nearly preventing clouds: Golden Hour in a few seconds. The water is a bit more stirred up by wind than I would like, but beggars can’t be choosers! I shoot again, wait to see what will change, realize that the sun is now off the mountain and its peak gone for a while, and decide not to wait, but to return. I’m tired, shoulders sore from my burdens, and alone, plus not really warm enough to wait a couple of hours more for good stars.

The phone’s light becomes necessary after less than half an hour of the return trip. Fortunately, this is an easy path and there are few places to get lost; it’s just one foot in front of the other, the odd short break for water, then trudge on. There are ups and downs, cows’ eyes in the torchlight, but nothing howls at me; hardly a sound aside from the gentle rustles of evening wildlife settling down or escaping my attention. Soon it’s dark enough that when I turn the light off, I can hardly see the path at all, and know that I could not go safely go on without it and expect my ankles to survive the descent intact. My knees, mildly rheumatic since I was 18, do bother me a bit, but I was expecting this and can live with it.

Eventually the galaxy’s arm does come into full glorious view in our thin atmosphere, but The Mountain behind me is stubbornly veiled, so I concentrate on getting back to the car. Will the perilous drive back down be worse at night than during the day?

It turns out that hi-beams are more than sufficient to light my way, down is easier than up, and I make the drive without incident. My shoulders ache now, but I have my few images safe and can cross “Ushba in Lake Meziri, sunset” off my list for now. “Ushba & Galaxy” remains, but that’s for another night, from much closer to home. Enough for now.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1900 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

By Tony Hanmer

06 September 2018 19:01