Superstition ain’t the way

-Stevie Wonder-

Tusheti was calling, with all it’s high mountains. And also perhaps for me a chance to get myself and the bike across the 3000m elevation mark. That doesn’t happen very often. Again, it was difficult to find proper information on the terrain, but I managed to create a route, using an itinerary description of a mountain bike organisation.

the target would be the Nakle-Kholi pass north-west of Omalo, deep in the Tusheti range, part of the Caucasus. Apparently, this pass was also conquered by a group of bike packers who filmed “The Trail to Kazbegi”. It was enough to get me interested. For me, starting point was Omalo. From here I created a route to ride clockwise. I already knew that this would be one of my bigger bike rides. Coincidentally I would be riding it on Friday 13th.

Well, I’m not that superstitious so I went for it. Weather was fair, and, just before weekend, tourist traffic was low. It could very well be rush hour, as we would discover the another day*. I started the route on a wide 4×4 track heading to Dartlo. But when crossing the second saddle, I turned left onto a more narrow track that headed for the mountain ridge that would eventually, after 12km or so, end at the Nakle-Kholi pass. A name that no local understood by the way. They call it: Nakaicho. And on another map Nakalcho. When I pronounced it a bit unclear, things became clear…

Soon, the track became so steep that the bike had to be pushed or carried up the mountain, and the trail was just a single track. I hoped that the slope would flatten a bit so that I could ride again, and this happened after about 3km. Now the track was going up and down, still parts had to be walked, but the parts in between, where it was possible to ride, were great.

I must admit I made a mistake in calculating the distance. I expected 40 km but on the ridge it became clear that I would be doing 57km to complete the loop. And one extra climb back over the saddle to reach Omalo. I decided to ride on.

While riding the second half of the ridge between the Pirikitis and Tushetis valley, I really felt the vastness and emptiness of the area. At this high altitude there was still nothing else to see than mountains as far as I could see. Anyway, I had to focus on the track in front of me while riding. Following the ridge I would just go above 3000m before descending a little to reach the pass. From there it was to the north-east for a demanding descent to Parsma into the Pirkitis valley.

What a descent. Of course I had to walk stretches. Some parts were so steep that walking was a challenge as well, but gradually I got a feeling for the slope and I was able to ride stretches, including the narrow hairpins. When I finally reached the valley, it was another 4km upstream before I could cross the wild river to start on the way back.

After crossing the bridge, it was all 4×4 track, along Dartlo. But it was hard work to climb again two times 400m to reach Omalo. I had used up a lot of energy already. On the descents I was able to use an alternative walking track to keep things interesting and get off the 4×4 track. Finally after 58km and six hours in the saddle I was back at the van. And that was actually spot on, because for planning I use an average of 10km per hour in Alpine terrain.

* for hikers, trekkers and bikers alike, about 50% of the available routes follow the dirt roads that are also used by the all the motorized traffic. That traffic mainly consists of 4x4 taxi vans to shuttle all the tourists. Despite gravel surfaces they drive just like the taxis in town: like crazy. No wonder there are so many crosses along the roads here. This driving style also creates a lot of dust under dry conditions.   

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