After spending one night in this valley I decided it was also a nice opportunity to ride the valley with the mountain bike.
We already scouted the valley with our camper van. It is possible to drive all the way up to the Zakagori Fortress with a 4×4. A normal car I would not recommend, but it is not impossible. Technically, you can drive even further up the valley, but alas, at the foot of the fortress is a military post. For tourists this is the end of the line.
Anyway, the valley can be accessed near the town of Almasiani, on the west side of the military highway, or E117. The dirt road follows the the river Terek in westerly direction. There is quite a lot to see for one valley:
- the Truso gorge
- The Abano mineral lake
- Numerous springs with limestone sediments, also called calcareous sinter or travertine
- ruins of old forts
- (almost) abandoned settlements
- a monastery
- military outposts
- vast plains and high mountains in every shade of green
Since we camped near Keterisi I decided to descent first, to the beginning, or is it the end, of the valley? Hmm. for travellers, usually where the valley deviates from the main road (the lower end) is called the beginning of the valley I guess. But for the river flowing through it, the start of the valley would be the upper end. I guess it’s a philosophical question.
Anyway, I went down, through the Truso Gorge, back to Kvemo Okrokana, and then the plan was to turn North, to discover the valley of Mna and see how far I could get on the mountain bike. As it would turn out not far at all. At Zemo Okrokana, not even one kilometre away, the fun was already over: a military post was there and tourists are not allowed to go beyond.
So, I turned around and started to ride back the same way, until I suddenly remembered that I read something about an old road that was not -or difficult- to negotiate into the valley. The Truso gorge itself is quite narrow and the road along the river (so I read) had just recently been blasted out of the rocks. I must say I had a bit of doubt about the “recently” part because the few bridges on this particular stretch looked quite old already.
Nevertheless, I found the start of the old road (actually google maps indicates this one as the only road) and it seemed to be possible to navigate with the mountain bike. What’s more, after riding it I would say that it is possible to drive with a 4×4 as well. At least at the time of writing, August 2021. There’s a power line running along the track so I guess it will accessible most of the time. There are some rough sections and you have to be be willing to drive through some overgrown sections of mainly birch trees. I rode from the west slope to the east slope of the pass. The west slope is most interesting and easiest to ride up. The east side is less interesting: there is a dense tree cover that does not allow sightseeing for the most part. The gorge itself cannot be seen from this route: the route runs too high on the slope which is too steep for a line of sight into the gorge.
For walking this route is not so interesting: it is longer and includes more altitude to be covered. with a mountain bike this is not so much of a problem. In fact, on this day I came across some of the same hikers three times during my ride.
After negotiating the pass, I took some time to admire the calcareous sinter before using the narrow foot bridge to get to the other side of the Terek river. From there it was single track to the Abano mineral lake, a mineral spring as well.
Very oddly, the spring itself is blue, but as soon as the water spills into the small river, the river bed turns reddish. The spring itself is quite deep. I could not see the bottom and the walls seemed to go straight down.
From there it was a “free ride” (not a clear marked route or trail) to the next settlement called Keterisi and some ruins of a fortress.
The Keterisi settlement had one house that was actually used, the rest of the settlement was only ruins. I guess it takes too much effort to maintain these buildings. It seems that only in summer the valley is occupied, and most Georgians build simple tents to allow them to stay here during the summer to herd cows and sheep.
At Keterisi, the ruins of the Zakagori fortress can be seen, so I rode the last 3 kilometres to the fortress, passing the Abano settlement of only one or two houses and the monastery.
I knew already that I would reach (again) the end of the line: a military outpost sits at the foot of the Zakagori Fortress. Beyond this military line not many people live in the remaining valley. I guess it was around 1990 that they had to abandon these valleys because of separatist movements and Russian military presence. These days some Georgians are allowed to re-occupy these valleys inside the military zone.
I went back to check out the Ktrisi Mineral “Vaucluse”, only a 500m sidestep from the main route. I found that this Vaucluse was not a “departement de France” but was it was another spring, emerging at the foot of the mountain.
So, a very complete mountain bike ride this time: a loop, a climb-able pass, a single track, and lots of things to see along the way.