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Sweaty in Svaneti: Day 01

Sweaty in Svaneti: Day 01

08/16/2016 | Mazeri, Georgia

Our birthdays have an undeniable place of importance in our lives.

Sweaty in Svaneti: Day 01


I Day 01 Stats & Intro

START – STOP: Mazeri – Mazeri


DISTANCE: 10.9 mi










  • The Georgian Army Camp/Fort. With Russia on the other side of the hill these guys stand watch for invasion and incursions NOTE: we were not allowed to take their photographs. Though we did get photographs of their dogs.
  • The Georgian Army Camp Dogs. I don’t know how the Georgians managed to domesticate bears, but they did and they call them dogs.
  • The Ushba Glacier. Kinda the whole point of today. At one point we were walking on it. Was that smart? Probably not.
  • The Ushba Glacier Waterfall. Basically if you were a video game designer and you were tasked with creating the most waterfall of waterfalls, you’d probably come up with this thing.
  • The variety of trekkers and hikers. I mean WOW. Young and old, foreign and domestic, capable and not, the people watching on the hike was tremendous.




WEATHER: This was our first taste of the Caucasian humidity. The sun was out and we were sweating. Like really, really sweating. But it didn’t rain and maybe for a minute it looked like a storm was coming in. That was when we were hiking on the glacier—maybe it was Fod’s way of saying “Hey guys, that move, the hiking-on-the-glacier move, is ill-advised. But you don’t seem to get it. So I’ll have to warn you, because I like you guys, or at least one of you guys. I am not going to name names, that’d be unnecessarily divisive. But just know I’m looking out for one of you, and the rest of you are lucky to know him.”



Our birthdays have an undeniable place of importance in our lives. Celebrated with fanfare or quietly passed by,  they’re loaded with expectation. Some people like to deny it, claiming that their birthday holds no significance, just another day they say, but that statement drips with a self-aware acknowledgement. Our birthdays have a particular and elevated position in the timeline of our lives. If you’re a birthday denier, phooey. If you live in a society where the calendar drives decisions then every year—like it or not—you have to deal with your birthday. Our birthdays are significant as a consistent and ever-present gauge for self-assessment and personal condemnation. These are critical days and they can easily be overthought, overwrought, and overanalyzed.


Today was/is my birthday. Well and good right? What did I have to worry about? You’re going to look through these photos, read through this story and quite possibly think, “That’s how I want to spend my birthday.” I was a penitent at the foot of a grand and exotic mountain range, awaiting what would prove to be an outstanding adventure and experience. Above me Mt. Ushba, with its temple-shaped peak, sparkled in refracted sunlight, a geological Parthenon in the clouds. Around me a light wind played through the valley and the bells of cows and coos of chickens floated staccato over the static rushing roar of the nearby river. Simple beauty.


But it was at this moment that I was struck with a case of the Ws: who, what, where, when, how and most importantly why? The treacherous minions of doubt and anxiety. I wasn’t surprised they found me, even in this place. They had been unleashed by news of my birthday. The Ws stir up the kind of existential anxiety that blocks out the sun and rains on parades. We’re talking about emotional paralysis. But what was the issue? Ostensibly things were going my way right? Turns out it wasn’t that it wasn’t beautiful or that I wasn’t grateful for the opportunity. It was the converse, the why me was the result of feeling inadequate to my fortune, a feeling of being spoiled, of being gifted something I was not yet worthy of; namely, being given the opportunity to ride/push/drag my bicycle through some of the most beautiful mountains that I have ever seen. Maybe I am the only one who thinks this way, but I doubt that. Decision anxiety, information overload, etc, etc.—itd can be debilitating.

But time waits for no man, and Tazer is basically time incarnate.”- YJ

Today we’ve planned a ride-to-hike that will take us up to a glacier, so we have to get going. I am not one to spoil everyone’s fun on account of my own fruitless contemplation. And as we set out these thoughts continued to plague me. We biked. Daniel’s bike broke, we fixed it. We crossed a couple roaring rivers, climbed what was once a jeep track, talked with some Georgian Rangers, and then hiked up the side of a mountain and onto a glacier. It groaned, rocks slid, the wind blew and time, the passage of time, the awareness of the passage of time, discretely disappeared. Not in an, “Oh shit it’s night time already,” kinda way (although there was a little of that) but more in a, “Time, what’s time?” kinda way. You know that in-the-moment moment that diffuses consciousness, like your brain just got out of prison? Here in the chilling deadly comfort of a glacier I found myself reclining in the lap of a glacial erratic watching the clouds breathe over the tops of mountains while butterflies did their thing and my friends cackled at some version of an off-color joke. Doubt, anxiety, et al. had retreated, vanished. It was me and the moment, immediate awareness was at full volume.


Later, when we are down the mountain, this question about being worthy no longer weighed on me. Gone was judgment and criticism. There was no call for reasoning, perhaps that’s because there is truly no need for it. Because all of this is unreasonable, this whole show,  doesn’t need to make sense because it won’t, it can’t. This demand for immediacy, for unfiltered experience is hardwired deep into our brains, somewhere in the lizard part right next to the heart beat controls. Over the course of our evolution we’ve buried it because reasoning/planning/expectation has proved to be highly beneficial, and while burying this primitive has given us all sort of great things like dental hygiene and a life expectancy longer than that of a domesticated dog, it also fetters our ability to have an immediate and visceral experience of the world. We are oriented to believe that there is too much at stake. And to continue to live the lifestyle that we’ve created there probably is, but when we get there, when we return to the primitive—the picking-fleas-off-each-other’s-back, stone knives, raw meat state of mind—we upend the hegemony of the modern mind. And this is why I was here–conscious, sub-conscious, unconscious–whatever was guiding me knew what it was doing.

I am not saying you need to go out and drag your bike over a hill to find a moment of nirvana, I am not even saying you need to go out and drag your bike over a hill. I’m saying that for a time I found inner peace and it was good.”- YJ

II Good Morning from The Grand Hotel Ushba
Today's goal? Bike/Hike to a glacier. Come back to the hotel, then ride five miles and camp.

9:27 AM
Hey Tur, you're not so tough when your head's stuck in a wall.
Brian can meditate anywhere, at anytime. What's the fire telling you Brian? Will we survive?
It was my birthday. So I had a few coffees.

III Leaving The Grand Hotel Ushba. Take 1.
We didn't want to leave. If you go there, you won't want to leave either.

10:51 AM
Day one, mile two. We had no choice but to give our feet, socks, and shoes a bath.
These guys were working at a gravel quarry.
This guy is obviously the supervisor.
See that cloud up there? That cloud is over Russia. Neat, right?
When you're in Georgia you trust bridges like this because if you don't, you're not going to get anywhere.
Just a little ice cold, boulder-strewn torrent.
11:37 AM
We specifically planned this trip to get into the bike pushing early.

IV The Hike Begins.
When you're beat, you're beat. It was time to put our bikes away and continue on like peasants.

At a certain point it was no longer feasible to continue on with our bikes. At first Tazer protested, claiming that they would certainly be pillaged. But Brian and Daniel camouflaged their bikes so even the most talented tracker wouldn't be able to find them. I know, you think you're just looking at a photograph of some reg-ass forest. In fact, there are two bikes in this image—swear. You'll just have to trust me though. Even if I pointed them out, you wouldn't be able to see them.
Tazer with a tough decision on his feet.
Tazer even hid his backpack. I'm surprised we could find our gear upon our return. We truly are masters of deception and camouflage. If you are interested in Yonder Journal's Five-Step camouflage process for dummies, let us know by sending an email to [email protected] We'll send you some camo info.
12:34 PM
Here's the thing: this river is moving SO fast. It's terrifying. You cannot fall into it. You fall, you die. So even though this bridge looks OK, you still have to weigh crossing it against assured death.
This is one of those Georgian Bear Dogs. For scale, the rock behind him is the size of a barn.
This is the ranger camp. They were not happy with us trying to take pictures of them so this is all we got. Come on, use your imagination.
At this point you start going up; we did about 3000 feet in 2.5 miles. I think that's steep. Is that steep?
1:10 PM
On the hunt.
Cool shit, Earth. Cool shit.
I'm not posing, I'm taking a rest. But it looks like a pose because it's a familiar image to those who follow mountaineering and general outdoor shit. Turns out when you do this kinda stuff you take rests often, and then you get your picture taken. Art follows life.
In repose atop a glacial erratic.
Hey... water! Where do you think you're going?
We stumbled upon this climbers shrine. Turns out that Mt. Ushba, though by no means the highest peak in the Caucasus, is actually one of the most difficult to climb. These plaques and artifacts are a shrine to those who have tried.

V Ushba Glacier

At this point we are officially on the Ushba glacier. Stunning? Yes. Wise? Definitely not.
2:59 PM

A brief scientific explanation of a particular Georgian experience and the conversation that sparked it. Science by Brian. "Shut Up Nerd" by Daniel and Kyle (Tazer too, by association). Shut Up, Nerd

Daniel: “Hey guys, I am pretty sure we’re actually on the glacier right now, and I don’t fucks with glaciers.”


Kyle: “You sure? It just looks like a bunch of rocks.”


Daniel: “Yeah I mean there’s snow over there. Pretty sure we’re on the glacier.”


[The sound of crashing rock comes from the ice cave located a couple hundred yards from us.]


Tazer: “Dan-yell, I think this is not safe.”


Brian:Guys, snowpack accumulation and glacier recession (ablation) have been discretely measured since the International Commission of Snow and Ice started recording in 1894. As measured quantitatively in the field and extrapolated qualitatively from satellite images, glaciers are currently losing 1.5 to 3 feet of ice thickness every year – a rate that is almost three times greater than during the last.



We may have been stupid enough to walk on the glacier, but we were smart enough not to go spelunking in this ice cave. That would be very stupid.
After seeing Brian bathe both of his feet, I made a quick prayer. Or rather, I mimed what a prayer looks like, cuz let's be real for a moment: if I am praying to some holy power to help me keep my feet dry that's A) kind of a selfish move like, "Hey god, I know you're fielding some pretty heavy shit at the moment, but could you take a second and provide a dry passage for me?" and B) if God answered this prayer, the way my mind works I'd be asking like, "What'd you give up to make this happen for me?" Everyone knows that when you multi-task you're way less effective. Even God has to know this. So I mimed a prayer because it looks good on camera and went for it.
3:10 PM
Mile 5
Pugs don't hike.
Mile 6.2
Due to our unparalleled camouflage technique our bikes were there when we returned. That was cool. But to be honest, we weren't that stressed about it.
Brian used a file to shape his cast to perfectly fit his handlebar. As you know, he's a scientist.
Let me tell you what's great about this picture. The matriarch of this group was attempting to cross this creek by walking along a narrow downed tree, you can see its branches sticking out in the lower lefthand part of this image. It was pretty thin and she did not look steady on it. Now I don't know if Brian saw that she was on the arbor tight rope, but he decided to just blast the creek crossing while she was negotiating the trickiest parts. All I will say is that she definitely slipped and completely submerged both of her legs up to her knees. I am not a cause-and-effect theorist, so I don't feel like I have the authority to draw any conclusions. Nevertheless, the rest of us waited for the rest of their group to get across before moving on.

VI Return to The Grand Hotel Ushba.
One more night please.

Mile 10
4:15 PM
By this point we had determined that there was no way we were going to ride five miles up to Guli Pass and camp. I think it was at some time on the glacier that we collectively decided we should stay at the Grand Hotel Ushba. The food was good, the accommodations were good, and the "easy" warm up hike that we had just completed not easy. We were tired. I think mostly this decision was based on the realization that we were really tired.
This dude's name is Max. He's German. He makes documentary films. He was cool.
8:37 PM
It might not even be dark outside at this point.
Sweaty in Svaneti
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