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Saturday, 7 April 2007

Etseri and Ushba, August 2004

Another journey which gave me much to dream about before it happened. Nodar's brother Sergo and I crossed a bridge over the Inguri from Etseri and then climbed and crossed the "mountain wall", taking about six hours to reach several log cabins on the other side. Here a few families spend the summer, grazing and milking their cattle, making nationally famous sulguni cheese and sending it back to Etseri weekly for sale elsewhere.

Sounds a simple trip, right? At one point early on, before we even crossed the river, my horse was going downhill at such a steep angle that I almost fell over its head, yelling in fear. On the other side we had to stumble, mounted, over an ice-and-snow bridge on a tributary to the main river. Then the long climb; glorious views, even Ushba showing through the clouds - without that peak I might not have bothered to shoot, so important is it; not far down to the cabins after that. After overnighting there I had new views the next morning, including one for the cover of a book on Svaneti I'm slowly writing. Mountainscapes gradually shrugging off their veils of cloud; even a short rainbow.

The trek back to Etseri was mostly downwards, down the mountain wall, and this is when it really got insane. Rain in the night had made the leaf-strewn ground slippery, and the horses made tiny mincing steps as they cautiously felt their way. Sensible enough: but at this rate it would take a very long time to get home. There was nothing for it but to speed things up. I followed my host's lead as we dismounted. Then all we could do was run down the blasted mountain pulling the horses behind us - two not huge men descending at a steep angle with large beasts slipping and sliding and snorting down their necks for several hours.

I had my photographs, the journey was behind me. Was it worth it? Well, I survived. Will I always?

A footnote to the story is that, of all the films from all three of my visits to Svaneti in 2005, only a single roll remains. It's the set with the wall-crossing trip's best shots on it, mercifully; but lost somewhere in Canada, stolen from an unlocked mailbox where well-meaning friends left them, are more views of Ushba, and all the frames from only my third ever trip to Ushguli. Such is life, occasionally tragic. Move on.

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