Climbing in Georgia: A Journey to the Caucasus

Before planning our trip to Georgia, we would often be asked ‘Is there climbing there?’ or ‘Why are you going there for climbing?’. The answer is yes, there is climbing here and that Georgia is worth visiting because it is a beautiful and interesting country. One thing you will hear about before you visit are the friendly Georgian people and you will certainly receive a warm welcome throughout your time in the country. The climbing here is fierce and is a test of your mettle, you will almost certainly leave stronger than you arrived.

Narrow limestone canyon of Katskhi climbing area. At the bottom there is a wooden tiled hut. On the right hand wall there is a climber on a vertical grey limestone climbing a route.
Butterfly 6c+, Canyon

Currently (as of Spring 2022) there is no official guidebook for the rock climbing in Georgia. However, there are two main online sources of information and topos for climbing. Guga’s blog, here, has the most relevant information and topos, as well as Climbing.ge.

Climbing recommendations

Imereti Region

Katskhi

Katskhi is a beautiful part of Georgia, one that is famous for its rock formations. Most people will know Katskhi because of the Katskhi pillar, a 40 meter high rock pinnacle with a monastery on top. The pillar is a significant religious site and only monks are allowed to climb to the top. However, the pillar isn’t the only cool piece of rock in Katskhi, and there are several nice crags in the surrounding area.

Large limestone pillar with a small Katskhi monastery complex on the top. In the background there are small bands of rock with a tall snowy mountain.
A beautiful day in the Katskhi valley

Sector Tsunami is arguably the best crag at Katskhi and it was definitely one of our favourites. Tsunami currently has around 20 routes, and definitely has the potential for more. The grades range from 5a all the way up to 8b, as well as some unclimbed projects. The majority of the best routes here are in the 6b+ to 7b range. Don’t be surprised if the grades feel a bit stiffer than you’re used to elsewhere!

A climber tackling the steep and overhang sector of Tsunami at Katskhi
I.D 7a+, Tsunami

Tsunami gets its name because the crag rises out of the hillside like a steeply crested wave. The climbing here is really enjoyable, on lots of big pockets with kneebars, long powerful moves and undercuts. Although the routes are only around 15 meters long, they pack a punch and your forearms will know about it after doing a few routes here. The crag is also steep enough to allow climbing in the rain, it also seemed to rarely get wet and dry very quickly.

The steep limestone crag of Tsunami at Katskhi
Sector Tsunami with the pillar in the background

Sector Canyon is good sector for vertical wall climbing, on an unusual shaped and aesthetically pleasing crag. There are around 15 routes here, ranging from 5c to 7b+, which are also stiffly graded. Unfortunately some of the holds here are chipped or glued, something that dates back to climbing competitions held in the area in the 70s and 80s. Despite this, the routes are still enjoyable to climb. The routes here, as in the other areas, have been recently re-bolted at a very high standard.

A climber on a vertical limestone wall at sector canyon. There are streaks of yellow and grey on the wall.
Surprise 6b+, Canyon

The Canyon sector is in a really nice setting, with a view of the pillar in the background, a nice flat base to chill out and some interesting cabins. We understand the cabins are owned by monks from the monastery, although they weren’t inhabited while we were there. Better still, Canyon and Tsunami are only 5 minutes walk apart.

Narrow limestone canyon of Katskhi climbing area. At the bottom there is a wooden tiled hut and grass. On the right hand wall there is a climber on a vertical grey limestone climbing a route.
Butterfly 6c+, Canyon

Sector Cave is right next to Canyon and has 5 routes between 6a+ and 7a+. Although the sector is called cave, it isn’t as steep as Tsunami so isn’t as good for climbing in the rain. However, it is still steep enough to test your fitness and the routes here are around 25 meters, 10 meters longer than routes in the neighbouring Canyon and Tsunami.

The large limestone crag of sector canyon. At the bottom of the canyon there is a small wooden hut with a tiled roof
A cabin at Canyon Sector

In the area there are several other sectors which between them have around 40 routes. The valley has lots of nice rock and surely has the potential for new routes. The Katskhi area was one of our favourite in Georgia with a good selection of routes to choose from and set in a nice part of the country. The Katskhi/ Chiatura area has good enough weather to climb at most times of the year. We visited in late winter/ early spring, which is a risky time to visit for climbing. Some days we got lucky and other days not, but we always managed to find things to do and enjoy.

Large limestone freestanding wall with bare winter trees surrounding the base
Sector Cave

Sveri

We didn’t get to climb anything in Sveri, as the time we were there in late winter, the weather was not suitable for climbing. However, we still met up with local climbers and visited the Sveri Adventure camp, which in the high season is the hub of climbing and activity in the area. The climbing in Sveri is really well suited to the warmer months, as many of the crags face north or have shade at various times of the day. There are around 45 routes here, between 10 – 25 meters with a grade range from 5a to 7c.

Wooden hut at the Sveri campsite. There is a massive amount of snow on the roof, on the ground and sprayed across the side of the cabin.
Sveri Adventure Camp in winter, we had a very warm and comfortable nights sleep thanks to the wood burning stove.

The camp is really well set up to cater for climbers and other travellers. Depending on your ability, it is possible to hire equipment or get instruction while you are here. If you are already an experienced climber, the camp provides a comfortable place to chill in a great location, only a short walk from the crags. The area also has the potential for new routing and you can inquire about this with local climbers before you arrive.

As well as climbing, there are numerous other activities in Sveri, such as via ferrata, castles, monasteries, hiking, mountain biking, rafting, caving and canyoning.

Don’t be discouraged by the weather when we visited, we knew the risks of visiting in the winter months, and even without climbing we still had a fun time.

Chiatura

The Chiatura crag is visible from the town centre and is just above the huge LED clock that towers over one side of the valley. There are around 24 routes here, roughly 20 meters long, which are well bolted. The rock is quite unusual, perhaps linked to the local geology which is famed for its manganese reserves. In practice this means the rock can be loose in places, so consider wearing a helmet, especially for belaying.

A steep and black limestone crag overlooking Chiatura. In the background there are old soviet tower blocks
Chiatura city crag

This crag is not the best of what is on offer in the area, although it is still worth a visit if you are staying in or around Chiatura. Nearby Katskhi has a better quality and quantity of routes to enjoy. However, the crag was less than 10 minutes walk from our accommodation in Chiatura so offers a great quick hit for climbing, as well as a good view of the city and its famous cable car lines.

Tbilisi area

Tbilisi is a historical and intriguing city that has been inhabited for thousands of years. Today Tbilisi has a diverse mix of historic and culturally significant buildings, as well as a host of sleek modern architecture. In the city you can find bustling markets, delicious food and museums of Georgian history. The city is the beating heart of the country and is a must visit as part of any trip in Georgia.

A large Orthodox Church with gold dome roof and grand walkway with crosses at the side.
The Holy Trinity Church of Tbilisi

Monument

The Lotkin Monument in Tbilisi is a really fun and unique place to climb. The Monument is plumb vertical, 40 meters high and made of concrete. There is an ongoing project to create a climbing area here that is accessible to everyone. There are currently 14 bolted lines (1 of which is a dry tooling route) and the best topos and information can be found here. The routes range in grade from 5a to 7b. The monument is easy to access, has lots of enjoyable climbs and a great view of Tbilisi.

Large circular concrete monument with graffiti at the base and climbing wall holds creating routes up to 40 meters. There is a climber on a route.
Climbing one of the Monuments 40 meter routes

One of the coolest things to climb here is a route made from small stones and pebbles. Instead of bolting on holds like the other routes, this climb has had real rock glued on for holds. It gives really fingery and unrelenting climbing for 30 meters at 7b. The Monument also has a boulder traverse, a pull up bar and some other training equipment. It is a really nice facility to have in the city and the fact it is free for all to use is testament to the hard work of the local climbing community.

Large circular concrete monument with graffiti at the base and climbing wall holds creating routes up to 40 meters around the inside of the monument.
A view from inside the Monument

Botanical Gardens

The National Botanical Garden of Tbilisi is a historical nature reserve, just out of view of the city. It is even possible to catch a cable car most of the way, followed by a short walk to the crag. The Botanical Garden is around 161 hectares and has over 4,500 taxonomic groups. For climbers, Botanical Garden offers 26 routes, some of which are fully bolted, some top rope only, as well as 17 documented boulders problems. There is the opportunity for many more bouldering traverses and link ups if you run out of problems.

Small limestone sector in the Tbilisi Botanical garden
Botanical Gardens sector

The Botanical Garden is the most accessible crag from Tbilisi, although Monument is also close depending on where you are staying. The Botanical Garden is an old school venue, with some glued holds and signs of age. It is well suited for quick climbing hits and training. However, the crag is not as good as the other areas in Georgia, so make the effort to travel away from the city to explore other crags and not only here. One of the crags greatest assets is its calm and peaceful location, surrounded by interesting flora and cool modern architecture.

Birtvisi

Birtvisi is an area with bouldering and sport climbing, about 40 minutes drive from Tbilisi. There are currently 5 fully bolted sport routes and 16 documented boulder problems. There is the opportunity to do many more boulder problems at various grades, the area has a huge amount of rock. In fact, there are already a number of new boulders that have been sighted by local climbers as projects. Some of the rock can be loose or friable in places, so wear a helmet for belaying and proceed with caution on any new boulders you climb on.

Limestone climbing sector at Birtvisi. There is a climber on a route with the belayer stood in snow
Trying to stay warm on Nirvana 6a+

The weather was very wintery when we climbed in Birtvisi, so as well as climbing we did a lot of walking around and explored the area. It is a really interesting landscape with lots of aesthetic rock features, no doubt there will be many more routes here in the future. There is also a fortress set at a high point overlooking the rocks and a reservoir nearby that is a popular fishing spot.

Notable Areas We Missed

Because of the time of year we chose to visit, we didn’t go to certain crags as they were out of season for rock climbing. However, depending on when you visit in, there are a number of other crags in Georgia that are definitely worth mentioning. The main areas are in Kazbegi, the crags called Arsha and Tsdo, as well as Mestia in the Svaneti region. These crags are all in mountain areas, known to be some of the most beautiful parts of Georgia and as such are best visited in the warmer seasons.

Rest Day Activities

The rest day activities we have listed below are only a handful of the things we did while we were in Georgia. We have chosen to share these places because of the areas they are in and how much we enjoyed them. Everything apart from Vardzia is located in the Imereti region, giving easy access from Chiatura or Kutaisi and perfect for day trips from the climbing areas in the region.

Dikhashkho Sulphur Geyser

The Dikhashkho sulphur geyser is a free natural hot spring set in peaceful surroundings, around 40 minutes drive from Kutaisi. The pools are next to a river, in a flat agricultural landscape. The drive to the spring is unassuming and it is an impressive sight to see the flowing travertine pools appear, seemingly from nowhere.

Two hot spring pools which has a fountain of water filling it. The water is a white blue colour. The hot springs are in a plain grassy area.
The Dikhashkho sulphur geyser

The water temperature is very pleasant at around 40 °C. Bathing in early spring was a pleasure and we never felt the need to get out, as is common in ‘not-so-hot springs’. We spent over an hour relaxing in the pools and had the entire area to ourselves. Although named a geyser, Dikhashkho actually discharges water consistently at a normal pressure and is constantly replenishing the pools with fresh hot water.

Mgvimevi Convent

The Mgvimevi Convent is situated only a short walk from the centre of Chiatura, making it a great place to visit after climbing or as part of a rest day. The convent was founded in the 13th century and is built into the side of a cliff. There are a number of small churches at Mgvimevi, with some beautiful ornate stonework on the outside of the buildings and well preserved frescos on the inside.

A stone church, with ornate carvings set into a limestone cliff
The Mgvimevi Convent

Nokalakevi Hot Sulfur Spring

The Nokalakevi hot spring is one of the best free, natural hot springs we have visited. It is an hours drive from Kutaisi. The water temperature is amazing, at the source the water is almost boiling, here it is too hot to even submerge a hand or foot. From there the water cascades down towards the river, creating a beautiful waterfall of travertine. You can shower or ‘sauna’ under the waterfall, but be warned the water here is still piping hot!

The hot spring flows over the small cliff. The minerals in the water has created a white mineral waterfall. There is steam rising from the waterfall.
The travertine cascade at Nokalakevi

When we visited there were some handmade pools down by the river bed which were the perfect temperature for bathing. The water is still hot, but they are comfortable to sit in. In these pools you are only a few meters from the river, which is perfect for jumping in to cool off before enjoying your next round of soaking in the thermal pools.

The reason we liked it here so much was that it is natural, it has very hot water, it is in a nice location with the cool river, it wasn’t particularly busy and it’s free. We visited in early March and the springs were quiet and the air temperature was perfect for enjoying a soak.

Okatse Canyon

The Okatse Canyon is a national monument and popular short walk, in roughly the same area as the Nokalakevi hot spring. Various sources will say the walk takes around 3 hours, but in reality it is far less than that, closer to 1 hour. The main attraction is a hanging walkway on the canyon rim and a large viewing platform that juts out above the canyon. The walk is very pleasant, but not extraordinary. The reason Okatse is worth a mention is because, when combined with the nearby hot spring and lunch in the town of Martvili (which also has a canyon), you can enjoy a relaxing and varied rest day from climbing. There is also a beautiful waterfall further up the valley from the canyon, which can also be easily incorporated into a rest day around Martvili.

A blue tit sitting on a bare winter's branch
A friendly local

Vardzia

Vardzia has been inhabited since the Bronze Age and construction of the cave monastery complex is thought to have begun in the 12th century. To many people, the sight of Vardzia may remind them of Cappadocia. However, what sets Vardzia apart is that it is still an active monastery, with 5 monks still living in the cave complex. The monastery has hundreds of chambers and passages, and around 13 different levels. Vardzia was once a larger, underground complex until a huge earthquake destroyed much of the city, leaving the semi exposed cliff full of rooms you see today.

An ancient cave city carved into the side of the cliff. There are metal staircases which allows tourists the explore the different levels.
A view up the valley from the middle of Vardzia

Vardzia is located in a stunning river valley in the southern part of the Samtskhe–Javakheti region. As well as the cave monastery, there are also other monastery complexes, churches and fortresses to see. Despite all the cliffs and boulders around Vardzia, don’t get your hopes up for climbing. The rock is loose and friable so it’s not suitable for climbing. Just down the road from Vardzia is a cool hot spring pool. Phone the number on the door and for a small fee a friendly local will let you in to enjoy the pool at your leisure. It is a great temperature and the perfect way to relax after making the journey to Vardzia.

A large hot steamy pool in concrete room with a tin roof and a small window.
The sulphur pool near Vardzia

Georgian Cuisine

Georgia is famous for its delicious and diverse cuisine, anybody who is visiting the country should make sure to enjoy the local food. Georgians are excellent cooks and a lot of passion and good ingredients go into their food.

Khachapuri is perhaps Georgias most widely known dish and for good reason, they are delicious and addictive! Khachapuri is essentially a dish made from bread and cheese, and can come in many different forms. Our favourite was Adjarian Khachapuri which is like a bread boat, filled with melted cheese with an egg and a knob of butter on top. It is total heaven. Imereti Khachapuri is a close second.

Khinkali are another staple of Georgian cuisine and from speaking to Georgian people, it seemed to be their favourite dish of all. Khinkali are dumplings, made from dough crimped together at the top, which forms a handle you hold when eating them. The dumplings are traditionally filled with meat and spices and when taking your first bite you get all the delicious meat juices from inside the dumpling. You can also get khinkali with other fillings, such as mushrooms and cheese.

White khinkali dumplings on a plate in a restaurant
A plateful of delicious Khinkali

Lobio is a traditional hearty Georgian bean stew, served in a ceramic pot. The beans are often accompanied by various different herbs and spices, chopped walnuts and other ingredients. Lobio vary in flavour depending on where you are, but we’ve never been disappointed. Be sure to check out Lobiani as well, which is essentially bread filled with Lobio.

Georgian wine is superb and Georgia is famous for its wine production. However, the wine is Georgia is not the same as ‘European wine’. That is because Georgian wine is made in a Qvevri. A Qvevri is a large egg shaped clay pot, buried in the ground. Georgian wine uses the whole grape, stalks & pips included, and leaves the wine to ferment underground. Evidence of Qvevri wine making in Georgia goes back 8,000 years, and it still plays an important role in Georgian culture today.

An interesting stall in a indoor market with fruit and nuts
A market stall of Churchkhela and Tklapi, Kutaisi

We could talk all day about various different foods we loved in Georgia, but then we might spoil the surprise for you. We will leave you with a list of other foods and drinks to search out when you visit Georgia: Elarji, Kharcho, Chakapuli, Khashlama, Chikhirtma, Pelamushi, Churchkhela, Tonis & Shotis Puri, Mchadi & Chvishtari, Flavoured Lemonades, Chacha and Sulguni. We could list more, but this is supposed to be about climbing!

Summary

There is a lot to love about Georgia, a place with great food and friendly people, it is a recipe for enjoyment. Climbing in Georgia is still young and is yet to hit its stride. Climbing is slowly increasing in popularity and there will no doubt be a strong climbing scene in years to come. Exploring the country is a pleasure and gives an extra dimension to a trip than climbing alone. To make the experience even more enjoyable, make the effort to meet local climbers and local people. Their knowledge and kindness is invaluable and is one of Georgia’s greatest assets.

To read more about climbing in the Caucasus, you can read more articles here.

Good information about the climbing and topos

https://climbing.ge/outdoor

Sveri Adventure camp

https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Tourist-Information-Center/Sveri-Adventure-Camp-სვერის-სათავგადასავლო-ბანაკი-104410281307305/

www.viaferrata.ge

Useful information and resource for tourists visiting Georgia

https://wander-lush.org/georgia-travel-guide/

3 thoughts on “Climbing in Georgia: A Journey to the Caucasus

    • TheCragJournal 28th Mar 2022 / 1:17 PM

      Thanks, as always, for your comment 😊We really enjoy visiting different places, cultures and landscapes. We feel so lucky to be able to do so!

      Liked by 1 person

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