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Barely-Charted Heights

Inaccessible for much of the year, the village of Juta in Georgia’s Sno Valley is a portal to some of the most impressive scenery in the Caucasus.

Some days in life, you wake up feeling that fortune is smiling on you.

Such is the case as I make my way between the Hotel Rooms in Kazbegi, Georgia and the town of Achkoti in the Sno Valley. From here, we’ll transfer to a 4×4 for the next part of the journey: the 15km road trip up an unpaved track to Juta.

It’s not the weather that is engendering my feelings of positivity. It’s rainy and misty outside, and the temperatures on the northern slopes of the mighty Caucasus range are brisk. Even so, I can’t help feeling blessed.

There’s the perk of being in Georgia. It’s my first time in this incredible country, and I’m discovering why it’s high on the wish list for many travelers due to its unique culture, rich history, and incredible scenery. More specifically, I’m delighted to be able to reach Juta and hike the Chaukhi Mountains that surround the village.

At an altitude of around 2200 meters, Juta is one of the highest settlements in Europe. In fact it is inaccessible for much of the year. In late autumn, a thick blanket of snow covers the village and the track that leads to it. Generally speaking, it doesn’t clear until June. But this year, the thaw came early, allowing me to sample the splendor of the area for myself.

And splendid it most certainly is. The journey from Achtoki through the Sno Valley is stunning. As the 4×4 ascends the track, the more spectacular the views of the Kazbegi National Park become.

It feels like we are the only humans in the area.

From Juta village, we start our trek into the Chaukhi mountains. The first half-hour is steep and tough. As my calves strain against the incline, I think my luck has run out. After a while the trail levels out, and I can appreciate the surrounding scenery. By this time, the rain has stopped, and it seems like the clouds will clear, giving us widescreen views of the mountains.

However, once we reach beautiful Chauki lake, right before the Chaukhi Pass, which connects the Kazbegi region with Khevsureti, the clouds come in thick and heavy snow starts to fall. I still take the chance to send up my drone through the snow to see what I can capture. Quite a lot, as it turns out. After a quick breakfast, we turn around and head back. It isn’t until halfway back that we see other people trekking. The rest of the time, it feels like we are the only humans in the area.