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Big, Steep, Scary

A ski mountaineering, photography and story telling project about climbing and skiing the 5000m peaks of Georgia (Caucasus): Shkhara (5193m), Janga-Tau (5058m) and Mkinvartsveri (Kazbek; 5034m).

Bezengi Wall: One Day...

In June 2010 Boris Avdeev and I stood on top of Shkhara, a 5193m high, very difficult summit in the Caucasus. Shkhara is the highest point of the Bezengi Wall, a 12 km long mountain massif largely above 4500 m along the Georgian-Russian border. Shkhara also marks the eastern end of the wall, and is either the last or first summit of the Bezengi traverse – a traverse of the entire massif, over multiple 4500-5000 m summits, and one of the greatest alpine challenges in the Caucasus and Europe.
A few weeks later Boris writes me - “one day we have to do the traverse”. This day will never come. Boris perishes in an avalanche in April of last year. We were to climb Janga-Tau (5058 m) together a few weeks later, a remote and seldom climbed peak in the central part of the Bezengi Wall. After 2 months in a mental hole, full of doubt about the sense of going to the mountains, and filled with lack of motivation and self-discipline, I travel to Georgia again. On June 22rd I summit Janga-Tau with Robert Koschitzi. As I sit on the summit and watch Robert coming up, I look to great Shkhara rising behind him, where Boris and I stood two years earlier, and then look behind me, to the remaining summits of the Bezengi wall to the West. I wonder if I will ever make the traverse. Maybe, one day...
(Published as Leica Fotografie International Photo Story)

Robert Koschitzki near the summit of Janga-Tau, with Shkhara looming in the background.
Leica Fotografie International X1 Mastershot

Janga-Tau (5058 m)

2005 I came first to the Caucasus of Georgia. The place captured me instantly, like no other had before. Soon the idea to climb and ski all three 5000m mountains of Georgia was born: Shkhara (5193m), Janga-Tau (5058m) and Mkinvartsveri (Kazbek, 5034m). In 2006 and 2008 Deon Louw, Andreas Riesner and I made two first ski descents from the summit of Mkinvartsveri. In 2010 Boris Avdeev and I stood on the summit of Shkhara, the most difficult and dangerous of the three. Before I started the difficult ski descent from Shkhara, I saw in the distance the east flank of Janga-Tau emerging from the clouds, and I imagined skiing it one day.
In June 2012 finally, after numerous adventurous trip to Caucasus, years of preparation and training came down to that one moment, as I reach the summit Janga-Tau with Robert Koschitzki, and thenI ski down the east flank of Janga-Tau, finishing the project, with great Shkhara looming in the background….
(Published as Leica Fotografie International Photo Story)


Shkhara (5193m)

Shkhara (5193 m) is the highest mountain of Georgia, and the third highest in Europe. Shkhara sees few ascents, mostly from the easier Russian side. Together with Boris Avdeev I climbed the south pillar in 2010, and I could also ski from the summit. It was amongst my hardest climb and definitely my most difficult ski descent. I am often in Georgia, and whenever I see the mountain, I am filled with deep respect and a shiver runs down my spine at the thought of our tour back then. My Georgian friend Tato Nadiradze – who has also climbed Shkhara – and I have come to call the mountain “an (aggressive) animal”. All routes are long, steep, and objectively dangerous, and retreat is almost impossible when something happens. The weather is very changeable and can be fierce. It is a mountain that gets you, if you are not very, very careful.
(Published as Leica Fotografie International Photo Story)

During our 2010 trip, Boris Avdeev and I climbed the south pillar. I made the first accurate DGPS survey of the summit (5193m), supported by GeoAT and Jonathan de Ferranti. I also managed to make the first partial ski descent of the south pillar (TD+, to 55°+).


Mkinvartsveri/Kazbek (5034m): The Quest to Ski the SE Face Direct (50°+)

In 2005, at the end of our first trip to the Caucasus, I saw Mkinvartsveri (5034m) and its SE face. A 3-years quest to ski the face started, with several attempts and a close call when Deon fell down the face on our first ski descent attempt. 2008 I skied the route completely with Andreas Riesner. It is rated 1300m, 50+degr, 3B. We also made first descents of two other routes on the mountain, and of Ortsveri (4365m) NE face (45°+). Recently Trevor Hunt and I visited also the remote N-NE side: >>Georgia | Caucasus 2013.

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