June 2012 • Getting here was like threading a needle. You burn at least two days coming and going, and the weather is so fickle that the mountains could be shrouded in clouds by the time you finally start exploring on foot. My marshrutka (share taxi) was blocked by a rockslide, so we all had to spend the night in our seats—me, the driver, a dozen teenage girls returning home from a singing festival, and three adult female chaperones. Their nonstop snoring was a final kick to my shins. Next day I was catatonic from sleep deprivation and a Snickers breakfast, but the perfect weather and scenery brought me back. A huge thanks to Giorgi and his dog Buta for guiding me to the top of a mountain that overlooks the village of Mestia. Thanks also to his mom for feeding me when we came back down. And a solemn bow to the long-gone souls who built the stone defensive towers that dot the valleys. Wow.
Ushba, Caucasus Mountains