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Ettore Campana X Scalo Sogni, Part 3

Ride Deep into the Caucasus Mountains

Climb 31,200 meters in the remote Caucasus Mountains between Georgia and Russia

"Georgia reminded me of what mountains should look like, which is a place of solemn peace and not a tool forged to satisfy our hobbies and entertainment." — Ettore Campana

Majestic Caucasus Mountains

Ettore Campana has done something for those who can’t…at least not right now. Using the bike as a form of expression, he has inspired children who are hospitalized at the Brescia (Italy) Pediatric Oncology Unit to believe in themselves, to not give up and to keep their spirits high.

For the third chapter in his “Scalo Sogni” (Lofty Dreams) project, Ettore loaded up his Ritchey Outback and headed into the Caucasus Mountains to ride — unsupported — to stunning heights and ski when he found snow. He chose the Caucasus region because he wanted to explore an area that was still largely untouched by globalization. His goal was to reach wild valleys by bicycle and climb peaks by skis.

Surprising fact: in 30 days of remote travel by bike, Ettore didn’t suffer a single puncture!

Join Ettore as he takes you deep into the mountainous Svaneti and Kazbegi regions of eastern Georgia. Read to the end for a summary of the trip in numbers.

Words and images by Ettore Campana

Ettore Campana proudly displays the Georgian flag with his Outback

The journey offered different challenges and there was no shortage of adventure. I would start by saying that I found conditions very different from what I expected: April featured summer-like temperatures throughout Georgia, and that led to a lot of snow melting, which made summiting some peaks difficult.

Despite this, I managed to explore remote valleys where it’s still possible to live close to nature and away from globalization.

The Ritchey Outback with Ettore Campana out back in the Caucasus
As lonely as they are solemn, the mountains of Georgia

I designed a route based on the time I had and the mountain regions I wanted to explore. The idea was to try to avoid gravel routes because going off-road loaded with ski mountaineering gear isn’t fun. However, there were still lots of rugged, unanticipated, and very rocky roads.

There was one day when I was stuck in a hellishly muddy road when the tires seized because of the mud. I couldn’t even push the bicycle. Two locals heard my screams of frustration and came to my rescue. Together we carried my bicycle several kilometers.

The Svaneti region was undoubtedly the most fascinating. I reached it by pedaling along country roads with little traffic where animals still roam free. Cows, chickens, pigs, and horses don’t know what it’s like to be fenced in; they can enjoy life and eat what they find. It was nice to see happy animals.

Traffic was almost non-existent — perhaps the result of roads that turned treacherous without warning.

English was scarce in villages that were dominated by ancient and awe-inspiring medieval towers, so I communicated through gestures and miming.

People of the Caucasus region proved helpful, generous, and trustworthy.
Georgian flavor comes from unique spice blends

I was always the only guest at the guesthouses where I stayed. There were no supermarkets or restaurants and so I ate only what the lady of the house prepared for me, like khachapuri (flatbread stuffed with cheese), badrigiani (stuffed eggplant), khinkali (Georgian topknot dumplings), and kharcho (stew with Caucasian flavors).

Crime in these areas is non-existent, so much so that the bike was almost never secured, and the guesthouse rooms couldn’t even be locked.

I had few human encounters on this trip, but I did find myself having to contend with stray dogs. From day one, I had to deal with very aggressive dogs that chased me furiously while I was pedaling — I lost my voice screaming, trying to defend myself, and I often had to throw stones to scare them.

One night, as I was leaving to summit a peak, I had a particularly unpleasant experience.

I was walking in the dark when the beam of my headlamp suddenly picked up a flurry of yellow eyes. Several dogs flew into a rage when they saw me passing. It was raining and I couldn't see well, but I could hear many dogs barking and growling at me only a few steps away.

It was very scary but luckily, a rush of adrenaline allowed me to react and face them.

Despite these episodes, I also had incredible encounters with adventurous and faithful dogs who accompanied me from time to time. There were the dogs that followed me through the snow up to 3000m (9,843’), and others that accompanied me while I pedaled for hours uphill in the rain.

Some dogs also defended me from the aggression of others. They made me feel less lonely and I became very attached to them.

How to dress for riding in the Georgian snow
Snow as far as you can ride

The Caucasus Mountains are wild with many totally untouched valleys because there are no roads, facilities, trails, or shelters — only nature.

Only nature and Ettore in the Caucasus mountains

I often stopped to look at the view and thought, "If this was in Italy, we would’ve already built a high-elevation hotel and ski resort."

Georgia reminded me of what mountains should look like, which is a place of solemn peace and not a tool forged to satisfy our hobbies and entertainment.

The adventure in the Caucasus was tiring and perhaps less fun at some times as opposed to others, but it was one-of-a-kind, and it allowed me to deal with different environmental, climatic, and inner challenges.

I was frustrated that I hadn't found the conditions I was hoping for but in the end, fate rewarded perseverance by giving me a window of good weather for the ascent of Kazbek 5054m (16,581’) — the mountain I most aspired to climb.

The poor snow conditions (except for Kazbek, where I found lots of fresh snow that fell in a few days), forced me to adjust and adapt, an essential element of every adventure.

The Caucasus Mountains are rugged, wild, severe and offer major challenges not only on a technical level but also on a logistical level to reach them.

I would recommend only the first section this route, the Svaneti region is beautiful, the traffic is scarce, the roads are fun, and there’s so much to explore.

I wouldn’t recommend the second stage of the trip. I did it because I wanted to climb Mt. Kazbek, which was the journey’s biggest goal. There’s only one real way to get up there, and the roads were busy, frenetic, and dangerous.

Scalo Sogni in the Caucasus mountains

I hope these worlds remain as they are: pure and seemingly unattainable because, in a world where we desperately try to enable access at the expense of others, it gladdens the heart to know that it’s still not possible in these lands.


Total duration: 30 days

Countries: Georgia (Russia, during the ascent of Kazbek)

Total km (cycling, trekking, ski mountaineering):

1400km (870 miles) with 31.200D+ (102,362’)

Mountain passes: 5

Peaks: 15

3x2000m (6562’)

9x3000m (9843’)

2x4000m (13,123’)

1x5000m (16,404’)

Highest Pass: Zagari Pass 2620m (8596’)

Highest peak: Kazbek 5054m (16,581’)

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