TECHUNTER takes us to the Kazbegi Mountain Marathon and the Georgian outdoor universe

The TECHUNTER team ventured into the mountains of Georgia, specifically the region around mount Kazbek, to explore its surroundings, history, geography and the legendary Kazbegi Mountain Marathon. Along with runners and friends Jodie and Giuliano, the team took on the 10km and 30km distances of this breathtaking skyrace. They also spent some quality time in the mountains prior to the race and decided to share their experience with us. Enjoy.

Mount Kazbek is a stratovolcano. It consists of many layers (strata) of lava and other material that comes out of a volcano during eruptions, and it usually cools and hardens before spreading too far from its source. This is a reason for the steep profile of such mountains. The summit of the great mountain was first climbed in 1868 by D. W. Freshfield, A. W. Moore, and C. Tucker of the Alpine Club, with the guide François Devouassoud. They were followed by female Russian alpinist Maria Preobrazhenskaya, who made the climb nine times starting in 1900.

The Mountain is situated in the middle of the Greater Caucasus. Standing 5054 meters above sea level, Mount Kazbek is the 6th tallest in the whole Great Caucasus and is the 2nd tallest volcanic-type peak in the Caucasus, outmatched only by the mighty Mount Elbrus. Mount Kazbek is the 5th highest ultra-prominent peak (1.500 m. above its surroundings) in all of Europe and is taller than any other peak in the continent, except the Great Caucasus mountains. It is located to the west of Stepantsminda town (formerly known as Kazbegi) and together with a nearby Gergeti Trinity Church dominates the landscape.

The Georgian name for the mountain is “Mkinvartsveri”, meaning, not directly, “the Glacier Peak” and in a language of local Nakh people – “Molten Mount”.

The mountain finds itself a center for many legends from all around the world. One of the most famous ones is of Prometheus. As the story goes, after giving the fire to mankind, Zeus ordered Prometheus to be chained to Mount Caucasus, where a raven was sent to peck at his liver. It is not confirmed whether Prometheus was chained to Mount Kazbek exactly, as authors refer to a peak in the Caucasus without naming the exact place, yet there is an interesting parallel to Georgian legend, where another god-like being – Amirani, challenged God and after losing the battle was chained to what Georgians call Mkinvartsveri – modern Kazbek.

Within the mountain itself lies probably the most mysterious place in all of Georgia – Betlemi cave. There is a legend among the local peoples, that when Mongols invaded Georgia, young warrior-men rushed with horses to the cave to hide the most important treasures of the country. Willing to keep the secret at all costs, men took their own lives. The cave, closed by an iron gate, would be accessed only by the one of pure heart, when a chain tied to the mountain revealed itself, which granted access to the cave. Another connection to Prometheus. The cave is even related to Abraham’s tent and the Golden fleece, which according to the legend was hidden in Colchis (modern day Georgia). This is where Jason and the Argonauts set out to look for it.

Kazbegi Mountain Marathon is an annual skyrace held in Georgia in September. The marathon is included in the UTMB® World Series Qualifiers, certified by the International Trail Running Association (ITRA) and courses through the Caucasus Mountains in the northern part of the country. The starting and finishing points are in the town of Kazbegi located on the historical military road. The Kazbegi Mountain Marathon is both the largest as well as the first mountain racing event held in the Caucasus.

Over the years the race offered different routes: 4km Fun run (elevation gain 300m), 10km Trail run (e.g. 900m), 15km Skyrace (e.g. 1,300m), 30km Extreme distance (with elevation gain of 2,500m, which requires pre-qualification for each runner).

The marathon is organized by TrailLab and attracts athletes from USA, Germany, England, France, Italy, Japan, Germany, Kazakhstan, Israel, Kenya, the toughest local runners, as well as runners from the immediate neighboring Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia. The breathtaking Extreme route takes the elite participants from the Gergeti village at the 2000m altitude through the stunning Gergeti glacier up to the Bethlemi Hut and weather station at the 3700m of elevation, where mountaineers take refuge before summiting Kazbek itself.

This first and the main accent is going straight from the starting line to the top, which means you’re getting 95% of your altitude gain during the first 10km. If you were fortunate enough to reach the weather station within the cut-off time, a long downhill awaits you from the peak to the valley below. Roughly, the race is like you attempting to climb the Kazbek, at a running pace, and at the base camp you realise you forgot all of your mountaineering equipment and swiftly run back.

The race was a culmination of the TECHUNTER team exploration of the Kazbegi region, and their athletes were fortunate enough to face all of the skyrace’s high-altitude difficulties and successfully finish this adventure. The entire journey was portrayed through Ivan Dzhatiev’s lens.

Testi di Gianmarco Pacione

Content creators: Techunter Magazine