The Caucasus has many stunning mountains, most of which are only accessible if you have a high level of mountaineering and climbing skills. Kazbegi is unique in that, with the proper training and guides, it can be climbed even by amateurs. The current shelter is situated at an altitude of 3700m- which inexperienced climbers would struggle to reach in a day. Further, there are sanitation and safety issues affecting the local environment. To help boost the potential of Mount Kazbegi, three Georgian entrepreneurs aim to build a new cabin- which will include a café, safety services, accommodation and equipment hire -on Mount Kazbegi.
Named Altihut, it is expected to be ready to host its first tourists in summer 2018. GEORGIA TODAY met David Chichinadze, one of the entrepreneurs, to talk about the project.
Why does Mount Kazbegi need another cabin?
The existing cabin is situated above the Glacier at an altitude of 3700m- making it too high for many people to reach in one day. The existing facilities have a poor waste management system and a lack of safety support. The current environmental impact on the mountain is an increasing concern. With Altihut, we intend to address these issues by providing a well maintained, modern, environmentally friendly cabin with proper sanitary and waste management solutions, along with a clear strategy to develop sustainable mountain infrastructure on Kazbegi such as hiking and mountain biking trails to reduce the human impact on the mountain even with the anticipated increase in visitors.
With Altihut, we want to bring the enjoyment of mountaineering to a bigger audience in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way by creating trails and infrastructure around the cabin, but keeping the human footprint there to a minimum.
Who came up with the idea?
There are three of us in the team, each bringing skills and experience in various areas which are essential to the success of the project. Nika Alavidze, a long-time mountain biker and hiker, with many years’ experience in the finance industry, previously worked in the highest positions in the leading banks of Georgia. He is now involved in Private Investment Fund management and himself acts as an angel investor. He’s responsible for the financial side of the project.
Mamuka Nikoladze, who originally set up the mountain rescue service in Georgia, is a prominent geologist, GIS specialist and adviser to the emergency services and other government departments within the tourism and protected areas fields.
As for me, I’ve been actively involved with the establishment of the Georgian mountain rescue services and have worked with the Swiss Development Agency for many years managing disaster risk reduction and several construction projects in difficult-to-reach locations, including high mountain regions of Georgia. I’ll be overseeing the construction of the project.
Where will the cabin be built?
The cabin will be situated below the Gergeti Glacier, at 3000m- 800m above Sameba church, where most people will start their journey, and 700m below the Bethlemi cabin. It will be within the recommended altitude increases for acclimatization for those wishing to head to the summit. It’s also ideally located for visitors to hike to see the Glacier or simply to the cabin and back.
What services will be provided and who is your main target group?
Along with a café/restaurant, there will be accommodation for up to 30 people, toilets, showers, washing facilities, a shop, rental equipment, mountain guides, and we will accommodate mountain rescue services. The main target group will be hikers, day trippers visiting the glacier, mountain bikers, ski tourers in winter and, of course, climbers.
Will there be power and water supply?
Yes. We will have a fresh water supply along with solar power and a generator for emergencies.
Who will operate the cabin?
We are currently looking for young, motivated locals experienced in all aspects of mountaineering to manage the cabin. They’ll be trained by us and our Swiss partners to offer the highest level of service and safety.
How are you financing this project?
The project is an impact investment opportunity which is being privately financed to support mountain infrastructure development, create trail infrastructure, boost local employment and attract tourists into the area. Although private finances are available to fund our initiative, we remain open to attract like-minded investors and see their investments channeled into our venture.
What will construction cost?
The current estimation is $400,000.
What is the largest challenge in building a cabin in this area?
One of the main challenges is the current lack of access to the mountain, making it logistically very tough to transport materials up there. That said, we are confident we can rise to the challenge, having already installed a much need bridge last summer over the river below the glacier, allowing people to cross safely.
The place is inaccessible by car. How will the construction materials be transported?
We have the use of a helicopter to lift heavy materials to the site, along with the use of pack horses for lighter materials.
How will the construction of the cabin impact the surrounding ecosystem?
The aim is to have as little environmental impact on the area as possible, which is why we’ll be using the helicopter and pack horses. Additionally, the site will quickly be restored to its natural state upon completion.
Is the location safe from natural hazards?
Yes. While selecting the site, we consulted avalanche specialists, disaster risk reduction specialists, geologists and flood zone specialists before finally deciding on the location to minimize the chance of risk from natural hazards.
In an emergency, the cabin can be considered quite isolated. How will you ensure that the builders, then later the staff and tourists, will be safe?
We’re planning to accommodate a mountain rescue unit within the cabin so that they will be closer to the area of potential risk and therefore able to respond faster should the need arise. We will also have safety equipment on site and the staff will have medical emergency training.