Mount Tetnuldi (4858 m), informally dubbed the “Caucasus Queen”, may not be as popular or high as Mount Kazbek (also in Georgia), but her reign lies in her silent might and wild beauty, away from the crowds. Perhaps that is why, more and more, Tetnuldi attracts mountaineers looking for a less obvious summit with a little extra something.
Whether you’re planning your next Georgia mountain climbing adventure or just curious, below you will find everything you need to know about Mount Tetnuldi and what it takes to get to her crown. Plus, you’ll get a glimpse of what the experience is actually like from Ben, an Explore-Share regular who finally made his Tetnuldi dream come true after an amazing detour to the Monte Rosa massif in 2020.
Where is Tetnuldi located?
First things first, let’s put Tetnuldi on the map. The Caucasus queen is located in the center of the range, in Georgia’s historic Svaneti region (a beautiful place to visit, full of medieval villages), to the northwest of the country, close to the Russian border.
Mestia is the town where Tetnuldi climbers usually stay before and after setting off on their climb, and it’s about an 8 to 10-hour drive from Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, and about a 5-hour drive from Kutaisi, which also has an international airport.
The actual climbing begins after a drive from Mestia to either Adishi or Zabeshi villages, or to the Tetnuldi Ski Resort, where the trailhead starts at an altitude of 3000 m.
Ben shares his experience:
“Mestia is a long way from Tbilisi, it was about 10 hours. Although Mestia was quite busy, there were a lot of tourists, the mountains are quiet, and logistically, it’s more complex than Kazbek, which is just 5 hours away from Tbilisi. Tetnuldi is probably in the wildest part in Europe, and that’s what you want to see. And Mestia is nice, it’s like an alpine town. “
How do I get to Tetnuldi?
The first thing you will have to do is fly into Georgia. You can choose to fly to the capital, Tbilisi, which is in the south of the country, a bit farther away from Mestia, or to Kutaisi, which is a lovely city in the center of Georgia, much closer to your climbing objective. Both have international airports.
From there, you will need to get to Mestia. If you hire a guide, then usually they will pick you up at one of the designated airports or at your hotel and drive you, making the logistics super simple. Renting a car and driving yourself is also an option. Alternatively, you can take a shared marshrutka (mini-van) from the airport, or take a train to Zugdidi and a marshrutka from there.
Join a hassle-free All-Inclusive guided Tetnuldi Ascent and enjoy some remote mountaineering in the Caucasus with all the logistics taken care of.
Tetnuldi climbing routes
South Face- Normal Route- Southwest Ridge
Most Tetnuldi climbs are tackled via the Southwest Ridge, which is the Normal Route to the Tetnuldi summit. There are 3 campsites plus an intermediate camp along the route from the starting point of the trail. Usually, most Tetnuldi programs will take you up to Camp 2 on the first trekking day where you will set up your Base Camp at a protected plateau near a glacier lake, at an altitude of 3700 m.
At this point, you will probably spend a day acclimatizing and practicing the skills you will need for the rest of the ascent. The route is pretty steady from there until the 4300 m point. From then on, it becomes a lot more technical, and you will have to traverse a 1km exposed ridge that will require some scrambling and rock climbing. If it’s icy, which it might be, the guide may also lead you on top rope to the summit. Once at the crown, you will be able to catch sight of the stunning Caucasus mountains.
JOIN A CERTIFIED MOUNTAIN GUIDE ON AN UNFORGETTABLE TETNULDI CLIMB VIA THE SOUTHWEST RIDGE!
The north face of Tetnuldi is rarely climbed. Historically, there were two ways to climb it, through the British Route to the left, and the Tulpanov Route to the center, which is currently considered too dangerous to climb due to big serac barriers. There is not a lot of information about the north face, because it has not been climbed for many years, but advanced mountaineers have occasionally gone up on this side of Tetnuldi so it is not impossible.
How hard is it to climb Tetnuldi?
The normal route to the Tetnuldi summit is graded PD+ (harder than Mont Blanc, easier than Matterhorn), which means that technical climbing is involved. Glacier walking, crossing an exposed and rocky ridge -which requires scrambling and rock climbing skills- and icy terrain, make it a nice challenge for mountaineers with some experience under their belt. You will need to use crampons, ice-axes, and ropes. In fact, most Tetnuldi climbing programs include a day of training and practice before tackling the rugged 1km ridge to the summit. Another aspect to consider is that you will be climbing in remote wilderness, so there is a logistic aspect to it too.
“You get to the glacier quite quickly, and 60 to 70 percent of the ascent is roped in from there, with crampons and ice ax ready.
It was more challenging than I expected, you’re in such a wild part of Europe, there was one section, probably at about 60m of elevation, where you’re not at the side of the ridge, you’re basically on top of the ridge, and I looked around and there was about a 1thousand-2 thousand meter drop on either side. You really just need to concentrate on that and not focus on anything else.”
Climb Tetnuldi the safe way, with a certified mountain guide, and tackle the Caucasus Queen with the technical precision it requires on this 9-day guided Tetnuldi climb.
What is the Base Camp like?
There are 4 camps on the way to the Tetnuldi summit:
Camp 1: at around 3000 m., before climbing up the snowfields on the way to the glacier.
Amarati Nest: located at 3400 m., this intermediate camp can serve as a good resting ground.
Camp 2: the classic Tetnuldi Base Camp, at 3700 m., on the lower part of the glacier, with lovely views and a 15-tent capacity.
Camp 3: at the junction with the Southwest ridge, just 500m under the summit, rarely used because it is more difficult to get to with heavy backpacks.
Ben highlights the difference between his Tetnuldi Base Camp experience and his Alps experience:
“The base camp of Tetnuldi was 3700 m, and summit day was around 4800, so it’s about 1000 meters. And it’s a fairly steady incline and ascent.
In the Alps it’s a lot busier, you’ve got the huts that go quite high and you’re in relative comfort, you’re quite warm, and have got a bed and things. On Banghuriani and Tetnuldi, we only saw one other group of climbers, so it was very deserted, which was pretty awesome because you had the feeling of having the mountain to yourself.
The base camps are quite different, the Tetnuldi base camp is quite a nice setup, there’s nothing there, but it’s quite nice and has space for around 15 tents. You’ve got to rough it a bit more and carry a bit more equipment.”
How long does it take to climb Tetnuldi?
Guided Tetnuldi climbs usually take between 7 to 10 days. This span of time includes transfers to and from Mestia, acclimatization, and training, and the actual summit attack. Some programs also include an extra day in case of bad weather. You can also combine your Tetnuldi climb with another ascent for acclimatization purposes. Ben requested a tailored Banghuriani and Tetnuldi ascent, but other options are also available. The actual mountain climbing duration for Tetnuldi is 3 to 4 days.
What is the best season to climb Tetnuldi?
The Tetnuldi climbing season is during the summer. The average summer temperatures in Mestia are around 24°C (75°F), and August is usually the warmest month. At high altitudes, temperatures can drop as low as -20°C (-4°F). In the winter, Tetnuldi is famous for its ski opportunities.
Good Places to Train for Tetnuldi
Ben’s suggestion is:
“I think Kazbek is fine, it’s technically ok and you get the experience of the altitude, but if you wanted to get more technical stuff, perhaps push yourself a little bit more but not as high, then the Alps would be ideal, and Peakshunter has some great options with different durations.”
Tetnuldi vs. Kazbek
At 5047 m., Kazbek is both higher and more popular than Tetnuldi, although technically not so difficult. It is also easier to get to. So then why would you actually choose to climb Tetnuldi over Kazbek on your trip to Georgia? Ben has climbed both mountains, and this is his opinion:
“Kazbek is really busy, you have hundreds of climbers on summit day, it’s like any popular mountain in the world. There’s a main big base camp with hundreds of people, so it’s more crowded. Kazbek is a 5000m peak, so you have to be prepared for it. Tetnuldi is not quite as high, and it’s a lot farther away which is probably why not a lot of people do it, however if I had the choice, I’d definitely go for Tetnuldi.
Kazbek is a lot easier technically, so it’s probably better if you’re fit and you’re looking for an introductory peak, Kazbek is perfect for that. But of the two, Tetnuldi is a bit more special.”
Ben’s tips for climbing Tetnuldi
Training: I added some strength training, you need the base level of cardiovascular fitness, but for this, you need a bit more strength. Big compound exercises, deadlift, squats or leg presses, lunges, pullups, lat pulldowns, chest press, shoulder press, just working on your body strength.
Nutrition: Eating is a really important part of recovery, and being mindful about quantity and nutrition will ensure that you are well-nourished throughout the climb and after too. The guides on the Tetnuldi climb really understood about nutrition and hydration and they couldn’t stop offering me food. It may sound daft, but it’s easy to forget to eat when you’re tired or you’re euphoric because you’ve just made a summit, so they were constantly there.
Equipment: It was cold at base camp, but it was warmer than I expected. Layering, padded jacket, crampons, poles, ice-ax. Standard.
In terms of equipment, keep in mind that Mestia has some very basic stores, so make sure to have what you need ready.
Other Exciting Adventures in the country of Georgia
Georgia is an amazing destination, year-round. In the warmer months, you can enjoy hiking, beautiful horseback riding programs where you can visit historic towns, vineyards, and breathtaking wilderness areas. In the winter, it is a unique place for backcountry skiing adventures.