This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this Secret Compass Adventure Academy expedition to Georgia.
Read on to discover our ethos and team-centred approach and for the nitty gritty like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations. Use the buttons below to ask questions or to apply for this team or, once approved, to secure your spot on this team with a Booking Form and a £400 deposit.
Arrive: at the hotel in Tbilisi by 1700 on 30 May 2020.
The aim of this Adventure Academy expedition is to trek into Georgia’s Caucasus mountains where you’ll learn and use practical alpine skills in a genuine expedition environment before attempting the secondary aim of this expedition: a summit attempt of Mount Kazbek (5047m), the highest volcano in Georgia and the second highest in the Caucasus range.
The term alpine skills refers to the actions on the mountain required above the snow line. These include the use of crampons, ice axes on steep surfaces, ropes and harnesses, route selection and moving over glaciated terrain. Your experienced Secret Compass leader will ensure that each teammate maximises her or his capacities and that the team as whole takes advantage of the conditions to get the most out of this awesome Adventure Academy expedition. Forget dry textbooks: with Secret Compass, let the Caucasus be your classroom.
Acquire and develop Alpine skills in an expedition environment.
Practise crampon and ice axe use on ideal terrain (conditions permitting).
Summit the second highest volcano in the Caucasus.
Learn from industry-leading professionals.
Explore historic Tblisi.
You need to organise your own international flights. It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed for fee or refunded if the expedition dates are changed or if it is cancelled for any reason. You need to be at the team hotel in Tblisi by 1700 on 30 May 2020 and the expedition officially ends after breakfast on 07 June 2020 although you are free to depart anytime as many flights depart early in the morning.
Travel insurance that provides cover for repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy. Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).
Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad of at least $500,000.
Activities: ensure that any activities carried out on the expedition are included i.e. trekking, horse riding, rafting, MTB etc.
Geographical region: check your geographical region is insured (often the US/ Canada/ Afghanistan etc. are not insured).
Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you if the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and the FCO Travel Aware site.
Dates: ensure your cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice claims due to this.
Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose these to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.
Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hr emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit the Travel Insurance page of our Get Ready section.
Visas are your responsibility. Since June 2015, British nationals and most EU nationals do not require a visa for stays of up to one year. Please check with your nearest embassy or consulate on the latest advice.
You should have a passport valid for the duration of the expedition and your travel dates. Georgia does not require any validity beyond this but it we recommend six months remaining before expiry. Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies with you on the expedition in a safe place.
Day 1: May 30 – Tblisi
Arrive in Tblisi and make your way to the team hotel by 1700 to meet your leader. Welcome meal and expedition briefing.
Day 2: May 31 – Kazbegi Village
Drive to Kazbegi village (150km/3 hours). In the afternoon walk past Tsminda Sameba Church and begin the ascent of Mount Kazbek, camping at around 2800m. Today will act as a shakedown ahead of a longer, more physically demanding day tomorrow.
Day 3: June 1 – Mount Kazbek
Continue the ascent of Mount Kazbek to the expedition basecamp just beyond the Bethlemi Hut. Where appropriate on the route, a basic introduction to glacier travel, crampon use and ice axe arrest will be given.
Day 4 to 5: June 2-3 – Mount Kazbek
Working out of the expedition basecamp, today and tomorrow will be spent acquiring alpine skills and building on the experiences of the previous day. Topics covered may include safe glacial travel, crevasse rescue, route planning and poor visibility navigation methods, ice axe skills, arrests, moving in crampons, snow shelters and basic avalanche awareness. These days also act as extra acclimatisation opportunities for the team or weather windows for a summit attempt.
Day 6: June 4 – Mount Kazbek
Depending on the weather conditions, today will either be a further training day in the relative shelter of the Gergeti glacier valley or an ascent to a high camp in preparation for tomorrow’s summit attempt.
Day 7: June 5 – Mount Kazbek
Early start today for an attempt to summit Mount Kazbek. Most of the equipment will be left at camp so you will have light packs for the ascent. After a quick break on the descent for snacks and a hot drink, the team will pack up camp and continue the descent to the first campsite. This will be a long day with up to 1400m of ascent and 2250m of descent.
Day 8: June 6 – Tblisi
Continue the descent into Kazbegi village in the morning before driving back to Tblisi (3 hours) for arrival in the early afternoon. Take advantage of the hotel’s hot showers and stretch your legs exploring the capital then enjoy a celebratory dinner as a team.
Day 9: June 7 – Tblisi
You are free to depart anytime today or make arrangements to extend your stay. The expedition officially ends after breakfast although many flights depart early in the morning.
A note on Secret Compass itineraries
Please remember that the itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but it may not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team will adapt, flex and change the plan depending on the numerous frictions you may encounter along the way. Read more about the Secret Compass Approach and Ethos here.
All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, it is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you will be sore, tired, hungry and possibly wet! You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train for the expedition and arrive fit and ready to go! You will be required to be fit enough for the following.
Terrain: over rough, glaciated terrain at altitudes up to 5047m.
Climate: exposed conditions. Temps from 15C to -20C with windchill factor.
No previous experience of alpine conditions is necessary to join this expedition but teammates will benefit from previous trekking or winter hill-walking practice. You should be used to carrying up to 20kg for multiple days over steep terrain. Anyone who has not done this before is invited to train to achieve this in advance of departure as it will be required on this Adventure Academy expedition. Secret Compass can provide a suggested 12-week training program to help you meet the physical requirements. This expedition will teach alpine skills on the assumption that team members have no previous knowledge and will provide a platform for those with previous alpine experience to further develop their skills in a challenging expedition environment.
Dental. It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are VERY unpleasant!
According to Georgian law, all transactions must be in Georgian Lari. In Tblisi, credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are available although more rural areas are still mainly cash based. Travellers cheques are not widely accepted. It can be difficult to source Lari outside of Georgia so contact your Travel Exchange in advance or bring GBP or USD which can be exchanged at the airport.
This expedition is all-inclusive so you won’t need much money – only for a beer in town and some souvenirs on the way or for (discretionary but always appreciated) tips.
The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for the 2020 Adventure Academy expedition to Georgia. You will carry all of your own kit for this expedition, please keep this as light as possible as you will also carry share of a technical mountain tent; of group food and cooking equipment; and of the medical and communications packs. Secret Compass will supply tents, food, cooking equipment and other safety related items of equipment. You might find our Expedition Kit Advice series of short films useful.
Secret Compass has arranged team member discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Snow and Rock, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire. Details of these will be sent through on booking.
Baggage and sleeping
RUCKSACK: 70ltr. A comfortable rucksack that fits your back. A good outdoors shop will be able to help. All your personal gear needs to fit easily into this pack and have enough room for a tent, food and share of group equipment provided by Secret Compass as well as crampons, helmet and ice axe.
DAYSACK (optional): To use once base camp is established. Should fit inside or clip on to the outside of your rucksack. Big enough to fit warm layers, crampons, ice axe etc. Around 30 litres.
WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable ‘canoe’ or ‘dry’ bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb. You need a large one to line your rucksack.
SMALLERY DRY BAGS: As above, but smaller bags to put essential items in. The large rucksack liners sometimes leak so anything important needs to be waterproofed individually. This also helps to keep you organised.
SLEEPING BAG: Rated to at least comfort -15C. Down is lighter and more compact than synthetic options but also invest in a waterproof stuff sack.
FULL LENGTH SLEEPING MAT: Inflatable roll mat required. Bring your repair kit. You may be camping on rough ground or on snow so consider a winter roll mat.
WATERPROOF WALLET: For your passport and money.
1 x LONG SLEEVE SHIRT: Quick drying and with long sleeves for sun protection at lower altitudes.
1 x WATERPROOF SHELL: Gore-tex or equivalent
1 x WATERPROOF TROUSERS: Gore-tex or equivalent. Consider a bib-style.
2 x THERMAL BASE LAYER: Top and bottom, avoid cotton and look for synthetics or wool.
2 x TREKKING TROUSERS: Thin trekking trousers that dry quickly and are comfortable.
4 x UNDERWEAR.
1 x MID LAYER: Fleece or insulated jacket. If you feel the cold it may be worth bringing two of these that you can layer up.
1 x DOWN JACKET: Down Jacket or synthetic equivalent suitable for summit use at -20C with layers.
4 x HIKING SOCKS: Fitting well with your boots and comfortable.
1 x CRAMPON-COMPATIBLE MOUNTAIN BOOTS: Ensure your boots are worn in and comfortable. 3 season walking boots which must have a stiff sole capable of taking “flexi” C1 crampon. Double-layer B2 boots are suggested as a minimum, if you feel the cold consider yeti gaiters or a B3 boot. Conditions could deteriorate to equivalent of a cold Scottish winter, ask your local outdoor store for advice on fitting.
GAITERS: To prevent snow getting into boots, to protect your trousers from crampon spikes and to keep feet dry.
WARM HAT: Must provide ear protection.
GLOVES : Cold weather gloves with wind protection, we suggest bringing a spare pair in case one set gets wet.
LINER GLOVES: A thin pair to wear beneath your outer gloves, look for a pair with grip on the palms and fingers so you don’t have to remove them to adjust clothing/boots/cameras.
BUFF OR BALACLAVA: Some form of face protection from high winds at the summit.
SPOON: You will eat directly out of a dehydrated ration bag, so a bowl is not necessary. Consider an extra-large spork or a long-handled spoon to eat with.
1 x ROBUST WATER BOTTLE: Nalgene or Sigg are good brands. Water bladders like CamelBack are not recommended unless you have an insulating kit and carry a water bottle as a back up. You’ll be carrying a minimum of three litres of water per day.
0.5L THERMOS FLASK (optional): Great for warmth and a morale boost on the mountain.
Health and hygiene
WASHBAG, TOOTHBRUSH AND TOOTHPASTE, RAZOR, DEODORANT. You do not need a large travel washbag, small dry bags or sealable sandwich bags work well.
SOAP: Anti-bacterial and biodegradable. There will be no access to showers except in Tbilisi.
WET WIPES OR BABY WIPES. For washes on the mountain.
ANTIBACTERIAL HAND GEL.
TOILET PAPER. Travel tissues are ideal.
SANITARY PRODUCTS. Bring ziplock bags or similar to carry waste off the mountain.
LIP SALVE WITH UV PROTECTION. Essential as chapped lips are painful.
VASELINE: Keep readily available to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters.
FACTOR 30+ SUN CREAM: Snow and ice can reflect and amplify the effect of the sun. If possible, look for an oil-based sun cream.
Small First Aid Kit
A team medical kit with a comprehensive primary care provision will also be carried (by the leader and shared between teammates). For your own personal kit list:
A WATERPROOF BAG OR TUPPERWARE BOX: Keep kit dry and safe.
PAINKILLERS: Ibuprofen and Paracetamol.
ZING OXIDE TAPE AND SMALL SCISSORS. Leukoplast is excellent if you can find it.
COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar looking blister packs for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard/original item.
DIARRHOEA TABLETS: Imodium.
REHYDRATION TABLETS/ SACHETS: Dioralyte or similar rehydration sachets or consider Nuun or Zero tablets instead which make more and are cheaper than some sachets.
PIRITON TABLETS: For allergies if required.
ANY MEDICATION YOU NORMALLY USE: Find out the generic/chemical name for your medication in case you need to source more in country. Please also check that your medication is legal in your destination. You MUST make Secret Compass aware of any medical conditions before you travel.
TREKKING POLES (optional): Collapsible trekking poles with snow baskets.
WATCH: A watch is essential for the navigation exercises.
HEAD TORCH AND SPARE BATTERIES: Petzl Tikka heard torch or equivalent.
SUNGLASSES: With UV-filter lenses.
GOGGLES: Ski goggles for white-out conditions.
PENKNIFE: Don’t pack in your hand luggage.
LIGHTER: For lighting stoves.
GAFFA TAPE: For emergency repairs to your kit, you can take some off the roll and wrap it around something else in your kit.
1 x KARABINER: For securing your rucksack.
SPARE BOOT LACES.
SMALL SEWING KIT.
RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS: For dirty washing, wrappings etc.
Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines of the world’s most remote reaches. Inspired by history’s great explorers and challenges, you’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.
Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than not expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Each expedition is thoroughly reviewed on its return and team members will have the opportunity to provide feedback which helps to inform planning for future expeditions.
Local partners and bureaucracy
Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.
Infrastructure and natural events
The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.
In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs)
Part of a team
Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.
There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure and their sense of humour and positive outlook. A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teammates help each other, look out for each, encourage each other and help each other when needed. Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.
You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. These elements combine to create the unique character of each expedition. On expedition, challenges, frictions and changes to plans are inevitable. Teammates should meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success. Such things make the journey more interesting and are often most memorable parts when looking back.
Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.
We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/ severity if it does occur.
As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.
Key risks encountered on this specific expedition include altitude sickness, travelling on glacial terrain and accidents (slips, trips and falls) whilst trekking on uneven terrain carrying weight. If you would like to see the full Risk Assessment for this expedition, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Incident management and medical
As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies. This will be discussed in full at the arrival brief, so everyone is aware what action will be taken. In summary, incidences are usually managed on the ground by the expedition leader in the first instance with remote support from Secret Compass’s 24 hour Operations Room before evacuation to the nearest appropriate medical centre.
It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that medical evacuation will take an extended period of time (potentially up to one day) and will require wilderness extraction techniques and long carries by stretcher. In-country search and rescue and emergency services are very basic or non-existent and the expedition will rely on internal resources for medical evacuation. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.
Read team Testimonials or watch this short video featuring expedition teammates (filmed on location in Ethiopia) for an insight into life on expedition.
Tblisi is a cosmopolitan city but rural areas are more conservative so please dress appropriately. If possible, ask permission before photographing churches or other religious sites.
This expedition will cover a variety of terrain from dirt tracks, rolling meadows and alpine ridges to glaciated valleys and exposed plateaus. The team won’t be covering vast distances each day but the expedition will be made more challenging by the altitude.
June is the start of summer in Georgia and traditionally sees temperatures around 15C at the base of Mount Kazbek although the summit is very exposed and famous for strong winds which lower the temperatures to -20C.
Tblisi airport is located outside of the city – team members are responsible for their own transfers between the airport and the accommodation at the start and end of the expedition. Transfers are available by train, bus or taxi depending on your arrival time.
Depending on the final team size, 4×4 vehicles or minibuses will be used to transport the team between Tblisi and Kazbegi village where the rest of the expedition will be on foot.
The team will stay in a comfortable hotel in Tblisi at the start and end of the expedition, rooms will be on a twin-share basis and the hotel will be able to store any luggage which isn’t required for the expedition, any extra nights outside of the Secret Compass itinerary can be booked directly with the hotel. Whilst on the mountain, the team will be camping in technical mountain tents provided by Secret Compass and shared between two people, these will be carried by the team members in addition to their personal equipment, food and cooking equipment.
In towns, the team will eat well in local restaurants whilst dehydrated expedition rations will be used on the mountain – these are high-calorie and tastier than they look! Dietary requirements can usually be catered for but should be discussed with Secret Compass in advance. It is recommended that you bring a favourite snack or cereal bar for each expedition day as a moral boost.
Secret Compass staff will be carrying at least two methods of communication, usually a Satellite Phone and a DeLorme two-way communication device. These will be used for regular updates to head office and for emergencies.
Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44 207 096 8428 who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.
Your mobile roaming will work in Tblisi and perhaps Kazbegi village, you are unlikely to get signal whilst on Mount Kazbek.
Here are some frequently asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our general FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.
I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?
Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying. Secret Compass will always endeavour to accommodate dietary requirements but may request you bring additional supplementation if you are on a restricted diet.
Can I have a one-person tent?
Secret Compass will provide the tents for this expedition. Teammates will each carry a share of kit and a share of tents, and so sharing a tent keeps weight to a minimum for everyone and results in a warmer night’s sleep.
Can I arrive a day late?
As The Plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates out to the start of the trek so start and end dates are not flexible.
Can I charge electricals?
This will be very challenging with limited access to power once the trekking section begins. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration.
Will my camera work in the cold?
Battery life can be a challenge in cold climates. If camera or phone battery life is of paramount importance, research the best ways to protect and keep your batteries warm and come equipped accordingly.
What if I’m new to all this?
This trip is designed to give you the skills and knowledge to attempt the secondary aim of the expedition, climbing Mt Kazbek. This instruction will be taught on the basis that you have never completed an alpine expedition before although you will benefit from previous experience of multi-day trekking and winter camping. Unless you have been on an Alpine Skills course before, a lot of the lessons will be new to most, or will be a good reminder and a confirmation of previous experience.This expedition is achievable as long as long as you fulfil the requirements under the fitness section and are willing to work as a team. If you have any specific concerns, fill in a no-obligation Application Form and the team will be in touch to discuss this Adventure Academy expedition.
Are there porters?
There is no local support for this trek, so you will have to be completely self-sustainable. This means carrying personal and camping equipment, a share of the group equipment, such as medical kit and stoves, and enough food for the duration. You should train in preparation for this expedition by meeting the requirements in the fitness section.
How can I find out more?
Apply for this expedition team using the buttons below then Secret Compass will be in touch to discuss your application and provide further information if needed or to confirm your place on the team.