Abano Pass is a high mountain pass located in the region of Tusheti, Georgia, in the central part of the Great Caucasus Mountains, at an elevation of 2.850m (9,350ft) above the sea level. Abano Pass is the highest drivable mountain pass in the Caucasus. The pass is driveable only by 4x4 cars. Conditions can change quickly and be harsh. Road closures can be frequent, so check conditions before traveling to this area.
The road to reach the pass starts in Pshaveli and ends in Omalo. It has a length of 84,5km, but the expected driving time is over than 12 hours. The pass links the Georgian regions of Kakheti (south) and Tusheti (north). Tusheti is the most pristine and remote mountain region of Georgia at 900-4800 meters above sea level. It is covered with ravines and two main river valleys, Gometseri Alazani and Pirikiti Alazani. It's one of the highest mountain roads of Europe.
Abano Pass is only open during summer months
The road over the pass was built in 1978, and is only open during the summer months from around May to October (depends on weather conditions) but it can be closed anytime when the access is not cleared of snow. Avalanches and heavy snowfalls can sometimes block some sections of the road and can be extremely dangerous due to frequent patches of ice. The main settlement in the region is the Omalo Village (1850 m.s.l.) Due to Omalo's high mountain location on the northern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range and the absence of well-maintained roads, it is largely isolated from the rest of Georgiafor most of the year. Don’t stuff your belly too much. Eventually, you might feel vomiting temptations while climbing circuitous roads at higher altitudes.
This trail passes through remote areas, so you need to be prepared. Tusheti can be reached with a 4WD vehicle and only a 4WD. Note for travellers: some homestays are often only open from July but a bit a preplanning will always ensure you have somewhere to stay. 4 wheeling is an inherently dangerous activity and shouldn’t be attempted without the appropriate training and equipment. Tusheti's scenery is a spectacular mix of high, snow-covered peaks, deep gorges of Pirikiti, Gometseri and Chanchakhovani and steep, grassy hillsides with flocks of sheep and horses running wild through fields of irises.
It’s a real challenging road and a true test of your vehicle and your stamina because the road abounds in twists and turns with wheels sometimes hanging above the precipice. On the way up to the pass you will see by the roadside a sign pointing out a local Spa. Although basic, this Spa is known by Tushetiens as a giver of life with the potential for revitalising the body and sorting out all manner of ailments. The sign to the spa is at a bend in road which I appreciate is rubbish infomation since the road bends all the time. To drive this trail, you must have supreme confidence in your vehicle and your driving skills.
This track can get very muddy and slippery after rain making it challenging to get through. During and after a storm the road may be impassable, even with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. As always, check road conditions before departing. Once over the magnificent Abano pass (don’t miss the wild flowers and keep an eye out for the cloud cover) the journey gets more exciting, depending on the previous winter that is. In the summer of 2008 the road cut through the previous winter’s snow approx 4 meters deep, and that was in July. In the summer of 2009 there was a period in late July when the rain fall made part of the road impassable for a while but this is not uncommon. The road will always dry out you might just be held up for a couple of days. In any case, driving 4WD is recommended due to uneven surface. Your wheels will be astounded at the wonderful views of the mountains spread out before you! They are terrible for drivers who are prone to vertigo. In many places the road is bordered by a drop of hundreds of meters (many hundreds of feet) unprotected by guardrails. Situated deeply in beautiful Caucasus mountains, it is well known as a "death road" because of many fatal accidents. It is connecting Kakheti region with Tusheti region.
Abano Pass links Omalo and Pshaveli
The road over the pass is 70.3 km long, running north-south from Omalo, a principal village in the region of Tusheti, towards Pshaveli, a village in the Telavi district. The summit hosts some communication towers. The road appeared in an episode of the BBC’s World’s Most Dangerous Roads a few years ago. The road is a combination of a rough and unpredictable surface, seemingly endless tight turns, steep climbs, no guard rails, deep gorges, and waterfalls gushing. The road is classed as a national route and its numbered M44 (მ44). It needs constant attention and there are many emergency call outs to clear landslides or spots where the road has slipped away. Landslips are a problem and can close the road for days. Due to weather and road conditions, especially in the mountains, caution is required. Along the way are numerous roadside memorials to those who have perished on the road. Animals are frequently encountered on the way.
Pic: levani abulidze