Looming large among Georgia’s folk culture is Mount Kazbek, one of the highest peaks in the Caucuses, thanks to its intertwining threat to human life with the anguish inflicted on a beloved—albeit capricious—version of Prometheus.
According to Georgian folklore, a hero by the name of Amirani stole fire from the hands of the gods as a gift to his fellow mortals. In punishment, the Prometheus-esque figure was chained high atop Mount Kazbek’s perilous slopes. Scholars estimate the nearest spot to his imprisonment is likely that of the current Orthodox hermitage, located inside the Bethlehem (locally: “Betlemi”) Cave at more than 13,000 feet up the mountain.
Despite a titanic mythos, Kazbek’s draw remains more tantalizing to mountaineers than literary and history buffs. The dormant stratovolcano is a mountaineer’s delight with a prominence of 7,720 feet that is relatively easy to access, making Georgia’s third-highest mountain the perfect pairing of accessible and challenging among the legendarily rugged Caucasus range.
Along the way, many trekkers are given respite within the walls of a 14th-century Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic church. Located a less-than-two-hour hike straight up the mountainside from the nearest town, the holy refuge known as Gergeti Trinity consists of little more than a cross-cupola church and a separate bell tower. Though briefly abandoned during the Soviet years, the enclave seems frozen in time.
In the face of such astounding beauty, Gergeti Trinity’s modest exterior suddenly becomes all the more breathtaking for its simplicity, made all the more so for the benevolence of its residents taking in those sometimes strident folk who seem hellbent on following in the footsteps of castigated heroes they’ve long since cast aside.