Chatyn-Tau is a 4412 m high mountain in Svaneti, Georgian Caucasus. Three summits give it a distinctive, impressive shape, and the mountain holds some of the best steep-skiing lines in the Caucasus. One of the is the large Southeast-Couloir of the West Summit (4310 m), clearly visible from Mestia.

In 2010 I visited Svaneti for the first time. My attention lay on the 5000 m summits such as Shhkara. Still, the SE couloir on Chatyn-Tau, well visible from Mestia, inevitably drew my attention.

In May 2013 Canadian steep skier Trevor Hunt and I arrived in Svaneti. We had just done the first ski descent of Mkinvartsveri`s NE face and looked for new challenges in wild Svaneti. It did not take long until we hiked up the Chaaladi glacier to the base of Chatyn-Tau. The couloir looked now scary from the bottom. 1800 m vertical, wild bergschrunds and crevassed at the bottom, seriously steep and exposed at the top.
We started our ascend from our on the Chaaladi glacier at 2500 m. The surface was hard, deep runnels covered the middle section of the couloir. Fear was all of a sudden a real state of mind. I had skied equally steep lines before. Shkhara´s South Pillar route that I had (partially) skied in 2010 was likely as steep and technical, as consequential. Yet the sheer size, combined with the hard conditions, misty weather and a slightly shift in risk acceptance over the years gave the route an uncomforting, heavy aura. After hours of boot-packing, we topped out at the top of the couloir between the main and west summit. We quickly decided that the corniced, narrow ridge to the summit was nothing for us today.

Trevor made the first turns, a true master of steep skiing. Each turn precise, falling seems out of the question. I followed cautiously. A few cm of fresh snow sat on top of a hard crust. Each turn required absolute precision. We worked our way down the steepest sections, 1800 m above the glacier, and onwards through the narrow mid-section with deep runnels, and onward through the crevasses and bergschrunds.

As we got to the tents, another tour was about the last thing on our minds. Still...a day prior we had skinned to the top of the Chaaladi glacier to get a good view of Chatyn-Tau. While the SE couloir was the big price, the South-Southwest Flank of the West Summit (4310 m) seemed made for skiing. We had on day left.

After a few hours of sleep we looked at the skies - perfect weather. So we were on our skis again, trotting up the crevassed glacier between Ushba and Chatyn-Tau. The climb went smooth. After yesterday`s super-committing line, front-pointing the 45° SW-Flank is comforting. From the summit we can see beautiful Ushba, the other summits of Chatyn-Tau and yesterday`s tracks just across.
The skiing is perfect - good, soft, creamy snow on a sustained, perfect line, sunshine, 1800m of skiing back to our camp. A perfect ending to our trip, and one of the best lines I ever skied.

Related article: Mountain Life Magazine Fall/Winter 2013: Trevor Hunt - "Big Line Hunting - Tracking Huge First Descents in Georgia' Caucasus Range. pp. 36-47.


Peter Schön is a photographer based in Narvik/Norway & Tbilisi/Georgia. His passion for photography started in the mountains, during several first ski descents of 5000-6000m peak in the Andes, Pamir, Tien Shan and South Caucasus. Later, he ventured into documentary photography, with several portfolios about refugees and internally displaced people (IDP) in the South Caucasus.
Peter works as certified ACMG Ski Guide and CAA Level 3 avalanche technician.