Hiking in Armenia – the Transcaucasian Trail, stage 4: Vayots Dzor – Yeghegnadzor to Jermuk

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As our followers on Facebook already know, we are hiking the TCT – the 861-km-long Transcaucasian Trail in Armenia. 

We’ve broken down this 39-day trek into 5 stages. Here’s a glimpse of stage 4: 6 days across Vayots Dzor, from Yeghegnadzor to Noravank Monastery, Old Martiros, Gomk and Artavan to Jermuk.

Hiking the Transcaucasian Trail, or TCT, in Armenia (©Coen Wubbels)

Crossing from the Gegham range into Vayots Dzor, the terrain changes sharply as green hills give way to sharp cliffs and rocky canyons. Along the route you’ll find several ancient monasteries tucked into cliff sides, and some spectacular ancient trails that have been cleared through the striking red canyons. 

You should prepare for overgrown trail conditions, as the condition of these trails can vary depending on the season. 

The town of Jermuk is famous for its mineral water and sanatoriums– it’s worth a stop to try the distinctive mineral waters from the taps in the center of town. 

~Transcaucasian hike

Canyon Lands

High cliff edges overlooking the gorge offer breathtaking views of the Noravank Monastery. It’s a sight that will remain etched in our memories as one of the most beautiful spots on the TCT. The cliffs boast vibrant red to dark brown hues, with an open space where two ancient monastery churches still stand.

Surrounded by a wilderness of bare rocks, cliffs, steep slopes, and narrow gorges, with a cascading river far below, it feels like an entirely different world. 

Little do we know that the Nagorno-Karabakh government had just surrendered to Azerbaijan, resulting in a mass exodus of refugees from the enclave to Armenia. For now we are blissfully unaware of these recent developments and are completely absorbed by the beauty of the place.

Along the cliff’s edge is a wooden picnic shelter inviting us to take a seat and savor the tranquility, even though we have just taken a break twenty minutes earlier. The scene is simply magnificent, the air pure and invigorating, and the sun warming us after a cold night spent camping beneath the monastery walls.

By the way what a remarkable display of hospitality is that? Noravank is not the first monastery on this trail that allows hikers to set up camp on their grounds, always providing drinking water, and in this instance, even a coffee machine (alongside souvenir stalls, as it’s a popular local destination where people arrive until late in the evening to light candles).

Love for Vayots Dzor

Obviously we can’t know what lies ahead, but so far this stage is our favorite. This preference is undoubtedly influenced by my love for reddish landscapes of gorges and cliffs. During the previous stage, we caught our first glimpse of these canyon-like surroundings, reminiscent of renowned national parks in the United States. During stage 4, we continued hiking through such magical landscapes (with a disclaimer: not everything was fantastic, as some sections traverse endless grassy lands).

This stage of the TCT follows ancient rock-built trails, sometimes with ancient khachkhars along the way – cross-stones that are characteristic of Armenian churches. Dirt trails wind through grassy meadows, while singletrack trails hug the mountain slopes, demanding our full attention due to loose rocks. We ascend to yet another summit, at times steep and challenging, and are rewarded with yet another awe-inspiring vista.

If you have limited time for the trail, I highly recommend the section from Yegeghnadzor to Jermuk. You won’t be disappointed.

Hiking the TCT Trail & the War

The tensions between Armenia and its neighbor over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave began long before our hike commenced. The TCT organization has regularly kept hikers informed through their forum, resulting in the rerouting of one particular section.

Until this stage, we had ventured too far north to personally witness any of these developments. However, that changed during this stage. 

We encountered soldiers and military equipment (one kind soldier even provided us with four tins of food, which we all devoured that same evening), and as we descended from the mountains we encountered the highway connecting the border to Yerevan. Military vehicles and refugees in overloaded vehicles, with goods piled high on their roofs, dominated the road.

Special Treat

Our fellow overlanding friends exploring the same area have been spoiling us. Heidi and Rene, whom we had already met at Crossway Camping, left notes for us to discover along the trail. We reunited with them in Gomk, along with Vincent and Kirstin.

As is typical for travelers with vehicles, their fridge and cabinets are never empty, and we indulged in bread with delicious types of cheese, and sharing a fantastic dinner inside the warmth of their big Unimog. Beer and wine flowed freely as we chatted away.

Despite the effects of alcohol in our legs the next morning, we felt immensely revitalized, bidding our farewells with wide smiles.

A big thank you to all for the wonderful treats and great company!

In Jermuk

Although the stage from Jermuk to Gorayk had been rerouted, we needed to reach Jermuk to collect our food package. Coincidentally, rain was approaching, so we’ve spent the last four days in town. 

Yesterday, we took advantage of a clear day for a day hike to the hot springs (not very hot but perfect for a dip) and then ventured down an incredibly picturesque gorge to Gndevank Monastery and the village. From there, we caught a bus back to Jermuk.

Jermuk is divided into an old part, characterized by Soviet-style apartment blocks with a convenience store near the entrance, and a newer part developed for tourism. I imagine that this place existed during Soviet times as well, as a popular hot spring resort or a base for exploring the gorge and visiting a waterfall, but clearly it has been modernized.

Although most tourists have departed, and many restaurants and accommodations have closed as autumn has set in, the setting is stunning, with hillsides adorned in autumn-colored leaves. 

The town boasts bombastic-looking places like the Grand Resort and Verona Resort, as well as a pleasant park for leisurely strolls and a large pond adorned with memorials to famous Armenians (including Charles Aznavour).

What’s Next

It’s time to return to the trail. The weather forecasts look favorable, so tomorrow, we’ll catch a bus to Gorayk and resume our hike. This will lead us to yet another renowned monastery: Tatev.

Stay tuned for more!

To Carry & Filter Water

(click on the images to learn more)

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Pactical Information about Stage 4:

During this section of the TCT trail we covered:

  • 110 kilometers from Yeghenadzor to Jermuk in 6 days.
  • We also embarked on a 17-kilometer day hike from Jermuk, visiting the hot springs and the Gndevank Monastery.

Water:

Water sources were abundant throughout this stage, with freshwater springs, piped drinking water, or streams available. We never carried more than 1 liter each.

Food:

There were no convenience stores along the way, except for Artavank, which was closed when we passed by at 8:30 am. Be sure to stock up adequately.

Camping / Accommodation:

  • As is the norm on the TCT, wild camping is easy. We pitched our tent near water sources, camping in open fields and at picnic shelters.
  • In Jermuk, we are staying at Hotel Life, owned by a super friendly proprietor and equipped with a shared kitchen. Convenient stores and restaurants are just around the corner.

Practical Information on the TCT Trail in Armenia

  • The Transcaucasian Trail is an 1540-km-long hike in the Caucasus, of which 861 kilometers wind through Armenia. Find all info here.
  • We are hiking without laptops. The pictures are snapshots I took on my iPhone and I am using a foldable keyboard to write these blog posts. I’m happy with it despite it adding to the weight I carry.
  • This is our gear list.

Check it out: the Overlanding Pur Sang T-shirt Collection

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