As our followers on Facebook already know, we hiked the 861-km Transcaucasian Trail in Armenia.
We divided our 39-day trek into 5 stages. Let me give you a peek at our last stage: 8 days of hiking through the Syunik Province, starting from Jermuk and ending in Meghri. Along the way, we visited the Vorotan hot springs and Tatev Monastery, made our way to Bekh and finally tackled the challenging Khustup Mountain.
Armenia’s southernmost province really shows off its diversity, from high grasslands to deep canyons to rocky alpine terrain to desert scrub.
The trail through Syunik has lots of singletrack, largely comprised of ancient trails that have been mapped and improved. Be prepared for possible overgrown trail conditions, depending on the season.
There are also lots of worthwhile detours that are not along the main route, including the ancient Stonehenge-like archeological site of Karahunj (near Sisian), the spectacular Devil’s Bridge cave network (near Tatev), the Magic Forest land art trail (in Tandzaver), and the distinct rock formations around Goris.
The southern terminus of the TCT is Meghri, a small city ringed by rocky peaks that serves as Armenia’s southern gateway.~Transcaucasian hike
From Sisian to Voratan
The Vorotnavank monastery stands beautifully on a cliff of gray stone. It’s a series of interconnected buildings, two of which function as a church. The interiors are dimly lit with no decorations, and only a few candles are burning. Our attention is drawn to the khachkars and other intricate engravings on tombstones.
We cross the asphalt road and ascend to the village of Vaghatin. There’s a fountain with a canopy, a bench and table beside it. We take a sip of the cool water and rest for a while. Several cars pass by, including an old Lada Zygoli with no rear seats, driven by a man. He spots us sitting by the water fountain, steps out of the car with a big smile on his face.
“Come have coffee with me,” he says. “I live just around the corner.”
I hop in the back, and Coen joins him in the front.
Ljova and Nahra live in a large house, and we join them on the veranda outside. Summer is over, and the vegetable garden is nearly empty. They give us a tour, showing us a shed full of glass jars containing pickled vegetables, a separate shed for chickens, and another one for pigs. There’s also a beautiful lawn beside their house with a swing, a BBQ picnic spot, and a large tree under which recently harvested walnuts are drying in the courtyard. Upon returning to the veranda, we enjoy coffee with chocolate and cookies and communicate using Google Translate.
In the late afternoon, our hike takes us deep into the countryside along the mountain ridge and then back over the other ridge towards the asphalt road. Along the way, we savor countless breathtaking views. It’s a lovely, easy walk. We pass through the village of Voratan, where a vendor kindly offers each of us a bunch of grapes from his car. The village is characterized by friendly residents; we receive many greetings and warm smiles as we walk through.
It’s around six when we finally arrive at the Voratan hot springs, a sizable pond nestled beneath a high and impressive rock formation. I waste no time and immerse myself in the water, relishing the warmth after the hike in the cool temperatures. I decide to skip dinner and head straight to bed.
Books we Are Reading on the TCT
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Hiking in Autumn
When you tackle a hike of this length, you can’t always choose the perfect season. For the Transcaucasian Trail, this means you’re either hiking in scorching temperatures (30 degrees Celsius or higher) or coming to terms with the possibility of chilly nights with snow or ice, plus your fair share of rain. Because we’re more inclined towards cold-weather hiking, we kicked off our journey late in the season (end of August). We knew we’d have to pay some price as the season progressed.
We’re okay with the cold nights, and a couple of times we did wake up to find ice on our tent. But we’d rather not hike in the rain. That’s why we decided to hang out in Jermuk for a few days, and on this leg we extended our stay in Tandzaver as well. Now that it’s October, the rain is becoming a more frequent companion.
The great things about autumn are the vibrant leaves and the abundance of mushrooms in all shapes and sizes. Especially when we’re walking through forests or catching glimpses of forested hills, the TCT is a pure delight!
Stage 5, a Reflection
I’m glad we chose to start our hike up north. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we were out of shape, so beginning in the northern region, with flat terrain, allowed us to gradually build up our pace and let our muscles and joints adapt to the tougher parts.
Stage 5 is exactly that. It’s arguably the most stunning section, but it comes with its fair share of steep ascents and descents on mountains. The gorges near Tatev are jaw-dropping beautiful and pass by a couple of abandoned villages. The last three days from Bekh to Meghri were incredibly strenuous and included a long climb up the 3,000-meter-high Khustup Mountain.
My body was struggling, and just shy of the summit, I was on the brink of giving up, turning around, and heading back to Bekh. Thankfully, Coen talked me out of it!
It’s strange. Reaching the finish always feels somewhat disillusioning. Suddenly, it’s all over, and you’re left with a somewhat lost feeling. The sense of accomplishment comes later. Today, we’re camping at the Crossway Camping in Yegeghnadzor. We did our laundry, and the hiking gear is packed once again in the green box on the Land Cruiser. We can now relive the good times as Coen is going through thousands of images while I process all my notes.
What a hike, what a journey. The things we’ll probably remember most about this hike are the hospitality and the general kindness of the people we met along the way, the sense of having walked through ancient history, of which the monasteries and megalithic stones are the most tangible remnants; and some of the breathtaking landscapes, particularly around the Noravank Monastery, Tatev, and Khustup Mountain.
Thanks for following our hike! If you have any questions, whether about this hike or anything else, feel free to ask in the comments below or send us an email. We’ll be more than happy to answer them all.
Summary of our Transcaucasian Trail:
Total duration of our hike: 48 days (late August – mid October)
- Days of hiking: 36
- Days of rest: 6
- Additional days of rest due to rain: 6
- Skipped sections: 4 (Shatin – Yeghegnadzor because of undeveloped trail; Jermuk Gorayk rerouted due to Nagorno Karabakh conflict; 2 sections between Tandzaver – Bekh due to heavy rain).
Practical Information about Stage 5
- 154 kilometers from Jermuk to Meghri in 8 days.
- We skipped two sections – from Tandzaver to Tatev – because of continuous rain.
- As during the previous stages, carrying 1 liter was more than enough, due to a combi of colder weather thus not needing much water and finding enough water sources.
- There is one exception though: on the hike from Bekh to Meghri there is a long section without a water source, some 30 kms if I remember correctly, so make sure you carry plenty.
- Convenience store in Angeghakot with minimal supplies.
- Sisian has convenience stores. In terms of restaurants don’t expect much, with the exception of the Vega Cafe which has a reasonable selection of dishes.
- Tatev has a handful of convenience stores in the village. Near the monastery are some places to eat lunch/dinner.
- Kapan is the big city along the way, although off the trail. Good for an ATM, supermarkets, and some restaurants.
- From Bekh to Meghri, be well prepared because there is no place to stock up along the way.
Camping / Accommodation:
- Also during this stage, wild camping was easy all over the place.
- In Tatev we stayed at the Alex B&B to enjoy a good hot shower. There are more places to stay in Tatev.
- Because of rain we searched for shelter in Tandzaver and ended up staying at the Eco Camp. A big name for a handful of tiny huts (in which barely fit two beds with an air mattress) and a sheltered picknickplek, situated on a grassy hill with orchards around it. Nonetheless, it was better sitting inside such a hut than a tent with three days of pouring rain.
- We love the Hilltop Camping in Bekh. Run by a young family, with Sona speaking English, we felt welcome and taken care of. They have a patch of grass for a handful of tents, the availability of a kitchen, washing machine, and bathroom with hot showers. Oh, and a small swimming pool with a view of the valley.
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: our ‘Ga op Avontuur’ Cap & Shirt Collection
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