Hiking in Armenia – the Transcaucasian Trail (part 1, preparations)


The 2023 TCT route across Armenia traverses 861 kilometers (535 miles) of wildly diverse terrain between Armenia’s northern border at Lake Arpi and its southern border at Meghri. The route takes hikers through red desert canyons, treeless steppe, lush green hills, dramatic cliffs, high-altitude volcanic plateaus, and just about everything in between. 

The route is also a journey through the region’s history: it passes prehistoric archaeological sites, ancient monasteries tucked deep into forests and canyons, Silk Road caravanserais, and the sanatoriums and monuments that serve as relics of the Soviet era.

~Transcaucasian Trail website

Meeting Locals

While it consisted mostly of sign language, with just a few words in English or Russian, this is what the conversation boiled down to:

‘Yes, I’m here for three days, but then I’ll be leaving. I’m not sure when I’ll be back.’

‘What about those two elderly folks?’

‘They live here. Sometimes. Sometimes not.’

This wasn’t what we had hoped for. We stood at the far end of a trail in the super remote Gegham Mountain section, clutching a food package in our hands. Being able to do a food drop here would mean we’d only have to carry 4 days’ worth of food instead of 6 or 7, a significant reduction in backpack weight.

However, as we drove this way, we were already questioning if this had been a good idea. Satellite images had shown buildings, but were they still inhabited? It seemed to have been a former kolchoz, a place where people had to live and work collectively during the Soviet era. Long rows of abandoned buildings with collapsed roofs and tufts of weeds sprouting from the walls could very well be remnants of such a kolchoz.

Our faces brightened when we spotted a modern car, a modern tractor, and yes, a human being. We parked, stepped out of the Land Cruiser, shook hands, and tried to convey what we were looking for. After a back-and-forth struggle to understand each other, the man came up with a solution:

‘Why don’t you leave the package in this shed, it is never locked. So you can pick it up whenever you want.’

What a fantastic offer!

I suggested to hang it from the rafters, to minimize the chance of animals getting to it, so I grabbed a sturdy bag and soon it was dangling from a wooden beam.

‘No worries, there are no mice here,’ the man explained.

To be honest, I found that hard to believe, but who knows? And if the bag gets destroyed by rats, insects or other animals in next 5-6 weeks, when we hope to reach this place, well, that will be part of the adventure as well!

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‘Coffee?’ the man asked.

‘Sure, that sounds lovely,’ we answered.

We stepped inside a large, sparsely furnished room. Two beds, old and sagging. The adobe walls covered with pieces of cloth to keep the mud from falling into their beds and for the same reason, the ceiling was covered with plastic. A leaf spring was used to support a plank along the wall, serving as storage for a minimal amount of food.

He took some apples from a plastic bag and placed them on a plate, alongside a hand full of single-wrapped sweets. Coffee is never just coffee in this country. Soon we were sipping from the strong Armenian brew, the elderly couple having joined us and smiles went back and forth.

Among the many things I look forward to on this hike, is these kind of encounters. They are the gems in any journey.

The Luxury of Food Drops

Like in South-Korea, we find ourselves at our hiking destination with our trusty Land Cruiser. This provides us with the perfect chance to strategically place food supplies along our route from the northern to the southern point. It it a necessity? Well, I don’t believe so, considering there are numerous convenience stores and the occasional supermarket along the way (although be prepared to carry food for a couple of days). However, we know from experience that convenience store options may be somewhat limited. And so, since we have the opportunity to set up food drops, why not take full advantage of it?

And so for the past ten days or so, we have slowly driven southward. It was a lovely combination of arranging these food drops, taking in the views and some cultural sites, to get some online work done, as well as to prepare ourselves for the TCT in various ways (outlined below).

Food Preparation

We have no problem with eating more or less the same food for weeks on end, as long as we are not stuck with Ramen noodles three times a day (well, that’s mainly for me, Karin-Marijke). Our meals are fairly straightforward:

  • Breakfast: oatmeal, raisins, nuts, with a banana or apple thrown in if we pick some up along the route.
  • Lunch: we will bring peanut butter and will buy bread as we go, occasionally adding cheese for a bit of variety.
  • Dinner: ramen or couscous for carbs / red lentils or tuna for protein / and we add in extras like dried mushrooms, dried vegetables, or dried soya balls.
  • Snacks: dried fruit, nuts

Availability of Food Choices

Ramen, couscous, red lintels are typically available locally. As for the dried mushrooms, vegetables, and soya balls, I had already stocked up on these during our travels in Central Asia & Nepal. Whenever I come across potential hiking food, I buy it.

We’ll splurge on dinners when available in towns along the way to eat something different all together!

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About Cooking on Gas vs Alcohol

We will be cooking on gas, which works particularly well for us as the canisters are part of the food drops. If you can’t arrange food drops for the TCT, it’s not advisable to cook with gas you will hardly find the threaded gas canisters along the way. According to the TCT forum, denatured alcohol is the preferred method for hiking in Armenia because every pharmacy sells it.

Navigation & Lessons Learned

  • We exported the GPX file from the TCT-operated Caltopo map.
  • We use MapOut, for a simple reason: it can be used offline, and so it doesn’t drain your battery much. It has a couple of additional useful features, but Coen will need to write a separate post about that. What I (Karin-Marijke) can say about it is that we have used MapOut on almost all of our long-distance hikes (for the list, see below) and this map has proven itself. Even for someone who isn’t particularly quick at grasping the intricacies of the digital world, I learned how to navigate with it fairly quickly.

Lessons on nagivation that we learned the hard way:

  • We make sure we have all necessary information (map & other info) on both our phones. A fall from the mountain in Turkey, during which Coen lost his iPhone in the middle of nowhere, taught us the importance of having a proper back-up, in this case my (KM’s) phone.
  • While I am not the digital navigator during our overland journey, for our hikes I make sure I know how MapOut works. (I practice before we start) so, if necessary I can find my way to a town independently. This lesson was learned when we got briefly separated on our hike in Jordan. Coen was checking out a camping spot across the river and I wasn’t carrying a phone (and therefore no map). I then realized that if Coen didn’t return (e.g. if had drowned in the river) I’d have no clue as how to exit the desert.

Don’t Forget to Bring

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Last-Minute Checks

Ah, these last-minute things that need to be done. And so I made a short check list:

  • Charge all our devices: phones, Kindles, power banks, headlights.
  • Verify that we have the most recent GPX file on our phones.
  • Pack ziplocks for the iPhones in case of rain.
  • Download ebooks onto our Kindles.
  • Top up the credit on our iPhones (we are using a prepaid Vivacell MTS sim card).
  • Ensure we have sufficient cash on hand. Even though card payments are common in urban Armenia, cash probably works best in the rural areas.

Practical information on the TCT:

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A Cup of Armenian Coffee, Anyone?

During our 861-kilometer Transcaucasian hike we’re keeping our fingers crossed for chances to savor some delicious Armenian coffee.

Would you like to join us and contribute to a shot on the upcoming leg of the hike? A proper dose of caffeine not only revitalizes our legs but also works wonders for our minds.


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