Hiking in Armenia – the Transcaucasian Trail: stage 2, Alaverdi – Lchashen

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

We’ve broken down this 39-day trek into 5 stages. Here is a glimpse of stage 2: 7 days of hiking across northeastern Armenia – from Alaverdi going south, passing through Dilijan National Park and ending in Lchashen near Lake Sevan.

For practical information and links to my other blog posts on the Transcaucasian Trail, scroll down to the end of this post.

While traversing the highlands on jeep tracks and livestock trails of Tavush, large cliffs emerge from the hills. This is the Ijevan range, which you’ll cross to enter Dilijan National Park.

Dilijan’s trail network is generally quite easy to navigate, although there is a brief section that is unmarked, unmaintained, and extremely overgrown, so be prepared for a bit of bushwhacking.

East of Dilijan, the trail winds through the forest on singletrack trails towards Gosh village with its popular Goshavank monastery and Gosh Lake. The route heads over an open, hilly range towards the massive Lake Sevan, the largest body of water in the Caucasus.

~from: Transcaucasian hike

White World

The first two days of the trail, heading south from Alaverdi, were shrouded in mist. At times, we had only a few meters of visibility. It was less than ideal, but the cooler weather was a welcome relief after temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius or higher just days before.

We kept up a brisk pace, covering 30 kilometers on the first day, which is quite a feat for us during any hike.

Green World

As the weather cleared, Dilijan National Park treated us to lush, green forest scenery. Aside from some bushwhacking, it was a delightful walk along singletrack trails through the gorgeous forest.

Blue World

Upon reaching the open grasslands above the treeline on our way to Sevan, the sun returned in full force. This offered us splendid views of the forests behind us and rocky outcrops amid the grasslands, lending this section a more remote and wilderness-like atmosphere compared to stage 1.

All in all, stage 2 involved its fair share of ups and downs in the hills but was still relatively easy to hike without any challenging or technical stretches.

Culture

Similar to stage 1, we encountered several cultural sites, including cemeteries, churches, and monasteries, which provided a welcome change in the mostly rural scenery.

Both Haghartsin and Goshavank monasteries are popular tourist sites. One of them, Haghartsin, was bustling with visitors due to a wedding ceremony in one of the churches.

Haghartsin monastery had a coffee and tea to-go place, but it was so busy that they couldn’t prepare coffee for us. Instead, we brewed our own on our stove. However, they did offer delicious gata, a local pastry with a sweet filling, which was the perfect treat after a hike.

Goshavank monastery is situated in a hamlet that heavily relies on tourism and we happily sat down for coffee and more gata (though not as good as Haghatsin’s).

Fellow Hikers

“Hello!” I yelled and waved.

It was nearly dark, but across Lake Gosh I spotted two hikers with large backpacks. They came over and gratefully put their backpacks on the bench of the picnic shelter, which, by the way are a common sight throughout Armenia. (Apparently Armenians prefer to dine indoors or under sheltered picnic areas). 

These two young women, whose names I didn’t catch, hailed from the Czech Republic and had taken a wrong trail, leading them who knows where. Since going back meant hiking in the dark, they decided to traverse a mountain top instead. They slide down the trail on their butt and managed to reconnect with the proper trail. They certainly had an adventure and some good stories to share!

Dilijan National Park, particularly the southern section, turned out to be a favorite for many. We encountered several day-trippers, which was a pleasant change after days of solitary hiking.

Besides humans, we walked a couple of sections in the good company of dogs. No worries when this happens, some dogs will just tag along with hikers for the fun of it.

Hospitality

Once again, like during stage 1, we met some incredibly kind people, some of whom offered us coffee and pastries.

There was one peculiar situation in a village where the school grounds seemed like a suitable camping spot due to its flat grassy fields. Two locals indicated it was fine, but about an hour later, others had a different opinion and were rather aggressive in telling us to move elsewhere. They seemed quite distrustful.

It took some time to find the person in charge. With patience, kindness, apologies for any inconvenience caused, and a touch of humor, we not only managed to meet the director, explain who we were and what we were doing, but also got them laughing and secured permission to stay. 

The local kids came over to say hi, climb a tree, pick apples, and share them with us. Such kindness in the end!

I mention this particular encounter to highlight that not every part of an adventure is rainbows and unicorns. It’s important to realize that not everyone is automatically thrilled to see strangers in their town, let alone camp there. Sometimes, it takes patience and diplomacy. And if the director had said no, we would have packed up without causing any fuss. After all, it’s their place; we’re just passing guests.

Hikers Hostel in Dilijan

Staying at the Hikers Hostel in Dilijan, run by the Transcaucasian Trail founder Tom Allen, was a fantastic experience. Tom is currently working on a guidebook for the trail and is also the author of the Bradt travel guide to Armenia. It was a privilege to meet him and hear the stories of how the trail came into existence and the challenges they’ve faced and continue to face. 

We spent two days in Dilijan to wait out the rain and enjoyed some excellent meals at nearby restaurants. Great food options here!

So, there you have it, a brief summary of stage 2. We’re currently at the charming Etiuni, the Forgotten Kingdom, Guesthouse in Lchashen.

By the way, in the 1950s, the Soviets constructed three dams to generate electricity, causing Lake Sevan to lose 20 meters in height. In the process, they discovered the remains of a 5,000-year-old town/empire named Etiuni, which is the current village of Lchashen.

The owner Satik showed us an archaeological dig in her garden, with an old fireplace still visible.

What’s Next

From here, we’re gearing up for stage 3: Armenia’s grand mountains, the Gengham. They will take us to an altitude of 3,500 meters.

The change in temperature has been quite dramatic, dropping from the 30s to around 15 degrees Celsius (and below 10 in the morning). Rain showers are becoming more frequent, though short. Will a late summer feeling return? We certainly hope so, especially for the next high-altitude stage. Rest assured, we’re well-prepared for colder weather.

Practical Information about Stage 2:

Hiking days

We leisurely covered:

  • Alaverdi-Dilijan: approx. 90 kilometers in 4 days.
  • Dilijan-Lchashen: approx. 70 days in 3 days.

Water

Much like stage 1, we had no issues with water. There were plenty of streams and freshwater springs along the way. However, it’s crucial to plan and carry enough water based on the distance and the temperature. Hiking in 30-degree heat is different from hiking in 15-degree weather. We carried a maximum of 1 liter per person.

Food

  • You’ll need to carry enough food from Alaverdi to get you to Dilijan. The only treat along the way is at Haghartsin, where you can find a coffee/tea/gata shop, but nothing more.
  • Dilijan and Sevan have all the amenities you need, including supermarkets, ATMs, and restaurants.
  • Gosh has a few places for coffee/tea, pastries, and food, as well as a small convenience store. When leaving the hamlet, there’s a fruit and vegetable shop.
  • In Semyonovka, there’s a small convenience store, but it was closed when we arrived late in the afternoon.

Accommodation

  • We found picnic shelters with freshwater springs that were perfect for camping. Lake Gosh, in particular, was a beautiful spot for camping!
  • In Dilijan, we stayed at the Hikers Hostel, and when as it was fully booked for our second night, we opted for the Seno Hotel down the road. Both accommodations recommended.
  • Now, in Lchashen, we’re enjoying our stay at the Etiuni Guesthouse, which comes with a lovely and a spacious garden. Perfect for a rest day!
  • Both the Hikers Hostel and Etiuni Guesthouse offer have a washing machine for guests to use.

Practical Information on the Transcaucasian 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 (‘Have-an-Adventure’) Collection

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.

Thanks!

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