Hiking in Armenia – the Transcaucasian Trail: stage 3, across the Gegham Mountains

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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’s a glimpse of stage 3: 6 days of hiking from Lchashen along Lake Sevan across the Gegham Mountains to the Crossway Camping in Yeghegnadzor.

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

You’ll soon be rewarded with expansive views across the volcanic mountains, glimpses of Lake Sevan to the east, and (on a clear day) Mt. Ararat to the west. This is one of the most dramatic parts of Armenia– with panoramic views and thunderstorms to match.

The route consists of a mixture of 4×4 tracks, animal trails, open steppe, scree slopes, boulder fields and lava flows. 

This is one of the most remote parts of the country, although you are also likely to encounter several nomad camps along the way.

~Transcaucasian hike

The Mists of Avalon

Here we are, just the two of us, seemingly lost in a world shrouded in white mist. No matter how many steps we take, covering a total of about 33 kilometers on our first day, the world around us remains unaltered: an expanse of white nothingness. It is concealing the renowned, at least among Armenian hikers, Gegham Mountains.

I can’t help but feel like we’re in the Mists of Avalon. I’m almost tempted to raise both arms to the sky and theatrically lower them while beckoning Avalon to reveal itself. However, as it goes in the book, the movie, and, indeed, in today’s world, it’s unlikely to happen. The old religion is permanently lost.

All we can discern is the dirt track beneath our feet, winding its way slowly uphill through endless grassy fields, where the last shepherds are guiding their sheep and cows. Over the next couple of weeks, these shepherds will migrate from the high mountains to warmer, lower altitudes. 

Truth be told, we don’t mind the weather. It keeps us comfortably cool. This particular stretch of the trail lacks freshwater springs along the way, so beause of the cold weather there’s no concern about running out of drinking water on this fully exposed path. 

Shady spots are a rarity in Armenia to begin with, and hiking, driving, or biking under the relentless sun can be quite challenging. The cooler temperatures allow us to maintain a brisk pace with ease. However, the mist has turned the grass wet, and given that we need to do a bit of bushwhacking, our feet are soaked and cold.

For a mere five minutes, we’re treated to a spectacle. It’s not Avalon that unveils itself, but Lake Akna. This radiant water pond nestles amidst bare mountain hills painted in brown and gray hues. It’s a striking testament to the presence of life – water – in an otherwise seemingly lifeless realm. 

On a practical level, it provides a view of a perfect spot to set up our tent, conveniently located next to a picnic shelter.

Gegham Mountains

We awaken inside our frozen tent, greeted by a world adorned with hoarfrost. Nevertheless, the sky is a brilliant blue, and the sun creeps over the hills to warm us. What a stunning, serene, and overwhelmingly beautiful world.

In all honesty, the Gegham Mountains largely continue the theme of vast grassy fields used for grazing herds. We’ve encountered plenty of that already. The added charm here comes from the extinct volcanoes that rise on either side of us. 

As we delve deeper into the mountains, certain areas become more rugged, with bare rocky sections providing an ever-increasing sense of wilderness. The dirt tracks are a reminder that true isolation is scarce, a result of shepherds no longer moving camp on foot or horseback but simply using cars. Traditional lifestyles coexist with modern conveniences.

Some sections of the hike are a breeze, crossing more grassy plains, while others prove challenging, involving steep slopes along singletrack trails where careful foot placement is necessary to avoid slipping downhill.

Is our Food Drop Intact?

After four days of high altitudes (including two nights above 3,000 meters), we notice the temperature rising as we continue to descend. We’re on our way to retrieve a food drop, and we hope it’s still there. 

Weeks ago, we journeyed to this remote hamlet where we encountered just three people. They explained that they were occasionally here, working, and sometimes elsewhere. Not a problem, they assured us. We could leave the food bag in an unlocked shed. They claimed there were no animals, not even mice, that could access it, but I found that somewhat hard to believe.

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

So, we mentally prepare ourselves to find an empty bag and to subsist on dried fruit and nuts for the next two days. But lo and behold, the bag is intact, contents and all. Two women are present, and while we enjoy a cup of delicious black coffee, we organize the provisions, take what we need, and inquire if we can leave the rest with them.

They’re curious to learn what’s in the bag, and we use Google Translate to explain how to soak and cook red lentils, rehydrate dried mushrooms, and prepare other foods. Both women are intrigued, and as we depart, we wonder whether they’ll actually attempt to prepare it or not.

Canyon Landscape

To be completely honest, for us the real wonder of the mountains begins here (the section north of Hors). It’s in this part of the journey that we feel as if we’re hiking through American Canyon Land.

The trail itself might not be particularly captivating, mainly comprising singletrack or dirt paths weaving through dry grass and faded flowers. However, the views are breathtaking.

Countless are the bare mountain walls, adorned in an array of colors, forming canyons and plateaus. Simultaneously, they evoke the sensation of being in the canyons of Jordan, and it’s a timeless landscape that never ceases to captivate us.

Skipping a Section

We decided to skip the Shatin – Yeghegnadzor section. It includes an undeveloped section with incredibly steep rocky slopes without a defined trail and an abundance of loose rocks. After my unfortunate fall from a mountain in Turkey when hiking the Lycian Way, where I was fortunate to have only broken a hand, I’ve set certain boundaries on the hiking risks I’m willing to take.

Information about this trail segment is based on the TCT ebook available on the TCT website. I should note that we haven’t come across any information on the forum suggesting that it’s an especially perilous section. So, please don’t let my caution discourage you. Instead, do your own research before making a decision.

Crossway Camping

At this point, we’ve completed Stage 3 and are enjoying some rest at the Crossway Camping in Yeghegnadzor. It’s a lovely place with ample space for pitching tents beneath the shade of trees, outdoor lounging areas, cooking facilities, clean bathrooms with hot water as well as a washing machine.

A food court is just down the road, along with a winery where we plan to sample some wine this afternoon, accompanied by a cheese platter, and hopefully in the good company of fellow overlanding friends who happen to be in the vicinity.

Meanwhile, we’re gearing up for the next stage, from here to Old Martiros and on to Jermuk.

Stay tuned for more adventures!

Travel Guides for Armenia & Caucasus

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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.

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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.

Thanks!

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