The aim of this epic trek in Armenia is to summit two peaks in southern Armenia’s Arevik National Park, Mount Khustup (3206m) and Mount Aramazd (3392m). The endeavour ends at the village of Tatev – its fairytale monastery perched high on a natural rock buttress an almost surreal end to this remote and challenging summer expedition. Precipitous Tatev is situated in the UNESCO-nominated Vorotan gorge – Armenia’s deepest and most impressive.
The Transcaucasian Trail
This year’s Armenia trek expedition team will be joined by Tom Allen. Adventure filmmaker, author and speaker. Tom won the 2016 Royal Geographic Society and Land Rover bursary to fund a year’s worth of trail research in southern Armenia, as part of the wider Transcaucasian Trail development project. Tom is a font of knowledge on all things Armenian and we’re thrilled to have him join the Armenian trekking adventure this year.
Meet Armenia’s best mountain guides
Secret Compass works with Armenia’s best mountain guides to bring you this pioneering route, as trekking is not generally ‘done’ in this region in this manner – most trek groups stick to the more quickly accessed northerly national parks. These remote mountains (and their endless skies and sunsets viewed from wild camp spots) will be yours alone. The terrain varies from verdant leafy forests to arid peaks and valley floors to seas of peaks stretching off in the direction of Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkey.
- Trek Armenia in 2017.
- Meet Tom Allen, learn about the Transcaucasian Trail.
- Summit Mounts Aramazd and Khustup.
- Trek in one of the earliest Christian civilisations.
- Visit a monastery dating back 2,000 years.
- Explore Tatev monastery and the Vorotan gorge.
- Visit Areni winery, said to be the world’s oldest.
- Be among the first to trek southern Armenia’s high peaks.
- Pass old Soviet infrastructure – the remains of Armenia’s turbulent past.
- Feast on local delicacies like churchkhela and lavash bread.
Mount Khustup is the one of the resting places of the Armenian national hero Garegin Nzhdeh (1886-1955). He was involved in national liberation struggles and revolutionary activities during the First Balkan War and World War I. Nzhdeh played a crucial role in the formation of the Armenian statehood and his request to be ‘buried on the slopes of Mount Khustup’ was partly fulfilled with his right hand being buried near the Kozni fountain. The team will make a basecamp near his memorial in readiness for the summit push on Mount Khustup. These ranges hold huge historical significance in preserving Armenian identity, and their inhospitable nature has provided a haven for retreating Armenians over the centuries as they have fled from various waves of suppression. For those keen on looking up some pre-trip reading, these mountains drip with fables, myths and legends.
Pioneering adventure travel in Arevik
Imagine taking a large sheet of paper. Crush it into the tiniest ball then lay it flat again, a mass of close-wrought lines and wrinkles. That is the topographical reality of southern Armenia. To tackle this region, Secret Compass works with expert guidance from the president of the Armenian Alpine Club; an experienced climber and skier who’s been guiding here for years. He says, ‘I like the way Secret Compass is trying to capture the spirit of this region, attempting this ambitious, adventurous trek in a self-supported way. It will allow the team to experience Armenia’s natural environment undistracted. Their expedition has pioneered trekking in this manner in our country’s southern Caucasus.’
The Transcaucasian Trail
In 2017, Secret Compass is working with Tom Allen, a British adventure writer, speaker and award-winning filmmaker. Tom won the 2016 Royal Geographical Society and Land Rover bursary, and spent a year researching the route of a planned long-distance trekking route across the wider Caucasus region, called the Transcaucasian Trail. Tom’s Transcaucasian project continues with the support of Land Rover in 2017, and we are thrilled that Tom will join this year’s Armenia trek. Get your tricky questions ready…
Geography, politics and religion
A lifetime’s reading in itself, here is an overview. Armenia has suffered invasions from four directions and has consequently oscillated between Byzantine, Persian, Mongol, Turkish and Soviet control, as well as periods of independence. Even today, the borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and between Armenia and Turkey, remain closed due to ongoing disputes. Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its state religion and features hundreds of churches and monasteries that are often located on the tops of hills, built into the rock. Tatev has played a significant role in the history of the region and has been the centre of economic, political, spiritual and cultural activity for centuries.
European-like Yerevan is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities (782 BC). As the Telegraph says, ‘Some 30 years before Rome was founded, the city was an important stop along the caravan routes from Asia to Europe. It was invaded by Assyrians, Romans, Byzantines, Persians, Arabs, Seljuks, Mongols and Turks, and later by the Soviet Red Army in 1920. Yerevan is a great place for a pre- or post-expedition break with fascinating cultural and historic attractions to visit. It also has s a vast range of restaurants representing the food heritage of the many peoples who’ve passed through over the centuries. As a Christian country, the dress code is positively relaxed and western.
Secret Compass runs expeditions with framework itineraries, rather than guided tours with set daily plans. Read more about Our Approach here. The following is the outline plan for this epic Armenia expedition – the ‘substance’ rather than the specifics. A fuller itinerary is provided in the Armenia Expedition Handbook which is available on request or upon application to join the team.
All teammates fly into Yerevan to arrive by 5am on 26 Aug 2017. Most international flights land in the early hours, and those on other flights will need to return to the airport for the expedition’s official start time of 5am. Met by your Secret Compass leader, the team will then take a private bus transfer straight down to the southerly town of Kapan. Stay awake and look right on the journey for glimpses of Mount Ararat, the legendary final resting place of Noah’s Ark and the symbol of Armenia (though it is now within Turkey’s borders). Time permitting, there are stone circles older than Stone Henge and other sites of interest to visit on your route south. The official expedition introduction, briefing and welcome meal will take place in a hotel in Kapan. The next day, kit sorted, it’s a short drive to Meghri to begin the trek proper.
For the next five nights, it’s you and the epic, deserted mountains of Arevik National Park. You’ll be carrying your personal kit for the day with up to four litres of water. The rest of the equipment will travel in the 4WD support vehicle. (The vehicle is purely to refresh team water supplies and fresh lunches every night and won’t be seen from morning until night). It’s tough, it’s steep, it can be very hot, and the vegetation is remarkably prickly so don’t wear your best newest trek gear as it might get pulled! Dress to keep cool in the heat, with layers at the ready for the higher or more exposed ridges.
There’ll be stops for fresh lunches every day, with rehydrated meals the order of the day at breakfasts and dinners due to the lack of opportunity in this sparsely populated region to reliably buy food en route. At night, suitable wild camping spots will be located, generally with incredible views with mountains rippling to the horizon. Teammates will each have a one-person tent and should prepare for colder than expected nights. Ice on the water bottles before breakfast is not unheard of, don’t be fooled by daytime temperatures. Believe the kit list and come prepared.
The route takes you through the region’s newest protected area: the Arevik National Park. Established in 2009, this parks hosts a variety of ecosystems including open juniper woodlands, sub-alpine and alpine meadows, mountain steppe and semi-desert. Despite this spectacle, the vast landscape lies untouched by tourism and inhabited only by the occasional shepherd watching his herd. The two peaks of Mount Khustup and Mount Aramazd will be tackled en route and, depending on team speed, neighbouring peaks might also be incorporated into this flexible expedition framework. The trekking phase draws to a close when the team reaches its end point: Tatev monastery in the Vorotan gorge. Photo opportunities aplenty here.
Mountains climbed, you can now look forward to cold drinks and ice cream in Tatev village, which will be busy will busloads of tourists com to travel – as you can – on the world’s longest aerial tramway, Tatev Wings. Visit the monastery and surrounds and enjoy a delicious meal in a hospitable local guesthouse. Fruit will be laid out and drying in piles wherever you look. On the expedition’s penultimate day, the team will rejoin the private minibus to retrace its hairpin-bend filled journey back up to Yerevan. There will be a few hours to explore Yerevan plus a celebratory meal in a downtown restaurant, with a night spent in a comfortable hotel. The expedition officially ends after breakfast on the morning of 3 Sep, with teammates welcome to leave on flights departing at any time on this day (including early morning flights). With everyone on different flights, it is teammates’ responsibility to organise their return transfer or taxi to the airport.
Secret Compass expeditions are achievable by anyone with a healthy lifestyle and a good level of general fitness. Team members should be willing to be part of a team working together to achieve the goal of the expedition. The biggest challenge on this expedition will be the unrelenting ridgelines and peaks and the hot climate.
Applicants will receive a Handbook with further expedition information. View Secret Compass’s suggested Training Plan and get in touch with any fitness, health, training or kit questions that remain. Teammates who arrive without meeting the agreed minimum fitness requirements can jeopardise themselves and the expedition’s goal so do take training seriously, prepare as appropriate and arrive fit and ready to go. Teammates must be comfortable with the following.
Minimum fitness requirements
- Trek: up to 25km per day.
- Carry: up to 10kg per person.
- Terrain: steep, challenging and occasionally exposed terrain with daily altitude gains of up to 1,000m and at heights reaching 3,500m.
- Climate: hot and humid conditions up to 35C, far colder at altitude.
- Age: 21+
Accommodation will be in a hotel in Yerevan for the final night, and at a hotel while in Kapan. The team will stay in a comfortable guesthouse in Tatev. One-person tents will be used on the mountain once the trek proper begins, and there will be an intro to putting up these particular tents for anyone who’d like a bit of direction.
You’ll eat local food in towns and dehydrated rations during the trek element itself. In urban areas you’ll visit local restaurants and cafés. We’ll enjoy lavash (a local flat bread), sweetmeats, dried fruits and trail foods to supplement the Expedition Foods ration packs during the trek. If there is a particular high energy snack you like to have on hand, feel free to bring some of these in addition though all essential meals and snacks will be provided.
After your initial international flights to join the expedition team in Yerevan, Armenia, expedition transport will include journeys in 4WD vehicles to get to the start and finish points of this linear ridge line trek and trips in a private bus journey from Yerevan down to Kapan and back. The trekking element will be on foot with water resupply from the 4WD.
The Armenia Expedition Handbook contains a full recommended kit list. This online Handbook is provided to all potential teammates upon application to join this team.
- Secret Compass leader.
- Specialist local guides.
- Tented accommodation throughout.
- 4×4 vehicle support.
- All food (snacks and meals) and soft drinks.
- Internal transport as outlined in itinerary.
- Any local permits and permissions required.
- International flights/ travel to and from Yerevan.
- Airport transfers.
- Travel insurance (obligatory).
- Visas where relevant.
- Tips to local guides (discretionary).
- Alcohol unless provided by hosts with meals.
- Personal equipment (full kit list in the Handbook).
On application to join this epic expedition to Armenia, potential teammates will receive a detailed Expedition Handbook. Here are some expedition-specific questions and our general FAQ will answer many other questions. Get in touch if your question remains unanswered.
Do women need to cover?
Armenia is a Christian country. This means that Western dress is fine across the board (including shorts and vest tops) and hair need not be covered.
Can I charge all my electricals?
This will be very challenging with no access to power once the trekking section begins. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration. There is one support vehicle with one lighter socket which is a priority of any Secret Compass devices but this might be able to be used on a very limited basis.
I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?
Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition. Vegetarian ration packs can be used for the trekking phase and albeit limited vegetarian options are available in guesthouses. Vegetarians might want to consider bringing their own protein source.
Will there be telephone signal?
Signal in and around the towns and cities of Armenia can be expected. Signal once in the mountains cannot be guaranteed at all times though some teammates might be lucky and receive or send the occasional message.
I haven’t done much trekking, is that OK?
Though shorter than most Secret Compass expeditions, this is a very challenging trek. Teammates will be carrying all kit plus lunch and water at all times, though tents and shared cooking equipment travels in the support vehicle. Training in advance (carrying full kit) to ensure boots and bags are comfortable is essential. So, yes, but train in advance.
Can I arrive a day late?
This expedition takes place in the south of Armenia which entails a long private coach journey from Yerevan Airport, with the same journey repeated at the end of the expedition so its dates are set.
How can I find out more?
Apply for this expedition team using the button below (a no-obligation form). You will then receive your Expedition Handbook with fuller details. Secret Compass is then on hand to answer any questions or to firm up your place on the team.