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ARMENIA

expedition handbook

DATES: 26 Aug03 Sep 2017 COST: £1799 TEAM CLOSES: 18 Aug

This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this Secret Compass epic expedition to Armenia.

Read on to discover our ethos and team-centred approach and for the nitty gritty like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations. Use the buttons below to ask questions or to apply for this team or, once approved, to secure your spot on the team with a Booking Form and a £400 deposit.

Key facts

  • Arrive: by 0500 on 26 August 2017 into Yerevan, Armenia.
  • Depart: leave any time on 3 September onwards.
  • Insurance: Eensure you have comprehensive cover.
  • Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in.
  • Balance due: 90 days before departure on 26 May 2017.
  • Find FAQ and Testimonials online.

Aim

The aim of this expedition is to summit two southern peaks of Armenia: Mount Khustup (3206m) and Mt Aramazd (3392m). Summit attempts will be made while traversing the southern Armenian Highlands to the historic city of Tatev on the lip of UNESCO-nominated Vorotan gorge.

Summary

Secret Compass works with Armenia’s best mountain guides to bring you this pioneering route. 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.

Highlights

  • 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.

Flights

You need to organise your own international Flights. We have a unique partnership with Student Universe (a specialist division of the Flight Centre Travel Group and no, you don’t have to be a student to use them). The dedicated Secret Compass team understand us, our destinations and use global buying power to save you money and offer security along with a 24-hour assistance helpline.

Fill in a free, no-obligation Flight Request Form here or call (UK) 0844 560 9799 for assistance in booking international flights.

It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed or refunded if the expedition dates are changed or if it is cancelled for any reason. See our online Terms and Conditions.

You need to be at Zvartnots International Airport, Yerevan by 0500 on 26 August 2017 and the expedition officially ends after breakfast on 3 September 2017 although you are free to depart anytime as many flights depart early in the morning.

Visas

Visas are your responsibility, please check the specific requirements for your nationality. British, EU and US passport holders no longer require a visa to visit Armenia. The entrance stamp is valid for a period of 90 days.

Some nationalities which require a visa can obtain these online or on arrival at the border. If you are eligible for an eVisa you can apply through the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Passports

You should have a passport valid for at least six months beyond the expedition and your travel dates. Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies with you on the expedition in a safe place.

Insurance

Travel insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy. Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).

  • Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad: at least $500,000.
  • Activities: ensure that any expedition activities are included, these could be trekking, horse riding, rafting etc.
  • Geographical region: check the geographical region you are going to is insured (often the US and Canada or countries such as Afghanistan are not insured).
  • Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and the Travel Aware site.
  • Dates: ensure the cover includes all dates between departure from and return to your home country, including travel dates and time zones. Insurance companies may prejudice your claims due to this.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose these to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.

Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hour emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit the Travel Insurance page on our website.

Day 1: Aug 26 – Yerevan

Meet at Yerevan Airport at 0500 and drive straight to Kapan (300km, four to five hours). This is a stupendous drive with switchbacks aplenty. Those awake on the drive out of Yerevan can look right to see Mount Ararat. In Kapan you’ll check into a guesthouse, rest and prepare for the expedition. The expedition briefing and formal introductions will happen in Kapan.

Day 2: Aug 27 – Meghri

After a short drive to Meghri, a small town next to the trailhead, you’ll walk out to the starting point. Today will be a hard first day of trekking up onto the ridge line from the valley. Set up camp around 1500m above Meghri.

Day 3: Aug 28 – Arevik National Park

The ascent continues today with another 1000m of elevation gain into the Meghri mountain range, the landscape is vast and remote offering little shelter from the elements.

Day 4: Aug 29 –Arevik National Park

Today the trek follows the top of a ridge line that promises stunning views in all directions before setting up a base camp beneath Mount Khustup.

Day 5: Aug 30 – Mount Khustup

Up early and trek to the summit of Mount Khustup (3206m), the first of the Southern Armenian peaks attemped in this expedition. It’s then downhill for the rest of the day to drop over 1500m into the valley to camp near the ruins of the ancient Baghaberd fort.

Day 6: Aug 31 – Arevik National Park

Today will be one of the toughest days as you return to the ridge line to follow it along the Bargushat range towards Mount Aramazd. Setting up another basecamp just above 3000m you’ll prepare for the summit the following day.

Day 7: Sep 1 – Mount Aramazd

After a challenging expedition and the difficult ascent of the previous day, the views from Mount Aramazd (3392m) are a well-deserved reward. The team then descends into the village of Tatev with its fabled monastery to celebrate. And to enjoy ice cream! Tonight will be spent feasting in local restaurants and sleeping in a B&B or local guesthouse.

Day 8: Sep 2 – Yerevan

After an early start and a trip on the ‘Tatev Wings’ cable car (the longest of its type in the world), you’ll be collected and driven back to Yerevan. There will be the chance to explore the capital before the final team meal and a night in a comfortable hotel.

Day 9: Sep 3 – Yerevan

You are free to depart any time today or to make arrangements to extend your stay. The expedition officially ends after breakfast although many flights depart early in the morning. The transfer back to the airport is each teammate’s responsibility though taxis are cheap and plentiful.

About Secret Compass itineraries

Please remember that this itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but may not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team will adapt, flex and change the plan depending on the numerous frictions you may encounter along the way.

Fitness

All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, this is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you may be sore, tired, hungry and possibly wet! You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration, ensure that you train for the expedition and arrive fit and ready to go. You should be fit enough for the following.

  • Expedition Grade: 270°.
  • Daily activity: up to eight hours per day (may be more).
  • Walk: up to 25km a day.
  • Carry: up to 10kg in a day sack.
  • Terrain: over rough, steep terrain at altitudes up to 3500m.
  • Climate: exposed with temperatures up to 35°C. Can drop to just over zero (0°C) at night.

Previous experience

No previous experience is necessary to join this expedition but team members would benefit from trekking or hill-walking practice and being used to carrying 10 – 20kg for multiple days. This expedition is physically challenging with substantial height gain/ loss each day in temperatures up to 35°C. A good level of fitness and adventurous mindset are essential.

Medical

Please seek advice from your health professional on recommended vaccinations. The NHS Fit For Travel site and Travel Health Pro are both useful. It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are very unpleasant.

Money

It is Armenian law that payments be made in Armenian Dram. Bring US dollars and change for local currency in Yerevan. There will be access to cash through bank machines in Yerevan, Kapan and Tatev only and credit cards will only be accepted in Yerevan.

This expedition is all-inclusive so you won’t need much money, just for a beer (or Armenia’s famous Arse cognac) in towns or some souvenirs.

The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for the 2017 expedition to Armenia. You will be required to carry a day sack with personal kit, a share of communications and medical kits and up to four litres of water for this expedition. Secret Compass will supply tents and stoves. Teammates’ larger bags will go in the 4WD vehicle that rejoins the team every night to resupply water.

Secret Compass has arranged team member discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of these will be sent through on booking.

Baggage and sleeping

  • RUCKSACK OR DUFFLE BAG: 50-70ltr, all your personal gear needs to fit easily into this pack. The support vehicles are extremely limited on space so please pack sensibly.
  • DAYSACK: 20-30ltr. Everything you need for the day, including lunch and warm layers and four litres of water, will need to fit in this pack and be comfortable to wear for long periods.
  • WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable ‘canoe’ or ‘dry’ bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb. You need a large one to line your rucksack or duffle in case it is on a roof rack in bad weather.
  • SLEEPING BAG: Rated to at least comfort -5°C as the temperature drops at night. Down is lighter and more compact than synthetic options but also invest in a waterproof stuff sack. If you know you sleep cold, consider a liner for extra warmth.
  • FULL LENGTH SLEEPING MAT: Inflatable roll mat such as a Thermarest. Bring a repair kit.

Clothing

  • 2x LONG SLEEVE SHIRT: Quick drying trekking shirt or top (not cotton) with long sleeves for sun protection.
  • THERMAL BASELAYER: Long sleeve thermal top, Helly Hansen or equivalent.
  • 2x TREKKING TROUSERS: Long trousers that dry quickly and are comfortable.
  • WATERPROOF JACKET AND TROUSERS: Gore-Tex or similar.
  • WALKING BOOTS: Make sure these fit well, offer ankle support and are worn in prior to the expedition.
  • 4x HIKING SOCKS: Comfortable socks which fit with your boots.
  • SANDALS: For around camp. Not flipflops.
  • WIDE-BRIMMED SUN HAT.
  • WARM HAT: (optional) for the evenings.
  • GLOVES: (optional).
  • 4x UNDERWEAR.
  • Note from SC: a member of staff went without gloves and hat as cold nights seemed so unlikely. She regretted this, the nights truly get cold.

Eating

  • MUG.
  • SPOON: Long-handled spoons are great for ration packs.
  • WATER BOTTLE AND/OR BLADDER: You need to be able to carry at least four litres of water. Use a robust bottles eg. Nalgene or Sigg.

Health and Hygiene

  • WASHBAG, TOOTHBRUSH AND TOOTHPASTE, RAZOR, DEODORANT.
  • SOAP: Anti-bacterial and BIODEGRADABLE.
  • TRAVEL TOWEL/SARONG.
  • WET WIPES OR BABY WIPES.
  • ANTIBACTERIAL HAND GEL.
  • TOILET PAPER.
  • TRAVEL TISSUES.
  • SANITARY PRODUCTS.
  • LIP SALVE WITH UV PROTECTION.
  • VASELINE: Keep readily available on to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters.
  • VITAMINS.
  • AFTER SUN/MOISTURISER.
  • FACTOR 30+ SUN CREAM.

Small first aid kit

A team medical kit with a comprehensive primary care provision will be carried.

  • A WATERPROOF BAG OR TUPPERWARE BOX: Keep kit dry and safe.
  • PAINKILLERS: Ibuprofen and Paracetamol.
  • ZING OXIDE TAPE AND SMALL SCISSORS.
  • MELOLIN DRESSING PADS x4.
  • 2 x CREPE BANDAGE.
  • COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar looking blister packs for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard/original item.
  • DIARRHOEA TABLETS: Imodium.
  • DIORALYTE SACHETS OR SIMILAR REHYDRATION PACKS.
  • ANTISEPTIC WIPES.
  • ANTISEPTIC CREAM.
  • PIRITON TABLETS: For allergies.
  • ANY MEDICATION YOU NORMALLY USE: Find out the generic/chemical name for your medication in case you need to source more in-country. Please also check that your medication is legal in your destination. You MUST make Secret Compass aware of any medical conditions before you travel.

Other

  • WATCH.
  • HEAD TORCH AND SPARE BATTERIES: Petzl Tikka heard torch or equivalent.
  • SUNGLASSES: With UV-filter lenses.
  • PENKNIFE.
  • GAFFA TAPE: For emergency repairs to your kit, you can take some off the roll and wrap it around something else in your kit.
  • SPARE BOOT LACES.
  • SMALL SEWING KIT.
  • RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS: For dirty washing, wrappings etc.

Our approach

Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines of the world’s most remote reaches. Inspired by history’s great explorers and challenges, you’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.

Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than not expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Each expedition is thoroughly reviewed on its return and team members will have the opportunity to provide feedback which helps to inform planning for future expeditions.

Local partners and bureaucracy

Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.

Infrastructure and natural events

The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.

Food

In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs)

Part of a team

Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.

Teammate mentality

You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. These elements combine to create the unique character of each expedition. On expedition, challenges, frictions and changes to plans are inevitable. Teammates should meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success. Such things make the journey more interesting and are often most memorable parts when looking back.

Typical teammates

There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure and their sense of humour and positive outlook. A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teammates help each other, look out for each, encourage each other and help each other when needed. Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.

Risk management

Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.

  1. Risk assessment.
    We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/ severity if it does occur.
  2. Safety plan.
    As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
  3. Delivery.
    The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.

Key risks.

Key risks encountered on this specific expedition include accidents or medical emergencies whilst trekking and road traffic accidents. If you would like to see the full Risk Assessment for this expedition, please email info@secretcompass.com

Incident management and medical

As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies. This will be discussed in full at the arrival brief, so everyone is aware what action will be taken. In summary, incidences are usually managed on the ground by the expedition leader in the first instance with remote support from Secret Compass’s 24 hour Operations Room before evacuation to the nearest appropriate medical centre.

Informed consent

It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that medical evacuation will take an extended period of time (potentially up to 2 days) and will require wilderness extraction techniques and long carries by stretcher. In-country search and rescue and emergency services are very basic or non-existent and the expedition will rely on internal resources for medical evacuation. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.

Testimonials

Read team Testimonials or watch this short video featuring expedition teammates (filmed on location in Ethiopia) for an insight into life on expedition.

 

Cultural

Armenia is a Christian country and women can usually dress in normal western-style clothing. Outside the capital people are more conservative and inappropriate dress will attract attention.

Terrain

This expedition will cover a variety of terrain from dirt tracks, rolling meadows and alpine ridges to river valleys and steep paths. Each day involves a substantial amount of ascent or descent.

Weather

The climate in Armenia is relatively stable. It receives very little precipitation each year, with dry and sunny summers. In August the temperature has reached 35°C+ although the average temperature in towns is generally a pleasant 22°C on average. You should be prepared for a range of temperatures and for bad weather and cold nights.

Accommodation

In Kapan and Tatev, you’ll stay in local guesthouses or B&Bs. In Yerevan look forward to a comfortable hotel for the last night. During the expedition, Secret Compass will provide tents. Occasionally people on our expeditions are not prepared for camping for multiple days. Living in these conditions can degrade your health if you do not look after yourself and increase fatigue if you are not used to living rough. You need to be highly organised so that your night and morning routine is done efficiently and quickly. If you are inexperienced at camping, it is essential that you get as much practice as possible prior to the expedition.

Transport

The expedition will start from Yerevan Airport. If you are already in-country you will need to make your way there for 0500 on 26 August. The team will use a minibus to travel to Kapan and, depending on the road conditions, may switch to 4WD vehicles for the final leg to Meghri and the trailhead. The rest of the expedition will be on foot with vehicle support for camping equipment and water. There is a large road mid-way through the expedition and the vehicle may be used to cross this before the trek recommences. At the end of the expedition, the team will use the Tatev cablecar to descend into Halidor where the minibus will be waiting for the return drive to Yerevan. Transfers to the airport at the end of the expedition are the team members’ responsibility.

Food

In Yerevan, Kapan and Tatev you’ll eat at local restaurants, cafes or in the hotel. A common staple is dolma, an Armenian dish of stuffed vegetables that is now common across the Middle East. On the expedition Secret Compass will provide all food required in the form of dehydrated trekking rations that will provide all you need in terms of calorie intake. We will also have local sweetmeats, dried fruit and trail food for lunches. For example sujux (a string of nuts and dried fruit) and pastirma (highly seasoned, air-dried cured beef), both make excellent trekking food. You’ll also have lavash bread – a local flatbread that is dried and can be stored for months. Dietary requirements can usually be catered for but should be discussed with Secret Compass in advance. It is recommended that you bring a favourite snack or cereal bar for each expedition day as a morale boost.

Communications

Secret Compass staff will be carrying at least two methods of communication, usually a Satellite Phone and a DeLorme two-way communication device. These will be used for regular updates to head office and for emergencies.

Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.

Cell Phone. Your mobile roaming will work in Yerevan and Kapan. There may be signal at certain points during the trek but this shouldn’t be relied upon.

Here are some frequently asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our general FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.

I’m vegetarian, can I join?

Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying. The food situation is outlined in the Practicalities tab.

I’ve never camped, can I come?

Yes, you are welcome to apply for this team. As long as you fulfil the fitness requirements and have an adventurous spirit and are willing to work as a team, then you will have no problems although we recommend spending a few nights camping between now and the expedition dates to make sure you like it and can manage your routine efficiently.

Can I arrive a day late?

As the plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates to the trailhead at Meghri so start dates are not flexible.

Can I charge electricals?

Once the expedition phase begins, there will be no access to mains power. 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.

Is this an easy expedition?

Although Armenia is one of our shorter expeditions, it is still rated at 270° degrees as it is a physically challenging expedition.

Do you provide further advice?

You might find our Get Ready section useful, with further advice about fitness, flights, travel insurance, visas and our approach to risk management.

How can I apply?

Use the buttons below to contact Secret Compass with your questions or to complete our no-obligation Application Form to join this team. Someone will get back to you promptly.

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