About The Caucasus
The Caucasus, a mountainous isthmus of land sandwiched between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, is a region that includes parts of six countries – Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey and Iran. It is home to the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains, two of the world’s great mountain ranges and home to the highest peaks in Europe.
People have been crossing these mountains for millennia. Relics of the Persian, Ottoman and Russian Empires are abundant, due to a long history of invasion and occupation by successive imperial powers, as well as the region’s position as a major junction on the Silk Road trading routes of old.
But the region has also preserved a diverse cultural heritage and distinct identity of its own, boasting the earliest recorded evidence of wine-making more than 8,000 years ago, and the first peoples to officially adopt Christianity as a state religion, as well as countless ethnic groups and more than 40 indigenous languages – a density surpassed only by Papua New Guinea and the Amazon Rainforest.
At first glance, however, most obvious to the adventurous traveller are the dramatic natural landscapes of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains, two of the most fierce and impenetrable ranges in the world, which form two distinct geological corridors. The richness of biodiversity within the folds of these mountains has resulted in the region becoming a ‘hotspot’ for conservationists, biologists, birdwatchers and botanists alike, ranging from high-altitude grasslands and permanently-snowcapped crags, to coniferous and deciduous forests on the mid-altitude slopes, to shrubby plateaus and swamp forests at lower elevations. Of the 6,500 plant species found in the Caucasus, approximately 25 percent exist nowhere else on earth. And there is a strikingly varied complement of fauna, including wolf, brown bear, Caucasian leopard, jackal, lynx, hyena, gazelle, and the iconic Bezoar goat.
On paper, such a region would appear to offer world-class adventure and exploration opportunities for the intrepid and responsible outdoor enthusiast. Despite this, the region remains relatively little-visited, and the benefits of responsible enjoyment of geography remain unrealised. Access to wilderness areas is difficult due to a lack of reliable, recent and detailed data. The best available topographic maps are Soviet-made military maps dating back to before the Cold War, unavailable to the public and decades out of date. Public domain aerial imagery is inconsistent and often at too low a resolution to be useful to the hiker. Open-source mapping varies enormously in accuracy and completeness, often having been created by untrained hobbyists from second-hand sources.
It is this broad-reaching problem of access to the outdoors across the modern-day nations of the Caucasus – a real barrier to an appreciation of geography and thus a responsible and caring attitude towards nature and the wilderness – that the Transcaucasian Trail aims to solve.
A note on names and disputed territories:
The parts the Caucasus mountain range in Russia are known as the North Caucasus and the countries of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, are referred to collectively as the South Caucasus. The Transcaucasian Trail network will link together national parks in the South Caucasus. While the name “Transcaucasian Trail” is evocative of Transcaucasia, a historical name for the South Caucasus which means “the other side of the Caucasus,” we prefer Transcaucasian Trail to be interpreted as “across the Caucasus,” as in Trans-Siberian Railway or the Trans-Canada Trail.
There are three disputed territories in the South Caucasus: Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh. The TCTA takes no position on the status of these territories, and the representation or lack of representation of these territories or their borders on any maps on this website should not be interpreted as a position on their status. In general, we use maps that fit our practical needs, such as Google Maps, OpenStreetMap, and MapBox, which may represent the borders and territories of the region differently.