Every year we organise guided group treks on brand new sections of the Transcaucasian Trail.
As well as providing valuable feedback from intrepid and experienced hikers, these treks are also one of our main fundraising tools. All of the proceeds go straight back into improving the trails, making our treks a great opportunity for people who want to do more than just go hiking in the Caucasus and support an ambitious cause at the same time.
But because that’s a bit vague and wish-washy, today we want to offer you an insider’s view on exactly what this meant in practice for last October’s trek through Vayots Dzor province in Armenia.
Here, the need to improve the trail was about more than just signposts. No less than a complete rebuilding project was critical to the trail’s viability – and it was our supporters’ trek participants who made it possible.
A short backstory, then, to explain how this story fits within the bigger picture.
Back in 2016, as part of the Land Rover-supported Transcaucasian Expedition, my team and I scouted a promising route through Vayots Dzor, one of Armenia’s southern provinces.
Over the course of several weeks, we mapped out known historic trails, discovered many more that had been forgotten, and figured out a rough plan to connect them together.
One very small section of this trail, connecting the world-famous Noravank monastery with the village of Gnishik, represented the single biggest technical challenge of the route, involving a sudden descent down a steep, unstable slope, with a sheer drop into the gorge below. The original path had long since disappeared, leaving a treacherous gorge-side slope of loose rock and thorny shrubs to negotiate.
To make matters worse, a huge metal pipe ran straight across the route, supplying another nearby village with water from the river below. Indeed, it was probably the construction of this water pipe that had destroyed the original trail. As a result, the TCT Armenia team began referring to this few hundred metres of hiking hell as the ‘Pipe Trail’.
We tried several times to raise funds to rebuild the path, but because of conflicts between different potential donors and land managers, we were never able to get the infamous Pipe Trail built.
And when we took our first group on this route last October, it took more than an hour to safely cover just a few hundred metres of distance, climb over the pipe, and rejoin the trail below. Something needed to be done.
(At the end of the week, I hasten to add, everyone was laughing in retrospect about the Pipe Trail ‘adventure’!)
But through participating in that trek, our intrepid hikers had raised enough funds for us make this hazardous section of trail safe and sustainable.
So the very next month we sent our trail crew to build a brand new switchback trail and a tidy set of steps over the water pipe, as well as improving other parts of the trail near Gnishik village.
The work was tough, and the conditions challenging, but our crack team of former volunteers-turned-trail professionals were more than up to the task – even as the first snows of the winter threatened to halt progress.
We’ll go back in the spring to install signposts and blazes and complete the re-opening. The newly rebuilt trail can be used for a fantastic day-hike to or from Noravank monastery, a two-day loop between Areni and Gnishik with an overnight stay in Gnishik’s brand new visitor centre and guesthouse, or a section of the full Transcaucasian Trail route through Vayots Dzor.
In the meantime, even in the middle of winter, intrepid local hikers are already using the new trail. Because – as the saying goes – if you build it, they will come!
Will you join us this year for more adventures in Vayots Dzor and on other sections of the Transcaucasian Trail?
So that’s how hiking the Transcaucasian Trail isn’t only about having fun (though there’s plenty of that involved too). It really is helping us get the trail built too! Why not join us in 2020 and experience it for yourself?