The section of the Transcaucasian Trail that crosses the Geghama Mountains is a remote and challenging backcountry route, accessible only in the summer months and requiring the highest level of self-sufficiency of any section of the Transcaucasian Trail in Armenia.
The suggested 114km route connects the Selim Caravanserai in Vayots Dzor province with the town of Sevan in Gegharkunik province and consists of a mixture of 4×4 tracks, animal trails, open steppe, scree slopes, boulder fields and lava flows. It can be hiked in either direction, though throughout this guide we will assume a south–north direction of travel, as with other trail sections.
Elevations range from 1,928m (6,327ft) in the town of Sevan to 3,597m (11,804ft) if you ascend to the summit of Mount Azhdahak at the midpoint of the route. Expect to spend 5–7 days completing the route in good conditions, assuming a reasonable level of fitness, an average daily distance of 20–25km, and no significant detours.
We recommend July–August as the optimal season, though mid June to late September is usually also possible. Outside of these dates you will find nomad settlements empty. Earlier in the season, the likelihood of severe weather and/or lingering snow fields is significantly increased, and later in the season it is more difficult to find water. Much of the range is reliably snowbound between October and May.
The easiest way to get to either trailhead from Yerevan is by private taxi. Sevan town is about 70km from central Yerevan and a taxi should cost about AMD7,000 (USD$15) if the journey is metered at the standard rate of AMD100/km. The southern trailhead at Selim Caravanserai is about 160km from Yerevan, either via Yeghegnadzor or Martuni, and so a taxi should cost about AMD16,000 (USD$33).
It is also possible to use public transport. Mashrutkas (minibuses) to Sevan town run all day from the Northern Bus Station and cost AMD600. The summer train from Almast/Kanaker also stops in Sevan town. Mashrutkas to Martuni also depart from the Northern Bus Station, costing AMD1,200. You will, however, have to take a taxi or hitch-hike the remaining 30km from Martuni to the Selim Caravanserai.
The suggested route displayed on our interactive maps has been scouted and passed successfully by several volunteer trail testers. It is currently unmarked, although visual navigation is relatively simple due to the open nature of much of the the terrain.
Rock cairns will be found en route but are not specific to the Transcaucasian Trail; they are used as waypoints by nomadic herders during their annual migrations, though where relevant we have included their locations in our mapping as reference points.
Even in high summer, lingering snow on sheltered north-facing slopes may make certain parts of the suggested route impassable or dangerous, so you may need to find alternative routes yourself in these cases.
If you’re using Soviet-era military maps, be aware that much of the infrastructure shown may no longer exist (though topographical information is generally very accurate). Aerial imagery may also sometimes mislead: 4×4 tracks can vary annually as one track deteriorates and a new route is forged, and nomad camps active one year are not guaranteed be inhabited the next (though they often are). OpenStreetMap coverage is at this time mainly based on traced aerial imagery, varies significantly in accuracy, and should not be considered fully reliable.
There are no reliable resupply opportunities en route. Unless you make alternative arrangements of your own, all the food and fuel you need to tackle this section of the trail will need to be packed in with you and all your trash packed out.
When planning your itinerary, consider that – in the middle of the route – the thinner air at altitude, additional pack weight, and increased technical challenge may result in shorter days than you are used to. Factor the possibility of detours and delays due to bad weather into your provisioning; we suggest carrying at least one additional day’s worth of supplies as contingency.
Careful attention to water rationing and a reliable purification system will be essential: despite its remoteness, the region is used for livestock grazing in the summer and contamination therefore remains a risk. The flow of freshwater springs and the level of rivers and lakes can vary depending on annual variations in climate.
Between June and September, you are likely to encounter nomads, either out to pasture with their herds or at their temporary camps, large canvas tents being the usual dwellings. The suggested route passes close to several camps but deliberately does not pass directly through them due to the risk of aggressive behaviour from guard dogs. While hospitality and food will always be offered by the inhabitants of these camps, it should not be relied upon as the nomads subsist on very limited supplies – don’t worry too much about a cup of coffee and a sweet, but consider offering some of your own supplies to replace any meals you share. Most camps are located near water sources, but it is possible that in drought years water will be brought in by vehicle (at considerable cost), so again it is respectful to be as self-sufficient as possible and not to rely on the camps themselves for water.
Electronics & communication
Cell phone coverage is sporadic and often nonexistent, particularly in the higher-altitude sections of the route (which are also the most remote). If you’re desperate, the herders will usually know the closest spot in which service is available.
Likewise, the only reliable charging opportunities for electronic devices will be those you bring with you, ie: battery packs and solar panels. As well as plenty of spare power capacity, we recommend bringing printed topographical maps, a properly calibrated analogue compass, and a knowledge of how to use them, in addition to any electronic devices you may plan on using for navigation.
Access & emergencies
There are no paved roads in the region, sparse 4×4 tracks, and no permanent settlements. Vehicle access routes are generally only known to those who live in or near the area and by a small handful of mountain guides who operate tours in the range: we have included these access routes in our mapping, which may also be used to evacuate on foot. Direct vehicle access to some parts of the trail is impossible. Helicopter evacuations can be complicated by the possibility of severe weather at any time of year: even if the skies appear perfectly clear, electrical storms formed by water evaporating from Lake Sevan and condensing above the peaks are a frequent occurrence in summer.
In addition to measuring the level of challenge and risk against your experience and preparedness, you are strongly advised to carry an emergency beacon, to ensure that your travel insurance policy covers trekking up to 3,600m/12,000ft and the costs of medical evacuation, and to ensure that someone you trust is informed of your plans, including details of your route and your intended schedule for completing it.
Sound like a challenge? It is! Having said all of that, hikers who successfully tackle this section of the Transcaucasian Trail are in for a treat. Read on to find out about the points of interest along the way…
TCT Southern Route: The Geghama Mountains, Armenia
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