When To Hike
The majority of this route is hikeable in all seasons, including winter.
This route goes through forested mountains, which generally do not experience dry seasons. Winter often means significant amounts of snow at higher elevations, and unmarked routes in deep snow will require extra precise attention from hikers. Summers can be intensely hot.
Getting To & From The Trailheads
To get to the district of Sheki, Gakh, or Zagatala, you can take a taxi from Shamakhinka (Şamaxınka) or a bus or taxi from the Baku International Bus Station (Bakı Beynəlxalq Avtovağzal Kompleksi).
The quickest drive to Sheki is about 4.5 hours long; to Gakh, about 5; to Zagatala, about 5.5. Taking a bus increases travel time, as can weather and/or traffic.
If you are beginning the trek from Kish, you can get to the village by taking a car from the district center city of Sheki, perhaps the most convenient location after arriving by car or bus.
You may also reach the other points of the trek by taxi or local minibus from the district centers. Dial *0066 or *5577 for taxis in Sheki, 070 298 9966 in Gakh, and 077 508 90 09 in Zagatala.
(Information on minibuses and taxis below provided by the Azerbaijan Tourism Board.)
Kish: Minibus numbers 15 and 25 go regularly from Sheki city to Kish village (0.40 AZN per trip). You can also get to Kish by taxi for about 3-5 AZN (using the *0066 and *5577 taxi services).
Bash Goynuk: Minibuses go from the bazar in Sheki city to the village of Bash Goynuk (1 AZN per trip). You can also get to Bash Goynuk by taxi (using the *0066 and *5577 taxi services) for about 6-8 AZN.
Bash Layishi / Gumukh: Minibuses go from the bazar in Sheki city in the direction of Bash Layisgi (1 AZN per trip). Gumukh village is located in the upper part of Bash Layisgi. You can also reach Gumukh by taxi for about 6-8 AZN (using the *0066 and *5577 taxi services).
Gashcachay: You can travel from Sheki to the village of Gashgachay by taxi for about 12-15 AZN (using the *0066 and *5577 taxi services). Taxis go from Gakh for about 6-8 AZN (using the ALO taxi service: +99470 298 9966). Buses (0.70 AZN per trip) from Gakh go to Gashgachay three times daily (07:30; 13:00; 18:00).
Ilisu: Buses depart from Gakh’s main bus station to Ilisu five times daily (07:30; 09:30; 12:00; 14:00; 17:00). You can also board the bus from other stations within the city. You can get to Ilisu from Gakh by taxi for about 5-6 AZN (using the ALO taxi service: 070 298 9966).
Mamrukh: A minibus goes from the flag square of Zagatala’s district center to the village of Mamrukh for 0.70 AZN. You may also take a taxi for 6-10 AZN.
Where To Stay
Kish, Bash Goynuk, and Ilisu have hotel and/or guesthouse accommodations available for visitors. See the notes of each section for details. Guesthouse locations are available on OpenStreetMaps, although it may be easier to ask locals for directions by mentioning the name of the guest house or its owner. Prices for food and lodging is generally quite affordable, but vary between villages and seasons.
As in most places in the Caucasus, wild camping is largely tolerated, though you may be visited by inquisitive locals if you set up your tent in a conspicuous location. Please be a respectful visitor and practice Leave No Trace habits so that we can continue our good relationships with people along the trail and so that future hikers can enjoy the experience.
There are no stores with hiking/camping equipment in Sheki or Zagatala. It is recommended that you bring all necessary supplies, including gas canisters from Baku. In Baku, you may visit Mountain Shop, as well as Yonja Outdoor Store, Dagchi Shop, or Outdoor Store for any supplies and equipment you may need to purchase or rent.
Villages host small markets/convenience stores, but there are no large supermarkets directly on the route. The food options in these markets are often limited. If staying at a guesthouse, hosts provide home-cooked meals from local ingredients. You may ask for food for the road, and there will always be staples such as bread and cheese from local families. It is recommended you bring a sufficient supply of trail snacks and food before you set off on your trek.
As in many parts of the Caucasus, you can find some springs along the route, and water that is piped into villages is safe to drink. Other water sources along the route, such as rivers and streams, should generally be filtered due to the presence of livestock in the region. Carrying a water filter is recommended.
Azerbaijanis speak the Azerbaijani language, of the Oghuz branch of the Turkic language family. In the areas you will pass through, some people may speak Russian and/or Turkish, in addition to the language of their ethno-linguistic group, if they belong to another one. English is not very common. It is recommended you carry a dictionary or translating app, and/or learn basic phrases that may help you get around.
Some useful phrases when backpacking:
- “Where can I fill up on water?” ⇒ Suyu harada doldura bilərəm?
- “Where can I find X’s guesthouse?” ⇒ Xın qonaq evi harada yerləşir?
- “Where is the market/cafe?” ⇒ Mağaza/restoran harada yerləşir?
- “May I get some food for the road?” ⇒ Yola yemək verə bilərsiz?
- “May I get some bread and cheese?” ⇒ Yola pendir çörək verə bilərsiz?
- “I would like a taxi from here/A to B.” ⇒ Mənə buradan/Aan Ba taksi lazımdır?
- “I need directions to X.” ⇒ Xa istiqamət verə bilərsiz? / Xa yolu göstərə bilərsiz?
Aggressive dogs can be by far the biggest animal threat to TCT hikers. Many villagers keep guard dogs for security and train them to bark at potential intruders, but thankfully, such dogs are territorial and will rarely stray beyond their property boundaries. Beyond the villages and farms, dogs often accompany livestock herds as protection from predators, and you should monitor their behavior closely. If they show aggression, it means they consider your presence a threat to their herds. If you proceed calmly without sudden movements, they will usually back off once you are far enough from the herd.
While the sight and sound of one or more barking dogs running towards you can be frightening, the correct course of action is to stand your ground and wait for the herder (who will usually be nearby) to call them off. Shout forcefully and throw stones or wave your trekking poles if you need to assert dominance. Do not run away, as this will trigger the dog’s instinct to chase.
To avoid these encounters in the first place, try to skirt around grazing herds at a wide distance, or, if there are farmers around, to seek out them as quickly as possible and approach with a friendly greeting.
We also recommend a precautionary rabies vaccination, remembering that this does not make you immune to the disease but does give you more time to receive treatment.
Keep an eye out for giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), a relative of cow parsley, whose stem juices rid your skin of its ability to protect itself from sunlight, resulting in severe burns on exposed skin and potential blindness if it gets in your eyes. Learn to identify this plant and either avoid it or move gently through patches to avoid breaking the stalk and releasing the juice inside. If you get hogweed juice on you, wash your skin as soon as possible and cover it from the sunlight.
Storms in the Caucasus can be sudden and extremely intense, with lots of lightning and often hail. You should be familiar with best practices for choosing a campsite to minimize the risk of a lightning strike, stay attuned to the weather while hiking, be prepared to get to a lower elevation or to shelter if necessary, and be familiar with first aid practices for treating lightning-related injuries.
In midsummer, the heat can be intense. Make sure to carry plenty of water. Shifting your schedule to compensate, such as starting very early in the day and resting in the afternoon, is a good way to avoid the worst of the heat. Make sure you are familiar with the symptoms, prevention strategies, and treatment for dehydration and heat stroke.
Most villages have a local nurse, but the district centers have larger medical centers and hospitals. Below are emergency numbers useful throughout the country:
- Emergency Situations: 112
- Firefighting service: 101
- Police: 102
- Ambulance: 103
- Emergency and urgent medical aid: 113
Shepherds: Shepherds herd in the mountains between late spring and early fall, depending on location and climate. Some shepherd stations have drinking troughs that fill from a hose that carries spring water; other stations are not located near a water source, and the shepherds have to bring their supply of water. Shepherd stations can be a source for water replenishment, but hikers should avoid depending on them in areas without a natural water supply nearby.
Making calls: The area code in Azerbaijan is +994. If you are dialing locally, without the area code, you must replace them with a zero (0) before dialing the rest of the number.