The newest section of the TCT: Sheki to Zagatala, Azerbaijan
There’s no better way to start a new year than with planning new adventures – and TCT’s got a fresh, exhilarating new adventure for our hikers. After a big year of trail development, we’re thrilled to start 2022 by launching the first section of the Transcaucasian Trail in Azerbaijan!
This 97 kilometer route takes you through three districts of lush, forested northwestern Azerbaijan. After several scouting trips to find the best route, we’re confident that this hike will take your breath away (and we promise, not only from the steep ascents).
The route starts from the historical UNESCO city of Sheki, where you can explore the relics of this important Silk Road center, such as the Palace of Sheki Khans, Albanian temples, caravanserais, house-museums of venerated Azerbaijani figures, art studios of generationally-passed traditional artists… and this is all before your trek has even started!
From here, over the next 97 kilometers, the trail passes through Gakh district and eventually reaches the Zagatala district.
Along the way, you’ll traverse beech, oak, and poplar forests; climb up to subalpine meadows with exhilarating views of villages and upcoming peaks; visit historical mosques and fortresses and hear different languages spoken (such as Avar and Tsakhur); and be able to see for miles towards the high mountains in the north and the wide plains stretching into the south.
Scouting to piece together this trail was nothing short of exciting – and exhausting. The first east-to-west half of this route had already been found and marked by the Azerbaijan Tourism Board, so our job was made easier – although we still got our fair-share of run-ins with shepherd dogs, nettle thickets, and pounding summer heat.
But we also got to check out historic landmarks such as the church in Kish and Shamil fortress atop Ilisu; cartwheel above the treeline in green, panoramic meadows (regardless of cartwheel abilities); and meet some great people and taste local flavors, such as piti in Sheki, qırs in Gakh, and xəngəl in Zagatala.
The last 40 kilometers section of this trek, carrying hikers atop a mountain from Ilisu of the Gakh region, to the edge of the Zagatala border, is being published for hikers for the first time.
Without trail markers or old GPS tracks to follow, scouting this area provided plenty of its own challenges – such as battling off unhinged thunderstorms, searching for the continuations of trails that randomly disappear, being led by false paths into the messiest mazes, and climbing the same corner of a mountain from every direction and more… But every single obstacle was worth it for the final result!
Two to three days walking the ridge of this incredible range will remind you of your miniscule presence in a sea of mountain layers stretching all the way across Dagestan; display to you the variation in terrain and landscapes; and feel dangerously on top of the world as you climb along the sharp peak of an isolated mountain.
We can’t wait to hear your own stories from this new route, as you follow the paths of shepherds and nomads before us. Happy trails!