This week’s dream
Hiking in Armenia, an emerging destination
Though Armenia isn’t exactly ready for hordes of foreign hikers, “the country rewards those who make the effort,” said Ralph Vartabedian in the Los Angeles Times. Smithsonian magazine recently named it one of the next world-class hiking destinations, and its snow-covered peaks and friendly people attest that the raves are deserved. The plateaus of Mount Aragats resemble the Sierra Nevada’s high country, for example, but without the traffic jams. When my son recently finished grad school, I grabbed the chance to spend a week hiking with him in my own father’s homeland. Not long ago, no outsider would have considered such a trip through the former Soviet republic. But we crossed paths with hikers from Australia, Canada, England, France, and Belgium, and we left hoping to return.
Armenia isn’t for every adventurer. “You often will not find marked trail heads, the weather will be unpredictable,” and “if you find a topographical map, it will probably be written in Armenian—which doesn’t use the Latin alphabet.” We couldn’t secure a guide until we arrived in country, and then we had to ask around. We spent a day in Armenia’s 2,800-year-old capital, Yerevan, and on our way to Dilijan National Park we visited 1,100-year-old Sevanavank Monastery, with its spectacular views across Lake Sevan. In the forested national park, which will someday be linked to dozens of others by the 1,864-mile Transcaucasian Trail, we came upon the ruins of a 1,000-year-old monastery sitting in a mountaintop clearing. That made me think of the people who hiked to the site to pray when it was built. “It seemed such a far cry from driving to a church parking lot these days.”
Marc and I never did reach the summit of Aragats, Armenia’s tallest mountain. That would have required a 6,000-foot vertical ascent in one day, and when a storm threatened, we settled on the mountain’s secondary peak. After several hours of tramping through shin-deep snow, we reached the top in a whiteout. Even so, “we weren’t disappointed.” A mountain doesn’t always succumb to a climber’s first attempt, and a country doesn’t reveal all its treasures in a week. Our adventure, we knew, had “barely scratched the surface.”
FindArmenia (findarmenia.com) will lead three $420 weeklong hiking trips this summer. ■