Notes From Hairenik
July 7, 2010

On Sunday Anush and I went on a hike to Mt. Azhdahak with a group of eager adventure seekers from my workplace. I would have posted this entry sooner had I not accidentally deleted the photos from the camera's SD card. Fortunately due to the mysterious wonders of complex algorithms and hidden cache, most of them were recovered.

Azhdahak is located in the Gegharkunik region, as part of the Geghama mountain chain. It is apparently the third highest mountain in Armenia. There are two ways to get there--via Lake Sevan, which is an arduous, committed journey that can potentially take days, or through the highlands of Kotayk via Geghard, which is how we went.

But in order to access the wavy plateau to make your trek to the mountain, it's necessary to climb the rocky hills, or rather other mountains, first along perilous dirt roads. This was accomplished by us cramming into two UAZ 4 x 4 all-terrain transport vans, which along with the "Vilis" sport utility vehicle made by the same company, are among the toughest vehicles manufactured in Russia (both are actually military vehicles). That 25 kilometer long sea-sickness inducing climb took about two hours with short stops along the way to gaze at ancient petroglyphs etched on flat stone faces and a peculiar stone monolith that Yezidi Kurds walk around several times for a successful marriage and fertility. There are many camp grounds occupied by Yezidis in those parts where they tend sheep and goats in the summer months.

The hike to the mountain from our drop-off location was 7.5 kilometers long, over several babbling brooks, rocky patches and at my count, eight snow fields, the last one being massive.  Just before my phone's battery ran out the GPS reading that it picked up showed that we were 10,500 feet above sea level near the base of the mountain. Azhdahak's summit is at an elevation of 11,801 feet.

Azhdahak is a dormant volcano, and the tons of tuf stone at the top and around the mountain demonstrate clear evidence of that. There is a small lake that occupies the floor of volcano's crater, which is accessible by a steep climb down. Anush and I did not actually go to the summit even though it was only another 100 feet or so above the lake. It was difficult to make the final ascent because I kept running out breath, although I did not feel physically tired, and just sitting (or napping in Anush's case) beside the lake for a half hour was enough for us. On second thought, it would have made sense to go up. There is a spectacular view of Lake Sevan from there.

The trek back to the vehicles was another 7.5 kilometers, perhaps a bit less because we took a "shortcut" by descending snow-covered hillsides. Luckily, I only fell on my ass a couple of times, which is a feat being the uncoordinated klutz that I am.

Our guides were Vladimir and Karen, both fantastic, warm-hearted guys. Actually it was Karen, an alpinist, who knows the landscape perfectly and got us there and back safely--an amazing guy. This was an awesome experience that I'm glad I didn't pass up.

For those who are inclined to go on hiking trips in Armenia, leave a comment if you intend to climb Azhdahak and I can put you in touch with those guys.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...
I'm not coming,but these are fabulous pics.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I so enjoy your page/blog. I live in the U.S. and have always wanted to travel to Armenia to see where my ancestors lived. Thank you so much for the pictures, someday I will make it over to see it myself. :-) Leslie E. Matheson Mesrobian

Blogger Marek Tihkan said...
I'm planning to trek in Armenia soon and climbing to Azhdahak was on my mind. So could you send me contacts of your guides.

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
Hi Marek, I actually don't have that tour guide's contact information and don't know how to get a hold of him. You might want to contact the people at this site: They should be able to help.

Good luck.