Climbing Mount Ara
Last Saturday, May 20, a small group of us decided to climb
In order to get there you need to drive north through Ashtarak, located in the Aragatsotn region about a 10-minute drive north of Yerevan, then just outside of the town turn right, driving through Mughni village, which lies along the Ashtarak gorge. We drove through a couple more villages, all of which were surprisingly very green with little to no litter along the sides of the roads, with seemingly booming farming communities. The main irrigation channel that traveled through at least two of the villages was gushing with rapidly pouring water, white with foam, splashing along the cement sides and sometimes onto the road. There were orchards abound on both sides of the road there. In other words, the area seemed to be fairly more economically sustainable than other areas I have driven through, although this is merely an observation.
In any case, after about a 15-minute drive or so we arrived at the base of the mountain, then promptly found a place to have a picnic and thus store energy for the climb.
The book indicated that we should park the car alongside the main road that ran parallel to the mountain, then trek along a road, mainly used by utility vehicles, unevenly covered by loose rocks (which we jokingly referred to as Armenian asphalt), to enter the gorge at the mountain’s base and start walking up where the road ended. When we came upon one of the slopes, specifically on the left side, Nanor, our fellow climber who is visiting from
The girls took a nap up there while Hamlet and philosophized about various things while staring at the majestic, snow-covered
Where we were perched all four summits of Aragats are visible, something that can only be observed along a 20 kilometer stretch or so along the road towards Lori. It was a spectacular view.
We decided to descend down along the rear face of the peak, which headed towards the foot of the canyon, instead of going down the way we came. It made sense—there did not appear to be any rocks to impede our way, and the ground seemed to have leveled off in a few places when looking down towards the base, which was actually hidden by other, lower peaks.
When we were preparing to leave the house I asked my wife where my Timberland boots were, which have the waffle-pattern grooved soles great for nearly all road conditions. She took out my “All Terrain” running sneakers instead. When I reminded her that we were going to be climbing a mountain, she convinced me that I would be OK with the sneakers. How wrong she was in this case. Going down I must have fallen on my ass about 50 times, on a few occasions completely wiping out, all the while stumbling and tumbling down the slopes. The flat-soled sneakers gave me virtually zero traction, thus I was the tragic victim of gravity throughout my journey downhill. For the last quarter of the climb down, Ariga and I decided to try and take a rocky path, while the other two had miraculously already made their way down gliding across the grass, as I glimpsed them strutting along the rocky road below. Ariga, being an experienced mountain climber, but also with inadequate footwear, coached me down the trail which had been concealed by grass, then was suddenly revealed when we hit an arid, craggy area. At one point we were surprised to run across a lime green lizard, about eight inches long, sunbathing on a flat rock. It looked like the type of lizard that you see on a documentary program roaming through rainforests. If you look hard enough you’re bound to find all sorts of misfit wildlife in this country I would imagine. Supposedly bears reside somewhere on
It took us over 90 minutes for the two of us to reach the bottom, as in between falls I managed to stop and observe my surroundings. Along the side of the opposite slope is a wide, lofty cliff, with several small holes scattered across it, in which the swallows reside from what I gather. There is also a strange forest with leafless, rather small, odd-looking trees that also houses birdlife. But for the most part, we were surrounded by lush greenery. One the way down despite my many spills I suffered only from very minor scrapes on my hands, which were nothing really. On the way back to the car however I managed to slip hard on the stone-covered path and twisted my knee. Hamlet served as my human crutch for half of the return walk, and thankfully the pain subsided late the following day, although my hamstrings are still aching.
All in all the climb was a wonderful, thrilling experience and I recommend it to anyone who loves hiking. I would recommend sticking to the directions that the Adventure Armenia book provides, which incidentally was available at the Armenia Information center on
On the way back we visited Mughnavank, a working church and former monastery complex in Mughni village. The monastery itself is beautiful as well as the gardens that surround it. The church, which is fairly new by Armenian standards having been rebuilt from the remains of an older one in 1669, has a very high dome compared to others I have visited. And to the left and right of the alter some frescos have been preserved, something that is rare to find here.
Incidentally, I should point out here for potential visitors to Armenia this summer that a new hostel has opened last autumn in Central Yerevan, just a stone’s throw from Mashdots Street and a five-minute walk to Opera Square. It’s called the Envoy Hostel and is where Nanor is staying. The entrance is on
Photo of Mount Ara courtesy of www.xcaucasus.org.