Azhdahak mountain, Armenia / Photo: Edgar Harutyunyan
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At the elevation of 3597 meters, Azhdahak is the highest peak of the Gegham mountains that stretch between Lake Sevan and the Ararat plain. It derives its name from Armenian and Persian mythology, and can be translated as “evil dragon”. Azhdahak is an extinct volcano with bare slopes, colorful geological formations and a small lake in the crater formed from melting snow – a magic place, which offers stunning views and incredible colors and energy.
Colorful landscapes of Azhdahak mountain, Armenia / Photo: Ani Seize
I visited Azhdahak for the first on July 12, 2014, when my friends decided to celebrate my birthday on top of the mountains. Even in July, the shores of the crater lake were still covered with ice, but it didn’t keep us back from swimming. The water was cold, crystal clear and very delicious. You drink it and feel yourself 10 years younger. The weather was sunny and warm, so we just lay down on the grass and enjoyed the sun when Azhdahak offered me my birthday present, performing one of its magic moments. Streams of clouds moved up from below and greeting us, slowly disappeared on the other side of the mountain – a breathtaking scene.
Fog over Azhdahak mountain, Armenia / Photo: Ani Seize
Azhdahak had left a strong impression on me, that’s why when about 1,5 months later my friends told me that there’s a group that wants to climb the mountain and camp there overnight, I immediately decided to join them – it was too tempting. They wanted to explore the vishapakars (menhirs) and petroglyphs found around the mountain. The organizers of the hiking trip assured me that they climbed the mountains many times, and so on August 31, we hit the road. We reached the nearby Lake Akna on cars and set up our camp. The plan was to spend the night there, start the ascension in the morning, and then return back to Yerevan. It’s about 8 kilometers to the summit from the Lake Akna, not a very long distance. The night was chilly, so when we all woke up in the morning, we were cold. I decided to jog barefoot on the wet grass, then washed my face with the lake’s icy water and warmed up under the sun.
We began the ascension at 8:00 AM, but when we reached the foothills of Azhdahak, I realized that last time we ascended the mountain from a different side. And this side we were at now was very steep, sandy and slippery. After a short discussion, the group leaders decided there was no time to walk to the other side for the easier path, and so we continued the ascension. Me and some of the group members were ahead of the others, who were moving slow. The ascension was difficult and dangerous on this side of the mountain, but I liked the feel of adrenalin rush.
Volcanic rocks at Azhdahak mountain, Armenia / Photo: Ani Seize
We were very close to the summit, when suddenly a call from the group below came – people weren't able to continue the way up, we had to come down and return back. But going down was even more hard and dangerous, so we decided to reach the summit, descend from the other side and join the group at the camp. About 10 meters before the peak, on one particular section of a few meters of straight line above a deep gorge, one of the guys got frightened and refused to continue the road no matter how hard we tried to convince him. He decided to call the rescue service to come and help him get to the summit. His friend stayed with him, while me and two other guys continued our path, reached the summit and decided to wait. Four others reached the summit via different trails, and so now we were 7 people on top of Azhdahak, and 2 others just below the summit.
Sunset at Azhdahak mountain, Armenia / Photo: Karen Nersisyan
The rescue team arrived 6 hours later. They helped the other two to get to the top, and when we were about to hit the road back to get to the camp, one of the rescue rangers informed us that another member of the hiking group is waiting for us next to their car. “It’s only 300 meters from our car to your camp, come with us, and then all of you can return together,” he said. 300 meters? You wish. When we reached the car, the guy wasn't there anymore, so we said goodbye to the rescue team and walked in the direction they pointed us at, dreaming of hot tea, warm clothes and food.
Hikers on Azhdahak mountain, Armenia / Photo: Karen Nersisyan
Under the light of the moon and the stars, the landscape around us looked the same all the time. We crossed a long distance, but there was no sign of the camp. Did we take a wrong path? Were we lost? We weren't sure. Nine people – 3 girls and 6 boys, we were trying to survive in the mountains without food and warm clothes, without fire, with no trees, or caves to hide from the cold wind and with a very real chance of meeting wolves and bears. We would walk for some time, then sit on the ground hugging each other to get warm. It was around 4:00 AM, when we – exhausted, barely able to move forward – heard dogs barking.
During the summer months, there are Yezidi shepherds around the Lake Akna. They bring their cattle up in the mountains and spend the summer in their huge tents. And the dogs are their guardians from the wild animals. Following the sound of the barking, around 6:00 AM we reached a house. The dogs were big and scary. Standing on a nearby mound, I talked to a silhouette for a few minutes, until I realized it was a horse. The dogs eventually let us pass and get closer to the house. A sleepy shepherd responded to our knock on the window, and as we explained him our situation, he invited us in, offered us hot tea and shelter, and later in the morning he guided us to the camp.
Shepherds of Azhdahak mountain, Armenia / Photo: Ani Seize
Only with the first rays of the sun we took a deep breath and relaxed – we were safe. A group of strangers managed to stay together, overcoming the panic and surviving the dangerous night! The rest wasn’t important.
I learned a lot from our adventures on Azhdahak. It was a great experience for me, during which I explored myself and gained new skills. And I also understood that choosing the right travel partner for the journey is very important. You have to be prepared for any situations and always carry some necessary items in your backpack, such ropes, GPS, signal lights, etc. But what’s more importation, I realized that it’s the Nature that decides whether you’ll survive a situation like ours, or not. Never underestimate the mountains, instead of conquering, try to be in harmony with them. Azhdahak was taking care of us, keeping the wild animals, or the thunderstorms away, and I felt its caring presence all the time.