Yeranos mountain, Armenia / Photo: Ani Seize
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My American-Armenian friend Tamar and I planned to go on an easy hike between two fortresses near the small town of Vedi, in the Ararat province. We arranged to meet at 9 a.m. at the Sasuntsi Davit station to take the bus to Vedi, and hitch-hike from there to the beginning of the hiking trail. I was running late to meet Tamar at the bus station, and by the time I arrived, we missed the bus by a few seconds, so we sat in the back of the next one. Slowly, passengers filled the bus and three cheerful souls sat before us. It turned out they were also going on a hike, to Yeranos Mountain, located near the entrance of the Khosrov Forest State Reserve. I had never heard of this place, so I checked it out on my offline map.
“What about you guys, where are you going?” asked one of them.
“We are going to Vedi and then hitch-hiking from there to the Ourts Fortress,” I answered.
“But this bus is not going to Vedi, it’s the one to Dvin!”
A long and winding road to Yeranos mountain, Armenia / Photo: Achod Papasian
I rushed outside to check. He was right! I mistook the two names, which looked the same to me by far. We grabbed our bags, said goodbye, and rushed to the Vedi bus, which was about to leave, according to the schedule. As we waited for the bus to depart, I thought aloud:
“Too bad, it would have been fun to join them… What do you think, shall we go back?”
“Why not, it’s up to you!” said Tamar.
And off we were to the Dvin bus! During the ride, we got to know our new friends. Karen, a stout, talkative man in his late thirties, was the initiator of their excursion. He created a Facebook group to organize hikes in Armenia, and planned this one because his grandfather was originally from one of the villages near Yeranos Mountain. Anna, a thirty year-old woman working in IT, was so enthusiastic about technology that she referred to her phone for every question. Their friend Ishkhan, was a slim and bearded introverted guy, who spoke quite softly.
Hiking to Mount Yeranos, Armenia / Photo: Achod Papasian
The bus took us to Verin Dvin, a village built near the ruins of the ancient city of Dvin, the capital of Armenia in the fourth century. We entered a shop to buy some supplies and to ask for directions to the mountain. Several villagers gave us directions “villager style” - with many hand gestures, but little info. After gathering the necessary food and the needed information, we finally hit the road. Ten minutes later, Karen stopped the walk and said:
“Guys, wait! It’s time to do our little ritual, let’s hold hands!”
We all gathered in a circle, as Karen solemnly declaimed:
“Today, everything will go according to our will. We will have a safe trip and we will reach our goal and have lots of fun. Cheers!”
Ahead of us was a large plain covered with thyme, and in the distance, amongst the rolling hills was our destination, Yeranos Mountain. While crossing the fields, Karen fully played the leadership role by giving advice and instructions.
“Guys, let’s stick together. If someone is left behind, let’s wait for him!”
Some 40 minutes later, we reached the first hill and found our way through a narrow path between rocky walls – a perfect spot for the shooting of the next Star Wars movie. As we walked, I turned on the GPS on my offline map, so I could have a better picture of the path ahead. We trekked through the gorge, but high hills surrounded us, so we had no idea where we were going to. Karen seemed confused.
“Are you sure about the direction, Achod?”
“Yep, just look at the map! We’re on the right path!”
However, the map didn't seem to make sense to him and he decided to climb the hill on the left to check the direction from above. As the women were resting, Karen and Ishkhan climbed to the top of the hill. By waving at each other, we agreed to go the same direction - the two guys already atop the hill, and the women and I hiking via the winding and narrow path. Approximately twenty minutes later, we crossed paths and climbed to the top of a hill overlooking the Azat reservoir, and in the distance, the city of Yerevan.
Azat Reservoir, Armenia / Photo: Ani Seize
We continued on our path following the crest of the mountains and took great delight in the amazing view surrounding us. On our right, a sea of hills and mountains spread endlessly in the Khosrov Forest Reserve, and on our left were the cliffs of the Garni gorge. As we traversed onward, I regularly checked our position on the map. After some time, we joined a road that took us at the foot of Mount Yeranos. We had two options: either continue with the road, which was longer, or just climb straight, which was shorter but promised to be much harder, given the steep grade. As the hour was late, we all agreed to take the shortest way. But when we began to climb, a light drizzle began to pour. We moved slowly, each of us at his/her own pace, Karen and I in the lead, while Ishkhan stayed behind with the women. Reaching the top was a pure moment of pleasure, with the wind hitting my whole body and traversing my soul. From there, a beautiful variety of landscape emerged – from mountainous areas covered by storm drifting away to the Ararat valley, enlightened by the sun piercing through the clouds.
Mount Yeranos, Armenia / Photo: Achod Papasian
We came down the summit and let the path lead our way down the hills. I kept checking the direction on the map, trying to figure out when and how we would reach the Azat River and from where we were supposed to reach the village of Garni. We still had a long distance to walk ahead of us. At some point, the path we were on disappeared under fields of tall and wet grass that reached up to our knees. We were indecisive about our path and direction, especially because the hour was late and the sun was going down. Karen then decided to leave the path indicated on the map in order to find a shortcut, which he did, but the shortcut didn't take us anywhere, so I convinced the group that it was safer to follow the path of the map, even though we couldn't see where it lead. The sun disappeared behind the mountains, and we started using the flashlights of our phones. Somehow, we arrived to a resting area with benches and a water source. From there, the direction of the map didn't make sense since it would take us to a very steep path that I thought was too dangerous for the group to take. Instead, we went for a straight path, safer but unknown.
Rainbow over Yeranos mountain, Armenia / Photo: Achod Papasian
My phone battery died on the way, so I was just leading the group with the light of someone else’s phone, finding my way according to what I remembered the map showed. One path lead to another, and soon we were going down the hills, surrounded by the darkness of the nature, the only light being the pagan temple of Garni shining in the distance, on the opposite cliff of the canyon. Not long after, we reached the bank of the Azat River – only to discover that our only option was to cross the river, but the current was too strong for it to be safe.
We tried to come up with a plan to cross the river, which was a real challenge, but to be on the safe side, I decided to call 911. Talking on Anna’s phone, I explained our situation to the person at the end on the line. The rescue service called us back several times, trying to figure out our exact position. Meanwhile, following Tamar's suggestion, we roamed around and collected wood to make fire in order for the rescue team to spot us in the canyon easier. The warmth of the fire settled our souls and cheered up our moods.
Later that evening, as the rescue team arrived and our group made it to the other shore – all safe and sound - Tamar told me that while I was crossing the Azat river, upon learning that I'm from France, the guy holding the rope exclaimed: “Oh, he is from France? Then the most important is that his scarf stays in place!”
Azar Reservoir and Mount Yeranos, Armenia / Photo: Ani Seize
The rescue team had lit a fire in a pit, and suggested we should have a barbecue party! Each one of them had a great sense of humor and was a character on his own: the chief yelling at everyone, the guy holding the rope with his puckish smile, another one gathering wood and always sucking on a cigarette. It was a real relief, after all of the amount of anxiety we had been through. When all of our group members had crossed, they repacked their equipments, and we all sat in the back of a huge rescue car, facing each other and packed like sardines. The car took a bumpy village road, and the whole vehicle was shaking, while we were joking and smiles embellished our exhausted face. They dropped us off in Avan, the northern district of Yerevan, and ordered a taxi for us. On the way home, we remembered the crazy moments of this memorable day, and promised to see each other again.
I literally crawled home, absolutely exhausted. It was 4 o'clock in the morning when I finally reached my bed, ending the adventure… or so I thought! Three months later, an Armenian TV channel who had heard of our trip, interviewed Anna and me and took us to the 911 base to shoot our gleeful reunion with rescue crew!