The Region

The Caucasus

The Caucasus region spans 6 nations – Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey and Iran – as well as 3 breakaway states of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh. It is significant from a modern-day geopolitical perspective as a ‘crossing place’ between cultures and religions. From a cultural-historical perspective, it boasts relics from the Persian, Ottoman and Russian empires, being a major junction on the Silk Road trading routes of old, as well as from its own diverse cultural heritage. Georgia boasts the earliest recorded evidence of wine-making, more than 6,000 years ago, while Armenia lays claim to becoming the first official Christian nation in the 4th century AD.

Perhaps most obvious to the visitor, however, are the region’s dramatic natural landscapes, which are dominated by the Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountains, some of the most fierce and impenetrable ranges in the world. The richness of biodiversity with the folds of these mountains has resulted in the Caucasus becoming a ‘hotspot’ for conservationists, biologists, birdwatchers and botanists alike, ranging from high-altitude grasslands and permanently-snowcapped crags, to coniferous and deciduous forests on the mid-altitude slopes, to shrubby plateaus and swamp forests at lower elevations, with an equally varied complement of fauna, including wolf, brown bear, Caucasian leopard, and other species of interest to the international conservation community.

On paper, such a region would appear to offer world-class adventure and exploration opportunities for the intrepid and responsible outdoor enthusiast. Despite this, the Caucasus remains relatively little-visited, and the benefits of responsible enjoyment of geography remain unrealised. Access to wilderness areas is difficult due to a lack of reliable, recent and detailed data. The best available topographic maps, for example, are Soviet-made military maps dating back to the Cold War. Most of these maps remain unavailable to the public, and those that can be found are decades out of date. Publicly-available aerial imagery is also inconsistent and often at too low a resolution to be useful to the outdoorsperson. Open-source mapping varies enormously in accuracy and completeness, often having been created by untrained enthusiasts from second-hand sources.

Most notably, there is no co-ordinated effort for the creation or publishing of up-to-date GIS data or resources for accessing the outdoors. This means that people who wish to explore the backcountry areas of the region become dependent on the esoteric knowledge of local residents, professional guides with a detailed knowledge of specific areas, or a level of skill in backcountry exploration beyond that of most enthusiasts.

It is this broad-reaching problem of access to the outdoors in the Caucasus – a real barrier to an enjoyment of geography and thus a responsible and caring attitude towards nature and the wilderness – that our project aims to solve.

Transcaucasian Expedition Pre-departure 00006

Armenia

Armenia is located in the mountainous Caucasus region, with an average elevation of 1,792 m (5,879 ft). The varied topography and numerous micro-climates keep hikes interesting, while providing great hiking opportunities for everyone from casual hikers to serious wilderness trekkers. Much of the countryside is unspoiled with few fences and some of the most welcoming folks on earth. Visitors can’t believe the hospitality until they experience it.

In addition to great landscapes and people, Armenia has a 3,000 year history, with ancient monasteries, temples and fortresses. Archaeologists have in recent years discovered the worlds oldest leather shoe, and oldest winery. The wine culture is still going strong, and hikers will have the opportunity to try wines from wineries, highly respected brandy, and some homemade wines and fruit alcohols called oghi.

Despite the ideal conditions for becoming a hiking paradise, Armenia saw the marking of only a handful of trails until recently. Most hiking trails were only known by locals, and often existed as footpaths to neighbouring villages or monasteries. With interest in hiking growing exponentially both with visitors and locals alike, a number of groups are undertaking projects to mark trails and publish GPS tracks in order to make the countryside accessible to other hikers.

Serving as a huge land-bridge linking Europe to Asia, and with many micro-climates, Armenia boasts a remarkable variety of flora and fauna. Many rare endemic species are found in different parts of Armenia, as well as a profusion of Asian, European and Mediterranean species. Huge flocks of migratory birds pass through twice a year, on their route from Africa to Russia.

As an undiscovered, welcoming country with a growing number of trails, Armenia is worthy of every hiker’s attention.

Georgia 3

Georgia

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