Hiking in the times of Pandemic

Hiking in the times of Pandemic

On how Covid-19 restrictions unexpectedly brought forth positive outcomes; the year in Armenia was a boom for expedition groups. To learn more about the new hikers and newly discovered ways, as well as the competition among hiking groups we talked to ArmGeo founder, geographer Tigran Varag.

Text : Hasmik Barkhudaryan    Photo : ArmGeo


What do hiking groups do when they can’t go on hikings?

The year had started well for the hikers, or rather, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for them, since the concept of touring season is not familiar to the ArmGeo. Every day can be a hiking day for them. The start of the 2020 was not an exception. The team went on tour to Western Armenia and climbed the summits of Grgur and Kapuyt Kogh. By the way, it’s the first time these mountains have hosted hikers. In short, the year was promising, however, befell what befell – the pandemic didn’t bypass Armenia. Among the many prohibitions prescribed by law there was no specific mention about hiking, moreover, having walks was permitted. However, as hiking assumes not only walking but there are also other components to it, in the aftermath it was also prohibited.

When speaking about the first two months, though, there’s no hint of regret in Tigran’s voice, as he has managed to use the quarantine time effectively. “We didn’t organize any hikings and thus, I finally found time to work on my book “Armenian Highland”. I collected all the necessary materials and photographs and I was working on the book from morning till night. That, too, is a hiking activity. To cut the long story short, like everyone else, I also found a way to work from home.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the year proved to be quite productive. ArmGeo managed to implement two very long-awaited projects. First, children’s hiking expeditions and camps were implemented; it’s a very responsible initiative, and there could hardly be a better time for getting prepared for it. Second, ArmGeo Lori was initiated, and from now on hiking expeditions can start also from Vanadzor, both separately and together with those starting from Yerevan. Lastly, Seminars and film screenings were organized.
Of course, like in many other areas, the pandemic had its negative effect too, since ArmGeo used to organize hiking expeditions also outside of Armenia, not to mention, it used to conquer the summit of Mount Ararat in the summers. On the other hand, the flow of the tourists to Armenia stopped, which, again, had a negative impact on the area. In short, For the hikers the year was really controversial.

 

What to do if there is no way to leave the country?

For Tigran, two months of intense scientific activity passed very quickly and the rapidly changing rules at the commandant’s office allowed to resume the expeditions. The registrations started. The Facebook platform got flooded with photos of various beautiful places, and everyone, even those that had never before took part in any expedition, at least thought, “What if I try climbing some mountain?”. But that’s not as easy as it seems.

ArmGeo founder, Tigran Varag

 

“We have an active nucleus of skilled hikers. They are interested in more challenging expeditions and in higher summits. Whereas, the newcomers need lighter ones. However, we found a compromise; we increased the directions, we made the light expeditions more frequent, and, if in the past an expedition in one direction took place once a year, in this case the same direction was repeated every few weeks,” tells Tigran.

ArmGeo is, for sure, not the only expedition group; there are also other skilled ones. Nevertheless, during this time many new groups immerged, which created big but inefficient competition in the expedition market. Many of them offered expeditions in one direction and lowered the prices or tried to capture with beautiful photographs. No matter what, ArmGeo still remains the record holder, and in 2020 it recorded its most populated hiking expedition – climbing the Mount Ajdahak with 90 people.

The pandemic related rules were being observed, of course; thermal screening early in the morning, mandatory wearing of masks in the car – while the backpacks got a bit heavier due to disinfectants. Also, during the actual expedition, while in nature, the hikers don’t usually walk very close to each other.

 

How to become a hiker if you are a newcomer

The hectic hiking year was challenging especially for the newcomers. Those, who don’t quite realize what awaits them during the expedition, often face challenges they’re not ready to overcome, and thus the anticipated pleasant pastime unexpectedly turns into a torture for them and instead of enjoying it they get stuck in dreaming of its end throughout the entire day.

Expedition is not just walking and pastime, it’s a sport that requires certain physical fitness and discipline, and you need to be ready for it also psychologically. All ends well when you are ready and when you set on tour with the right people. That’s why Tigran strongly recommends that you call the ArmGeo office before registering for the hiking and inquire the staff who will readily give you detailed information on what is expected during the expedition, and what you need to wear or have in your backpack. “Many fall in love with expeditions for a lifetime, others simply don’t come back any more; nevertheless, the number of the hikers increases by each day,” says Tigran and adds with a smile, “In the expeditions of 2020 there were often people who decided to join us to replace their annual vocation in seaside countries or European cities where they usually walk casually and take photos, in one word, do without any restrictions whatever their heart desires. As a rule, those people got very disappointed when they realized that as if it wasn’t enough they had paid the money, now they had to follow the leader’s instructions, as well as not lag behind the group, and had to take less photos due to lack of time. For example, From Ajdahak there opens a stunning view of its crater lake, but the time during the expedition is limited to just 15 minutes, no more, so, you either manage to take photos or you don’t.”

So, since despite its being already one year the pandemic doesn’t seem to want to leave us, and the expeditions also are on a go, the 2021 has all the prerequisites to be an active expedition year. So, let’s get going!

The Armenian Geographical Project (ArmGeo) was founded in 2012 and not only organizes expeditions in Armenia and in the region, but also discovers new expedition directions, studies and maps them, many of which are now well-known and favorite directions in the expedition market.

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