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Mount Aragats

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4,090m - Aragatsotn Marz

Village on the slopes of Mt. Aragats.

Taking the right fork away from Amberd, a narrow paved road (often closed by snow well into June) climbs to a small artificial lake beside the Cosmic Ray Institute at about 3200 m. This is the jumping off point for the climb of Armenia’s tallest mountain.

There are four summits, North (the highest, 4090m), West (4080m), South (3879m) and East (3916m) forming the rim of a volcanic crater. Between South and East summits the crater wall is broken, and a stream flows down to the village of Aragats. A sharp ridge descends south from the South summit. Between the other summits are high saddles with sweeping views.

Even on a clear August day, clouds usually gather in the crater by about 10:00 a.m. Therefore, it is preferable to start walking as early as possible (e.g. 5:00 a.m.) to increase both the safety of the final ascent and the odds of a spectacular view. Weather is unpredictable and often dramatic, with snow possible at any time. Multiple layers (e.g., fleece and Gore-tex) are indispensable, as are sturdy boots, sunscreen, lip balm, a hat, and plenty of water.

The South summit, lowest and nearest of the four, can be reached in under two hours from the lake. Easiest route is to ascend the mountain meadows generally NNW, aiming for the NW corner of the summit. After an hour, on the shoulder you will pick up a decaying jeep track that ascends in easy switchbacks to the broad, relatively flat double summit. Faster perhaps, but more strenuous, is to scramble up the ridge half way to the summit and follow it north to the highest point.

From the South Summit, the West can be reached with about an additional 1-2 hours. Descend to the SW saddle and work your way around to the left. After ascending the first 100 meters or so through the boulders, you should find trails leading to the summit.

The North summit takes at least four hours from the lake. For some hikers, the round trip will take as long as 12-13 hours, so begin very early. There are two main routes. First is to cut north from below the NW corner of the South summit, sliding down scree to the SW saddle, then descend into the crater aiming for the eastern base of the North summit, from which one scrambles up a series of scree slopes to a path along the crater rim. Though involving (perhaps) less climbing, this route confronts a large icefield that makes the SW saddle difficult to traverse. One can also descend the ridge extending S from the S summit, then descend from the SE saddle into the crater and up the other side. From the rocky, exposed false summit, a trail continues to the true summit (with a metal tripod), less difficult than it looks but not for acrophobes.

(Note that substantial time at this altitude exposes a climber to risk of altitude sickness. While most people can make the short climb to the South summit without symptoms, an attempt on the North summit will take long enough to induce at least minimal symptoms in most climbers, and possibly cause substantial problems. Sleeping at altitude the night before, by camping or by staying at the Cosmic Ray observatory by the lake, should substantially improve your condition. Also, the drug known in the west as Diamox is available locally under the Russian name Diacarb (phonetic), and offers substantial protection when taken in advance.)

Aragatsotn Marz monument with Mt. Aragats in background


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