Climbing Mt. Aragatz

Climbing Mt. Aragatz, the highest peak in modern Armenia.
  • Start at: Lake Kari (3,200 m / 10,500 ft AMSL).
  • Southern Peak: 3,900 m (12,700 ft) AMSL
  • End at: Lake Kari.
  • Distance: ~12 km.
  • Time: ~5 hours (3 hrs up, 1/2 hr on summit, 1 1/2 hrs down).
  • Difficult parts: The last 1/3 of the climb is the steepest.
  • Food: N/A
  • Water: N/A.
  • Wear: solid hiking shoes, warm clothes
  • Time to visit: late August - early September.
Mr. Aragatz is the highest peak in present-day Armenia. It is an almost circular rim around the caldera of a former volcano. The rim has 4 distinct peaks, of which the Northern one is the highest at 4,100 m (13,400 ft), but also the farthest and most difficult to each (requires rock climbing). The Southern one is more easily reached in a single day and offers the same fantastic views. You are strongly advised to climb with a local guide for several reasons:
  • Lake Kari is ~70 km (40 mi) from Yerevan with no public transport whatsoever. The guide will provide you with transportation to and from the capital city.
  • Unlike European mountains, there are no marked trails at all. While the peak is clearly visible from the starting point, it is not easy to find proper way to it avoiding the too steep and exhausting climb. In addition, the weather can change quickly with lots of clouds and/or fog being common even in summer.
  • Terrain can be treacherous with frozen dew each morning, lots of water up to mid-summer and shaky rocks.
  • Last but not least, hiring a guide you will have nice company and will support the local economy - that's what you do in your travels, after all. A good guide will cost you around EUR/USD 150 (contact me for recommendations).
Late summer offers suitable weather with daily temperatures up to 10-15 deg Celsius while being dry enough for a pleasant climb. Up to mid-summer Aragatz can be too wet and early Autumn can make the weather too cold. One day is enough to travel to Lake Kari from Yerevan, climb Aragatz and get back. Start your travel as early as possible, probably 6 AM or even before that. The road to Kari is mountainous one and it takes around 1 1/2 hours to cover the 70 km (40 mi) to the lake. Road condition is far from being good, so don't try it on a rental car - even don't try it on you own, unless you drive a SUV. Road is not well sign-posted, so use navigation if you have to ride without a guide. Bring enough water and food to sustain your climb. There is no water supply at Lake Kari and no food. The so-called restaurant there is better avoided at any price. Aside from dubious food quality, it is known for its unfriendliness to travellers (with some reporting that non-customers are even denied using the rest rooms). From the Lake Kari, go left behind the restaurant and the up behind the nearest small hill, thus forming a wide arch. From here the Southern Peak is clearly visible, but is farther and steeper than it seems. Traverse a wide, mostly flat area, criss-crossed by the remains of small streams; it is easy to walk while slowly rising you above. Follow directly to the summit, keeping the small glacier as your target (you will pass left and above it). The flat area will be replaced by rocky grounds, crossed by several stone rivers. Be careful while crossing them as boulders are often unstable. Keep left of the glacier heading S-SW, making a wide arch until you actually get above it. From then, turn NW to reach the rim between the Southern and the Western peaks, passing along an unnamed, faux peak. When at the rim, either turn left for the Western Peak or right for the Southern. At the Southern Peak there is a stone shelter which can help you cover from the wind (but it has no roof, so won't keep you from rain). The summit is flat with no distinct peak spot; to the east it narrows and then descends rapidly to the missing quarter of the caldera rim. When getting back it is possible to short-cut a little, going closer to the top of the glacier. From there, follow directly N to the lake. Tracks: KMZ file (Note: coordinates are approximate, because they were taken from Google Earth and not from GPS device.)
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