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bei Geghmaghan, Kotaykʼ (አርሜኒያ)
This time we returned in summer to finish the unfinished business. We had come all the way from Germany in a 25 year old Opel Vectra. For the drive from Yerevan to the trailhead, we exchanged it for an even older 29-year-old UAZ, owned and driven by the capable Arayik. The UAZ didn't have a glove compartment, but probably the most reliable four-wheel drive gear around. Air conditioning is provided by removing the front half-doors.
Note that a high clearance 4WD, preferrably with low range gear, is necessary for the approach.
Azhdahak has a respectable altitude of 3597 Meter. The volcanic cone sits on the vast Geghama plains, which gently rise from about 2000 Meter to 3000 Meter elevation. Its a huge area, mainly inhabited during summer by the Yezidi herders. While Yerevan in summer will be a sweltering 40 degree celsius, the Geghama mountains enjoy a climate pleasant for men and beast.
Given the gradual approach, a hike of Azhdahak (or any other volcanic outcrop in the area) is not a technically difficult undertaking. During our hike to the summit, we were overtaken by Yezidi horsemen, who also enjoyed an outing on horseback to the summit and the crater lake.
The main challenge (for me) was the lack of adjustment to the altitude. We basically approached the mountain from sea level, and for many reasons had little exposure to altitude during the past year. Following our Azhdahak adventure we spent some time in Armenia at rather high altitude (for example Lake Sevan lies at an elevation of 2000 Meter). The logic thing to do would have been to first hang out at Lake Sevan or other places for a couple of days, and then climb Azhdahak - or any other mountain.
Mid-July is a good time to enjoy the Geghama Mountains. Snow still lingers mostly on the northern slopes, providing a beautiful and striking contrast to the red or white volcanic soil. Flowers appear in abundance, and the air is fresh. It pays to watch the online-weather forecast, for example on mountain-forecasts.com, which provides good weather information at different altitude levels. We aimed for the only real sunny day of the week, and were not dissapointed.
It seems customary to hike around the crater lake - if only to extend your stay. Note that there are sheer drops on the northern side of the crater rim.
There are petroglyphs in the area; not only where we indicated them as a waypoint. For those with more time, the area is highly recommended for multi-day trekking tours.
Taking advantage of the UAZ, we also ventured into the Garni Canyon. The road is good for a 4WD, but not for the faint-hearted. The canyon provides a spectacle of sheer basalt cliffs, and extends the journey back to Yerevan by about one hour.