May 2018 by Hans Keifer
In the spring of 2018 Trails For Change organized a mountain bike tour/fundraiser on the Janapar Trail. The fundraiser was very successful and we raised over $15,000 for trail repairs! As of September 2018 90% of the trail has been blazed and cleared of overgrown vegetation. A few reroutes have also been mapped, blazed and cleared of vegetation. These rerouted segments and all segments can be found on the Janapartrail.org site as well as the View Ranger App and soon on the Hike Armenia web site and app.
There is more work to do and we have another bike tour/fundraiser planned for 2019.
Back in June 2017 when I guided my friend ultra runner Telma Altoon on the Janapar Trail it was so hot I figured late May would be a better time of year to do the bike tour. Turns out this April and May received record rain. It rained almost everyday leaving the trails wet and muddy!
Despite the wet conditions we had a great time and a few riders want to do it again in 2019!
May 29, 2018
We departed Yerevan just before 8:00 am. We stopped in Martuni for lunch and then a quick stop in Vardenis to pick up a bike for one of the kids in Tsar Village. We arrived at the Janapar Trailhead in Vardenis around noon. The sky was dark and threatening. This first segment of the trail would take us over the highest point on the trail. I knew if it was storming at 9000’ (2743 meters) it would be a tough ride. I hoped we could make it over the pass before the rain would begin.
We were off to a slow start as one of our riders struggled with the steep climb. We were an hour into the ride when the rain started. Most of us had rain gear except for Michael. It was raining for a while and we found a shelter before the trail became very steep on the last pitch up to the high pass. We took a break here out of the rain for a while and waited for everyone to regroup. There was a spring here and a few of us took advantage and filled up our bottles.
We gave our slower rider a head start and then we all started rolling again as the rain came down. Luckily for us the rain stopped for a while as we neared the pass. As we approached the top of the climb there was very thick clay soil and it was a challenge to ride or even walk on this slippery surface. We made it to the pass and found a mound of dirt to take shelter behind from the wind but not the rain! The rain was now falling very heavily again. We were in the clouds and the visibility was very poor. We had to wait about 20 minutes for our slower rider to catch up. I could see Michael was shaking badly so we huddled up for warmth.
Once we were together again we began the downhill ride. The trail was so wet and slippery we could not go very fast. The conditions were miserable and we were all getting very cold. The stopping to regroup was the hardest part.
Michael had lost his water bottle and his rim brakes were failing due to the rain and mud. We pushed on and finally made it to Tsar Village. We went to our friends the Abrahamyan's house and were quickly invited in. By this time Michael’s lips were purple and he was shaking badly. Sahag could see he needed to get warmed up and quickly found some dry clothes and a sleeping bag for Michael.
The Abrahamyan's had made us dinner and were going to bring it to our camp. Now they invited us to stay the night in their home. Most of the crew decided to stay in their warm dry house that night instead of going back out into the storm to ride to camp. Tsovinar and our driver Karen were waiting for us at camp and I had been dreaming about the hot spring for several hours! I was also looking forward to our nice campsite by the River. I decided to keep moving.
Silvia decided to head down with me so we grabbed some food and took off down the hill. It was mostly downhill to our camp which was nice and easy but very cold and wet. Darkness was upon us quickly so we had to ride slowly since we did not have lights. My thumbs were so numb I could not shift gears so I had to use my palm to shift. As I write this five days later I still have tingling in my thumbs but my fingers have now recovered.
After about 10 miles of riding we found Tsovinar and Karen waiting for us near the hot spring. We quickly jumped in to the hot tub shoes and all. It felt so nice after being so cold all day! After the hot tub we ate the Jingalov Hats made by Karine. The tents had been set up earlier by Tsovinar and Karen so we were able to get in them and then quickly nto our warm sleeping bags. The tents were a little wet inside because they had set them up in the pouring rain. Luckily they held up well that night as the storm continued most of the night. I slept very well with the sound of the rain on the tent and the roar of the nearby river. Not to mention it was a very exhausting day.
The rest of the crew showed up around 9:30 am in Sahag’s UAZ. They were all wearing borrowed clothes. The Abrahamayan's brought us a very nice breakfast as well as some food to take on the road. Chris prepared the bike he had purchased in Vardenis for Varazdat as he sat patiently waiting to ride it for the first time.
The sky was currently partly clear but we knew more rain was coming so we decided to take the easier route around the mountain instead of the route over the mountain. It was a mostly downhill ride until we reached the Zuar Road, then we had a gentle 8 miles of climbing to Zuar.
Once in Zuar we set up camp and then headed for the hot springs. We met a touring cyclists there from Russia.
We rode out the Zuar Road to the highway and then up to Dadivank. We continued on the highway to Getavan. Here we had a break at a roadside picnic table.
We decided to skip the Vaghuhas to Gandzasar section. It was very wet and muddy when Chris and I had ridden it the week before and with the recent heavy rains we knew it would be much worse now. We loaded into the van and drove to Gandzasar. It began to rain heavily once again as we were finishing up our visit at Gandzasar Monastery.
By the time we made it to Stepanakert to get visas the rain had stoped so we rode the segment of the Janapar Trail from Stepanakert to Shushi. It was muddy but at least it did not rain on us.
Shushi to Karmir Shuka. We made it through the day without any rain though the trail was muddy it was nice to stay mostly dry for the ride! After getting settled and cleaned up in our homestay we took a trip up to the 2000 year old platunus Tree and then to Amaras Monastery.
Todays plan was to ride to Hadrut. It had started raining yesterday in the evening and never stopped. We thought if the rain stops we will ride the road to Hadrut but it never stopped and no one was interested in another rainy ride so we decided to drive to Togh Village where we had made arrangements for our friend Artashes and his Wife to make us lunch. After lunch we toured the Meliks Palace and then drove back to Shushi. In Shushi we visited a couple of interesting museums. The Geology Museum, Carpet Museum
On the way back to Yerevan we stopped in Tatev and Noravank
Riders comments about the trip:
Chris Kostman: "This year's trip was one of the greatest and most meaningful adventures of my entire life!"
The 2019 bike tour/fundraiser will be September 1st - 7th. Though spring is the most beautiful time in Artsakh drier Septembers weather will make for a more pleasurable ride! If you are interested in joining the 2019 tour send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org