We are happy to announce that after launching our very first crowdfunding campaign the trail repairs on the Janapar Trail have begun. in partnership with Janapartrail.org the fundraiser was started in early March and we were on the trail making repairs just a few weeks later.
Donate to this project here: https://pages.donately.com/janapartrailcampaign/fundraiser/hans-janapar-trail-improvements-campaign/
Hans and Tsovinar Departed Yerevan on March 22 2018 to begin repairs and assess potential reroutes around road segments of the trail.
Our first planned stop on this trip was in Zuar Village. We were running a little late and we did not want to disturb our host Esayi so we decided to set up the tent along Zuar Road. It was a nice spot to sleep with the sound of the river flowing nearby.
The next morning we drove the short distance to Esayi’s house located just on the outskirts of the small Village of Zuar. He says the center of town is to noisy with its 80 or so residents so he prefers the quieter outskirts of town!
Esayi grew up in Yerevan and went to live in the United States for 25 years before moving to Zuar Village. He said a few more years and his house would be deeded to him. ( In Artsakh you get a free house if you come to live there) He talked often about Sequoia National Park located in Central California. I grew up visiting this park frequently myself and know what a special place it is.
We had brought fuel for Esayi’s vehicle. I don’t know the model of the car but he affectionately called it Luisa. I could see a shock hanging down in the rear of the vehicle and two flat tires. I wondered how this thing would make it up the mountain to where we planned to start working!
He asked me to check the water level in the radiator and I soon found out this car is air cooled and has no radiator. Funny guy!
Esayi pumped up the tires and filled up the fuel tank and we were on our way. Our first stop was the neighboring village to ask around about the Janapar Trail and the condition of the road leading to it. Some of the teenage boys seemed to be very familiar with the area and gave us some advice.
As we began to drive up I could feel Luisa really bouncing around due to the lack of suspension. Abo our other repat helper for the day stood in the back ducking and weaving around branches while Tsovinar and I rode up front with Esayi. Tsovinar was squeezed in the middle sitting on a pillow.
Abo had also lived in the US for 30 years before moving back to Armenia and then Artsakh. He had plenty of stories about all the interesting jobs he has had.
Several times as the road became steeper and rockier I told Esayi we can hike from here. To which he always replied why we can keep going which he did. Finally after 3 km up the rough dirt road it became to overgrown to drive any further.
We hiked up for a while and checked the route. It was very windy and began to rain. Luckily the rain stopped after a short time and we kept hiking up. After one wrong turn we found the right path. This segment of trail had eluded me on my first two trips on the trail. During our first Trails For Change mission last September we were able to find the trail. Now I knew it from the other direction but it seemed different from this direction. We passed a few places we remembered and then found a familiar pink flag I had left in September. We decided to begin working our way down and we would return to the upper section the next day with more help.
That night we had a barbecue out in the field where we camped. Tsovinar and I had stopped on the way into Artsakh and bought a few soccer balls. I had given one to the neighbor kids and now they played in the field with Tsovinar and their Mom Lucy.
The next day the neighbor boy Armen and two other young men joined us along with Abo and Esayi for another day of trail work. They all were working well so Tsovinar and I left them to go to the top of the trail where I knew it was hard to navigate. The top portion has a gap in the old road where you have to go cross country for a while and this is why I could not find it on my first two trips here. We marked as best as we could from the junction. Later we will return with signs and a post to install at that junction. For now we
marked with the typical Janipar Trail blue paint and pink flagging tape.
We worked our way back down to find the crew was doing a great job of clearing the trail. This very overgrown segment was now very easy to walk through and it had become a nice trail
We stopped in the village and asked around about the road conditions and we were assured we could drive up 3-4 km. So we decided to drive up. We did not ask about laborers because we needed to check the route first and come up with a plan. We were able to drive up the dirt road above the village 2.5 km before the road became to rough and muddy. This was fine because it was a very nice place to camp. We set up camp and made a plan to hike up the trail the next day to either work on the existing trail or find a reroute.
During my first hike here we missed an unmarked turn. On my second trip we cleared and marked that turn with new signs. Now two of our signs were missing so we marked with blue paint. I am not a big fan of marking with paint but since posts and signs seem to disappear I now think it is the best method for this area. We will install signs in the future but also have blue paint in case the signs disappear.
The trail above our camp was a steep muddy old jeep track. The deep holes from the cattle made it hard to walk. On past trips here I had hoped to find a better route! At one point the trail left the road and cut through the forest.
The blazes on the trees were a bit hard to follow but we finally found our way. As we hiked around we found another trail that followed the ridge down so we decided to hike it and check it out. It was overgrown with lots of rose, blackberry and other thorny bushes. The top half of the trail had a nice grade and was a very nice trail. The second half became steep with a few muddy spots but it was a much better route than the existing trail. We continued down and it joined the existing marked route at a spring. Here there are tables and a shelter so it would be a nice place to camp.
We were very happy to find this alternate route! We hiked the 2 miles back up and then cut brush on our way back down to our camp. It was a long day of hiking and working but we barely noticed because we felt so happy to find such a nice alternative route.
We headed to Shushi for the night to stay at the Shushi Hotel. It had been several days since we had showered so we were looking forward to a hot shower. Unfortunately there was a problem and the water was cold but a cold shower is better than no shower at all! The next morning we had hot water! After so many days without internet we had a lot to catch up on. Originally we planned to leave by early afternoon but we had so much to do we worked all day in the hotel room and stayed a second night.
That evening Tsovinar’s friend Narek joined us to volunteer with us for a few days. Narek is also a well known photographer so it was nice to have him along to capture some of our work and the surrounding scenery.
The following morning the three of us were off for Togh Village!
We arrived in Togh and as usual we went to the Village center and asked around about the Janapar Trail or any other trails in the area. We received the same blank stares that we had become used to. No one here seems to really understands the idea of hiking a trail for fun. To them they hike for a purpose such as gathering food or firewood. The Villagers told us we could drive our car up the road to the monastery but we had already seen the road and knew it was to rough for our car. One of the guys there made a phone call and said a guy would come in a 4x4 to drive us up.
The segment of the Janapar Trail that goes around the mountain is a jeep road to the monastery. We drove to the Monastery and had a look at the map. We saw a few options to go down the front side of the mountain. Our driver informed us that most of the Villagers use the trail behind the Monastery because it is the shortest way.
After finding the marked Janapar Trail segment from the top we beat through some brush and found the familiar blue blazes.
After a short hike the trail opened up under the forest canopy. The trail had a nice grade and was really a very nice segment of single track trail. Once we worked our way down the trail for 10 minutes or so we found the trail was very overgrown with thick thorny brush. We began to trim back the vegetation and returned the next day for another day of brush clearing work.
As we hiked around the Togh Reserve we found other trails and we wondered where they went and what condition are they in. We were so excited about it! If you had seen us you may have thought we discovered gold! That night we left Togh Village reluctantly. We wanted to spend more time here but we had other parts of the trail to see. We drove a short distance from the Village and found a place to set up camp. Tsovinar and I talked with excitement about all the trails we had found and wondered how many more were there!
That night I dreamed about the trails and could not seem to get Togh out of my mind. When I told this to Tsovinar she said she was also dreaming about it. I said we have to go back!
Narek had to get back to Yerevan so we dropped him on the highway, said our goodbyes and we were on our way back to Togh Village. We spent the day exploring the mountain. We hiked over 15 km that day. There were so many old trails that just needed mainly brush clearing work. On one side of the mountain alone there were four stacked trails! With a little work this could truly be an epic destination for hikers and mountain bikers.
We departed Togh with plans to check out a potential reroute near Karmir Shuka and a recent reroute near Kolatak. It was raining heavily so we skipped the segment near Kolatak because it is a canyon and follows a river. We managed to drive up the slick dirt road to the trail above Kolatak and hiked down 50 meters or so in the rain and mud and decided it was to wet and muddy to hike at this time.
March 31 we returned to Yerevan
April 4 2018
Hans, Armen, Jonathan, Areg and Serozh depart Yerevan for Artsakh for round two of repairs.
First stop was Dilijan to pick up tools stored there. Then off to Stepanakert to pick up Visas then to Togh Village.
We were staying at a guest house in Togh Village run by Artashes. They had a nice hot dinner waiting for us when we arrived.
We tried once again to find some laborers in the area to help us but we were unsuccessful.
April 5, Gtichavank to Togh Village.
On our previous trip we had cleared most of the vegetation from the Gtichavank to the Village. Now we needed to do some tread work and widen the trail. We hiked to the top and then worked our way down the trail.
April 6 Azokh to Shekher Village
We drove to just above Azokh Village and hiked to Shekher. Some parts of the trail had disappeared in heavy brush and deep leaves. We worked our way back to Azokh cutting brush, rebenching the trail where needed and refreshing or painting new blazes. This segment is now in good shape!
After work we decided to do some more hiking. We hiked up to the Azokh Cave to explore how our cave dwelling ancestors lived. With lots of small insects, bats and guano it did not seem like a very nice place to live!
April 7, Janapar Trail above Togh Village.
We continued clearing brush and benching.
April 8, Gtichavank Loop Trail.
There is a second trail from Gtichavank that is also marked with the Janapar Trail logo and blue blazes. The original idea would be for those wanting to do a loop from Togh Village could use this trail and then use the Janapar Trail to make a nice loop. This trail was very overgrown but is a very nice trail so I decided since our fundraising was for the Janapar Trail and this was not technically part of the Janapar Trail I would personally fund this work.
It took us two days to clear this section. Towards the end of the second day I decided to ride the trail and get the GPS track. I took the dirt road to Gtichavank which is a nice ride until the last 2 KM where the road becomes very steep.
As I was about half way down the trail I came up behind a Villager who was collecting herbs. I said hello and he looked back and I could tell he was shocked to see a mountain biker on the trail. He began to laugh out loud and could not answer as I asked how he was doing. It was very funny to get that reaction.
The ride was great and by the time I reached the bottom of the trail the guys were finishing up with the brush work. Next time I think I will climb up the trail instead of the dirt road. I would also like to try to find or build a connector trail to get from the high point on the dirt road to the Monastery.
April 9, Janapar Trail to Hadrut and the Gtichavank Loop Trail
We began the day clearing brush on the Janapar Trail segment to Hadrut. This took us ½ the day. Afterwards we continued work on the Gtichavank Loop Trail. This trail is directly behind the monastery. This trail was easy to see the old bench cut but then disappeared after a while so we had much tread work as well as brush work to do here. This trail will make a nice loop with the trail on the South side of the mountain or the Janapar Trail.
April 10: Finished Janapar Trail in Togh and checked a potential reroute near Karmir Shuka that Raffi and Dimitri had scouted last fall. This route is very nice. It runs through a canyon next to a river which it crosses several times. This reroute will need to be cleared of brush, fallen trees and marked. This will be a nice change from the current dirt and asphalt road portion of the route to Karmir Shuka. Though that route will still need to be an option for times of wet weather because the Canyon would not be a good place to be during or shortly after a storm.
After work we began driving back to Yerevan. We stopped at a restaurant and spoke with the manager. He informed us it was closed so we started to drive off. I noticed a lot of flat area around so I thought we should ask if we could camp here. We backed up and asked and he said it was fine. As we set up camp he said he could make us dinner. We were all very hungry so this was good to hear! We had a delicious meal after setting up camp and went to sleep with full stomachs listening to the rain come down on our tents.
Next trip to continue our work on the Janapar Trail will be in May.