You’ll soon be able to hike a new trail connecting Europe with Asia
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In recent years, thru-hiking (long-distance hiking from one point to the next) has become increasingly popular.
Books and films such as Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and Emilio Estevez’s “The Way” have brought thru-hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail and the Camino into popular culture.
And now, the construction of a new trail system called the Transcaucasian Trail (TCT) is well underway.
The TCT, which links Europe and Asia through the Caucasus, has been in development for more than five years. Now, a section of the trail that spans the entirety of Armenia is nearly complete, with a public version of the 517-mile segment expected to be unveiled later this year.
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When it’s complete, the TCT will actually comprise two separate routes totaling nearly 1,900 miles: one running from north to south from the border of Iran to Georgia’s high peaks through Georgia and Armenia, and another from east to west through Georgia and Azerbaijan, connecting the Black and Caspian Seas.
The Transcaucasian Trail Association hopes to release a 750-mile preliminary version of the North-South route by the summer of 2022.
By pulling together sections of revived, forgotten trails, Soviet Jeep tracks and newly constructed trails, the TCT will link nearly two dozen existing and proposed national parks, negotiating some of the region’s most iconic peaks and remote wilderness. But, more importantly, the volunteer-built trail network will provide an intersection between pristine wilderness and culture.
Meagan Neal, the co-executive director of the Transcaucasian Trail Association, has been hiking the Armenian stretch of trail to get a first-hand experience of the hike.
“What has really struck me is not only how quickly transitions are between wildly diverse landscapes, but also the warm hospitality we’ve received from people along the way,” Neal told TPG in an email. “We are frequently being invited in for coffee and to join people’s barbecues, which has resulted in great conversation.”
In the Caucasus, the communities and cultures are nearly as diverse as its ecosystems.
Consisting of a mountainous piece of land spanning parts of Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran, Turkey and Georgia, the Caucasus region is home to countless ethnic groups and dozens of indigenous languages — comparable only to the Amazon Rainforest and Papua New Guinea. Rich in cultural diversity and history, the Caucasus boasts evidence of a number of firsts, including winemaking practices that date back 8,000 years.
When complete, hikers of the TCT will walk from community to community, experiencing these vibrant cultures and learning about thousands of years of history. Between towns, hikers will traverse terrain through the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains, which is known as some of the most rugged in the world. The region is also home to diverse flora and fauna, a number of which exist only in the Caucasus.
Despite its many draws, the Caucasus has remained overlooked by tourists, largely due to its inaccessibility and out-of-date maps. But the development of the TCT by the Transcaucasian Trail Association hopes to bridge that gap.
Neal is hopeful that the trail will bring awareness to, and appreciation of, the region’s biological, cultural and geographical diversity.
“We are working to create public infrastructure that can be used by locals and [visitors], and we hope it will encourage the preservation of this heritage,” Neal said.
She expressed optimism about the future of the trail and the potential for sustainable and culturally sensitive rural tourism development. In a sense, the TCT is an experiment in whether or not self-guided tourism can boost the area’s economy while preserving its culture and biodiversity.
While experienced hikers will be able to complete one of the trails, unguided, in two or three months, there are many local guide services in the region.
HIKEArmenia, a Transcaucasian Trail Association partner, has a section of their site dedicated to local trail guides for hire. And for people interested in supporting the trail development effort, the association runs annual TCT group fundraising treks on completed sections of the trail.
When complete, this new trail network could open up a new world of hiker-based tourism — and create an incredible opportunity for travelers in search of a new adventure.
Featured photo of Stepantsminda, Georgia by Andrei Bortnikau/EyeEm/Getty Images.
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