|America to Armenia|
|Written by Karsten Delap and Paige Marta Skiba|
|Wednesday, 20 June 2012|
Phhh. Our car stalls in the Zvartnots airport parking lot just as the third member of our climbing team, Marius, reports he “knows how to drive stick.” We all laugh. Less than an hour into our trip and the three of us already click with Mkhitar, our local climbing guide. Climbing does that to you. 5am on the first day and we are already starting to feel at home 7000 miles away from it. Marius’ driving was a running joke of the trip—just one of our innumerable great memories. (We often opted to wear our climbing helmets when he was in at the helm of our Lada Niva—an indestructible Russian SUV.)
Armenia’s climbing community is small, but vibrant and growing. Mkhitar is at the center of it all. Mkhik, as he’s known, is a veritable one-man movement to establish a technical rock-climbing and guiding culture here. It's working.
We soon depart Yerevan and split the majority of our time between the varied sport climbs in Hell’s Canyon (which range from 5.9 to a cave that goes at 5.13 something—the country's hardest) and the heady trad leads on loose hexagonal columns in Garni gorge—a sight that boggles the mind and one that should not be missed. “Symphony of Stones” is a fitting name for one formation and it's no surprise that many of these basalt structures are national monuments.
As our trip draws to an end, Yerevan cranks into the 30s. June is hot and getting hotter. We are tired: more than a fortnight on the rock with less than two days rest, coupled with Marius’ driving and the unrelentingly sharp limestone, makes us look (and feel) like we’ve been through a cheese grater. Now back in America, we feel at ease in the routine of daily life. Yet, as hardly two weeks elapse, and as the scabs on our forearms begin to peel, we are yearning for this foreign, faraway place. We feel drawn back to Armenia’s majestic landscape, rich culture and endless climbing possibilities.
Karsten and Paige
Karsten Delap is a professional climber and AMGA Certified Rock Guide living in North Carolina. Paige Marta Skiba is an economist living in Tennessee.
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