In 2017, expedition member Val Ismaili went for a walk; taking 2 months to walk 1500 kilometres solo, Val completed the first thru-hike of the Transcaucasian Trail through Armenia and Georgia. During his thru-hike and on a return visit to Armenia in 2018, Val collected information on a number of crags ripe for development - none more so than the cliffs of Dilijan.
Located at 2000m, the limestone escarpments extend for 7 kilometres ranging from 50-300m high. As of yet, there has been no exploration of these walls. This expedition seeks to establish a number of first ascents, help develop the climbing community by teaching local school children to climb, and setting a range of rock routes accessible to all levels of climbers.
Dilijan Climbing Potential
Armenia's ancient and tumultuous history has produced a culture where you can visit 2000 year old monasteries, hike on ancient trails, and be invited into the homes of mountain shepherds and treated like family. Tourism has surged in recent years, particularly 'adventure tourism', thanks to organisations such as the Transcaucasian Trail Association (TCT) who seek to build new hiking trails and the surrounding infrastructure such as topographical maps and tourist information centres, in order to facilitate growing numbers of tourists.
The focal point for this development has been Dilijan, known for its high alpine meadows and mountainous environment. Most of this work has been related to hiking trails, and although some areas of the country have seen the evolution of crags (thanks to our friends at UpTheRocks), the cliffs of Dilijan (the largest and most expansive in the country) have yet to be explored by climbers. We’d like to change that.
These stunning limestone escarpments loom over the broadleaf forests of Dilijan National Park and stand out as an objective to any climber, with a range of options from slabs to multi-pitch crack systems. This expedition seeks to flesh out the potential of these cliffs and establish routes at a range of grades to showcase the potential of the Caucasus as a rock climbing destination, at what we think are one of Europe's most underrated limestone cliffs.
We aim to create a diary of our time there which in turn will become a guide to the cliff face, documenting the routes put up and access issues, such as the local flora and fauna to enjoy and protect throughout the year.
Climb “Like A Girl”
Women have proven that climbing is a sport where gender is not a hindrance,but there aren’t enough well-covered stories of women exploring new rock routes. These women can and will bring a contribution to the climbing world.
Flo has been delighted to observe and encourage an equal gender ratio in the University of Bristol Mountaineering Club and is using all platforms to promote how normal this should be. Kim has spent 10 years working with and advocating for women in climbing, and Aleksandra has ventured across the world on all-female expeditions.
It can be intimidating to be one of the only women in an outdoor space. We want to change this, and we know we can. We will continue to invite women to join us to lead their first routes, to try their first crampons, to drill their first bolts, or even to climb their first pitches outdoors. Our goal is to inspire women to push their own limits, explore their climbing goals, and break down the gender barrier in what is often perceived as a male dominated sport.
In August 2018, Peter took a fall on Ex-Libris in Chamonix, when his heel got caught. He ended up falling upside down, and smacking his head against the granite. He was airlifted to the hospital and was diagnosed with Subaracnoid Haemorrhage. Whilst Peter was recovering, Val got in touch with him about these Dilijan plans; this vision inspired Peter to get back climbing and set a one year challenge to climb better than before.
Recovery has set Peter back; over the last few months he has had to overcome panic attacks, a shaky hand, fatigue, flash backs, and questions about how and why he was one of the lucky ones who survived. Peter has faced criticism over his eagerness to get back to climbing outside quickly, but to his credit, the doctor has confirmed his full recovery. Peter has found that literally and metaphorically picking himself up from rock bottom has helped him grow personally, and that this has matured him in both his climbing and outlook.
The climbing community is passionate and strong, with networks of people that help each other through rough times. Members of the team have themselves struggled in the past, and have found resilience in the climbing community. Climbing has fostered friendships, led them to new goals, and provided feelings of accomplishment interwoven with a continuous drive to push harder.
Flo’s approach to barriers in her climbing is analogous to how she has overcome her personal history with troubling thoughts. She aims to work past her fear of falling by associating it with positive ideas rather than negative feelings that arise from a lack of absolute control. She is learning to commit to moves and trust herself, without always knowing what the outcome will be. Flo is continuing to push through her barrier, using preparation for Armenia as the perfect framework to record her progress.
Many climbers struggle with mental health challenges and have found internal strength through climbing. Both this and the challenge of overcoming fear are themes that resonate with many in this community. We are hoping to break the stigma around these realities and spread support throughout climbing culture.