This Transcaucasian Trail thing has really snowballed. It’s got to the point where my life as a “self-unemployed creative nomad fuelled by travel and adventure” seems like a distant memory. Weekly blogs? Monthly newsletters? Hah! – you’re kidding, right?
During a much-needed bikepacking escape over the winter, and on the advice of a good friend, I resolved this year to “protect my space” within the project. Rather than ending up being a CEO-type figure, I decided to focus on what truly enthuses me: exploring and designing the experience of hiking the trail, and creating and communicating opportunities for other people to get involved. This is, after all, what the last decade has prepared me for.
One of the things that inspires me is the inclusive and egalitarian philosophy at the heart of the movement. The team is growing fast, and although visionaries are needed to steer the ship, the guiding principle is that anyone can get involved, giving what time, energy, skills and resources they can to make the Transcaucasian Trail happen.
Here, then, are four concrete ways in which you, the interested observer, could make the transition to contributor and participant in this project in 2017, if you so desire.
1. Apply for the TCT’s “voluntourism” programme in Georgia or Armenia
Once a route is mapped out, the next step in building a trail is to – well – build it.
That means going out on the trail with a bunch of tools, digging out new sections of trail, and fixing problems with existing sections, which might involve creating drainage structures, building bridges or steps, or widening and hardening trail surfaces.
Why? Well, the passage of people has an impact, and (particularly in conservation areas) focusing that impact onto a single, durable path is critical to preserving the landscape. It also makes a long-distance trail a heck of a lot easier to navigate!
The Americans have spent a century cultivating this practice into a fine art. After a successful pilot in Svaneti last year, the TCT teams in both Georgia and Armenia are planning to import that culture to the Caucasus in the form of international voluntourism programmes.
In groups of 8-10, participants will get an immersive, no-frills experience learning trailbuilding skills from a professional crew leader, living out in the woods, sleeping under the stars, and literally pioneering the future route of the TCT. (I did it last year. It was bloody brilliant.)
If that sounds like fun, check out the full details here and get your application in before March 15th (i.e. this Wednesday). Sorry for the short notice!
[Note: NGOs are legally obliged to charge a fee for international volunteering packages. This income, of course, also makes the work itself possible. That said, the fee is actually less than 50% of the true per-person cost, the rest being subsidised by some very generous donors. A portion of the fee also helps subsidise training local volunteers for future employment. Just so you know!]
2. Pioneer brand new routes for the trail (warning: only the hardcore need apply)
This one is strictly for the battle-hardened expeditioners among you. (I know there are lots in this community, otherwise I wouldn’t bother mentioning it.)
If you were following the Transcaucasian Expedition last year, you’ll know that much of what I did involved exploring and mapping remote and uncharted areas of the mountains in search of routes that could be developed into a TCT prototype. That work needs to continue in 2017 – and if you’re looking for a good cause to string your summer of expeditioning around, I’ve got some ideas for you.
You see, there are still gaps in the route. They’re very specific gaps, and most of them involve remote backcountry areas whose landscapes and trails (if they exist) have not yet been explored or documented by our team.
I’ll be scouting out some of these gaps myself this year. But if you’re an experienced outdoorsperson, you’ve got a few weeks to spare, and you want to get involved in this very pioneering end of things, I’d love to hear from you.
Beyond us briefing you on precisely what needs to be explored, you’ll need to be competent and willing to lead expedition-level trekking excursions in wild backcountry with limited maps and information (think ML/IML or equivalent). Our team on the ground can offer a certain level of planning and logistical support, we can train you in the kind of data that needs to be collected, and we may be able to find volunteer team members for you to lead. After that, it’ll be up to you – but you’ll be right on the bleeding edge of the project.
This may not sound particularly appealing to many readers.
But there’s a certain type of person who’ll have read the previous paragraph and thought, “hell yeah!”.
If that’s you – for god’s sake get in touch!
3. Work as a skilled volunteer at the TCT in-country HQ in Dilijan National Park
Aside from the core trailbuilding programme, there’s going to be plenty else to do this summer for volunteers with specific skills, from construction and renovation work to gardening, cooking, field mapping, journalism, research and more.
To get volunteer help with all of this, the TCT Armenia team will be setting up a Workaway opportunity in Dilijan National Park, Armenia. Skilled volunteers will be provided with food and basic accommodation at the HQ in return for contributing their time and energy to one of a plethora of jobs that need attention at any given time.
Many people string together multiple Workaway gigs into a longer journey through a region, giving them cultural experiences as well as bases from which to explore. It’s a casual arrangement and would probably suit someone who’s less interested in an intensive course in trailbuilding and more in simply hanging out to lend a hand.
4. Hike the damn trail already!
Oh yes – I almost forgot – two big chunks of the TCT are already up and running and ready to hike in 2017!
The first is through Svaneti, which extends the established trekking route by several days in each direction, resulting in roughly a 10-day experience, depending on how far you like to hike in a day and whether you prefer camping or guesthouses.
The second is through and around Dilijan National Park, a 7-day trek that connects and extends several existing trails through broadleaf forests and limestone escarpments along the Aghstev Valley, with a couple of optional extensions for the more intrepid and/or time-rich.
The caveat? You’ll have to wait until next month for the trail resources to be published, as this is a team effort and beyond my immediate control. Again, the Transcaucasian Trail Facebook page and mailing list are where these opportunities will be announced first.
Some sections of the trail will also be unmarked and unimproved during the earlier months of the summer (this is what our trailbuilding camps will be working on).
But feel free to begin scheming all the same – a couple of weeks in either Georgia or Armenia, or a full month split between the two, to be one of the first people in the world to hike these sections of the Transcaucasian Trail.
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Sound good? Heck, I’m already jealous, and I’m the one creating this stuff!
If you have any questions about any of these opportunities, I’ll do my best to answer them in the comments below.