Explorer, author, trail prospector & travel writer

Will You Help Crowdfund Dilijan National Park’s Beautiful New Hiking Map?

Today I’m helping launch a crowdfunding campaign to produce the Republic of Armenia’s first ever 1:25,000-scale topographical hiking map. Will you chip in in exchange for a copy?

And here’s my behind-the-scenes story of how I got involved in the whole thing:

A little over three years ago, in Armenia, I met a bearded, map-obsessed Italian called Alessandro. Until then, I’d thought my own obsession with maps was borderline problematic (most explorer-adventurers do). His, however, raised the bar to dizzying heights.

At the time, I’d just had this crazy idea to try and build Armenia’s first long-distance national hiking route, from the Georgian to the Iranian border. So I told him about it, thinking it might be his kind of thing.

It was. The following April, Alessandro and I drove away from the gates of the Royal Geographical Society in a flashy new Land Rover Defender on a mission to explore and map the Armenian leg of what had by now become the Transcaucasian Trail.

Things don’t always pan out like you’d expect. Turned out the expedition life was not for Alessandro. But the map-making life was. Quitting the tech industry, he co-founded a startup called Cartisan (cool name, I thought) with the intention of creating beautiful, hand-crafted topographical maps – initially to fill a gaping void in Armenia and the Caucasus, and then… well, that was a question for later.

In the middle of last summer, Alessandro showed up at our trail-building headquarters in Dilijan National Park (by this time the Transcaucasian Trail idea had gained huge traction and I was now running a six-month-long volunteer trail building programme), and unfurled a vast and extremely impressive prototype topographical map of the area in which we were working.

We stuck it on the wall. Everyone loved it – mainly because it was the only 1:25,000-scale topographical map of Dilijan National Park in the world. I asked him why he wasn’t selling them. He got 20 copies done at a local print shop and we gave them to a couple of nearby cafes in Dilijan to sell. They were all gone within a fortnight.

A year of development later, Alessandro is gearing up to launch that map in earnest as a commercial product. He’s nervous. I know this because he’s sitting next to me right now, sweating.

I want to support his efforts, for various reasons, but mainly because I can see and feel the passion he has for making this map as good as it can possibly be, and I have massive respect for people with that kind of dedication, drive and selflessness.

(Secondarily, I want to support him because – along with a proper trail network – his map is exactly what Dilijan National Park has been missing since it was established in 2002, and exactly what people like you and I need to enjoy our time there.)

To do that, I’ve mobilised the considerable klout and generosity of the Transcaucasian Trail supporters’ network to back a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo, the success of which will result in 2,500 copies of the map being distributed globally and made available in all the right places in Armenia too.

But I also want to ask you, the readers who have followed and supported me over the years (including my own crowdfunding campaigns), if you will extend your generosity to helping Alessandro reach his goal and make this pioneering and important map a physical, printed reality.

I’ll thank you enormously for your support – if not an actual pledge, then by helping spread the word about this genuinely unprecedented step forward for the Transcaucasian Trail vision.


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