Explorers to create new 1,000-mile hiking trail through Georgia and Armenia

Explorers are setting out to create a 1,000-mile hiking route across a little-visited mountain range in Georgia and Armenia, reports.

The team will survey and hike off-road routes over the next six months to design the first long distance walking trail through the Lesser Caucasus mountains.

The team’s leaders, experienced traveller and film-maker Tom Allen and robotics engineer Alessandro Mambelli, will use technology to gather data on the network of off-road car tracks, logging roads and informal trails through important areas.

The Caucasus region is dominated by the Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountain ranges, some of the most impenetrable in the world but known for their rich wildlife, including rarely-seen Eurasian lynx, Caucasian leopards and bears.

Exploring them has been difficult due to the lack of formal trails and maps, which the team hopes to change to help give local people and visitors access to the mountains and raise awareness of the region’s landscapes and cultures.

They are working with the newly-formed Transcaucasian Trail Association and local communities, who will maintain the trails and benefit from them through increased tourism.

The long term vision is to create a way-marked trail network similar to Alpine back-country routes, including sections that would involve camping out and staying in refuges while hiking between villages, backed up by resources such as guidebooks.

Mr Allen, who has close personal ties to Armenia through his wife and has lived there for periods in the last eight years, said he wanted to do something of value to the region.

“There is a real lack of access to the outdoors, there’s no information, the maps are extremely out of date, from the Soviet era.

“People don’t know how to go out and engage with the geography of the country they are living in or go exploring.

“The main objective is to develop a long distance hiking trail which is a kind of flagship for the idea of more trails being developed in the future.”

He added: “This is a very nice rural area within these two countries, there’s a low crime rate, it’s very safe, and people are very hospitable to tourists.”

The team have mapped out plans for covering 1,000 miles (1,500km) of the mountain range, though they are set to walk much further than that as they explore potential routes in detail.

They are backed by a bursary scheme run by the Royal Geographical Society and Jaguar Land Rover, with a Land Rover Defender 110 Station Wagon being specially adapted to carry the team’s GPS equipment and a drone-landing platform.

Mr Mambelli, who lives in Armenia, enjoyed hiking in the Dolomites in his native Italy when younger and took the opportunity to take a break from his engineering career to take part in the expedition.

“I’m looking forward to doing the exploration for some time in the mountains. It’s something I used to do for fun and I’m now doing with a purpose, not just having fun for myself,” he said.

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