Welcome to my home

Welcome to my home

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I Got Really High in Armenia

So, every single day since I have been in Armenia (with the exception of my site visit), when I wake up, I get dressed, eat my breakfast, pack my bag, and step across the threshold of my front door into the cool Armenian morning air. On most occasions (July seeming to be the overwhelming exception), I can still see my breath drift away from me in a relaxed, but confident fashion. And as I watch my breath slowly dissipate into the greater body of air that is the outdoors, my eyes have never been able to help but refocusing on the highest peak of the mountains that cradle my town in their nurturing lap. Every morning, this sight has dominated my vision, regardless of whether it is placed on a backdrop of sunshine, rain, fog, or mist, and every morning I have the same thought. What’s it like on the top?

Because I have a pretty good view of the mountain from my front stoop, I’ve had ample time to study the intricacies of the slopes, saddles, and ridgelines of this particular mountain. And, over time, I’ve been planning my own way up to the top, I say my own way, because people here are deathly afraid of snakes, and the mountain is where snakes are imagined to be. The result of this paranoia, is that much of the mountain illustrates the antithesis of trails.

[Side note on snakes: If the people of Armenia are asked, killer snakes inhabit almost every square foot (should this be in meters?) of land that is not inhabited by people, and the mountain consists of all of said land. In fact, there are so many snakes, that one is lucky to find a patch of ground to tread on that is not seething with venomous motion. What is more, is that these snakes are mad (think Fred Phelps in San Fran). So, even if you manage to pogo your way through the snake-knotted ground, the snakes themselves will actually get together in a meeting (similar to those town hall meetings you hear presidential candidates talk about every four years, you know, full of meaningful questions, little old women dying of something, coal mine workers coughing all over the place, and community leaders talking about some need for jobs) in order to devise a plan more devious/complicated/top secret/intricate than the Manhattan Project, that will result in the downfall of any bi-pedal intruder on their turf (just try and diagram that sentence grammar gurus). They will stalk you for days, only to wait until your most vulnerable moment, and then they’ll strike with a more deadly force than any Shock and Awe, and more surprise than any Tet Offensive. Then, after you’ve been injected with a serum that is a SARS-Anthrax-Polio combination by about a million snakes, the king snake (you know the one that was formed by the powers of five super snakes combining into one mega-tron snake) will unhinge his jaw and swallow you (yes, the entire body of a human) whole. If you have ever seen Anaconda or Python (and if you’ve only seen one, trust me, you’ve seen both, and if you’ve never seen either, know that I envy you) you have seen an example of this. Ahem. If an encyclopedia is asked, you will find that there are very few poisonous snakes in Armenia. And, the only venomous snakes in country live in arid, rocky terrain (a.k.a. the very definition of not where I am right now). But you must be asking, ‘Ok Scott, maybe there aren’t any venomous snakes in them there hills. But, there could still be a lot of snakes, right? And, if there are snakes, they could be pretty big, right? And even if they aren’t venomous, they could still be pretty dangerous, right?’ Well, for all of those curious cats, I have but one response: stay tuned for the report of the snakes encountered in field. Side note FIN]

Welcome back. I believe I left you with my description of the mountain from afar. To quickly recap, pretty steep, lots of bluffs, and a bunch of scrub oaks (those pesky low growing trees that are thicker than any grandmother’s mustache, and harder to get through than War and Peace written in Sanskrit). Now that were back on track…Last Saturday night, I decided that enough was enough. Tomorrow (that would be this past Sunday) was the day I was to make that there mountain my grandmother goat, that is to say, I was going to climb on top of it in order to gain a better perspective. As I was standing on the front step looking at the mountain, I decided it might be a good idea to mention my intentions to my host father, who was enjoying a cigarette with one of our neighbors. Upon hearing my plans, both men proceeded to insist (quite loudly) that I not go because of the killer snakes, whose bellies are at least three feet across (no joke that was the hand motion indication) that run rampant on the mountainside. I kindly thanked them for the warning, and got stubborn. Tomorrow was to be the day.

My buddy Sean (who lives in another training village) came into town to join me on the hike. Although I had decided to be fairly irresponsible about the planning of the hike (not having an actual, map planned route in mind and ignoring the warnings of killer jungle snakes that have taken more muscle growth enhancers than Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire combined…and have military science degrees), my instincts to never go hiking alone would not allow me to fly this one solo. Plus, every Maverick needs his Goose if he wants to do something as legendary as buzzing the tower. Like me, Sean is an Eagle Scout, plus, he spent a couple summers rangering down at Philmont. So, naturally, he made a great hiking companion. Plus, he is one of the better friends I have here.

When he got into town about 10 (a little later than I would have cared to started…but oh well), we topped off our water bottles, bought a Snickers each at the store, and headed for the mountain. Our route, as was determined very much on the fly, was varied for sure. We climbed the lower portions of the mountain by going up creek beds, still very much with water, as a means to cut through the thick brush. I mean, this stuff would have been challenging for a machete. However, after a while, our impatience convinced us to abandon the meandering creeks in favor of a more direct route. Though we were each only dawning flimsy t-shirts, we decided to brave the brush and start to head strait up the hill. Once we got used to being bombarded by the thorns, briars, and webs of branches, this plan was fairly agreeable. However, it was short lived. After about an hour, there were rock walls that we couldn’t seem to get around. At this point, we both looked at each other with the same stare. We had come too far to turn back, and there was no feasible way to go around. So, up we went. The rock wall was only about a 20 ft. (meters aren’t real) climb, but without equipment there were plenty of opportunities to second-guess. But, as I am here, writing this in the past tense, you can assume that we made it out just fine. Once on top, we found ourselves standing upon a vast alluvial fan (rocks that had taken it upon themselves to fall from there greater rock bluffs and slide down the side of a mountain, thereby creating a slope of loose top soil/gravel). Although the ground ahead of us was clear of brush and bluff alike, the grade was incredibly steep. So, we ascended, slowly but surely, sweating in the stern sun.

We could see our goal; only one more strip of scrub oaks (again, really…groan) lay between the final ridgeline and us. We pushed onward and upward. Once we hit the trees, some sort of deraignment had set in, not permitting us to even think about rest. Through the trees and up to the final ridge. At this point, we were Rocky in the midst of a montage. In fact, our monomania seemed to only be disrupted by the stiff wind that let us know that we were on the absolute top of the ridge. Gusts whipped up the far side of the mountain and over the ridge, hitting us with force enough to make our steps falter. In fact, the topsoil on the ridge was so thin because of the wind erosion that the rock was exposed in most places. Summited, we had nothing to do but sit, take in views, and slug away our Snickers each. A Snickers has never tasted so good. We stayed on top for a while, giving our legs a breather, and our eyes an even better breath of the view of Mt. Ararat, Mt. Aragats, and the shores of Lake Sevan, (do a wikipedia search because this post is running too long to tell about them) all in the same place. I got plenty of pictures, and as soon as I can find some decent bandwidth I will get them up online.

After a good rest, we began our descent. All in all, we were gone for about seven hours, hiked about 11 miles, and climbed roughly one mile higher into the sky. As for the field report on actual killer snakes that hate babies and kick dogs, we were able to document an empty set. So, you (as I) will have to keep holding your breath…so much for a mountain made of snakes. And here I was, hoping to be able to name that mother ‘Snake Mountain’. Oh well, another place, another time I suppose. I did manage to get quite a bit of sun, and am now the proud owner of an Armenian sunburn. But, by the time bedtime rolled around, I was only too ready to pass out.

Now, each morning that I wake up, I poke my head through my front door, and look up at that mountain, and I know. I know that I owned that mountain. That mountain (and its maybe snakes) are mine…and Sean’s too I suppose. Also, as my name for the mountain didn’t pan out, I’m taking suggestions. Leave them in the comments.


Dan said...

I'm voting for "Brokeback Mountain."

Alli said...

"Grandma's Mustache Mountain."

Sounds like an awesome time, Scott. Looking forward to seeing pictures.

Good to know your Armenian is coming along well enough that you understand the epic proportions of those mythical Armenian snakes. Either that, or you left out a lot of gesticulating.

Maggie said...

Well, you're right; you are The Man.

I think you should call it Mongoose Mountain. Because the mongoose is a great hunter of snakes, and because you saw no snakes, and because according to local lore there are absolutely snakes on the mountain, then by inference/the transitive theory/the Pythagorean Theorem or something like that, there must be mongooses (i looked up the plural) on that mountain.

Your next quest should be to find the Great Armenian Mongoose. Go.

mom said...

what an adventure! i'm glad i didn't know all this BEFORE you did your climb!! what did your host father say when you told him you didn't see any snakes?
love, mom

Dad said...

Deep in the darkest reaches of "hisssstory", a legend has it that there are two routes to the top of your mountain. You obviously took the "fork" that led to a difficult tread but one that lacked the "scale" of intrepid "slithering" danger. Had you pulled a Robert Frost and taken the road less travelled, you would have found those coiled denizens of man's downfall and would have been much worse for the encounter. But, alas, you "lucked out"! Besides you were not on the flier that put out the notice of the reptilian ball held annually on the slopes of Mt Arogats this time of year. It takes two months to crawl all that way and back and it is especially tough in a tux you have to shed every 10 days.

As for the name of your mountain, I vote for Mt Guts. Anyone who has the nerve to disregard the advice of his tribal elders (who I gather spent the day not worrying too much about you, smoking cigarettes and playing chess) and proceed in the face of adversity has to have "guts"!

Great story, Scott.



Alli said...

You don't have a facebook wall, and it's already tomorrow in Armenia, so Happy Birthday! I hope it's full of fantastic cultural experiences.

Claire said...

Snicker Mountain?