Almost a whole year has passed since. On a whim we decide to climb Mount Aragatz. 13,435ft. The hike begins at a natural lake that is on the southern part of the mountain, a lake that is surely cold as ice if not for it being August 17th 2009. By the lake there is a restaurant, typical nowadays in the Republic of Armenia, luckily the restaurant soon disappears as the hike begins. Inside the belly of Aragatz is a wide valley of green grass and rocks ranging from the miniscule to gargantuan. But Aragatz is only a preface. An epic preface, nevertheless. Almost a whole year has passed since we made the decision to go. Aragatz is the highest peak in the Republic of Armenia; it is the second highest peak in all of the Caucasus surpassed only by one greater: Ararat (Masis). Surely if any mountain can surpass the mysterious beauty of Aragatz it is Masis (Ararat).
Legend holds that Masis and Aragatz were loving sisters. One day, as it happens, they fought, one said ‘I am better and higher than you,’ the other declared ‘I am not only better then you, but bigger and taller.’ During this fight came Maruta Mountain to try to cool their tempers and end the fight, but she did not prevail. Alas she withdrew and cursed the sisters to be separated forever from each other and to never meet again. Masis in turn cursed Aragatz so she can never be able to cast this sorrow out of her heart and never have her eyes dry of tears. In return, Aragatz cursed Masis; for no one to be able to reach her peak and make a sacrifice. To this day, no one has reached the peak of Masis and there is a lake of tears on Aragatz or so they say.
Legends at worst put a smile on one’s face, at best they endow subtle wisdom along with the smile.
There are five of us. As a preface. For the trip ahead there will be four of us, and eventually three.
Aragatz has four peaks. Though I am no mountaineer, this to me is unique. Today we will only go to the lowest peak. Three men and two women. We had only just met as a group, one day ago. The girls are sisters, like Aragatz and Masis once were before they fought. One lives in Armenia but was born and raised in Los Angeles but has repatriated to Armenia two years ago. Her name is Adrineh. The other lives in Los Angeles, where she was born and raised, she has come to visit her sister and enjoy Armenia, her name is Karine. When we decide on our trip she will decide not to come.
Aragatz must have been a god for our ancestors.
My grandfather was a geologist, he discovered many water reservoirs in Armenia. He must have climbed Aragatz. Perhaps I am not so far from the path he once took.
The hike is wonderful. There are pools of ice that have still not melted, and probably will not as summer draws to a close. From a higher ridge we see three adults on a large swathe of ice, running and sliding like children.
There are so many subtle colors on the earth of this majestic mountain.
The most constant feature of Aragatz this day has been the clouds, many clouds covering large chunks of�the mountain range, casting their dark shadows across the valley, but they are not ominous, nor brooding. They shift, and move without notice, and there are still large windows of blue sky to reassure and brighten ones countenance. This scene and atmosphere bring to mind Komitas and his song ‘Alagyaz Sarn Ampela’which means Alagayz Mountian is Cloudy. The song is beautiful and sad.
The higher we go the more shrouded it becomes.
There is another legend that holds (holds what? Armenians. Together.) That Gregory the Illuminator, who was responsible for Christianity becoming the state religion in Armenia, was praying on the top of Aragatz when it got dark, suddenly a miraculous burning lantern descended from the sky and hung above, illuminating him. It is said that this eternal burning lantern is still there but only visible to the chosen.
Inside this legend there is treasure to be found: To pray on a mountain upholds its holiness, its all permeating,�active, scientific (though invisible to scientists), energy. Prayer sanctifies, purifies, like fire does to metal. And�so Aragatz has been charged and recharged with energy, and that of the highest order, by Gregory the�Illuminator. The lantern is the heart that illuminates one’s being when one is shrouded in darkness in the�depths of prayer. The eternal flame is the Divine, that is without beginning and end, always burning in the�heart of man. Gregory the Illuminator was illuminated. For those who understand this and believe in it (the�only way to believe in it is through the heart), are the chosen, who will see. If all this sounds nonsensical to�you then forgive me, for I understand you. At least I hope it put a smile on your face.�Alagyaz is another name for Aragatz, it is Kurdish in origin, but is still used to this day in certain regions of�Armenia.
After three hours or so we reach the South peak, the lowest peak. We are not the only ones there. Little hand�sized flat rocks are strewn over the South peak on top of one other. Some people have taken these rocks and�stacked them on top of one another, creating strange looking spherical or egg-shaped sculptures, however�these are not to be looked at as sculptures but as marks of presence, highlighting that all-important yearning�of man for immortality, even if it is expressed in such a modest and innocent way as stacked rocks. Of course�one can also easily place this in some high-brow art gallery in New York and make heaps of money with the�right signature.
According to Khorenasti, the father of Armenian history and mythology, Aramanyak who was the son of�Hayk Nahapet, was the first to begin settlements in and around Aragatz. ‘Living in this deep valley,�Aramanyak built on the northern side of the valley and at the base of the mountain on the same side. He�named the mountain after himself calling it Aragatz.’
Perhaps it is puzzling how one gets Aragatz from Aramanyak: Ar is short for Aramanyak and -gatz in Armenian�means ‘came’ and so this is where Aramanyak came and settled. Maybe this explanation is dangerously simple.
Arthur wants to go to the next peak, which is relatively close, it is the second highest. I tag along, the others�decide to stay and rest. The climb up is not easy nor is the way down, but being up there is worth it. I look�down the giant crater that is a monumental feature of Aragatz, a crater that dates back to prehistoric times�when a volcanic eruption destroyed the top of the mountain. Looking down I spot a large rainbow and my�shadow underneath it. The closest I’ll ever be to going under a rainbow, I think to myself.
Arthur is fearless and a good mountaineer, ingenious and full of strange qualities, he is an artist, his medium�is photography.
We head back to the others. On our way down we meet a family of Europeans, father mother and daughter,�they have an Armenian guide with them, they are packing heavy gear and look to be getting ready to camp�somewhere. Arthur has a few words with the guide, they seem to know each other. Everyone knows each�other in Armenia.
We reach our group, tired and sunburnt; life is wonderful on a mountain. One can die up here with pride and�self-worth without ever having achieved anything in life.
We head back down, back to the lake. The sun has set leaving traces of light upon the lake. We take beautiful�photos of our bodies as silhouettes in front of the pool of tears that is the lake of Aragatz. Botan, the last man�who comprises our group, decides to dip his feet in the lake. Apparently the water is not so cold. Botan is�Hunagrian, much more on him later. The sun has set, and we have no ride back to Yerevan. Luckily we find a�group of diaspora kids from Los Angeles eating khash at the restaurant and getting ready to go back to�Yerevan, a large van comes to pick them up and we are saved.
When was the decision made? I tell myself it was made without me knowing; when we climbed that day,�during the hike, or when we reached the southern peak or when Arthur and I reached the second highest�peak. or somewhere in between, or being underneath that rainbow, or by the clear glass lake at sunset, but�one can’t pinpoint such things, nevertheless at some point the decision must have been made in me, for�Aragatz was only a preface, albeit an epic one.
(1) Maruta mountain, like Ararat is currently located in Turkey.
(2) Komitas is the father of Armenian classical music. He also traveled to many regions in Armenia and�notated the local folk songs.
(3) Movses Khorenatsi wrote the first book on the history of Armenia, recounting many priceless myths�and legends of the Armenian people.
(4) Hayk Nahapet is the legendary patriarch of the Armenian people, to this day Armenians refer to�themselves as ‘Hay,’ after Hayk.
(5) Khash is a kind of delicacy, it is a porridge that is made from beef or pork, and contains within it a�whole ritual way of eating.