The largest rock climbing festival in Armenia to date kicked-off on May 23 in Noravank, an area known for its challenging jagged cliffs and precipices.
Organized by the “Up the Rocks” Armenian club, in collaboration with Petzl and SNAPEC, this year’s “Arev Rock Climbing Festival” was the third such festival in Armenia and lasted for an entire week
Mkhitar Mkhitaryan, one of the founders of Up the Rocks, said the festival attracted thirty participants, seven local Armenians, and the others from various countries such as the Czech Republic, Norway, South Korea, China, and France.
Vasken Koutoudjian was asked by the director of Petzl to start communicating with “Up the Rocks” this winter, and learn more about the climbing initiatives in Armenia.
Koutoudjian was born in France to an Armenian father and a climber who came to France from Marash after the Genocide.
Vasken started climbing seriously as an adult. He travelled, climbed a lot, and was involved with several French Alpine clubs.
Ten years ago, he became a professional rock climbing instructor, getting involved with the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation.
He had always wanted to visit Armenia, and after discovering the potential the country has for climbing, and the possible involvement Petzl, he had even more reason to do so.
Vasken thought the festival went very well and was enthusiastic about discovering this new landscape. During the festival, Vasken trained six people as certified rock climbing instructors according to UIAA standards, thus helping to build the sport of climbing and grow its community in Armenia.
“I can’t compare this festival to those in Europe. The people and culture in this area
of the world are completely different. But I think it went great. It was a wonderful experience to learn from one another and to work towards a common project. We can only wish that in the years to come, more and more people become involved,” Vasken said, adding that the success of the festival and Armenia’s naturally rocky landscape have made a lasting impression on him.” I would like to return in the fall, further involve myself in Armenia and develop more outdoor activities here”
Mkhitar said this festival was different from the first two because they invited children from the local villages of Areni and Arpeni to participate twice throughout the week. Around fifty children participated.
“We really wanted to involve young children and students and introduce them to the sport of climbing and get them interested in developing their own skills, given they have
these rocks in their backyard. We have high hopes for them, and they
all came away very enthusiastic about the sport. At the end of June, we were invited to participate at an International climbing event in Georgia, so we picked four children that were the most enthusiastic and showed a high level of improvement in a short period of time,” Mkhitar explained
Luca Keushguerian, a member of Up the Rocks, as well as an organizer and participant of the Arev Armenian Rock Climbing Festival, echoed Vasken and Mkhitar’s sentiments.
“If you look all around, you can see that climbing in Armenia has already started to grow, and is going to continue by organizing festivals like this one, and by raising general awareness of the sport.”
Luca noted that as a group, with a lot of help from the professional rock climbers who attended the festival, they must have doubled the amount of climbable routes
and installed some for beginners as well.
“There is a lot of untapped potential here in Armenia, unlike places in Italy and France where climbing has been around for a long time. Climbing in Armenia is very new, probably one or two generations at most. But, because of that, there is a lot of room for growth and
exploration,” Luca said.