Luiza Vardanyan: ‘I am here, on Mount Ararat’
August 29, 2019. Around 7 a.m. Sunrise. I am standing on the steep slope trying to regulate my hasty breathing. My gloves uncover my wrists, and the freezing air gives them a cold kiss. I look up the slope. The golden white sun rays horizontally highlight the summit. The end is a few steps closer now. I take a step upwards. Then two, three and more. Soon, the slope unfolds the view from 5,165 meters. I am on the summit. I sit on the snow as I throw my trekking poles nearby. My eyes glide from the sun down towards Mount Sis. I cover my face with my hand. “Finally. I am here, on Mount Ararat.”
Climbing Mt. Ararat was an unexpected turn of destiny for me. I had always lived with the concept that Mt. Ararat was unreachable until a very random day in October, 2018. That day I came across the social media ad that read “Climbing Mt. Ararat in 2019.” The first couple of seconds, I just stared at the screen of my mobile phone trying to analyze the announcement. And then, without any hesitation, I made up my mind. Since that day I dedicated myself to the goal of summiting 5,165 meters.
I got super excited to climb Mt. Ararat because of the attachment and the longing that Armenians have historically developed for Ararat and have passed to me. Apparently, I had been so influenced by the stories about Ararat that during the first day of the climb I kept repeating to myself “I am stepping on the soil and rocks of the biblical Ararat! This is so cool!” Furthermore, as we ascended, I could not help observing the silhouette of Ararat from a new angle, and this gave me a real challenge sometimes. I had to take off my eyes from Ararat and look down at my feet in order not to stumble, because the rocks were unsteady.
Ararat rewarded me with many remarkable moments. One of those moments was at the first base camp on the very first day. At nightfall, I was watching the city lights of Bayazet dazzling in the distance. I was thinking whether I would see Armenia from the summit. Suddenly, I heard some unique sounds of music. I turned back and saw our Scottish companion playing the Scottish bagpipes. The music of the bagpipes complemented the atmosphere and the mood of our climb. It made me feel that I was at the right place at the right time. It also made me feel truly happy to have no Internet or any connection with the world, to be isolated on the biblical mountain and to live in the wild the next few days. “Let the world wait, I am here to realize my goal.”
Ararat is indeed mysterious. During our three-day climb, we experienced the different moods of the mountain. For example, on the first day of the climb, we enjoyed the warm sun above our heads. However, the next day the clouds embraced the summit and the mountain looked quite dismal. The landscape changed as we ascended higher. The slopes got steeper, the rocks got more rugged and the scenery got even more picturesque. My most favorite scene was the view to Mount Sis from second base camp at 4,200 meters. Mt. Sis was so close that I could observe the landscape lying in my tent.
Ararat also rewarded me with a souvenir. It changed me. It taught me that any goal is achievable if it is driven by a strong will and patience. When we were summiting, at about 4,800 meters I fell captive to altitude sickness: I had a headache and nausea. Summiting at night was physically quite difficult, but the sickness made it even more difficult. At some point I doubted in my abilities. As we reached the snowcap of the summit, the sickness was already unbearable. So, I sat on the snow and cried. “After almost a year of preparation, I am here, on Ararat, unable to take a step, when the summit is so close!” I did not understand then that this was normal on high altitudes. I blamed myself for being weak. I felt a battle between my will and the power of nature. And I was about to lose. So, I got angry at myself. I stood up and continued moving trying hard to numb my feelings. “This is temporary.”
It’s already three months since I have climbed Mt. Ararat, but I still find it hard to choose any adjectives that could aptly communicate the feelings and the emotions one experiences on the summit. And even after getting to the summit, I could not utter any words as thoughts revolved around my head:
I have realized the dream of my ancestors!
I am on the summit of the mountain I have always admired!
I have made it to the summit!
I have realized my goal!
This is the end to the concept that Ararat is unreachable!
Wait! Is Armenia visible from here?
I could not see Armenia because of the thick layer of fog. But as I strolled on the summit, I found myself higher than the clouds. There was only the deep blue sky above my head. At some point I felt I was not on planet Earth. I felt being in space or in heaven. But the crispy snow under my trekking boots and the victorious shrieks of my companions brought me back to reality. “I am on the summit of Ararat.” As the clouds floated, I saw the distance that we had ascended at night. That was terrifying. The altitude was tremendous.
Time froze. The one hour and fifty minutes spent on the summit flew with a blink of an eye. As we started descending, I realized that the minutes spent on the summit of Ararat sum up all the mystery and awe that I had felt during those three days and during the months of preparation. I realized that I would recall the moments spent on Ararat with every glance at it from Armenia. I realized that life was going to be different after summiting.
I am back in Yerevan. My routines have not changed much. I am in the hustle and bustle again. As I head to classes at PAB, AUA, the huge windows expose me to the silhouette of Ararat. I stop to greet the mountain I climbed. As I stare, I can’t help remembering the three days spent there which have fostered my attachment to Ararat. The students passing by wonder at the girl who stares and smiles at Ararat. I understand that it is time to move on. I go to my classes keeping the scenery from 5,165 meters in my mind.
Contributed by Luiza Vardanyan, a recent graduate of Bachelor of Arts in English and Communications (BA EC) program of the American University of Armenia (AUA). She is currently earning her master’s degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language offered at AUA. In 2017, she was awarded the third prize at “I am the Media” student competition organized by the Media Initiatives Center. Besides teaching, she is also passionate about mountaineering and filmmaking.