Two years ago I went with a Turkish AKUT group from Antalya on a descent of Ahmetler Canyon in Akseki, Antalya. A couple weeks ago I joined a mountaineering group from Bursa on a descent of Harmankaya Canyon in Bilecik. Our two guides were AKUT members from Bozüyük. I guess it should be noted that AKUT (Arama Kurtarma Derneği) is really a search and rescue group, not a climbing or mountaineering group. One thing notable about both these canyon descents with AKUT leaders was how slow we went. In Colorado we talk about “speed is safety”. I wonder if that’s something that ever comes across in all the mountain training that the Turks are so keen about. It seems like more Turks take mountaineering courses than actually do any mountaineering.
I first saw Harmankaya Kanyonu from way across the valley when I was bicycling through Bilecik two years ago. There was nothing on my map to indicate a huge canyon was nearby. Seeing it from across the valley, I changed my route to go through Harmanköy and took a full day of riding to cross that valley to get to the bottom of the canyon. There I parked my bike, prepared for a hike in the water of the canyon, found a walking stick to test the water depth, and was able to walk in about two meters before the water was above my head. I wasn’t ready for that, but ever since I’ve been wanting to return and do the Harmankaya Kanyonu descent.
The group we joined came from Bursa. Ferda had been visiting her family in İzmir, and I was in Antalya so we met in Bozüyük and waited for the group from Bursa there. We camped near Harmanköy which really is a great village. The views are incredible, and the locals are very friendly. I felt that my first time in the village, and it’s certainly true. Ferda befriended some of the old women at the fountain, and one of the them ended up inviting Ferda to her house and giving us some fresh cheese. Even with groups coming almost every weekend in the summer to descend the canyon, the villagers still seem genuinely happy and excited that people come to visit. There’s nice camping with fresh water and views of the canyon. Apparently there’s some climbing on the walls at the bottom entrance (exit?) of the canyon.
In Colorado I didn’t worry much about acclimatization. I lived at 1700m, and nothing in Colorado is higher than 4400m (Colorado is high, however; I just learned there are over 500 peaks above 4000m). Sometimes for the hut-to-hut ski trips we’d drive up to 3000m and stay in a hotel the night before the trip. That seemed to be enough to be able to sleep well and not get headaches during the ski trip.
Well, I’ve spent a good portion of the last four years at sea level. Our plan for the Matterhorn was to fly from Antalya to Geneva, leave straightaway for Zermatt, camp at about 3000m, and then go for the summit (about 4500m). Of course, I knew about the emergency shelter at 4000m and knew there might be a chance to spend the night there as well. To me it sounded exactly like the start of the stories we’d hear all the time in Colorado: fly from sea level to Denver, head directly up the ski resort, take the lift the next day up to 3500m, and feel like shit (or worse).
Lacking time to acclimatize for real, the logical thing to do was to spend the night on the top of Tunç Dağı, the prominent peak just west of Antalya. Just a couple days before our flight to Switzerland I tried to persuade my Matterhorn partners to join me. Barış had to work. Hasan and Semra camped at the base and showed up at the summit for breakfast. Only Ferda took the bait, and not for acclimatization since she didn’t attempt the Matterhorn, just for fun…
It’s been over a year and a half since I first started climbing at the falez between Ramada and Talya hotels in the center of Antalya. It’s the same area where I usually swim. When I first started swimming here, I’d look up at the rocks thinking that it’d make great climbing. One day I brought a mask and snorkel and checked out the rocks below the water. It must be over 100 meters of traverse with only three places where you have to worry about rocks in the water if you fall. This is “deep water soloing” — climbing without ropes; if you fall, you fall into the sea.
Five years ago Topher and I spent a month cycling in the Netherlands. Since then I’ve had a number of cycle-tourers ask, “how could you possibly spend so long in the Netherlands? I crossed it in two days on my bicycle.” Well, it’s not really such a small country — in area, twice the size of Antalya or New Jersey — and there’s a lot to see. It was great to be back.
Holland is well-run and clean, the people are super, and the cycling facilities are the best in the world. It really is such a joy to cycle there, almost always on car-free bicycle paths. When there are road crossings, the drivers are always watching for cyclists. As Gertjan pointed out to me years ago, most of the drivers are also frequent cyclists. They understand that car drivers ought to respect cyclists. Doesn’t sound like rocket science, but respect is a rare trait in the world’s motorists.
After leaving the Rhine Gorge we came quickly to what looked on the map like a pretty ugly section of the tour, one big city after another — Bonn, Köln, Düsseldorf, Essen. Then we’d be in Holland. However, I was quite surprised. This section was much better than I expected. Germany does an excellent job of having green areas right up to and even inside the big cities, and their recommended bicycle routes of course take advantage of these forests and parks. Coming into Düsselforf, for example, looks like continuous built-up city on my map, but we were on pleasant paths through parks and the university campus right into the center of the city. In Essen we coasted straight down to the central train station, and the route into Köln followed the parks along the Rhine for many kms into the city center.
In Köln we stayed with our second and last Warm Showers host of the trip, Agathe, and her boyfriend, Kamal, both from France. Agathe came to Germany with the goal of learning German, but she speaks French at home and English at work so progress is slower than she expected. She’s travelled some by bicycle in South America (Peru and Brazil?), but what I found fascinating about her travels was her way of finding accommodation. She travelled solo and before dark would simply find someone and ask if she could spend the night at their house. She met lots of people and often travelled in places where she didn’t know the language. Seems like that would be incredibly tiring. I’ve never heard of anyone else travelling the way Agathe did.
In our rest day in Köln (where we had the first rain of the trip) we visited the city’s huge cathedral, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.