Climbing and snorkeling in Kaş

Every since seeing Kaputaş Beach from the road with my parents, I’ve wanted to go back there.  It’s a beautiful stretch of white sand and turquoise water, hemmed in by steep cliffs.  Then I learned that there’s climbing in the canyon there.  Well, that cinched it for sure.  Ferda and I rented a car and took off for a weekend in Kaş.

DSCN7276 by bryandkeith on flickr

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A Picnic on Mt. Ararat

If you like mountaineering books, I recommend No Picnic on Mt. Kenya about two Italian mountaineers who were prisoners of war during World War 2 at the base of Mt. Kenya.  They saved some of the their daily rations, made crampons out of kitchen utensils, and eventually escaped the prison in the middle of the night not to get away but to attempt a climb up Mt. Kenya.  After their climb they even sneaked back into the prison at night the same way they had escaped!

Our walk up Mt. Ararat a few weeks ago was nothing like this.  Cuma, our guide from Doğubayazıt, explained what an easy walk we’d have on Ağrı Dağı (Ararat).  “It’ll be like a picnic,” he said smiling.  He was right.

Cuma by bryandkeith on flickr

Four of us came from Antalya and met up with a larger group (of 12?) from Ankara and a lone climber from İstanbul, Gökhan.  Cuma had led groups like this literally hundreds of times before and made the logistics look easy.  At the same time he was enthusiastic, smiling, and seemed to genuinely love his job.
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Backpacking in Sarıkamış

After climbing at Karakaya I had almost a week before I was supposed to meet some friends in Doğubayazıt.  I spent a couple nights in Ankara and then went to Sarıkamış for a short backpack trip.  At the last minute I decided to take the train, a fun 26-hour journey.  Sage and I took that same train from Ankara to Erzurum two summers ago so I had an idea of what to expect.  This time I didn’t have a sleeper like before (those sell out quickly), but the regular seats are quite comfortable.  Leaving Ankara I enjoyed the scenery until it got dark and then headed to the dining car for some chicken şiş.  During dinner I was joined by Daan who was making his way from Utrecht to Yerevan, mostly by train.  We chatted, drank beers, and Daan, whose knowledge of religious history is much better than mine, explained (at my request) the split from Rome of the protestant/Lutheran/reformist arm of Christianity.  In an e-mail from Daan a week ago he wrote, “That train ride was definitely one of the highlights of my trip :)”

DSCN9646 by bryandkeith on flickr

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Karakaya Rock Climbing (Sivrihisar, Eskişehir)

On Friday morning I left Antalya by bus to spend the weekend climbing in Karakaya with Ateş and Pınar.  The journey started with a ride from home in the bucket of Kürşat’s cargo bicycle.  He had no trouble navigating the narrow neighbourhood streets carrying both me and my large backpack.  I think the bike is a Turkish knockoff of a Dutch design, but unfortunately the Turkish company went bankrupt.  There’s not enough demand for these things in Turkey.

Kürşat brought me to the service bus like this by bryandkeith on flickr

It was a six-hour bus ride to Sivrihisar where I stocked up on food, filled my water bottles, and took a dolmuş on the main road toward Eskişehir.  I was dropped on the highway, a 2-3 km walk to the village and the camping area.  There’s a small yeşillik (park-like area with trees) next to the crags that is great for camping.  I was surprised to be the only one camping there on a Friday night.  Unlike in Antalya, it was cool enough to get a comfortable sleep.
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Visa run to Kazbegi

In April of this year (2014) Turkey passed a new law, changing how foreigners get and extend visas.  The extension process is more complicated and more expensive than before, and at the beginning no one seemed to know what they were doing — how really to implement the new law.  It’s just an excuse, but instead of dealing with the bureaucracy, I decided to go to Georgia and see if I could simply get another tourist visa when I reentered Turkey.

The real goal was to climb Mt. Kazbegi (Kazbek), a peak that I admired with my parents from Steppantsminda two years ago.

DSCN0279 by bryandkeith on flickr

I left Antalya on Saturday morning and arrived in Tblisi the following afternoon (it’s a full 30-hour trip in spite of what the bus companies tell you) after the last marshrutka of the day had left for Steppantsminda.  I found a Russian heading to Russia (Steppantsminda isn’t far before the border) with extra room in his car.  Off we went in the pouring rain into the mountains.  When he wasn’t talking on the phone or chatting animatedly with the only other passenger, he was drinking water, smoking cigarettes, or messing around with the radio.  In the dark and the rain on the narrow, steep, curvy mountain road, he squeezed between the edge and big trucks with one hand on the wheel and I guess at least one eye on the road, once again confirming my thought that the most dangerous thing about mountaineering is getting to the trailhead.

I started walking about noon the following day from ~1700m.  Seven and a half hours later I made it to the Bethlemi Hut (former Met. Station; ~3600m), wet, cold, a bit tired.  It had rained off and on on the way up and then heavily once I got on the glacier.  Occasionally the clouds would lift enough to see where I was going.  After three days of bad weather, rumour had it that the following day would be nice.  Coming straight from sea level to 3600m I didn’t feel great, but I knew not to miss a good weather opportunity on Kazbegi.

I woke up at 2 the next morning to a heavy snowfall.  I checked again at 3:30 — still snowing, and the wind had picked up.  I decided to go back to bed, an excellent choice.  Once again, no one summitted that day.  I spent hours that day eating, reading, and sleeping.  As I improved, the weather did as well, and by 10pm it was the first cloudless sky I’d seen in Georgia.  I woke up at 2am, and not only were there still no clouds, but the wind had died as well!  A quick breakfast and I was on my way.

Just a couple minutes after I had passed all the groups that had started before me, two guys caught up with me.  It was Alex and Bardek, the Poles I had shared the room at the hut with.  We enjoyed the sunrise as we slowly curved our way around (illegally through Russia!) to the northern approach to the summit.  At about 4500m the tracks I’d been following ended.  The Poles again caught me at about 4600m and took over the trail-breaking for a bit.  Joined by a strong Russian guy a bit later, it was the four of us who broke the trail the rest of the way to the summit.

A bit before the final slightly steeper section those guys, ahead of me, chose a poor route.  I protested, but the decision had already been made when I caught them.  Straight up they were concerned of crevasses.  On their route I was concerned of avalanche danger.  I left them, went straight up, and was smiling on the summit about five minutes before they showed up.  The other groups that day followed my route up, and we all used it on the way down as well.  What they thought were crevasses were just some wind-blown snow formations.

I walked from 5000m all the way down to the village that same day with Alex and Bartek.  By noon the summit was socked in again, and it was probably snowing up there.  Just like on the way up we had rain off and on on the descent.  That 3300m descent was the longest one-day descent I’ve done, and I had the unfortunate opportunity to experience first-hand what shin-bite (or shin-bang?) is.  A month later I have pink scars on my shins, but they feel fine, ready for the next adventure.

Two days later (after a fun half-day in Tblisi) I was back at the border with Turkey.  Not only did I have no trouble with the visa, but no one questioned my four litres of chacha, Georgia’s high octane distilled spirit.  At one-sixth the cost of Turkey’s cheapest rakı, it’s, well, a bargain, you get what you pay for.
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