From Yusufeli it was a 3300m climb to Kaçkar Dağı Summit, the highest peak in the Eastern Black Sea Mountains (Doğu Karadeniz Dağları). From rice paddies to snow and ice. Sage and I took four days. We biked up to Yaylalar at 1800m and walked the rest of the way to the summit.
Naim in Yaylalar hooked us up with a backpack. Murat at Dilberdüzü Kamp hooked us up with ice axes. We couldn’t have made the summit without their help.
Turns out mid-July is a bit early for Kaçkar Dağı. We camped at Deniz Gölü at 3400m to shorten the summit day even further. There Sage and I endured the biggest hail storm either of us had ever seen. The storm pounded down with scary lightning for about two hours leaving 10cm of hail in its wake.
The following morning dawned clear and cold. The water in the Camelback was frozen, and the rocks were covered with a layer of ice until the sun hit them.
Sage doesn’t like ice-covered rocks, especially when she has to walk on them. At the top of a small pass with a terrific view of the route, she waited for me to summit and return.
The snow was hard, icy in spots, and I wished for crampons a couple times. I summited at 9am, took a few photos, and was in a cloud five minutes later. On the descent I shot one bearing through the mist when I had lost all landmarks. There were enough snow crossings that I was usually able to just follow my track back.
Sage was happy to see me back at the pass, and we continued on to camp together in yet another hail storm.
On our two day leisurely descent to the bikes, Sage climbed her own peak up steep grassy slopes through beautiful fields of wildflowers to a great view of yet another incredible craggy cirque. There are lots of opportunities for trekking and mountaineering in the Kaçkar.
Up and down, up and down, the story of Artvin. We retraced our route on the bikes back down to 1100m and turned north toward Yüksekova. The road to Arhavi wasn’t on my map, but the closer we got to Yüksekova the more sure the locals were that it actually existed. However, there could be snow, they said. Ha! From my recent experience up high, I knew there wouldn’t be snow unless the pass was exceptionally high and the final switchbacks happened to climb a steep north facing slope.
Apparently NE was close enough.
We spent a couple days up high. We hiked to a mountain lake, spent a day in a meadow full of wildflowers, and gawked at the sea of clouds below us.
The 2800m descent was one of the longest of my life. For most of it we were in a cloud. It was steep, rocky, muddy, rough. A giant hanging snowfield appeared out of the mist. Scary, eerie, other worldly, but overall not a fun descent.
Near the bottom we rode through steep hillside tea plantations and ended up in Arhavi on the steamy Black Sea.