The Kaçkar Mountains! A great escape from Antalya’s summertime heat. This summer Ferda and I signed up with one of Rize’s hiking clubs, KDRK, for their casual six-day trekking trip. But first we arrived in Rize early with a couple days to spare. Semra, who I climbed with on the Matterhorn, moved from Ardeşen to Antalya this summer, and we got to Rize just in time for her going away party on July 16th (yes, the blog’s a little behind, but it really was summer). However, politics thwarted those plans. An attempted coup, recommendations not to go out, cancelled transportation — it looked like we might be holed up in a mosquito-infested hotel room in Rize for a couple days.
After a loud, stressful, and at times scary night in our downtown hotel, the morning was calm. I ventured out into the quiet streets and decided things were fine for Plan B — a rental car into the mountains. Finding a car was a bit difficult. The agencies either had no cars or only had expensive Jeep-type things, something well, in hindsight, maybe worth considering. In the end I did find a normal car, but I didn’t have the nerve to tell him our real plan. When he asked where we were going, I simply said we were off to “Ayder”, the most touristy place in the Kaçkar Mountains. Our real plan was to go to Gito Yaylası. Maybe in the end we’d make it to Ayder so it wasn’t a complete lie.
We ended up going up the Hemşin Valley and down the Çamlıhemşin Valley. Gito Yaylası sits on a ridge between these two steep valleys. We visited Cihar Castle in Hemşin, Zil Castle in Çamlıhemşin Valley, and lots of old stone bridges everywhere. The paved road was good to Hemşin, and a good dirt road continued quite a few kms past that. As we got higher, the road got narrower, steeper, and rockier, in fact so narrow, steep, and rocky that I could hardly believe we were still on the right track. By this time, of course, there was no one to ask, no traffic at all. And then, of course, crawling along through a particularly rocky section, we got a flat tire!
Oh crap! We certainly escaped the crowded city, and now it felt really remote with a flat tire on a steep mountain road in a car that really wasn’t made for this sort of adventure. Those SUVs didn’t seem so expensive at this point. Ferda put big rocks downhill of the three good tires, and I checked the spare situation. Somewhat incredibly, everything was there — a spare tire with air, a jack, and a (somewhat small) tool for the lug nuts. Holy crap, those things can be tight. As I struggled, I remembered getting a flat with Terry and Cemalettin coming down from Tunç Dağı. None of us were strong enough to loosen the lug nuts. We flagged down some ape with biceps the size of my thighs, and he did the heavy lifting for us. Unfortunately that wasn’t an option on this quiet Kaçkar track.
By imagining the cost of getting help out there, I was able to summon the strength necessary to remove the wheel. The rest of the repair went smoothly. It had been many years since I had changed a tire on a car so I was happy it went as well as it did. Now, without a spare, should we call it quits and head back to paved roads? Well, no, the road’s bound to get better, we reasoned. I’d hate to have to go back down that section, I rationalized. Hahaha, that, of course, is never good logic. We did make it that evening to Gito Yaylası and pitched our tent in one of the most stellar places ever!
I definitely wanted confirmation from the folks at the yayla that the road down to Çamlıhemşin was better than the road down to Hemşin. “Well, it’s shorter” was about the best I could find. We took it very slowly, and indeed there was one section that I’m not sure we could have come up in our car. One needn’t wonder why they like to rent high clearance vehicles in Rize.
Emboldened by the fine road in the valley bottom, we decided to head up valley toward the graceful stone bridge at Çat and another beautiful yayla, Elevit Yaylası. The road there wasn’t great either, but there was enough traffic that, well, we could have begged for help in a pinch. We were back in Rize before dark, returned the car without a hitch (apparently patching flat tires is included in the rental price), did a little food shopping for our trek, and spent another loud, uncomfortable night in the city, looking forward to going back to the mountains.