Gülek to Aladağ: more castles, mountains, and canyons

From Medetsiz it was mostly downhill to the town of Gülek, then mostly uphill to Gülek Kalesi (a castle), the guardhouse for the Cilician Gates.  I arrived in the evening, pitched my tent, and handled the guard duties for one night.

IMG_20200713_174031 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200713_174807 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200713_191459 by bryandkeith on flickr

Certainly the Byzantines and Arabs were here, but mostly what we’re seeing of the castle is the work of the Armenians who were here about 900 years ago.  Remember I mentioned their string of forts stretching from the Cilician Gates to Namrun Kalesi (and beyond?) above modern Çamlıyayla?

The Cilician Gates, “a major commercial and military artery for millennia” (wikipedia) is now a six-lane highway.  Turks like to drive up here and take photos sitting on this rock:

IMG_20200713_175321 by bryandkeith on flickr

The next morning I found a one-lane bridge to cross that six-lane monstrosity and climb out of the valley heading east on a road that looked like this:

IMG_20200714_072033 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200714_094734 by bryandkeith on flickr

My goal was Çakıt Vadisi (a canyon), but first I made a short detour to visit Varda Köprüsü (a viaduct) and Kapıkaya Canyon.  James Bond fans might recognize the bridge/viaduct from the opening sequence of Skyfall.

IMG_20200714_162110 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200714_160627 by bryandkeith on flickr

I left my bicycle at the bridge and took a five-hour walk down into the rather impressive canyon.

IMG_20200714_140225 by bryandkeith on flickr

The suspension bridge was damaged in last winter's floods.  I started to walk across it but got too scared and decided to wade instead.  The water was only knee deep, and the day was hot.  On my way back across (it was an out and back walk), I went for a  by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200714_140543 by bryandkeith on flickr

There’s a car park at the other end.  That’s why it’s so crowded in the last photo.  Most people stroll about a km to get the most spectacular part of the canyon.

The Cilician Gates may have been used for millennia, but when the Germans were building their Berlin to Baghdad railway, they decided the Cilician Gates were too narrow, too curvy, and too steep for a train.  The opted to use the next defile to the east, the rather incredible Çakıt Vadisi.  The Varda Köprüsü was part of that 20th century railroad effort.

That German bridge is impressive, but I couldn’t help thinking about this bridge:

IMG_20190409_164210 by bryandkeith on flickr

that the Romans built at Alcántara 1800 years earlier.

After seeing Çakıt Vadisi one must wonder what the Germans were thinking pushing a railroad through there.  However, in order to actually see the canyon, you can’t just hop on the train.  The line is almost entirely in tunnels through the canyon!  Most visitors prefer to walk the road in the spring or fall.  Motorcycles might be able to get through (cars can’t).  Some choose to bicycle.  The access from the south is via the village of Kuşçular.

When I explained my route to a fisherman down in Kapıkaya Canyon the day before, he almost pleaded with me to walk (get off my bike and push) some of the descents in Çakıt Vadisi.  They’re steep, loose, and fall off toward the cliff, he explained.  For once he wasn’t exaggerating.  I took his advice.

It starts off reasonably enough:

IMG_20200715_081758 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200715_082958 by bryandkeith on flickr

but then check out this section:

IMG_20200715_083457 by bryandkeith on flickr

A road like that, blasted out of the side of the cliff, is something that I thought only exists in China.  You’ve seen the photos with traffic jams of buses and tourists.  Here, of course, I was by myself.

IMG_20200715_084257 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200715_084511 by bryandkeith on flickr

For scale in this photo, however, I kind of wished there was a bus:

IMG_20200715_091237 by bryandkeith on flickr

You can barely even see my bicycle on the edge of the cliff (at the far end of the tunnel).

IMG_20200715_091735 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200715_092422 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200715_092905 by bryandkeith on flickr

I made it out the other end to Pozantı via Belemedik, stocked up on supplies, and camped a bit above the loud (because of the major highway in a fairly narrow space) city. It wasn’t my first time bicycle touring through Pozantı.

IMG_20200715_150236_9_fused by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200715_181403 by bryandkeith on flickr

I had no idea just how hard the two passes between Pozantı and Çamlıbel would be.  It didn’t help that I missed a turn near the second pass and ended up with another 400m of climbing when I had thought I was essentially at the top.  I started to get into chrome mining country.

I could hardly complain about the scenery.

IMG_20200716_113659 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200716_125807 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200716_133250 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200716_142850 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200716_145657 by bryandkeith on flickr

Once again, not carrying enough water, I was happy to get to this picnic area where I was able to fill my bottles and pitch my tent.

A picnic area above (and west of) Çamlıbel by bryandkeith on flickr

It was a relief to have easier riding the next day, about as flat as it gets in this part of Turkey, I guess.

IMG_20200717_083303 by bryandkeith on flickr

The day ended, however, with a steep 400m climb via the village of İbrişim to get to this nice campsite:

IMG_20200718_093015 by bryandkeith on flickr

It didn’t seem like there was anyone around, but I heard a clank-clank-clank pounding sound.  I went to investigate and found these two turtles.

IMG_20200717_155346 by bryandkeith on flickr

I heard them again after dinner and finally realized what they were up to!

IMG_20200717_155406 by bryandkeith on flickr

The cultural highlight of this section was another Armenian castle, Meydan Kalesi, not so far south of the district capital of Aladağ.  I had this place to myself until the sheep showed up.

IMG_20200718_074611 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200718_075549 by bryandkeith on flickr

Here’s the entrance to the small church:

entrance to the church/basilica by bryandkeith on flickr

I rolled into Aladağ, once again wanting a rest for myself and a mechanic for my bike.

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1 Response to Gülek to Aladağ: more castles, mountains, and canyons

  1. Mike+Painter says:

    I’ve fallen behind reading here, but what an amazing landscape!

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