Skiing road trip: Erzincan, Gümüşhane, Erzurum

Seb decided to join me for this year’s (almost) annual ski trip to the Kaçkar Mountains. Because of covid (and the fact that he owns two cars?), Seb wanted to go by car and make a road trip out of it. I suppose our day trip up to Saklıkent was a test run for the car. I insisted on a heater (eastern Turkey in February!). Seb added one and did quite a bit of other work to prepare the old car (35 years old?) for a long journey from Antalya to (hopefully) the Kaçkar Mountains in NE Turkey. We almost made it to Manavgat (75km?) before Seb was removing the steering wheel to make a (minor?) repair.

The first car repair was before we even got to Manavgat by bryandkeith on flickr

From Manavgat it was up, up, up to the pass between Akseki and Seydişehir. I was stunned at just how slow Seb’s car is on the hills. Even on this main highway we sometimes had to use first gear and had fully loaded tanker trucks roaring passed us on the steepest parts. I was also stunned with how little snow there was at the pass at about 1800m.

We drove about 10 hours that first day, camping near the Aksaray-Nevşehir border, and then about 12 hours the following day to make it to Köklü, a village on the Kemah-Erzincan Merkezi border. In Sivas we started to see some snow, but clearly this isn’t enough for skiing:

IMG_20210212_132232 by bryandkeith on flickr

During the pandemic I’ve taken just a few Kurmancî (Kurdish) lessons, and it was in Sivas that I was able to try my first few phrases outside of a class setting, with these fellows from Van:

We were in Sivas, but these guys were from Van.  It was my first chance to speak a few sentences of Kurmancî outside a class setting! by bryandkeith on flickr


My plan (Seb was in charge of the car; I was in charge of the route planning) was to spend three nights over the weekend lockdown at this village and find ski tours for Saturday and Sunday. It was windy and still light when we arrived in Köklü, about 500m (vertical) above the Euphrates River and ~20km SSW of the city of Erzincan. I was happy to find these buildings,

IMG_20210214_095558 by bryandkeith on flickr

a türbe complex, to keep our tents out of the wind.

We stayed two nights here.  It wasn't cold, but the walls provided a nice wind break.  We were going to stay one more night, bu t the jandarma kicked us out.  The villages in this area are Alevi.  The jandarma call it a "teror bölgesi". by bryandkeith on flickr

The next day we only had to carry our skis for about five minutes before starting the ascent of the unnamed 2900m peak four km south of our camp and 1300m above it. The snow improved as we climbed higher.

IMG_20210213_110517 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210213_123651 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210213_135339_41 by bryandkeith on flickr

The wind was howling up high, but we were sort of protected until just before cresting the ridge for the final exposed, easy slopes to the summit.

IMG_20210213_142356 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210213_145247 by bryandkeith on flickr
The top of an unnamed ~2920m peak about 4km south of Köklü (Erzican Merkezi) and ~6km west of the top of the top lift (visible in this photo) at Ergan Dağı Kayak Merkezi by bryandkeith on flickr

I wouldn’t say the skiing down was good, but it was better than I expected.

Some of the first turns with my new skis by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210213_153905 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210213_154413 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210213_155924 by bryandkeith on flickr

Here are a couple maps for anyone interested in trying the same route.

Feb. 13, 2021 ski tour from Köklü (Erzincan Merkezi) by bryandkeith on flickr
k%C3%B6kl%C3%BC_ski_tour_zoomout by bryandkeith on flickr

The villages in this valley are Alevi. We passed at least one cem evi (Alevi place of worship) (in Çubuklu) that evening as we drove around a little (as far as Caferli?) to fill our water bottles in the closest village (Köklü?).

IMG_20210213_180640 by bryandkeith on flickr

The jandarma showed up (conveniently) in the morning kicking us out, claiming we were in a “terror area” (teror bölgesi). “Because it’s Alevi?” one can’t help but wonder. They escorted us to the local ski area, Ergan Dağı Kayak Merkezi, for what turned out to be a very short day of lift-accessed skiing.

IMG_20210214_112643 by bryandkeith on flickr

The 1620m vertical at the ski area is rather impressive. We could see from old tracks that people had been able to ski all the way to the bottom earlier in the season, but too much snow had melted to make this possible when we were there. The reason our day was so short was because of very high winds up high. The highest lift was closed due to wind, and we skied in a ground blizzard in the top half of the second lift. It was fairly miserable though the photos don’t make it look so bad (of course, I don’t have any photos from the ground blizzard…).

IMG_20210214_112717 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210214_120047 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210214_125332 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210214_125337 by bryandkeith on flickr

Thanks to the jandarma and the wind we cut short our stay in Erzincan and pushed on to Gümüşhane that evening with the hope that there’d be more snow closer to the Black Sea. It was light enough when we arrived to have time to check out one area near the city where I thought skiing might be possible. Uh, nope, there was no snow there at all.

Seb was certainly not optimistic when we set off the next morning heading downhill (!) from Gümüşhane. In Torul, however, we started climbing again, turned off the main road, climbing through Zigana Köyü (a village), and continued up a small road until snow kept us from going any farther. Well, that’s a good sign, isn’t it?

This day we ended up summiting Ayliye Tepesi, a steep 900m climb from where we parked the car. There were quite a lot of bear tracks where we first started skiing, and Seb was so excited. He’s from Germany and has never seen a bear (in the wild), and this even was the first time he had seen bear prints!

Seb was so excited to see these bear tracks.  It was the first time he had ever seen bear tracks.  He's still never seen a bear! by bryandkeith on flickr

Again we had to get a bit high before the snow could potentially be considered decent.

IMG_20210215_095346 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210215_120152 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210215_123727 by bryandkeith on flickr

Some images from the summit of Ayliye Tepesi (~2490m) in February:

IMG_20210215_134402 by bryandkeith on flickr
The summit of Ayliye (aka Avliye) Tepesi (~2490m), ~4km SE of Zigana Köyü (Torul, Gümüşhane). by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210215_135148 by bryandkeith on flickr

It wasn’t all survival skiing to get down, but the bottom third was certainly grim.

IMG_20210215_142342 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210215_144923 by bryandkeith on flickr

Maps again:

Feb. 15, 2021 ski tour to Ayliye Tepesi, starting from a point on the road above and east of Zigana Köyü (Torul, Gümüşhane) by bryandkeith on flickr
zigana_ski_tour_zoomout by bryandkeith on flickr

I’d love to hear from anyone who tries either of these routes.

We drove back through Zigana Köyü, a kind of cute village that is pretty busy with tourists in the summer.

IMG_20210215_152526 by bryandkeith on flickr

The local store owner convinced us to head back to Gümüşhane via the local ski area (also called Zigana), over 700m above the village on a good paved road (could be fun on a bike if there’s not too much traffic). However, we were in a thick cloud up there and didn’t see a thing. We looped back on the busy highway to return to the city where we stayed in a hotel for two nights.

The next day was, what?, shall we say exciting? The short story is: the car broke down, we abandoned it in Gümüşhane, and took a bus to Erzurum. Orhan Abi, at the Kervansaray Oteli where I always stay in Erzurum, was excited to see me again. I was excited to see some new snow in the morning from the balcony of the hotel room.

IMG_20210217_081423 by bryandkeith on flickr

A number of friends from Antalya were in Erzurum for the ice climbing festival, and Seb and I were both keen to get on the ice. Those plans, however, were trumped by a lift-served powder day at Palandöken. How often does that happen?

IMG_20210217_101348 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG-20210217-WA0001 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG-20210217-WA0004 by bryandkeith on flickr

The ice park is right next to one of the lower runs. We did stop by to say hello to friends. Here’s Semra (on the right) on top-rope:

IMG_20210217_122413 by bryandkeith on flickr

Almost like we planned it, we showed up just as the festival-organization-provided lunch was being served. Yıldırım made sure that Seb and I didn’t go hungry!

Since it was Seb’s first time in Erzurum, in the evening I gave him the quick requisite tour and made sure he ate cağ kebap.

IMG_20210217_181932 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG-20210217-WA0007 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210217_185742 by bryandkeith on flickr
Yakutiye Medresesi
IMG_20210217_190250 by bryandkeith on flickr
Lalapaşa Camii
IMG_20210217_191008 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210217_191443 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210217_191108_11 by bryandkeith on flickr

One day on lifts was enough for me. The next day I was able to convince Seb to do some skinning and Semra too, encouraging her to test her equipment before heading off with us to the (more remote) Kaçkar.

However, those two are pretty lazy. Check them out standing on the ski lift (a magic carpet, I guess it’s called) instead of walking themselves!

IMG_20210218_103951 by bryandkeith on flickr

It looks brilliant in this photo:

IMG_20210218_112256 by bryandkeith on flickr

but that was a very brief window of clear weather. The day ended up being too socked in for the ski area to open the upper lift so on the descent we had untracked powder turns to ourselves near the top of the mountain (in flat light (no photos!)), perhaps the best turns I’ve had in Turkey outside of the Kaçkar Mountains!

IMG_20210218_113407 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210218_131552 by bryandkeith on flickr

We celebrated those turns with beers at the halfway house.

IMG_20210218_140920 by bryandkeith on flickr

Next up — of course, since I’ve said it too many times — skiing the Kaçkar!

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3 Responses to Skiing road trip: Erzincan, Gümüşhane, Erzurum

  1. Mom says:

    Of course we love reading your stories about this latest ski adventure—which we already knew would be a car adventure, too. Glad to know you did get at least some fun powder skiing. Now we can’t wait to hear whether “THE car’ has been abandoned for good, or if you and Seb will have to push it back to Antalya.
    Your sleeping bag must have stayed safe in the car after you first left it with the mechanic some weeks ago—since I’m sure you planned to sleep it! The warmest sleeping bag ever!!!
    As always, great writing and stunning photos!
    See you before too long on Zoom!
    Love you!

    • Jennie Werner says:

      Hi Joanne! Brian, we always love reading your postings–you are so incredibly adventurous! We’re in Sedona right now doing some hiking and did a jeep tour this morning, but I have to admit I’m happy to be in a hotel with heating–just reading your entry gave me the chills. You are a stud! Hugs to both of you, Jennie (and Derek too!)

  2. Mike Painter says:

    Great adventures and photos, as always !!

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