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.
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:
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:
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,
a türbe complex, to keep our tents out of the wind.
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.
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.
I wouldn’t say the skiing down was good, but it was better than I expected.
Here are a couple maps for anyone interested in trying the same route.
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?).
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.
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…).
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!
Again we had to get a bit high before the snow could potentially be considered decent.
Some images from the summit of Ayliye Tepesi (~2490m) in February:
It wasn’t all survival skiing to get down, but the bottom third was certainly grim.
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.
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.
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?
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:
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.
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!
It looks brilliant in this photo:
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!
We celebrated those turns with beers at the halfway house.
Next up — of course, since I’ve said it too many times — skiing the Kaçkar!