One of the reasons that I keep going back to Olgunlar for skiing is that there’s a pansiyon in the village at 2000m, and the road is regularly plowed. If you look at the map of the Kaçkar, you can find lots of potential skiing on the north side of the range as well. However, what’s the access like? A few weeks ago Seb and I spent a few days trying to ski in İkizdere, in Rize Province (İl) on the north side of the Kaçkar Mountains.
First, however, Seb and I had to get there. Readers may recall that we left Seb’s car with a mechanic in Gümüşhane. It ended up taking over a month before the car was ready to go again. I spent most of that time in Antalya. Finally, Mohamed the mechanic said ok, and we bought bus tickets for the 21-hour trip from Antalya to Gümüşhane via (a bus transfer in) Kelkit. Mohamed had warned that the car wasn’t perfect, but it’d probably (or did he say “maybe”?) make it back to Antalya.
We took some steep roads straight out of Gümüşhane both to test the car near the mechanic and to visit a couple old churches. A sign in Eski Gümüşhane (Süleymaniye Mah.) explained what a peaceful place Gümuşhane was during Ottoman times with Turks, Armenians, and Greeks all living harmoniously together. Until Sultan Hamid II this may have been largely true.
Judging from the name (Hegios Georgios Kilisesi) I guess this was a Greek church:
Just a few kms away we unexpectedly came upon another church which, judging from its unimaginative name (Vank Kilisesi — the Armenian and Turkish words for church, respectively), was an Armenian church.
The car seemed to be ok so we drove over the pass and down a steep dirt road to Gümüşkaya where we found the first old stone bridge of the trip (but certainly not the last — we were heading to the Black Sea after all!).
Another pass — Zigana; this one paved — took us to the Black Sea side of the mountains and Hamsiköy which makes some lists as one of the prettiest villages in Turkey. This is it:
concrete block construction sprawled over a hillside. Even if it’s on your way, I’m hesitant to say it’s worth a stop.
The two stone mansions east of Sürmene (in Çamburnu?), however, are worth a stop if it’s one your way.
supposedly has frescoes with fruit and flowers, but we couldn’t get inside. It was locked up, and there was no one around.
Hacı Yakup Ağa Konağı was open. The inside was well maintained, but there wasn’t much of interest.
But, of course, there’s no snow at the Black Sea, and we’re trying to ski. We drove up passed İkizdere and camped at about 1400m, pitching our tents on green grass in the light rain. When we woke up, it looked like this:
That’s encouraging for two people hoping to ski. Even with the new snow we were able to drive all the way to 2000m, about halfway between Gölyayla the Village and Gölyayla the Yayla, exactly where I was hoping to start.
We made it all the way up to the eponymous summit that day, a climb of about 1200m.
There was brief sunshine in the morning, but it snowed most of the day. Our access issues started trying to get the car down. It was a whiteout up high with so much new snow that it was difficult to see just where the road was. Seb was scared we’d lose the road and end up with a stuck car in very deep snow. What a relief to make it to the village:
That afternoon we made it all the way down to İkizdere (at 600m) where we spent the next three nights in a hotel (Öğretmen Evi).
On the way down I noticed that the road heading up toward Meşeköy (aka Patran) had been plowed so I was optimistic we could drive all the way to Çiçekli Köy (a village) the next day.
Well, the plowed road didn’t last long, ending at a water bottling facility. Before long we were breaking our own trail again.
We started skiing 4km lower than I had hoped. When the snow gets this deep, Seb’s car cannot keep going:
It took over an hour and a half to ski up the historic mosque in Çiçekli Köy.
We made our way through a gorge and into another whiteout.
The powder was good, but the visibility was very poor up high.
By this time, of course, we knew that access to these mountains was an issue, but if you’re on a skiing road trip, you can hardly drive away from thigh-deep fluffy powder.
For the next day I decided we’d try Başköy. There’s a fancy hotel (Ridos Termal) a ways up the drainage so the road ought to be plowed, right?
Ha, not even close this time. Shortly passed the hotel the road looked like this:
and then we came to this:
but Seb has a saw, and the road looked like this less than 15 minutes later:
Maybe an A for effort, but it wasn’t enough. When the snow is so deep that the bottom of Seb’s car drags in the snow, well, it can’t continue. You can see the tracks of Seb’s car dragging in the snow here:
We were still more than 10km below where I had hoped to start skiing. What to do?
After about 4km we found a bridge to access the north facing slopes on the south side of the creek, “access” and “bridge” being used loosely here.
I found the crossing more terrifying than Seb did.
The access was really to nothing. We found nothing but very steep slopes with very thick vegetation — not surprisingly, I suppose. You usually want to get to about 2000m to start skiing in this region (here we were at about 1700m). Below that elevation, the slopes are generally steep and heavily forested.
After bashing around for a few hours (even downhill turned out to be a challenge), we made it back to a clearing we had crossed earlier. With the snow it appeared that a road went through here. Further assumptions (and not wanting to recross the morning’s scary bridge) convinced me that we’d find a bridge just upstream where a couple spur roads descended to the stream from the main road on the other side of the creek.
Here’s the creek and one of the aforementioned spur roads:
but clearly something important is missing.
Seb jumped right in, but I am not a fan of cold water. I complained about the cold water, for example, snorkeling in Indonesia.
Even though there was new snow down at 600m in İkizdere the next morning, it was time to leave. Surely, it’d be easier to access skiing in Erzurum…