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Kaçkar Daðlari, North Eastern Anatolia: A Hiking Trip

by libralady (1/18/2009)

Part 1

I never thought I would be standing at the top of a mountain, beside a muleteer and his mule, laden with the baggage we could not carry, but I was lucky enough to have this experience in August 2007.


How did I get to this point?


It has long been an ambition of mine to hike in the Black Sea Mountains.  The de[[script]]ion and the photos I have seen of Trabzon and the tea plantations compelled me.  And of course, since I have been a member of the TC forum, learning more and more about Turkey, I now realise what a mountainous country Turkey is, and so undiscovered.


After a conversation with a Turkish friend (TLC friend) about the mountains and a further discussion about hiking, I was posed with

“Why don’t you come hiking with us?”

and after the conversation,

“are you serious, do you really mean that”?

Someone we had never met, who I had just PM´d here and chatted to in msn, so I put the details,  of the expedition (with a little intrepidation wondering what he would say),to my husband who answered with a resounding “Yes” and the plan was put into place.


Day 1 – Our Arrival

We arrived at Ankara airport, about 4:00am on Monday 20th August, 29 hours later than scheduled due to a catalogue of British Airways problems, not able to spend our first day as planned, shopping for food and checking equipment.  Our friends had to organise the food, as we could not bring food from the UK. 


We were collected from the airport at about 05:00am and began an incredible journey by car, from Ankara, across Turkey, to Samsun and via the Black Sea Coast to Hopa.  The sun was just beginning to rise; rising above the horizon as we travelled, gradually lighting up the landscape. Having not slept all night, we were both shattered.  The heat of the sun, and with the drone of the car, we struggled to stay awake.  I did not want to miss anything so managed to stay awake, but my husband succumbed to tiredness and was soon asleep.


After reaching Samsun, we drove along the coast of the Black Sea, but I struggle to remember much, as we drove through towns, with the Black Sea to our left and an ever-changing landscape to our right.  My eyes were constantly closing, fighting with tiredness.


We stopped for lunch in Giresun, at our friends relatives, and were treated to a fabulous Oxtail stew, something we used to eat in the UK, but so now.  After a break, we continued our journey towards the Kaçkar Daðlari, our destination.  We were quite unaware how long a journey we still had to make – it does not look that far on a map!  Because of the delayed flight, we had to make the journey in one day, which really should have taken two.


We steadily made progress along the coast of the Black Sea, through many tunnels. We were intrigued by what the women were doing on the side of the road.  They had sheets laid out on the road side and what looked like earth on them.  We later discovered that these were hazelnuts being sorted and bagged.  All along the road side were fruit and nut sellers.


Before long we had reached Trabzon, so not much further to go – or so I thought!  We headed on towards the Georgian border, and then to Artvin, where we had arranged to leave the car and transfer to a taxi.  We arrived there around 7:00pm after 14 hours on the road, with still maybe another 5 hours.  We loaded up the Taxi, the taxi driver and our firend took the car to a park and returned.  We were soon on our way again, loaded down and we drove up into the mountains.  One thing I did notice, was how the men looked different, their features were different.  We Not sure how to explain that.   It was soon dark, so I have no idea where we were going, but I do remember a diversion because of the damns that are being constructed.


The taxi wound its way into the mountains, higher and higher and I am quite pleased I could not see the drop from the road.  We stopped a couple of times for a break and an Efes, and this is where we came across the toilet from hell.  Well needs must.  Eventually we find our way to Yusufeli.  By this time it was around midnight, and the Taxi driver was unsure where we were, and we pulled up at someone’s home (a polythene and timber constructed hut) and woke the occupier to ask directions.  He came to the door, sleepily and warily, waved his hand in the direction we should be heading.  That was either left or right, having come from the right, we had to head left.


A steep climb back to the road, and the load in the car made it impossible for the taxi to move, so out we got and pushed the taxi onto the road, at past midnight!!  I call this a road, but really it was a track.


Fortunately we were heading in the right direction, the only direction and shortly we came across our pension – Pansiyon Karahan at about 1:00am – 20 hours after leaving Ankara.  The taxi dropped us off and left for his return journey – a crazy idea!


The pension was some 100 meters up the mountain and to get out bags up there, there was a pulley system.  We loaded our stuff onto the little platform and up it went.  We wearily clambered up the path, were greeted by the owners, showed our rooms and “hit the sack”.  I was so tired that I struggled to sleep, but managed a few hours. 


Day 2 – The Hike

It did not seem so long before there was a knock on the door and it was breakfast time. At breakfast we met another member of our hiking group, who had arrived the day before.


Sitting on the terrace, with cypress clad mountains around us and the sound of a tirade of the Çoruh River’s water rushing to reach the sea, at a tremendous speed, breakfast was laid on the table and the wasps were keen to get to the honey.  I can honestly say, I have never eaten breakfast in such beautiful surroundings.


I must say that I felt quite ill from tiredness having not slept or eaten properly for nearly 3 days and I tried to eat some breakfast.  I was conscious that we had a long hike that day, and needed all the food I could manage.  Some grapes that we had left from the journey saved the day. I was also feeling a bit worried about the amount of stuff we had to carry.  I knew I could carry around 12kg, 15kg at a push, and looking at the pile of equipment and food, I was glad when a mule and muleteer was organised.


With everything organised, we began our hike, turning right up the mountain road, stopping occasionally to take photo’s and admire the view, or to discuss why there was a pile of bricks on the side of the road.  We were so lucky with the weather, it being a beautiful sunny day, and a bit cooler than it would be on the coast.


I am not sure from here how to describe the hike, as it was a case of hiking up the mountain road, admiring the views, taking a rest and drink now and again, and picking wild fruit from the mountain side. Ahead of us was the magnificent view of the Altiparmak ridge, which is like a series of fingers protruding into the skyline encased in blue sky.


I love the mountains so I am generally lost in the beauty, the magnificence and the peacefulness, which reaches into my soul, but fully aware of the danger and the control nature has over us mortals.   The Kaçkar Mountains, located between North Eastern Anatolia and the Black Sea plateau make a formidable barrier and is a popular trekking area.   The highest summit reaches 3972m, but we were heading for the peaks that reached around 3300m.  I have read that the mountains were formed in the last Ice Age and we saw some of the glaciers left.


Our muleteer with the mule came past us at some point, and there we are dressed for hiking, with big walking boots, and there he is in a jacket, trousers and what appeared to be a pair of black plastic shoes.  This man’s life was the mountains, and he had that rugged weather beaten look.  It was hard to guess his age, but I would say he was in his 60’s but was strong and nimble like a much younger man.  He told us he was Georgian by descent, there were many Georgians living in this area, Georgia being only a few kilometres away.


We made our way towards our destination for lunch, a small house nestling on the mountain side.  These mountains were much greener than I expected and were carpeted with cypress trees, which again I did not expect. I thought it would be more barren than this.  There were a number of streams and water falls cascading down the mountain side, often being fed into pipes and troughs.  Again I was amazed that the water was pure enough to drink. In the UK, when out hiking we could not drink the ater like thi;, we have to be careful of dead sheep in rivers which of course will pollute.  While we ate our lunch, we basked in the hot sun, shaded from any wind.  I laid back and could have gone to sleep, but no, it was time to move again.  Apparently there was another toilet from hell, real hell this time, hanging over a drop of several feet, but I managed to avoid this one!!!!


As we climbed up and up, we were caught up again by the muleteer and we had a choice – carry on with the muleteer to our evening camp or leave our back packs for him to take, and go to the lake.  Of course we decided on the later and made our way to the lake, Karagöl, which involved what can only be described as a grade 3 scramble!  It was cold at the lake, and much to cold for a swim, however inviting it looked and with the sun going down, we needed to get to our camp.


We finally arrived at our camp at Satie meadow, around 7:30 pm, 10 hours after we set out that morning, weary and ready for food.  We had a pleasant surprise to find that our tents had been put up too!  What a man our muleteer was.  After our Turkish dinner, we sat and drank tea, and looked at the stars; it was such a clear night.  My husband saw some shooting stars, every time I turned a different direction; consequently I missed every single one. We climbed into our sleeping bags, I wondered about the bears, what would happen if they came in the night, but I was soon asleep.  I was woken by a noise and it was the mule running around his stake and rolling in the grass.  I think I did hear a bear growling too..................................................

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Part 2

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2. Part 2
3. Part 3
4. Part 4

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