Turkey Ayder 2001.08.09 - 08.12

Kaçkar Mountains

The Black Sea coast was miserably hot. We needed a breath of cool air at higher elevation. The 3000+ meter high Kaçkar Mountains 40km inland provided some relief.

Information on hikes in the Kaçkar Mountains is scarce. The only topological maps of the area are owned by the military. Roads to higher elevation villages are rough. Transport is infrequent. Trail markers are sporadic. Thousands of cow tracks intersect human trails to cause confusion. Anyone who reaches the top of Kaçkar summit (3937 meters elevation) without a guide deserves a medal. Naturally, in this absence of solid information, local guides will show the way for US$100 per day. The hike is said to take 4 days. There are no facilities en route.

Unwilling to spend 4 days and $400, plus whatever gear hire and food costs, to climb a mountain shorter than 4000 meters, we chose Ayder as our base from which to day hike. Ayder is the highest town with a paved road and regular public transportation. Dolmuşes (similar to a minibus) run between Pazar on the Black Sea coast and Ayder every hour or two from early morning to late afternoon in the summer months. Each morning, dilapidated 4-wheel drive minibuses depart Ayder for higher mountain villages at the highest end of deteriorated steep dirt roads. One bus departs Ayder at 08:30 for Yukari (Upper) Kavron, a sprawling village of about 100 houses, 2 cafés (no Internet, just tea), and one pension. Another bus departs Ayder at 09:40 for Yukari Avusor, a small cluster of stone walled hovels with tin covers. Both buses park at the villages and depart for return at 16:00.

Our first day, we missed the Kavron bus (our pension owner in Ayder said, "09:00 no problem" except that the bus left at 08:30). We happily settled for the later Avusor bus. Once above Ayder, the road deteriorates into a steep and narrow dirt, boulder ridden, cliff-side passage that's unsuitable for vehicles. The experienced bus driver took 2 hours to drive the bus up 15km, which is about double a walking pace on average. Avesor was a cluster of stone walled squares with tin roofs held down by more stones. Confusingly, the dress of the people was inconsistent with the penniless appearance of the houses. The hundreds of Hemşin people wore newly bought, absolutely clean clothes, new shoes or sneakers, and the women had beautiful headscarves more elaborate in appearance than those found in the rest of Turkey. Later we learned that the Hemşin people often work abroad, easily adapting into other cultures with their fair skin. In the summer months, they return to their village for family gatherings and celebrations.

From Yukari Avusor, we hiked along the river flowing down the valley. Though we didn't have any destination in mind, we timed our return to reach Yukari Avusor by the 16:00 bus departure time. Cow tracks crisscrossed the terrain, but by following boot prints, we stayed on a hiking trail of sorts. Walking through the fog for 2 hours, the trail grew more visible as it climbed a steep ascent. By 13:00, we reached Kırmızı Pass. We hoped to hike to a lake, but a pass was just as nice.

Our second day, we caught the Kavron bus. At 08:30, a slow-moving dilapidated red minibus with a sign "Kavron" entered Ayder from below. Rushing to the bus to ensure we could board it, we ran from our pension. Half an hour later, the Kavron bus was still in the center of Ayder looking for more people to cram into the 14-seater. At departure, the minibus driver managed (or the passengers managed, rather) to pack 25 fares into the bus. In our cramped space, the bumpy 15km road tested everyone's endurance. Similar in condition to the road to Avusor, the minibus took 2 hours to drive the short 15km.

Expecting the village of Kavron to be similar to Avusor, we were surprised to see wooden structures and cafés. Evidently, the Kavron villagers are more wealthy than their Avusor counterparts. With our pension owner's hand-drawn map in hand, we hiked to Öküz Yatağı Gölü (Ox Ice Lake) in 1½ hours without difficulty. Sitting at the shore of Öküz Yatağı Gölü eating a roll of bread for lunch, we heard shouts of celebration from successful climbers at the summit of Mt. Kaçkar directly in front of us, 2000 meters up.

The only recent (though minimal) information on hikes in the Kaçkar Mountains is in the Turkey Footprint Handbook, 2001 edition http://footprintbooks.com. Page 579 has a brief section called "Trekking from Ayder".

Yukari Avusor is a cluster of stack-stone walled houses that returning Hemşin use in the summer months.

On our first day hike in the Kaçkar Mountains, Wes and Masami hope to hike to a lake but arrive at Kırmızı Pass instead.

The Hemşin women have beautiful headscarves that we haven't seen in other parts of Turkey.

Well dressed Hemşin children play on the roadside in Yukari Avusor.

The 14-seater bus for Yukari Kavron gets packed with 25 passengers. The 2-hour 15km bus ride was nearly unbearably uncomfortable for those of us who didn't have a seat.

On our second day hike, we reach Öküz Yatağı Gölü (Ox Ice Lake) at the base of Mt. Kaçkar summit.

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