Volume 36 Number 1 Article 2
After leaving my job in September 1998 I had a couple of weeks free to go on holiday before starting university. After searching for cheap flights to somewhere mountainous I finally booked a flight to Dalaman in western Turkey for a bargain £105 return.
My plan was to go from Dalaman overland to the Ala Dag mountains in the middle south of Turkey. This took two days bus travel via Anatalya, Adana and Nidge, around 500 km as the crow flies but more like 1000 km by road. The nearest town to the Ala Dag range is Nidge, a quiet provincial town with very few tourists. My hotel in Nidge was cheap (£4) and dirty, however a hot shower was included in the price. The next day I took a bus to Cukurbag pronounced chuck-ur-barr or something similar) through some great scenery, with my first views of the Ala Dag mountains. After a quick snack I filled up my water bottles and set off up a steep dusty track towards the mountains, the terrain was mostly thin grass, rocks and dust. About three miles on I found a good place to camp with a small sprig and bits of rubbish that the various trekking companies normally leave behind.
My main concern in the mountains was going to be water. Having no guidebook (although two are available in the England) and only a 1:800,000 road map of Turkey I did not know where water would be available. I had two collapsible water bottles and one ridged one, a combined capacity of six litres. Climbing mountains with a heavy pack in the prevailing hot (30C+ in the hottest part of the day) weather, 6 litres might just about do two days. I was carrying dried food for 3 or 4 days although some of it proved to be inedible.
Early next morning I set off heading east along a well-worn trail up what looked like one of the main valleys in the area. I left my tent where it was but carried bivi gear, food, stove etc. and six litres of water. The trail was obviously used by packhorses and was quite easy going although steep in places. Following the trail I reached the top of a high pass at around 2 pm. As luck would have it there was a spring just below the pass providing very welcome cold water. The water rose, fell as a short waterfall and immediately disappeared below ground. I estimate the pass to be at around 400m with peaks on either side at around 3700m, the highest in the area. I estimate my campsite at around 2200m. By this time I was tired and had a headache due to the altitude. I progressed to the far (east) side of the pass, passing a dead horse at the bottom of a cliff on the way, to a permanent campsite run by one of the trekking companies in the area. It is a great place for a camp site, huge cliffs on one side and a lake just down the valley. I bivied here and regretted not having brought my karrimat.
I was up at six the next morning, it was cold, my bivi bag was covered in frost and it was a struggle to get out of a relatively warm sleeping bag. I went back to the pass I had crossed yesterday headed up the easiest of the 3700m mountains, on the north side of the pass. Arriving at the top of the mountain the day was warming up nicely, the horse would not be-smelling too good in a few days. I re-traced my steps to the pass and had breakfast before attempting the more difficult mountain on the south side of the pass. I traversed along a vague path to a scramble up onto a narrow rift. The scramble proved to be desperately loose. I gave up about twenty feet from the top and had difficulty in reversing it. I had not really expected to be able to get far along the ridge anyway. Going back west down the valley I took a path up a side valley that lead via steep scree and a scramble to a ridge leading to my chosen mountain. Once on this ridge it was obvious that I could not make it to the top. I headed west along the same ridge towards another summit, It started thundering before I got there. I had been watching some black clouds in the distance for a while I gave up and headed back to my original campsite and my tent. It rained on and off all the way. By the time I reached the area where my tent was, visibility was poor. It took an hour to find the tent with heavy rain the whole time. The weather improved by teatime and I was able to make a fire, dry my clothes and cook a very out of date packet vegetable stew. The stew tasted so awful that I had to throw it away and eat most of tomorrow's food. On a brighter note I was able to listen to the football on the world service.
Next morning was bright and hot, not knowing what the water situation would be today I again had to carry six litres. I headed east again along a well-worn track towards a valley running roughly parallel to the previous one. Past another permanent trekking campsite the path degenerated into a scramble up a narrow gully, eventually coming out into a valley similar to the previous one. After half a mile or so the valley narrowed and became harder, a narrow traverse high on the left bypasses a vertical section in the valley floor. After some steep scree I arrived at the bottom of a serious long scramble, (having since seen a guide book) this scramble leads directly to the pass at around 3000m.) I did not want to attempt the scramble alone so I headed back to my tent.
The following day I set off for Cukurbag, after stopping for a snack I met a peasant on a tractor who asked me had I bought a ticket? He started waving some national park warden identity papers around and demanding that I buy tickets for my stay in the mountains, his view was backed up by someone from a trekking company. I was fairy sure he was genuine so I reluctantly handed over £10, £2 a day. I took a bus back to Nidge and booked into the same hotel as before.
I had been planning to get a train to Tatvan and possibly go up a nearby 4000m mountain. I think that Tatvan town would be safe enough but walking round the remote countryside that far east might not be. The Turkish government is currently engaged in fighting the main Kurdish separatist group (the PKK) in the south east of the country, whilst foreigners are not directly under threat the area's not considered safe. I went by train to Adana then Malataya, stopping for a day to look round each city. I spent a couple of days going to and from the famous statues on top of Nemrut Dag, which a bit touristy for my liking. I was then more or less out of time so retraced my steps back to Dalaman and flew home.
The bus network in Turkey is fairly cheap and reasonably efficient, whist the trains are very cheap but slow and crowded. In general I still prefer train travel in Turkey, although buses go into the mountains much more so than trains. There is no bureaucracy associated with mountaineering and trekking, apart from the fact that you may need tickets. I have trekked in the Kadkar mountains (north east Turkey) previously with no demands for tickets. There is great scope for rock climbing in the Ala Dag area, but look out for loose rock. I don't know what the mountain rescue situation is, although they probably make you buy a carpet before agreeing to rescue you. Visas can be bought for £10 (cash) on arrival and there is normally no shortage of cheap charter flights from the UK. In general Turkey is a safe and mostly hassle free taste of Asia.