Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ala Dağlar (The Crimson Mountains)

My second Şekker Bayram in Turkey. Last year, it was the Kaçkar Mountains, this year the Ala Dağları. Tim and Erin (two new teachers from Boulder, CO, who were most recently teaching in Quito, Ecuador and happen to share all my outdoor passions) and I drove the adolescent boy car (my little Mazda) five hours south of Ankara to the Crimson Mountains, the range that starts the Taurus Mountains. When you crest the hill and see these mountains for the first time, you'd be surprised to learn they are only about 10,000 feet high. Like Glacier NP, they are so vertical-looking. They crash into the plains. Their foothills consist of brown burly rolling gorges. The whole range in fact was so brown and barren! I felt like I was in Turkey; it was how I'd imagine Middleastern mountains to look. There was not a spot of green on them. Not until we hiked into a gorge or down a valley did we see any color besides brown.

We stayed at the Climber's House, Ala Evi, a kind of camping/hostel/pansyon owned and operated by a young Turkish climbing couple, Zeynep and Recep. They recently wrote a climbing guidebook for the area, and were a great spring of knowledge on the mountain range.

Their site consisted of a common kitchen and shower area, a small lodge with a wood stove (which we were very grateful for with the inclement Alpine weather), and a great view of the mountains.
Our first day out, Tim, Erin, and I headed towards Elmali Vallesi (Apple Valley), a canyon hidden from the eye until you walk upon it. The rock was conglomerate limestone, very similar in quality to Geyikbayiri in Antalya. We climbed. And it was fun. :)

The second day, we woke up to rain and snow on the tops of the peaks. We waited it out for a few hours, and then drove further into Apple Valley and hiked to the road's end and further, until we saw the famous Parmakkale, a climber's spire.

The third day, we drove to Cimbar Valley, another gorge with bolted sport routes.

One last stop at the fruit stand to buy some apples from Elma (Apple) Land before heading back to Ankara. This man refused to let me be in the picture with him.

Then this man felt bad for me, and invited me into a picture with him. :)

The Ala Daglar were AMAZING, and we are already scheming to get back this fall for a ski!


Guzelyurt has been one of my favorite places to visit so far, and I am already looking forward to bringing some of my BUPS friends there next month, maybe the outdoor club, too. The highlight was staying in the Karballa hotel, a 19th century Greek monastery that has been converted into a hotel.

The monastery:

The rectory housed the eating area, and the monk's rooms were dormstyle hotel rooms. Dinner was served at large common tables for all the guests, and the hotel owner sat and chatted with each of us throughout the meal. Inside the monastery:

The town as inhabited by Greeks until the Great Population Exchange of 1923, and then the church was converted to a mosque.

The town:

I have been very pleased with all the changes in religion that the religious buildings have usually not been destroyed, but rather converted. The next day, we took a hike down Monastery Valley, which contains over 50 rock cut churches dating from the Byzantine era. My mom met some Turkish men while waiting for Katie and I to finish exploring one of these churches, and was whipping out her few Turkish words-- the man on the donkey was coming back from collecting spring water, and the other man was making sure we knew about all the churches in the valley.

Monastery Valley:

Hot Air Balloon Ride in Cappadoccia

My mom, Katie, and I woke up at 4:45am on Aug. 21st, my 30th birthday. The car picked us up at 5:05 and dropped us off at a garage where many other bleary-eyed foreigners drank coffee and nibbled on bisquits. Next, we were shuttled into our pilot's vans, and driven into the countryside, which was littered with limp hot air balloons and passengers huddled in the chilly morning, waiting for their rides to inflate. The ride to our balloon was the scariest part of the morning- our driver was given the wrong directions, and so we sped over criss-crossing dirt roads in the Cappadoccian countryside searching for the right balloon and crew.

When we found it, it was fun to watch the process from flacid balloon to 20 of us climbing into the wicker basket, the crew holding our tethers as the pilot completed the final inhalations.

We ascended very quickly, and were very soon one with the rest of the school of the balloons.

Our pilot maneuvered our balloon up and down over hills, in between fairy chimneys. It was very still, and we enjoyed a crisp focused view of the landscape pre-hot summer haze.

The neatest part of the experience was being in the center of 100 or so other balloons, all floating in the same direction with the wind. It was magical.

After we landed, the crew pulled out a small table for cake and champagne to toast our ride.

My mom then bought a pin of a hot air balloon flying over fairy chimneys, not realizing to the average American eye, it will look like a hot air balloon flying over a land of erect penises.