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Published: September 28th 2014
The view from the loo!
The Firtina river passing by the hotel
On marshrutka to Tbilisi September 27, 2014
I guess I have been smitten. Yesterday we walked up the Hala (Ayder) valley and caught sight of Mount Kackar at 3900m standing like a cathedral in the clouds above the ridge. It was majestic and shear.
The Kackar mountains (actually pronounced Cach-car) form the Eastern part of the Pontic Alps that run along the North coast of Turkey. They continue to rise as the EurAsian plate slams into the African Teutonic plate to the South. They form an major barrier with 'proper' roads only going round either end. There are traversable passes which were trade routes in the summer in the distant past and which are now the domain of the keenest hikers.
We stayed at the Otel Doga in the Firtina valley, the middle of the three Hemsin valleys running North to the Black Sea. Once we had settled in the pension owner, Idris (see separate blog) suggested we explored the nearby village of Ortan to get a picture of a classic Hemsin village.
There was a map on the pension wall drawn twenty years previously
by a visiting Australian called Mike showing some footpaths which I hoped to find by taking a picture of the map with my phone and GPS.
As we walked up the concrete road the first thing we noticed was that the road name changed every 50 metres to celebrate a different resident, according to Idris. The houses in a village tend to be perched in a row with a high foundation at the front to keep them level. Wooden granaries have stone mushrooms to discourage vermin as you see in England.
There is no village street, the road finished before you get to the houses, it being a modern improvement. An unpaved path follows the valley side contour either in front or behind the houses.
Vegetable plots or tea plantations drop away from the houses down the steep valley side. Here in the lower valleys wood predominates with corrugated metal roofs. We passed by a group of Hemsin women knitting beautifully coloured and patterned socks.
This area of the Black Sea, particularly around Rize, is where Turkish tea is grown. They need plenty considering the amount they drink.
We learnt from Idris that it's purchase is controlled by a State monopoly (like the old UK Milk Marketing Board, I guess). On our last day we saw large bales of tea left beside the road for collection.
My attempts to find the path to the next village from Ortan were not successful on this occasion. There were several options and the one I choose became increasingly overgrown (or "non-existent" in Jane's words) so we returned the way we came.
We got the first taste of the high Kackers the next day when we drove to the high 'yayla' of Elevit with Idris and his nephew (see other blog). This had been a glorious day and when we woke on the Wednesday morning it was a great contrast. Heavy rain had started in the night and it was continuing to pour. The Firtina river had turned from an attractive mountain stream tumbling over boulders into a violent muddy torrent bashing the base of the closest trees as it went past. All except the biggest rocks were submerged. It was a good day to do admin. Idris lit the fire and that cheered things up.
By 3pm it had stopped rain, just, and I had had enough. So again with map photo and GPS in hand I see off to try and find a path back to Ortan. I hit an immediate snag in that the path I was following was blocked by a wild side stream. So I tried another one and climbed up the mountain side passed numerous houses until I ran out of time. Some of the houses were almost mansion size, the fruits of men's labours in Moscow bakeries a hundred years ago.
I had promised Jane to be back by 5pm and just made it thanks to an 'auto-stop' soon after I got back to the main road.
The next day it was still damp and not yet raining so we set off for Yolkiyi, Idris's old village on the other side of the valley. This gave us an attractive circular walk that finished at one of the spectacular stone bridges that are scattered around these valleys. This one had been constructed in 1695. They are a footpath wide, a stone path and usually have short shin high sides (sometimes). These
were the old bridges used to get down from the villages before the roads were built.
We planned to go in Camlihemsin for lunch. We 'auto-stopped' a car and the driver said "It's Jeremy isn't it"! He had been one of the people I had been introduced to in Elevit two days before. The world felt very small.
Once back at Otel Doga I was determined to find the path out of Ortan village. This time, with the experience of the first day, I was able to find the right track. It lead to a fine bridge and the big mansions high on the valley side.
We had had the Otel Doga to ourselves at first. Slowly others appeared. First was Firat, a Turkish lad who was cycling around Turkey and Georgia for six months (www.firatkucukersen.blogspot.com). We were impressed with his energy. Next Luis from Cuenca in Spain with an Italian friend on their way to China. We enjoyed the company of a retired Danish couple from Jutland who had a holiday home in Kalkan near Fethiye and had come looking for a particular Rhododendron! Lastly, Bob and Ren from Clement
Ferrand in France were on an extensive tour of Turkey.
Our last full day (in the Kackar as well as Turkey) was our last chance to walk high in the mountains. Things looked promising with blue sky when we woke. Idris said he would drive Bob, Ren and Jane and me around to Ayder in the next valley where we could maybe get an 'auto-stop' higher up. It seemed like Bob and Ren and ourselves had similar ambitions for the day so off we went.
It is 12km from Ayder on an unmade road to the high yayla of Yukari Kavrun and another 2 hours to some glacial lakes. The walk to the village is the first part of a popular Trans Kackar route. We were going to need a lift if we were going to get that far. In short order we had one, in the back of truck. The three lads in the cab took us about 5km to a small plateau which whilst not being all the way to the top yayla made all the difference. We continued on foot up hill the blue sky generally winning the battle over the
Yukari Kavrun in the valley below
Note the clouds coming up the valley
clouds hugging the valley sides.
Yukari Kavrun is surprisingly big. It fills the bottom slopes of the U shape valley. I counted 5 houses under construction. Who should we meet there but Firat who had cycled up the previous day. The commercialisation of the Ayder valley was in marked contrast to Firtina valley. Interestingly besides Turks a major tourist group are Saudis with their women conspicuous in their burkas.
There was not sufficient time to climb to the lakes so we continued up the valley towards the main mountain ridge. In the end it was just Bob and me. We stopped at 1pm and just then the cloud parted briefly to show Mount Kackar. A wonderful sight from our view point 4km away at 2500metres.
We descended the 1400 metres in height to Ayder after a brief cafe stop. As we did so the cloud level followed us. We had had the best of the day. From Ayder we could catch a dolmus and then a taxi back to Otel Doga. Both couples were glad they were staying in the 'other' valley.
It really was a great last
day: Getting the sight of the mountain, the entente cordiale (neither of us spoke the other's language much) and lying there in bed that evening wondering if you will be able to walk in the morning. Brilliant.
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