Hiking in Turkey: Kaçkar Mountains
In early May of 2011 we (Amy and Jim) spent 7 days walking in the Kaçkar Mountains region of Turkey. We had just finished walking the Lycian Way and Saint Paul Trails, also in Turkey, and we have posted a separate trip report for the earlier part of the trip.)
Since the above report covers some general info about walking in Turkey, we will not repeat that material here. This report focuses specifically on unique experiences we had in the Kackar.
Here is a link to the full annotated Kaçkar Mountains photo show.
Here are a few images to whet the appetite:
The Kackar are located in northeastern Turkey just inland from the Black Sea and make up part of the larger Pontic Mountain Range. The highest point in the region is Kackar Dagi at 3937 meters.
We added this portion of the trip at the last minute during our planning process. We knew we would be going quite early in the season and that too much snow might stymie us. In the end, we had a terrific time and were very pleased with our experiences in this part of Turkey. While snow did limit us in terms of accessing the highest reaches of the Kackar, we had plenty of interesting and beautiful places that were accessible. These mountains are quite different in character from the southwestern regions we had already spent time in and the contrast added favorably to the trip. We were very glad we were not there in the high season, when the mountains are reported to be heavily used by both pastoralists and trekking groups. The fact that the mountains were empty of people added to the pleasure of the experience; no masses of grazing animals, wheeled traffic, crowded campsites and so forth.
These mountains are not a wilderness. Yaylas, seasonally inhabited villages used by pastoralists, are scattered throughout the range. Power lines reach even the most remote places. A network of dirt roads links the yaylas and only the highest, most rocky passes do not have roads crossing them. The meadows all host grazing animals during the summer season. The lower slopes are forested, but also support tea plantations. This not to say the Kackar are not a beautiful range of mountains worth spending time in, just don’t expect the remoteness of a place like the Sierra Nevada.
We were pleasantly surprised by the scenery in the lower elevations, which we had not anticipated would be so lovely. Our natural inclination is to “go high”, but in this case we were lucky that the snowy conditions forced us onto a route that included fantastic walking through lower elevation rain forest (one of Europe’s only temperate rain forests).
We walked the following route: Camlihemsin, Cat, Basyayla, Hacivanak, Elevit, Tirovit Yayla, Palovit Yayla, Samistal Yayla, Asagi Kavron Yayla, Ayder, Hazmdak Yayla, Pokut Yayla, Senyuva, Camlihemsin, Ardesen, and finally, Pazar.
You can download our gpx or kml (great view in google Earth) files of the route we took.
Kackar Mountains gpx file
Kackar Mountains kmz file
We found the walking to be generally very pleasurable other than we had more rain than we might have wished. The routes we followed were strenuous in only a few places although much altitude is gained and lost. We did not engage in any technical rock or snow climbing. We did cross lots of snow (it was early May in the mountains), which given our lack of ice axes and crampons, we were fortunate was not too icy and was soft enough for us to kick steps on the steeper sections. Much of the walking is on unpaved roads or rough tractor tracks, although cross-country travel is not too difficult in the higher mountains. The lower slopes are heavily forested and are functionally impassible to off trail travel. While we were there, runoff made stream crossings a real problem, with water levels too high, too cold, and too fast in most places to allow safe wading. Fortunately, there were enough bridges to allow us passage, but some cross-country routes would have had stream-crossing difficulties. We don’t know what conditions might be like later in the season.
Duration and Distance:
We walked for six and half days and covered 154 km with 5800 meters gain and 6100 meters descent. Road and track walking was straightforward; crossing the snow a lot slower. We reached altitudes close to 3000 meters on three occasions.
The accuracy of the distance, elevation gain, and profile data is determined by the resolution of the mapping program we used (BikeRouteToaster).
As we were so early in the season, we met no other hiking parties while walking in the mountains. The higher yaylas were completely uninhabited. In the higher mountains, we saw no human tracks in the snow, although we did find two sets of wolf tracks. Occasionally, we would run across someone tending animals in the low elevation backcountry, otherwise all the people we met were in the vicinity of towns and villages. Obviously, later in the season when the higher yaylas are inhabited and the trekking parties are about, you will meet a lot more people in the mountains.
Of the 196 species of birds we identified in Turkey, 78 of them were seen on the Kaçkar walk. Some of these overlapped with birds seen in southwest Turkey, but we did see a few high mountain specialties including Caspian Snowcok, Caucasian Grouse, and Twite.
Routefinding, Maps, Guidebook:
We used the guidebook written by Kate Clow (the author of guides to both the Lycian Way and the Saint Paul Trails) to plan our trip. There is a network of routes in the mountain range, and we planned a loop hike that avoided the higher passes and peaks in order to avoid snow.
The map that is provided with the guidebook is useful for general orientation, and, given the nature of the terrain, we found it adequate for most navigation tasks. The contour intervals are 100 meters, the map lacks a scale, and some newer roads and other cultural features are not shown.
To supplement the guidebook and its map, we used an iPhone4 with topo maps and gpx files preloaded into Gaia GPS. Instructions on how to use iPhone as GPS/Mapping device.
Many of the routes and tractor tracks we followed had been added to OpenStreetMap and so they appeared on our iPhone maps (we preloaded OSM maps into Gaia). (Go to openstreetmap.org, change the Base Layer to Cycle Map via the + symbol in the upper right, and search for camlihemsin in order to see how the region is rendered in comparison to Google Terrain, which does not have the trails and tracks in the database).
The guidebook is generally useful as a planning and navigation aid. It provides estimated timings between various locations and gives a sense of what services can be found in towns and villages. Its specific route descriptions should be used as frameworks only as you can often find better options on the ground on your own; don’t take the book too literally. The region does not have way-marks on trails, but there are scattered signs, which provide some on-the-ground assistance in way finding.
Keep in mind that in the lower altitude (in forests), you will mostly be on roads of some sort and at higher altitudes you can more or less walk wherever you want (above timber line). Having a good mountain sense and an ability to read landscapes is always useful. If you are there in the summer, we suspect you will never be very far from other people, either trekkers, shepherds, or people around the yaylas, so it would take some doing to get seriously lost.
We flew into Trabzon from Antalya and took an intercity bus to Pazar and then a dolmus to Camlihemsin. Buses run frequently enough to be useful and reservations are not necessary. Taxis are also found around the larger towns. In the summer, dolmuses apparently serve the higher villages. There are other access points to the mountains from the south that are detailed in the guidebook.
Food and Water:
Water was not an issue: Developed public springs are found in all inhabited places and surface water was available everywhere else.
In the mountains, food was available in Camlihemsin, Cat, and Ayder. Be aware that the shops are small and have a very limited selection of items for sale. We did not carry a stove and ate mostly bread, cheese, nuts, dried fruit, crackers, yogurt, and chocolate. Occasionally we added olives, canned stuffed grape leaves or tuna, and, if we were fortunate, fresh fruit and vegetables. Flexibility is paramount: if you are fussy or have strict dietary requirements, you will probably be unhappy. In restaurants, selections may be limited and menus often don’t exist. The restaurant meals were always at least palatable and were often quite good and we appreciated both the variety and the opportunity to mix with other people.
Camping and Lodging:
We camped every night we were in the region. Campsites were sometimes more difficult to find than expected because we preferred not to camp on snow and snow free areas were often still quite soggy with snow-melt runoff. Although they were still closed for the season and we didn’t use them, we saw pensions in several of the yaylas we passed through. (A yayla is a seasonally occupied mountain village.)
After we finished our loop hike we had a full day before our flight home. Early in the morning we walked up the hill west of Camlihemsin for an hour, found ourselves in a tiny village, and accepted an invitation to tea. While we visited, our host (photo below) wrote a letter. As a way of thanking him for his hospitality, I’d like to pass on his message.
Our world is beautiful.
The beautiful people of the world.
But self-interested agents pawnbroker dictatorial politics.
This is destroying the beautiful people of the brotherhood is disturbing.
Google Translate is not perfect, but the message is clear.
Our conversation was limited by our small overlap in language. Using few words and clear hand gestures he told us:
1. In Turkey, Germany, France, Spain, America, Britain, etc., Muslims (indicated by prayer bowing motion) and Christians (indicated by making a cross with his fingers) eat bread and drink tea together. We are like brothers.
2. Dictators are a big problem. He named Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, Saddam Hussein.
Here is a photo of our host and his wife, a photo of his village, and a photo showing the view from his house.