Last September we went on a beach holiday to the Turkish village of Çirali. Before going I’d had a quick Google to see if I could get into the nearby mountains easily and Mt Tahtali (Tahtal? Dag or Mt Olympos) seemed the best option. Found in the Bey Mountains in the western branch of the Taurus (Toros) Mountains, it rises to 2366m from the coast 9km away and rather handily, a new cable car had opened up in 2007 allowing access to the top. For several days I’d been able to see the mountain from the beach and it had to be conquered!

So, armed with a Google Map printout and some info I’d found on the internet about climbing the mountain, I set about planning to get to the top somehow and running down. Initially I had wanted to climb the mountain and run back down but that looked like a bit of a mission involving overnight stays in mountain villages and maybe hiring a guide and I only really had one day. So, the final plan was to ascend by cable car and run back to the hotel.

I set off at 7am on a fine sunny day with just my running sac and some food and water. Footwear was new Merrell Moab Ventilators, bought pre-holiday to replace my old trail shoes which had fallen apart. I planned to use my Nokia E71 with integrated GPS to track my route down but other than that I would be navigating down the mountain using a compass, my Google Map satellite image and any advice I could get from locals along the way.

So, to get to the cable car I hitched out of Çirali, trouble was, there was very little traffic going out, just 3 cars in 1 hour. Apparently it was a national holiday! The fourth car stopped to pick me up – a dope-smoking hostel owner off to pick up clients from Kemer. This was great because the cable car access road left the main road en route to Kemer and he dropped me there after a high-speed transfer.

As I started walking up the access road it was getting hot already and I wondered how long it would take to walk the 7km to the station. A few cars went by and finally one stopped for me. This guy was a Swiss engineer and he’d been on the team who built the cable car, he was on duty today at the station. He gave me a few tips about getting down off the top by foot – although not many people ever did it in his opinion. I got to the station by 08.40 and the first car I was told was at 9am. Actually this one was just to get staff up to the café at the top but they let me on anyway.

Amazingly, at 4.35 km this turns out to be the world’s second longest cable car route, beaten only by the newly opened Ba Na Mountain cable car near Da Nang, Vietnam at 5 km. [Note to geeks: the Merida cable car in Venezuela covers 12km but in 4 stages and is apparently now closed.]

The ascent was steady and as the view opened up and we got higher the size of the mountain became apparent. Mt Tahtali is one hee-uge mass of limestone, covered in pines on the lower slopes giving way to bare rock. As we neared the top swirls of cloud had already started appearing and I was a bit dismayed as I’d hoped to be able to see my way down from the top. When I’d left the beach that morning in bright sunshine I hadn’t banked on navigating down in thick cloud.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfNcv71OlNU]
This video shows the view from the roof of the top station, starting looking south, then west through north, then to the terrace.

I had a look round the multi-storey building on top, complete with restaurants, shops and viewing galleries and then headed back to the terrace café for some breakfast.Breakfast The waiter was interested in my plan and had some advice on getting down – basically, it was easy, just follow the path (ha ha). I was the only customer and was just tucking in to my breakfast of coffee, orange juice, cheese sandwich and chips as the first public cable car arrived full of noisy Russians. No doubt, none of them was entertaining the idea of running off the mountain and I was feeling slightly smug as I tightened my straps and headed off down the obvious track.

The path initially headed north-west, totally the wrong way, but a few people had mentioned to avoid a large cirque beneath the summit and I presumed this path was going to loop round and start heading down to the south-east. I carried on and the wide path quickly narrowed to something more like a sheep track. I was having to concentrate on the sharp rocky terrain whilst trying hard not to miss the small cairns marking the way down. Within 10 minutes I was already a long way down.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzugn4NXOdM]
I continued to run down, following a path but not sure if I was going the right way. The direction was still westwards and the cloud was coming in.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fRsNCe4UPs]
I had a good run around this path until it did indeed loop around and started heading steeply downhill to what looked like a summer pasture area. All this sounded about right and there was a path to follow so all good. There wasn’t much vegetation except for some cushion plants, giant thistles and this beautifully delicate Sternbergia colchiciflora. At the pasture plateau the path disappeared and in the treeline I could see no obvious way down. Hmmm, bit of dashing about in the trees and I found a vague path which took me to the edge of a precipice … not good. I managed to find a way down via a rocky gully but it didn’t feel very safe, at times I was rock-climbing!

Eventually I came out onto a large boulder scree and after skirting round the edge of this, and passing some very impressive erosion features, I came out at a clearing with a temporary shelter and path markers! OK, so I hadn’t come down via the path but I had managed to intercept it again! Here I found some apple trees and though the fruit were very sour I felt refreshed after munching a few.

After a bit of a breather I set off again and a steep open rocky section led onto a better forest track. I should say that all the way down from the top I had seen not one other soul. Here in the forest I suddenly longed for the open space of the mountain again but I still had a long way to go. For the first time I saw some signage too … marking the Lycian Way (Likya Yolu), a 500km long distance path from Fethiye to Antalya.

Soon I came back into civilisation … farmed areas and houses and realised this was the village of Beycik. This is a pretty, chaotic place with some newer holiday places in prominent locations to take advantage of the amazing views. The tarmac road descended steeply and soon I was heading for the main road below (D400). Feeling a bit knackered now and as luck would have it an old guy on a moped pulled over and beckoned me on to the back! Now, I don’t usually take unsolicited lifts from strangers but something about this guy said that this was a 100% genuine act of kindness and I hopped on! He dropped me, without a word, 3 km down the road at the intersection with the D400.

The next section was the low point of the day I guess. A 2 km plod along busy main road, stormy rain and sore legs. Once off the main road I headed down to the village of Ulup?nar – a collection of restaurants centred around a huge trout farming operation. In several places you can eat at tables placed in the river! Unsure now of the way I asked a few of the waiters. Now, bearing in mind most Turkish folk speak very good English, the bemused looks I got were confusing. It seemed that, with thunder rattling overhead, I must have been crazy to consider getting back to Çirali by foot … in fact, they were reluctant to tell me the way!

I followed the various hand-wavings and was soon off the beaten track again. The path followed the river down and branched to the left to traverse the hills behind Çirali – follow the river down all the way and it would take you into the village at the southern end, where the road comes in. Climbing the last hill I got some atmospheric views of where I’d been, the thunder storm had passed thankfully (they can be pretty fierce in this area) and I was soon overlooking the village.

The last leg took me down past the famous Yanarta? – mythical home of the Chimera. Here there are methane vents in the rock which are said to spontaneously ignite but I reckon a person is employed to keep them lit. How could they spontaneously ignite? I managed to blow one out! Susie and I had already been here at night so I didn’t hang around, just took the last opportunity for a good downhill run to the road at the bottom and the plod back to the hotel for a well-deserved beer.

Total distance traveled: 37 miles (59.5 km)
Total run: 17.3 miles (27.8 km) in 5h45m

Quick tech note … Nokia E71 with GPS using SportsTracker gave a slightly odd track when imported into Google Maps via KML … see screenshot below.

link to route on Google Map

With all the ‘jags’ the Nokia track length would be greater than actual track. Distances above from Google Map based on re-digitised (more realistic) track.

We stayed in the idyllic Hotel Bellerophon, yards from the beach at the quiet end of town. The beach is host to loggerhead turtles and the Olympos ruins – well worth a visit. Çirali is a 2 hour drive from Antalya airport along spectacular coastal road.

Originally written for mjhughes.co.uk