It was a beautiful summer Saturday afternoon in June, our canoe was cruising down the river Orlice when it suddenly happened. We reached the boat of Dušan and Lenka:

“Pete! So, are you going climbing with Thomas and Jack in Turkey?”

Oh Jesus! With those maniacs, who had been travelling in the Andes, Patagonia, perhaps the Himalayas and God knows where else.

“I’m gonna consider it,” I replied to Lenka uncertainly.

At first it didn’t sound bad as a suggestion for a holiday. But the Kackar mountain is at a height of almost 4000m above sea level and many passes are over 3500. I had hardly any rain-proof clothes, it can freeze there during the night and the main thing is I’d be the weakest member of expedition for sure. Until that time during all the remotely similar (in other words three) treks I had taken part in, there’d always been at least one member of the gentle sex – practically a guarantee that somebody would be weaker than me. I’m sure you know how it is, everyone waits for you at the top of the peak for half an hour, you clamber to them with your last bit of energy and then they put their bags on and tell you, well-rested:

“Finally, let’s carry on!”

Additionally some time had passed since I had last been in the mountains and since then lot of things had changed. Besides having gained two years, I’d also gained pretty much ten kilos of mostly belly musculature and in addition my previous sporting activity had strangely decreased.

“Thomas wouldn’t have suggested it to you, if he thought you couldn’t manage it,” my bowman Iva joined in.

Sure enough! He just needs somebody who’s weaker than he is, I doubted it.

I made use of the presence of Thomas and Jack (previously mentioned) on our watermen’s expedition and started to talk about it to them.

“It will be easy,” Tom assured me, “We’ll walk every day till 5 p.m. at most and then camp, because after five it always rains there.”

“And are there going to be any girls with us?” I asked innocently.

“They wouldn’t stand it…”

Hum, that’s seductive. I decided. I’ll go.

The Kaçkar Mountains (Turkish: Kaçkar Daglari), a part of the Pontic Mountains also called rather romantically the Lesser Caucasus, lie in the North-east of Turkey, not far from Georgia, along the Black Sea coast, so these mountains are atypically green for Turkey. In areas of altitude up to 1600-1800m, there are even well-know tea plantations. Up to about 2000m above sea level you can find mixed and coniferous forests. The range by itself is almost 4000-meters-high (the highest peak Kackar, 3937m – is often presented as the fifth highest mountain of Turkey). You can find trees up to the altitude of 2300m, which are followed by unbelievably coloured meadows with rhododendron bushes (despite the high elevation it is relatively warm and has a sufficient rainfall from trapped Black Sea clouds that can’t go further south over the mountains). As you get higher, you can see only sloping stone fields with occasional glaciers on their northern sides and clouds…

It is possible to reach the Kackar mountain on foot only from the middle of July to the middle of August. The next limitating factor for us besides the weather was Tom’s boss who decides about his holiday, so the time and date was quite certain, namely from Thursday 30th July until Sunday 9th August.

On Thursday we had a meeting at 5 o’clock p.m. at Ruzyne airport, so I had to pack all my things by quarter to five. My co-travellers had recommended the maximum baggage weight of 18 kilos to me; otherwise there would have been something strange, so I had better reweigh my backpack by the simple method of calculating the difference between traveller weight with his backpack and traveller weight without his backpack. The first three digit value scared me a little bit, the second one too. At least I would be more stable in mountain wind gusts. The backpack was something more than 23 kilos, so I decided to put the rest of the food in the hand luggage.

I easily found Tom and Jack (the second Jack didn’t go) in the departure lounge by the luggage wrapper. After check-in we drank a toast to the success of our expedition, we had a pils naturally (Turkey is a Muslim country, so we couldn´t count on too much beer drinking, and we were right). It´s interesting, the price of beer was identical in both airports, Prague and Istanbul – something more than 140 crowns (5,50 €). It crossed my mind that there is an advantage after all to getting older and earning money rather than being a younger but poor little student.

After the next toast to success in the transit lounge and the final security control we finally boarded the plane. I started to enjoy it like a little boy, because I hadn´t sat on a plane for five years for sure. We flew with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul to Trabzon on the Black Sea coast. The medium sized Boeing 737 on the flight Prague – Istanbul was new and half-empty; we could choose a window-seat without problems. After 8 p.m., with twenty minutes delay, we took off. The service was great. After dinner we tried a Turkish pils, Efes, with pleasure. Who knows when the next occasion would be…

On the way to Istanbul we caught up on our delay and got there at 22:00 local time (an hour shift). We moved to the domestic flights terminal and after a requisite Efes got onto the next plane. That time the again medium sized plane (but Airbus 320) was totally crowded. The plane took off at midnight, in that case with thirty minutes delay.

The flight took two hours and was calm. Anyway I suppose it was because I had gone to sleep. I just remember I was pretty fed up when the plane landed on the Trabzon runway, because it woke me up and I´d been sleeping so weeell…

After picking up the luggage and pulling it outside through crowds in front of the airport we came to the coastal highway with a bus stop. Before we managed to figure out how to get to the bus terminal, a man with a station wagon attached himself to us and offered to take us there. It was a few kilometres. After I paid twenty lira to the unsatisfied driver (one Turkish lira was twelve Czech crowns at that time), Thomas told me off, the usual price was only ten liras. At the “otogar” (bus terminal in Turkish – sounds French, doesn´t it?) we bought tickets to Pazar for 45 lira/person, from there we wanted to go on by dolmus (minibus). Tom left us to buy a beer. He really got it, but packed in newspaper. When our bus came at 2:30, they didn´t allow Tom to take the beer with him.

The modern coach went pretty fast on the coastal highway and at 4:00 we were already in Pazar. Beside us seven Israeli boys got off, they were also travelling to Kackar and had even been on the same plane to Trabzon, as well. We had to catch a dolmus to the mountain-town Ayder, which was fine… but at night? The coach left and there was nobody there, only a muezzin’s voice from the mosque amplifier close-by. But the Israelis had everything under the control. Suddenly a blinking police car appeared and one of the Israelis immediately started to talk brightly with the policemen. I didn´t know whether the police car was covered with a slogan like “help and protect” (usual in Czechia), but the policemen acted like that anyway, because in less than ten minutes a minibus came and took us to the mountains.

Before 7 a.m. we reached the mountain-town Ayder, where the paved road ended. Each of us paid 13 lira and the driver was very happy, he had a full minibus on the way there. He said good bye to each of us by handshake. Despite the daylight the town was still empty. Our first task was to get petrol for our fuel stove, the next step was to catch a dolmus at 9:00 to the mountain village Yukari Kavron, from which we would finally go on foot.

It became a big adventure to get petrol; everyone told us, it´s impossible to get it in Ayder, but they couldn´t persuade us out of it and in the end we got it. (For interested people: in Cafeteria Yilimaz, in the upper part of the town.) We needed petrol for cooking. We rejected the gas stove because of the impossibility to take gas cartouches onto a plane. So we were really surprised, when we saw our Israeli fellow travellers taking a gas stove with cartouches out of their bags. I asked them how they were able to smuggle it on the plane and they answered they had been informed by Turkish Airlines that it would be no problem…

After a Turkish breakfast (bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, goat cheese, butter, delicious olives, honey and tea) in a pension, strategically placed by the first stop of the dolmus to Yukari Kavron, we sat in the minibus and set out after a while. It was just 9 o´clock and the mountain town slowly started to wake up and live. There were plenty of pensions and surprisingly enough Turkish tourists. The driver, one hand with a mobile to his ear, phoned somebody all the time and tooted at every pension to be sure that nobody wanted to go with us. At the end of the town the capacity of the dolmus was absolutely full. We waved from the window to the Israelis, who had decided not to go on that day because of the following day´s Sabbath, and they had to prepare food etc., because the Sabbath is a day of rest with the prohibition of physical effort. The minibus left the town together with the paved road behind.

It´s unbelievable just where it is possible to go by minibus. A dust road winded at a gradient of about 30m above the river and every once in a while the road was covered by the stream of a steep sided valley. Tom fell asleep immediately without problem, although his head rhythmically drummed on the car window because of chuckholes and serpentines. We reached Yukari Kavron at ten o´clock – for ten lira each, just the other Turkish passengers paid just 7,50-. They had charged us more probably because of our bags on the roof, I calmed myself down.

Yukari Kavron (c. 2200m above sea level) is the last village with buffets and pensions. The owner of one of them invited us into his cottage and gave us tea free. We capitalized on this and changed into our walking gear. The weather wasn’t too good – foggy and it looked like it would soon rain. We planned to camp at the end of the valley stream which flowed to Yukar Kavron from Lake Derebasi and according to the descriptions on the internet should have been 6-7 hours journey. It took us about 4 hours, no doubt because of the two maniacs, Jack and Thomas, at the front, but I do think that even for normal people it would take no more than 5 hours – the description on the internet was a bit of an exaggeration. It rained a little and was foggy on the journey. Otherwise orientation was easy, as we more or less kept to the mountain stream.

When we reached the mountain lake at two o’clock in the afternoon, it was still quite foggy and it wasn’t possible to see the other bank of the stream, so to be sure we went around the river to see whether there was a better place for our tent than the one we found at the beginning – but there wasn’t. For a moment, the fog cleared and in that instant we were able to see the mountain lake. Then we managed to catch up with a little bit of sleep before dinner – something we hadn’t been able to do in the night. At five o’clock we ate dinner. In the evening the horizon cleared again for a moment, but this time it was possible to catch a glimpse of the majestic mountain Kackar above the lake. I also noticed that the meadowy undergrowth didn’t continue above the lake, but instead a stone field began. There followed an obligatory evening social pot of grog and then I went to sleep, as I didn’t feel all that well.

I hope I don’t have vertigo, I thought to myself. It would be very rare at 2800 metres. What will be, will be – unfortunately it lasted another three days. My head spun mainly in the evening, and during the night when I wanted to turn onto my other side, it was as though I had just climbed the stairs to the eleventh floor. What a good start…

Originally written for http://www.tichota.cz/kackar