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A WINTER'S TALE ON MOUNT CACKAR
2001 /MARCH
Mount Kackar attracts large numbers of nature lovers every year from spring onwards. They flock to the high pastures, camping sites and the shores of glacier lakes. Some people take photographs, some go climbing, and some camp in the woods to enjoy the peace and beauty of the unspoilt scenery. Rushing streams add their music to the singing of birds and the rustling trees, and flowers pattern the green meadows.
The summit of Kackar is as busy as the lower slopes. The ascent from the south is the easiest, and every year hundreds of climbers take this route. So long as there is no mist, the view from the summit over the Eastern Black Sea Mountains is unforgettable. The north route to the summit, suited to more experienced climbers, has the added advantage of passing by the yayla (mountain pasture) of Ayder, where the thermal spa is the perfect way to relax after the strenuous climb.
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A WINTER'S TALE ON MOUNT CACKAR
2001 /MARCH

With the coming of autumn the mountain gradually becomes deserted. The hikers return to the cities, and the local people who spend summer on the mountain pastures return to their villages. The sound of music and laughter makes way for the bluster of chill winds. The first frost sprinkles the upper slopes of the mountain white, and then without warning the sky empties its first snow. Within a few days the ground is hidden beneath a thick white quilt. Now the streams flow unseen through tunnels they have bored beneath the deep snow which fills the valleys. The mountain huts in front of which children played just a few weeks before gradually disappear in the drifts.

Mountaineers attracted by the challenge of winter conditions now begin to make plans for climbing Kackar. The ascent to the summit which takes just a few hours in the summer months will take as many days in the snow.

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A WINTER'S TALE ON MOUNT CACKAR
2001 /MARCH
Although Kackar is one of the easiest mountains in Turkey to climb in summer, it is not nearly so hospitable in winter. In the gullies climbers sink up to their waists in snow several metres deep. Even reaching one of the villages at the foot of the mountain to begin the climb may not be easy when the roads are closed.
Avalanches are a constant danger, particularly in the scores of glacier valleys. All the routes carry this risk, whether you approach from Sirakonaklar in the province of Erzurum, Yukari Kavrun Yaylasi in the province of Rize, or Yaylalar in the province of Artvin. The latter two routes to the north and south respectively are the best. Climbers who set out from Yukari Kavrun Yaylasi first set up camp at Okuz Cayiri meadow, from which they ascend to the summit via the large or small glaciers. Negotiating the large glacier requires ice climbing equipment, and both routes have steep gradients.
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A WINTER'S TALE ON MOUNT CACKAR
2001 /MARCH
The route from the village of Yaylalar, on the other hand, is less challenging, and most climbing expeditions take this way, which leads them past Deniz Golu, one of Turkey's highest glacier lakes. In winter, like the streams, the lakes are gradually covered by a blanket of snow.

Mountaineers love being in the mountains, and in winter, particularly if the mountain is Kackar, the pleasure is enhanced by the test of endurance and sense of discovery. When we reached Kackar it had last snowed ten days before, and all potential avalanches had fallen. The road to Yaylalar was still closed, although the bulldozers were at work trying to clear it. We went as far as possible in the minibus which we had rented in Yusufeli, but when we were forced to abandon it, there were still another 35 kilometres to the village.That meant walking up to our waists in snow, and every half kilometre or so we had to cross an avalanche, some small, but others hundreds of metres broad.
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A WINTER'S TALE ON MOUNT CACKAR
2001 /MARCH

The avalanches had damaged trees, telephone and electricity poles. Only towards evening the next day did we make it to the village.

We set out early the next morning and reached Hastaf Yaylasi around noon. The pasture was deep in snow, and huge boulders had disappeared beneath it. Kackar looked completely different from what it had done in summer. Although we were wearing snow shoes, these did not always prevent us from sinking deep into the snow in places. Late in the afternoon a blizzard broke, but before dark we had managed to put up our tent on the plateau of Dilber Duzu. The blizzard, which meanwhile increased in intensity, was perhaps Kackar's way of welcoming its guests! But we were almost there now, the summit just a day's climb away. The following morning we rose early, and in three hours reached Deniz Golu.
From there we descended into the south bowl, where a surprise...

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A WINTER'S TALE ON MOUNT CACKAR
2001 /MARCH

awaited us in the form of a violent and freezing wind off the north glacier. A few hours later, just before night fell, we were on the summit. Hurriedly we found the summit book and signed it, before heading back down again. We had only managed to stay a few minutes on the summit which we had taken days to reach. When we arrived back at the lake, the storm had died away and the sky was ablaze with stars. It was as if Kackar had sent the storm to prevent us invading its privacy, but now that we were leaving, was graciously bidding us farewell with good weather. For a brief time - if unwillingly at first - it had shared the long solitary winter months with us. We retired to our tent and happily sipped hot coffee. Outside a blizzard was raging once more. How many people were lucky enough to experience such disparate emotions simultaneously, we wondered? That was what made climbing Kackar in winter so irresistible.

Yildirim Gungor is a mountaineer.

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