Sleeping in the clouds

The near 4000-meter high peaks of Niğde's Aladağlar Mountains offer visitors the thrill of a lifetime.

When I stop to think about it, a thrill goes through me as I realize that I have embarked on the most important mission in my life.  I think, too, about how the bags that have come 90 kilometers piled randomly on the top of the minibus were handed down, one by one, all amidst great merriment. Some fifty novice mountain climbers are standing at the side of the asphalt road that ends at Demirkazık, the last village before the mountain. And I’m one of them. Things we’d contented ourselves with only hearing about until today are upon us now in all their reality. And the sharp wind and hot sun mean that these city kids, who’ve never been up this high before, are going to be in for an even bigger surprise as the altitude increases. A bit of dizziness, perhaps some slight nausea. But if we sleep up here one night, it’ll all pass. Or so we’ve heard…
We are waiting for the tractors, ‘mountain trains’ to us, which we’ve been told have set out from the village. Facing us is a very long and high mass that reveals, merely by the black spots that appear here and there on its sheer north walls, that it is actually made of rock. The highest peak (Demirkazık, 3756m), which we have heard reveals itself only rarely in the winter months, crowns the northern region, hidden behind a storm-woven veil, exactly as we’ve been told it would. Alaca (3588m) and Kaldı (3736 m), the stellar peaks of the southern region where we are headed, gleam brightly with the masses of unsullied snow on their sunlit southern slopes. These details remain indelible in my mind despite the passage of close to ten years and dozens of climbs made here and in other regions of Turkey. The Yıldız Technical University Mountaineering Club is about to set up its winter training camp. The air is cold, the sun is shining brightly and the village is high. As for us, we have just seen the first real mountain of our lives, and fear mingles with awe... Opposite us is the Aladağlar Range.

A world famous national park hundreds of square kilometers in area, stretching from Niğde to Kayseri and all the way to Adana in the other direction;  a ‘climbing garden’, an important plant area (IPA) and a bird watching area to boot. Although Kayseri Airport may be preferable for reaching the mountain, we must emphasize that the climbs start from the center at Niğde.

As far as mountaineers are concerned, the region can be said to be divided basically into four: North, South, Seven Lakes and Torasan. The first three are the frequently visited spots with the most popular summits and sheer walls of rock.

The Aladağlar Mountains are a vast and ecologically sensitive area where everybody can create his own adventure, from experienced mountain climbers who want to organize their own climbs to holidaymakers who want to enjoy their annual leave at the heights amidst endemic species and peace and quiet. An area famous not only for its climbs but also for its long hikes in the adjoining areas, one of the most important of which is the Trans Aladağlar hike that starts from the boundary of Niğde province and ends at Kapuzbaşı Waterfall on the Kayseri province line.

Coming back here after so many years is different, of course. You go to the valleys, the gorges, the summits as if you’re returning to a friend’s home visited often over a lifetime and remembered with affection. Even if fog blankets the valleys, you can still walk, knowing but not seeing where you’re going. The initial fear of hunger and catching cold gives way to ideas of how to organize climbs sans tent and sleeping bag so as to carry less baggage. After the hiking routes that stretch horizontally for hours, planning begins of vertical routes that take you upwards against the force of gravity. Training groups of tens of persons are superseded by climbing groups of two or three loyal friends. Teams of friends who understand each other without speaking, happy to be in pursuit of the same silence, the same cold, the same peak.

The vast landscape over which the range is spread means that you must decide first of all which valley system your route is going to take. Like the hundreds of routes descriptions of which you can find in the guidebooks at Aladağlar, there are also hundreds of routes that have never been tried, either because of technical difficulty or because they are too long. And this is why the area is known with good reason as a ‘climbing garden’.
It is common practice here for the villagers to use their tractors transport the mountaineers to the place where they are going to start their climb. This service eliminates the need for hiking on the long, hot dirt roads in summer or trudging in the harsh wind through deep snow in winter and enables the climbers to conserve their time and energy for the actual ascent. For the villagers it is a source of income, albeit small, outside their normal activities.

When you pack in the same bag all the technical equipment that will enable you to climb safely along with the requisite gear for comfort and keeping warm, we’re talking about a load of at least 25 kilos. In other words, it is recommendable that you rent a mule, or double the time you set aside for reaching the bottom of your route. It’s for this reason that as the years passed and the routes increased in technical difficulty, people went over to smaller, lighter and, inevitably, more expensive gear. To increase speed you might even forego carrying some of these things altogether.   On advanced level technical climbs sleeping bags and tents have started to head the list of things to be left at home because they are heavy and take up a lot of room.

Waving at airplanes, the thrill of experiencing the void, hundreds of kilometers of solitude, a profound silence not felt anywhere else, the quest for inner peace, philosophizing, blackberry picking, a picnic, an annual holiday… These are just a few of the reasons for going to the mountains. Each one an adventure in itself, each one one of the biggest thrills a person can experience in which he can test his own limits. And what about sleeping? Can that be an adventure in its own right? What do you say?

Mountain climbing is a thrill that begins the minute you put down your name and join the club. Something that’s different every time you do it. With new things to see and learn each time as if for the first time. Not just an adventure fraught with danger but a cultural bond that can reduce thousands of kilometers to naught. That enables you to understand those who reach the top and those who don’t. To sleep, shivering, at the summit for the sake of a single photograph...