Mount Ağrı

Turkey’s legendary Mount Ağrı is celebrating the 180th anniversary of its first climb on 9 October.

On 9 October this year the first ascent of Mount Ağrı, the highest mountain in Turkey, is going to be celebrated in the nearby town of Doğubayazıt. This first climb, which occupies a very important place in the history of mountain climbing in Turkey, was carried out by the Estonian traveler and professor of physics, Johann Jakob Freidrich Wilhelm Parrot, together with three of his students as well as Khachatur Abovian, who would later become a famous poet. The 9th of October 1829 when the five-man team reached the summit is regarded as the beginning of mountain climbing in both Turkey and Estonia. To mark that date, a large-scale celebration is therefore going to be held this year with contributions from both countries.

Prior to the 180th year commemorative climb to be made by Turkish and Estonian mountain climbers, an exhibition in Turkish, Estonian and English chronicling Professor Parrot’s remarkable, multi-faceted life and the climb he made on Mount Ağrı will open at the İshak Pasha Palace in Doğubayazıt on 4 October. Professor Parrot’s climb was not only a manifestation of his passion for mountaineering but at the same time was aimed at searching for Noah’s ark. And ever since that day, the mountain has continued to attract both mountain climbers and seekers after the ark.

Mount Ağrı also appears in Marco Polo’s accounts of his travels, where it is in fact described as a mountain that can never be scaled. A dormant volcano, Mount Ağrı at 5137 meters is an ideal mountain for climbers making their first high-altitude climb. Since a summer climb poses no technical difficulties whatsoever, Mount Ağrı is a mountain visited every year by large numbers of Turkish and foreign hikers and mountain climbers who return home having experienced the thrill and the pleasure of making the highest climb of their lives.

Winter climbs however are a different story since severe seasonal weather conditions and the crossing of a glacier at 5000 meters have to be taken seriously and require good preparation. The first winter climb on Mount Ağrı was made on 21 February 1970 by Dr. Bozkurt Ergör. Since then, tens of thousands of Turkish and foreign mountaineers have succeeded in scaling Mount Ağrı via different routes both summer and winter. While winter climbs are suitable only for experienced, well-trained and well-equipped climbers, summer climbs usually consist of nothing more than a rigorous hike in the cold.

A majestic volcanic mass rising abruptly in the middle of a flat plain, Mount Ağrı dominates its surroundings. And a pervasive worldwide belief that Noah’s ark rests on it distinguishes it from all other mountains in the world, rendering it even more special than many higher peaks. For mountain climbers as well as Christians, it is therefore more than just a mountain or just a climb. In many countries around the world there are hundreds of societies and associations either religious or scientific in nature that have been founded to hunt for Noah’s ark, which all of them are convinced is going to turn up one day on this mountain and thus bring to light the mystery of one of the most important phenomena in the history of the world. It would not be wrong to say that there are hundreds of thousands of people who want to climb Mount Ağrı or visit this mountain whose name is mentioned in the holy books. Mount Ağrı therefore possesses a very significant tourism potential for Turkey and the region. Unfortunately however this potential cannot be said to have been effectively exploited up to now, but I believe that in the years ahead we are going to close the gap. I should hasten to add that the Mount Ağrı and Noah’s Ark symposiums that have been being held since 2005 are an important effort in this regard.

The most popular route for climbing Mount Ağrı is the safer and easier one on the southern face of the mountain from the Doğubayazıt side. There are also other routes for approaching the mountain. But whichever route you choose, climbing Mount Ağrı requires the permission of the Turkish government. For Turkish mountain climbers securing this permission is quite easy; for foreigners it is more difficult and a certain degree of time-consuming bureaucracy is involved. To my mind, this is a process that needs to be facilitated and streamlined for foreign climbers. A large number of foreigners who want to visit Turkey and Mount Ağrı are unnecessarily deterred by the plethora of bureaucratic details.

To climb Mount Ağrı via its southern face, the easiest and safest ascent to the summit, you first make a brief journey of two hours by car from your hotel in Doğubayazıt to the village  of Eli at 2400 meters. Heavy loads meanwhile can be transported on horseback to the first camp at 3300 meters and from there to the second camp at 4200 meters. This offers everyone the possibility of a comfortable climb and means that you can continue your climb carrying only enough provisions for that day. Including a one-day acclimatization climb and a rest, Mount Ağrı can be climbed in a total of five or six days.

The place where an amateur mountaineer climbing Mount Ağrı is going to get closest to the experience of a professional climber is at the passage to the summit where crampons must be worn starting from 4950 meters and during the steep climb from there on up to the top. The final steps to the summit give the climber the feeling that he is scaling a very steep, cold, white void lashed by harsh winds. Completing this last stage of the climb is truly a moment of victory. Those last meters of effort will be remembered over and over again for years, conjuring up a sense of pride every time.

If you have the self-confidence to climb Mount  Ağrı and desire to do so, you should give yourself this opportunity one summer when you are ready. There are many tour groups going to Mount Ağrı, and if you search on the internet you can find one suitable for you and plan all the details and preparations for your climb in conjunction with them. It is up to you to undertake a good training program before your climb and to prepare yourself both physically and psychologically for Mount Ağrı’s stony, snowy and icy trails. Decisions regarding the safety and flow of the climb will be made by guides experienced in such matters, who can also advise you about what equipment is needed. I want you to know that many people with only limited climbing experience but with good discipline and in good physical condition have succeeded in climbing Mount Ağrı under suitable weather conditions.

As I see it, many people who exercise regularly, have self-confidence and want to test their own limits can have one of the greatest adventures in their lives and reach one of their own highest summits on Mount Ağrı Professional mountain climbers and well-prepared mountain hikers have been climbing Mount Ağrı for 180 years. Why not be one of them?