Ilgaz

Even if you like it, snow in the city wears a person out. And if it catches the city unawares, it can mean some pretty tense and annoying days. Dense snowfall in a virgin, unspoiled natural environment in contrast, white as far as the eye can see, is not an ordeal but a pleasure. And Ilgaz, with its natural beauty and texture, can afford you that pleasure.

The snow hasn't let up since we left Istanbul. We've gotten off the expressway and are following the road up to Samsun. A childlike joy fills my heart when I see the hills carpeted in white. The snow is even thicker on the ground when I get to the Çankırı-Kastamonu junction. Mt. Ilgaz is again a 'smoky mountain'. The sun peeks out every now and then from among the clouds; the freshly fallen snow covers the forest like a blanket. Passing the Highway Department's Maintenance Station at the summit, I follow the sign for 'Mt Ilgaz National Park' and have no trouble getting to the ski center.

900 METERS OF SKI RUNS
My first day at the Ilgaz Ski Center starts with a hearty breakfast at a table facing Kazançal Hill. After breakfast I dress warmly and set out on a reconnaissance mission. Snow plows are trying to clear the road. Proceeding along the 2 km-long road that links the main road to the ski center, I turn off into the forest. The telesiege is already in operation and I ascend Karakeçilik Hill while getting a bird's-eye view of Ilgaz's northern slopes. There is a ski run 900 meters long on the line served by this 820-meter-long telesiege. The teleski run immediately to the west of this slope is 1500 meters. As the ski instructors tell me, these pistes, which are very close to world standards, have a normal gradient and are quite suitable for little slalom races.
Activity on the pistes picks up as the day progresses. Kids sledding or learning to ski in the company of instructors, professional skiers, and those just out for a walk or to enjoy the view add color to the scene. On my first day at Ilgaz I encounter crowds. People from Kastamonu, Ankara and the neighboring provinces flock to Ilgaz on weekends, returning home on Sunday evening. The day ends early at Ilgaz, and the indefatigable skiers and hikers return to their hotels as the sun disappears behind Kazançal Hill. After dinner, the Ilgaz hotels offer entertainment including live music and brief strolls by torchlight, making the nights a little longer and more lively.

HORSE-DRAWN SLEIGH TOURS
It's my second day and I set out on a walk around Kazançal Hill. The sky is clear and sunny today, but how it will be by evening is anybody's guess. Getting in my car, I get back on the highway and turn right at the Highway Maintenance Station. I plan to hike up into the foothills of Kazançal Hill where the radar station is located. Along the road I encounter young people out for walks and couples on morning jaunts by horse-drawn sleigh, a very enjoyable way of touring the environs. Unable to make much progress on the steep road up to Karakeçilik Hill, I attach chains to my tires. My car takes the slope easily after that and I complete the rest of the drive without mishap. The highway ends at the radar station. After finding a convenient parking place, I start my climb into the foothills. The snow is more than knee-high and I return after a brief reconnaissance.

A CONFRONTATION WITH NATURE
It's time now for a glass of refreshing tea... I steep my tea in no time at all with the little heater in the trunk of my car; the sun is staining the clouds red before disappearing for the night. Feeling a trifle uneasy in the solitude despite the beauty of surroundings, I nevertheless sip my tea with great pleasure; the heart-rending melodies coming over the car radio only augment my feelings of loneliness, and even though I'm sure I'll make it back to my hotel without any trouble, I feel lost. Not only amateur hikers but even intrepid mountain-climbers who scale the heights in heavy snowstorms have lost their way here and waited hours, even days, for rescue teams to arrive. I've heard these stories from ski instructors countless times. A blanket of fog descends on Ilgaz at dusk. Black clouds gather overhead; snow starts falling even before I get back to the main road. When I turn off to the ski center, my car's engine sputters a couple times and dies. I'm alone on the road; I try to start the car again to no avail. Leaving it on the road, I trudge back to the hotel in heavy snowfall, arriving late in the night. The hotel officials greet me with curious glances. What to them is just an everyday occurrence is turning into a big adventure for  me.

DAY TOURS TO THE VILLAGE
Winter begins in December and ends in April on Ilgaz. One reason for coming here is that it is so readily accessible. Besides private transport, the commercial bus companies that operate between Ankara and Kastamonu pass quite near the Ilgaz Ski Resort, which is just 450 km from Istanbul and 720 km from Izmir. If you come in your own car, take the Gerede exit in the direction of Samsun. The ski center is only 27 km from the Çankırı-Kastamonu junction. Another note in point: Independence Trail, a trekking and bicycle trail that starts from İnönü, and a project to which provincial governor Mustafa Kara made a major contribution, also extends as far as Ilgaz.
Day walking trips to the local villages offer an attractive alternative to winter sports at Ilgaz National Park. Hiking through the forest in the snow alongside rushing mountain streams in these corners where traditional life still survives can be invigorating for body as well as soul.
To tell the truth, it's hard to tear yourself away from Ilgaz, where peace, purity and the snow's dazzling white seem to come together in harmony. As I was heading back to my city, I started to make plans to return. Perhaps next time I would discover places I still didn't know or hadn't seen on this great mountain, my tracks mingling once again with those of the birds and the wolves. And once more I would enjoy the pleasure of sharing nature with wild creatures.