PHOTO / ARTICLE: ERSIN DEMIREL
Beyond The Clouds
The Haldizen river creates Uzungöl, a lake in the heart of Trabzon. Bringing life to the Demirkapı plateau and energizing the azaleas, it collects several tributaries before emptying into the Black Sea.
If you survey a city from a hilltop, you see that nature’s domain, with its green cover, begins right outside the city limits. Scattered clumps of dwellings and vast, unrestrained nature... On one side the cities that are regarded as centers of building, economic growth, progress and, for some, ‘security’; on the other wilderness, where nature rules supreme. But somehow we, who centuries ago lived in harmony in nature’s bosom, have been alienated from nature and from ourselves. These at least were my thoughts as I walked along the road from Uzungöl to Demirkapı (formerly Haldizen). Behind me the towering white peaks; where the white ends, the highland meadows; and in the dense forest cover below them, the village of Şerah with its old wooden houses, and the lake known as Uzungöl, like a blue-green dream.
A RAINBOW OF AZALEAS
It’s been a scant half hour since I passed the sign saying 12 km to Haldizen and 17 to Balıklı Göl. On my right stretches a green valley where walnut, chestnut, spruce, beech and fir trees line an ebullient white-water stream. At every turn a new rivulet joins its fractious waters, creating large and small cascades and merging with the waters of the Haldizen river. We soon get used to the waterfalls, and our journey is transformed into a rainbow of color permeated with the fragrance of azaleas, crocuses, orchids and cowslips.
It’s the azaleas that really bowl me over. White at the start of the road, they begin to change color with the rising elevation, turning first an enviably beautiful purple and, finally, yellow. Their sweet scent is an added boon.
Finally I come to a fork in the road. The road on the left goes over Arpaözü plateau to Anzer (Ballıköy). Two springs join the river at the turnoff. One bursts unexpectedly from a rock. How and whence it originates is a mystery, but its waters are sweet and icy cold. I cross the bridge on the right and continue on my way. The houses in the lower district of Demirkapı plateau have already come into view. We have left the valley now; the dense forest gives way to broad meadows and wild flowers. The wooden highland houses, all built exactly alike, are shrouded in silence, the only sign of life being the smoke curling up softly from their chimneys.
GREEN GREEN EVERYWHERE
I forge on towards the upper district. Opposite me the Demirkapı summit (3376 m) rises in all its splendor. This rugged mountain peak is covered with ice that stubbornly resists the summer heat. Slightly lower down on the right its ‘little brother’, Karakaya (3193 m), is visible. The evening call to prayer is audible as we approach the first houses. Hills covered with verdant meadows stretch in front of us. When a person looks continuously at winter’s white, sometimes he can’t discern the view, and looking at the Black Sea’s green has the same effect. Our eyes start seeing green everywhere. As the sun disappears behind the hills, evening sadness descends over the plateau. And as a gentle wind begins to blow, we pitch our tents and roll up in our cozy sleeping bags. The gurgling of a stream, a sound that hasn’t left us once during our entire Black Sea tour, and to which we are now accustomed, lulls us to sleep as the night advances. The road to Bayburt, which was closed last July due to snow, is open this time. Tracing a series of zigzags, this macadam road is going to take us up to the Yedigöller or Seven Lakes. Nature has scattered glacier lakes in the foothills of Demirkapı, a mountain in the Soğanlı range. Exactly seven of them: Balıklı Göl, Aygır Gölü, Sarıçiçek Gölü, Birömerin Gölü, Karagöl, Çifte Göller and Ikiz Göl. Since snow begins to fall on the plateau already in September, the water level in the lakes rarely recedes. We pause on our hike through the orange poppies, yellow crocuses and purple orchids at the breathtakingly beautiful Balıklı Göl, or ‘Lake with Fish’, on whose limpid waters the Karakaya mass is reflected in black-and-white. This is the only lake among the seven that contains trout.
The elevation makes walking difficult and my breathing has become rapid. We could have given our bodies a break and taken a vehicle as far as the pass. But the desire to touch, smell and scrutinize every detail is overwhelming. Opposite us lies Lake Aygır, covered with Pontic rhododendrons. From this bowl-shaped lake I gaze briefly at the smoking chimneys on the plateau down below. When we leave the road and climb a small rise, Sarıçiçek Gölü (‘Lake Yellow Flower’) emerges before us like a coy flower. Rivulets of melting snow seeping down from the magnificent peak on whose back it rests flow gently into the lake. The placid waters that emerge on the other side join with tiny brooks and rush enthusiastically on to join the Haldizen. Swelling a little more with every kilometer, this rebellious river goes on to form the Uzungölü lake in a broad clearing. Born of the Haldizen, it seeks its bed, taking the name Solaklı River on the other side of the lake, whence it continues on its journey to the Black Sea.
DON’T LEAVE WITHOUT TASTING THE ANZER HONEY
Like the Çakmaz, Ohçer, Ovit, Hoduçur, Kavron, Çaymakçur, Kör Ahmet and many others, Demirkapı pass has been bringing people together for centuries. Who knows how many caravans have negotiated its treacherous trails, how many thousands of peasants have brought the fruit they grew by untold labors through its snowy passes down to the Black Sea markets. But this rugged, 3000-meter-high pass is easily negotiable by vehicle now. When I climbed a rise some ten minutes off the road, a landscape of indistinguishable horizon spread suddenly below my feet. On one side Bayburt and the steppe, part and parcel of the Anatolian plateau; on the other, green valleys and mountains with densely wooded foothills and snow-capped peaks. Again the day did not suffice and it was evening before we could reach the other lakes. As a fog rolling in from the north gently whitewashes the valley below, the sun disappears behind the mountains. It’s time now to return to the plateau where wood-burning stoves burn cozily. I am planning to hike up to Anzer Plateau the next day through its highland districts, Büyük (Large) and Küçük (Small). I wade through the buttercups, following a stream that issues from Lake Birömer. Descending into a valley, I ascend once more, over a hill that has metamorphosed into a flowerbed. In the distance, Soğanlı Valley is lost in the clouds. Crossing over the hill, I arrive at Anzer after a five-hour hike over Dipsiz Göl (‘Bottomless Lake’) and Kürdün Plateau. A walk through meadows carpeted with endless varieties of flowers, and well worth it for the famous Anzer honey I find at the end.
A 99-km long asphalt road connects Trabzon with Uzungöl. And a macadam road runs the 12 kilometers between Uzungöl and the Demirkapı Plateau. A minibus makes regular runs in summer. At Demirkapı, which is just beginning to open up to tourism, you can either pitch a tent or find accommodation in the highland homes. Weather permitting on all seven lakes, you can also hike them in a couple of days. And since you’ve come all this way, you shouldn’t leave without seeing the Sultan Murat and Şekersu highlands as well. Here at Demirkapı you are going to witness nature’s bounty to man and the beauty that stubbornly survives despite his ravaging. And the climate of your heart will be transformed forever by the Black Sea’s spellbinding colors, the rush of the rivers and the unforgettable landscapes of the valleys.