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Article: AKSEL AĞAN Photo: ELİF AYTEKİN
Life on the edge
Eight young people from the Trekist Nature Activities Group were the first to negotiate Valla Canyon, the world’s fourth most difficult, in five days entirely through the water.
We started our preparations long before the departure date. Two boats, technical equipment, first aid kit, provisions and cooking stuff made up the list of things to be used in common. Everyone also carried a helmet, a life jacket, knee pads, two pairs of non-skid jogging shoes and special underwear. On 28 July we set out at last.
We reached Pınarbaşı towards evening the next day. We provided the gendarmes with the requisite information and filled out the forms. We also signed statements acknowledging full responsibility for any accidents that might befall us. They in turn pledged that if there was no news of us by Sunday they’d launch a search operation. It was slowly starting to sink in just how serious this business was.
Passing through Şenpazar, Azdavay, and Pınarbaşı we arrive at the entrance to Küre Mountains National Park. From here it’s not far to the mouth of the Kanlıçay (Bloody Stream). It’s 11:30 at night. Time to light a fire and fill our stomachs. We’re going to spend the night here and make our entrance into the canyon in the morning.
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
We inflate our boats at the point where the canyon begins and slip into the water between colossal walls of rock. Elevation 330 meters. Our initial plunge into the water puts everybody in high spirits. The weather is still warm and the cold dip feels good on our sweltering bodies. Yelling and shouting, we horse around in the water as we swim to Seyirtepe, taking turns carrying our pack. Here, at the confluence of the Devrekani and the Kanlıçay, is where the canyon really begins. Seyirtepe, scene of the mishaps and deaths that have given this canyon its notorious reputation, towers 400 meters above us. Just gazing up at its height scares the liver out of a person. Think how it would be to look down from the top!
“WALK, SWIM, WALK, SWIM”
Our first three days in the canyon are fun, not too strenuous. Boats in hand, bags on back, we hike in turns through thorny thickets and over rocks at the foot of the precipice. Due to the frequent waterfalls we’re constantly having to shift things around: boats in water, pack in boat, us in water, walk, swim, walk, swim… And every now and then, when the rocks are impassable, we let ourselves down into the water on a 15-35 meter length of rope. We’ve got a long way to go. We try to conserve our strength by breaking at convenient spots to munch raisins, almonds, hazelnuts and apricots. Our perch sometimes no more than a tiny outcropping in the water.
What day is it? All we know is that it’s our third in the canyon. We neither remember what day of the week it is, nor have we any recollection of cell phones, bills to be paid, exhaust fumes or the work piling up on our desks. Here there are no traffic cops, no jobs to be late for, no power outages, no identity issues. We’re in another world here. Wondering about the obstacles we’ll have to overcome tomorrow. Our concerns are different. And once again we realize that everything different builds character and every new life experience is a gain!
THE MOST DIFFICULT POINT IN THE CANYON
At the end of the third day we come to the ‘Exit Gültepe’ sign. From here on it’s the unknown. This is the stretch known only as ‘the covered over part’, the part that nobody so far has ever negotiated from below. Through the water, that is. The most difficult stretch of the canyon. Down below, a large rock is wedged between the two walls. The water flows under it, forming a 5-6 meter high waterfall a little ways behind the rock and then rushing on. Ahead, in the direction we are headed, rocks again join the walls of the canyon and completely cover the water, splitting the current in two. We know that others who came here before us entered the forest from the ‘Exit Gültepe’ sign and, following the path on the left, lowered themselves into the water with ropes. We too have secured our ropes at the top and are lowering ourselves onto the rock in the middle.
We let the boats down into the water. So strong is the current that we have trouble holding onto them from above despite the ropes attached front and back. Here’s where team work comes into play again. There are eight of us, but we’re all working together on a single task. We’re going to waste a lot of time here. We’re all focused on the job at hand. Not even the slightest lapse can be tolerated at an altitude of 245 meters.
NIGHT IN A HOLLOWED OUT TREE
After lowering our bags into the boats, we let ourselves down into the water. The current soon subsides and it’s okay to swim. We forge ahead through ‘the covered over part’. It’s like being in a cave. The path curves to the right and ends about 200 meters further on at a hollow in a tree trunk that forms a bridge.
Yes, you heard correctly. A hollowed out tree! We’re exhausted. If we go on, we don’t know how far we’ll have to go before we find another suitable place to stop. We have no choice but to spend the night here. By our estimates, the hollow is about 6-7 meters square. In other words, one square meter per person, and inside it’s pitch black…
At 5:40 the next morning we’re all up. Not one of us has slept a wink. Skipping breakfast, we make a hasty exit. But this also means the end of the covered over part of the canyon. We’re out in the open now.
Slowly the landscape changes. There's more space now between the walls, which are not as high as before. Fewer waterfalls too. When we spot the springs on our left we know that we're almost at the end of our trek and not far from the village. We trudge on, up hill and down dale, never stopping for a minute. We're determined to get through this canyon today. And here they are, the first ones... The first human footprint, the first cow pie, a wooden bridge... Hooray! We did it!
The measurements we've been taking ever since the Kanlıçay entrance indicate a total drop of 170 meters.
So, it was no joke. Not at all. But we managed to enjoy a dangerous adventure as if it were child's play. And there are so many more details there isn't room to include here. But the gist of it all is that eight young brave-hearts left that magnificent canyon united in heart and soul.