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Ski touring in the Turkish Tauros - The Ala Dag

Map of the Ala Dag rangeAfter our first very satisfying experiences with ski touring in Turkey in the Ak Dag region, I decided that it was about time to discover the Turkish mountains more thoroughly. Scrolling through the internet we came across a few descriptions of organized ski trip to the Aladag (also Aladaglar or Ala Dag range not far from Kayseri. Most parties combine skiing in this range with a trip to the Erciyes or the Hasan Dag. Joris and I decided to stay just with the Ala Daglar.

Day 1 - Getting there is not very complicated. We booked our flight with Turkish Airlines respectively from Munich and Amsterdam. Including a stopover of a few hours in Istanbul we flew to Kayseri in about 7 hours. Another possibility would be to fly to Adana. When we arrived in Kayseri at 20h we still had time to go the bus station (‘Otogar’) and catch the 22h night bus to Adana which stops Nigde. The bus station of Nigde was quite desolate at the time we arrived, but fortunately some local young men helped us to find a cheap hotel at a 15 minutes walking distance from the Otogar.

Day 2 - I don’t know how many busses go from Nigde to Camardi, but arriving at the otogar at 7.30 in the morning, we probably just missed the only bus that morning. Having a delicious breakfast in the Turkish spring sun it didn’t matter waiting for a few hours, although…the snow covered mountains west of Nigde in a certain sense made hungry for more than just a bagel…
The bus drives from Nigde to Çamardi. This ride is surprisingly beautiful: the first half hour the view is dominated by the Erciyes and after turning off the main road a spectacular mountain scenery unfolds in front of your eyes. This was our first visible contact with the Ala Dag range. You have to get off the bus in Çukurbag. At the turnoff road from the main road Nigde-Cukurbag you find the nice and cozy Pansiyon Safak. We were allowed to leave some things here that we wouldn’t need during our trip. We decided to start our trip in the Emli Valley. The friendly owner can bring you up in the mountains with a jeep or a tractor (around 20 Euros). The tractor brought us up to the Yayla of Sarimehmetler (around 1700 meter), a beautiful green pasture at the entrance of the Kucuk Mangirci Vadesi (Valley), just at the point where the snow started.
To our big surprise we were not the only ones camping here. The VW-bus with Swiss number plate belonged a few guys from Ticino, who spent a year travelling eastwards to Tibet and stayed for a while in each country that they crossed to climb some rock routes. They were busy opening a new route on the impressive limestone formations of a nameless peak in the valley.
Since we didn’t have much time left that day, we decided to explore the Kucuk Mangirci Vadesi and walked up to a height of around 2750m. To our big surprise in this sun protected valley we found powder snow of the finest art in this sun protected valley. After all it was the end of March and we were not far from the Middle East….

Day 3 - On the third day we decided to explore the Kucuk Mangirci Valley a little bit more in detail and walked up to the peak of Alaca (3205m), a fore summit of Lorut (3588m). The next day we would meet a French team that continued further to the summit of the Lorut and went down at the other side, skiing down the Aksam Pinari Valley. The view from this part of the range is very impressive, looking at the Bolkar range (another good ski touring tip) in the south and seeing the barren landscapes of inner Anatolia further to the north. We decided to ski down directly from the summit back into Kucuk Mangirci Valley. This was one of the best descents I ever skied in my life! It constituted a continuous 30 degrees steep, to my feeling never ending slope, from the top to the bottom filled with light powder snow. I don’t know how many turns I made, but it must be over a hundred in sequence. At the end I was completely out of breath.
The best choice for continuing the descent, before skiing down the steep saddle north of Korteklit (2982m), is to climb up the gentle slope to the North that leads to another little saddle. From here you have a magnificent descent through the Katur Kalesi and passing by Alaca Yayla back to Sarimehmetler Yayla. This beautiful valley offers more possibilities for magnificent ski touring. We didn’t explore the Mangirci Valley, but that must be very good too.
In the late afternoon we moved our tent a little further up in the Emli Vadisi. On the bottom of the valley the snow had already disappeared.

Day 4 - We followed the Emli Vadesi up to Aksam Pinari yayla, where in the afternoon we would put up our tent. From there we passed the impressing rock needle of Parmakkaya and in an almost unbearable heat we headed up through Aksam Pinari Vadisi to the Auciveli Pass and climbed a fore summit (3400m) of Kaldi (3736m). Within one day the snow had changed from winter conditions into spring like firn, but being still a big pleasure to ski.

Day 5 - Continuing the Emli Valley further up westwards you enter the Siyirma Vadisi. Here the valley gets narrower and steeper and maybe even more impressive. We climbed up to the pass between Siyirma Vadisi and Kokorot Vadisi at an altitude of about 3300 meters. From here we continued to the summit of Kücük Cebel (3350), only a 10 minutes climb away from the pass. From here you have a magnificent view on the North Face of Sulagan Kaya (3530m), a direct neighbour of the Kucuk Cebel, and at the Matterhorn-shaped Kaldi. Skiing down the steep slushy slop into Kokorot Vadisi couldn’t be characterised as a big pleasure, carrying around a 25 kilos heavy backpack with the complete equipment for 9 days.
We put up our tent an at altitude of approximately 3000 meters. After a strengthening cup of tea, we decided to have a little late-afternoon-walk (approximately 1 hour) up to the summit of Cebel Basi (3474m). Fro here you have the possibility to continue the ridge and climb the summit of Gurtepe (3630m).

Day 6 - We decided to check whether it was possible to traverse from the Kokorot Valley to the Yedi Goller in north, a kind of plateau at an altitude of approximately 3000 meters, which, according to the guide book should be the beautiful heart of the Aladaglar. First we walked underneath the impressing north face of Gurtepe, before heading up a pass between Kokorot Vadisi and Karagöl Vadisi. Heaving reached the ridge, we continued to the north to an unnamed peak (3588m) with its north flank falling down a few hundred meters before ending at the plain Yedi Goller. Hmmm….
We went down a little through the East flank of the mountain in NE direction until 100 meters lower we found a cairn on the ridge between the unnamed peak and Ücköse Sivrisi, probably marking the place from where to descent to the N. In the beginning it almost looked impossible but after all it appeared the only possibility to reach Yedi Göller. We scrambled down a little, somewhat tricky ridge to the north. Halfway on the ridge, we could climb down a snow covered gully (45 degrees) to the East. At the end of the gully we were able to put on our skis again and ski down to Yedi Göller, meaning seven lakes (not visible in winter…). The closer you get to the center of the plain, the more evident the beautiful rock peak of Direktas (3510m) shows up. This Dolomite-like rock bastion in summer for sure has to offer a lot beautiful rock climbs. We decided to put up our tent at the foot of the Direktas, at an altitude of circa 3100m, inside a few ruins, to protect us from the cold wind.

Day 7 - After another day of carrying around our big backpack we thought it was about time again to enjoy more the skiing part of the trip. From Yedi Göller we made a day trip to the Emler (3723m), one of the highest mountains in the area, and which also reachable from the west through Kara Yalak Vadisi. On this day we had a beautiful view on Erciyes Dag to the north. We skied down its eastwards down to an altitude of approximately 3300m, staying a little at the right part of the valley. In a small depression we put back on our skins and climbed Yedigöl Aurnu (3483m) from the Northwest. From the summit we skied down the same way, staying at the right again in a southward direction and passing below the East face of Yedigöl Aurnu. Continuing to the southern end of the valley you reach a gentle slope that seems to be designed for ski touring and leads up to the summit of an unnamed peak (3667m) just south of Kizilkaya (3725m). From here you have astonishing views on the Direktas.

Day 8 - We crossed the Yedi Göller plain to the North, passing Büyük Göl, and reached the summit of an unnamed peak (3517m) just East of Cagalin Basi, approaching the summit from the East. We our skis on the rucksack we descended to the north over a windblown barren ridge, before reaching a saddle. Here we could put on our skis again and skied down the valley until it got less steep. Here we put up our tent. From here we undertook a trip to an unnamed peak a little further north.

Day 9 - This day, for the first time in the 9 days that we were on the road, the weather was a little unstable. We spent the morning climbing another unnamed peak just northwest of the camping spot. From this peak you have a beautiful view on the North face of Demirkazik, with 3756 meters being the highest peak in the Ala Dag range. Back at our camping spot we loaded the complete equipment in our rucksacks and from here we tried to cross the ridge between Cagalin Basi and Yildiz Basi which on the map in our guide book was indicated as a pass. Unfortunately, the west side of the ridge looked rather steep for skiing or even walking down: it was nearly vertical. However, after following the ridge further to the North, with the skis on our rucksack traversing a sludgy slope that didn’t look too stable, we reached a point from which we managed to climb down a steep gully/slope (up to 50 degrees) with instable snow. Looking back, we think that the pass lies further north than the one indicated on the map, just north of Yildiz Basi. We skied down the Cimbar Vadisi, a beautiful valley with impressive rock faces at its southern side, with mountains like Koca Sarp, Demirkazik and Kucuk Demirkazik. Passing Cagalin Gölü and Cagal Yayla we reached the Teka Pinari Yayla, just before entering the narrow Cimbar gorge.

Day 10 - We really didn’t know what to expect skiing down the Cimbar gorge. It started quite open, with still sufficient snow to ski. But the further we skied down, the narrower the gorge got, the steeper the walls, and the more often we had to take off our skis. “Wow, this is the most impressive descent I’ve ever made!”, I yelled at Joris. It even ended up in short UIAA 2nd grade climbing passages and a few ‘briefcases’ for which we had to take off or even rappel our rucksacks!
Unfortunately, this gorge, which on every step got more impressive, came to an end too, and became wider towards its entrance that even harbours a little bolted climbing area. Passing the Kayak Evi, a ski hut having astonishing similarities with the Soviet style hotels in former Communist countries in Eastern Europe, and looking up at the barren slope rising up behind it, it’s very hard to imagine that anyone will ever ski here in winter. This feeling of disbelieve even grows stronger when you enter the nearby village Demirkazik Köyü. This place really hasn’t anything to do with the ski resorts we are used to. It doesn’t even get close to a single-Tbar-resort in the Belgian Ardennes or the Bulgarian Pirin.

Back in Çamardi we too the bus back to Çukurbag and eventually to Kayseri, where we were hosted and had dinner with a few local young men. The next morning at 5am, Turkish Airlines flew us back to Munich and Amsterdam respectively.


Read about ski touring in the Ak Dag range too.



Aladag – some tips:

Climate: as the Ala Dag lies not far from the Mediterranean Sea the, the temperatures in winter are not so continental as in Eastern Turkey. But actually this doesn’t matter because the peaks reach an altitude of up to 3800 meters.

Best time of the year: March is probably the best month, although in snow-rich winters the first half of April would do fine as well. Snow conditions in this period are good, although a few weeks earlier would have been better.

Estimated avalanche danger: low to moderate; spring conditions

Equipment: Usual cross country equipment, including crampons and ice axe. There are no glaciers, so you can save youself a lot of weight by leaving your rope at home (unless you want to go climbing as well, of course). As there are no refuges, you have to bring your own camping equipment and food.

Place to stay:

Safak Pension and camping place. Cozy and informal place situated just outside Çamardi at the turnoff road from the main road Nigde-Cukurbag.
www: www.cenktarhan.com/safak
email: safakpansion@hotmail.com or hsafak@e-kolay.net
Tel/Fax: 0090 388 7247039

Literature

The Ala Dag, Climbs and treks in Turkish Crimson Mountains. Ö.B. Tüzel, 1993. A Cicerone Guide. ISBN 1852841125
The mountains of Turkey. Karl Smith, 1994. A Cicerone Guide. ISBN 1852841613.

Tour operators:

Anatolian Adventureswww.anatolianadventures.com