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рядом с Kale, Rize (Türkiye)
8-day autonomous west-east trekking in Kaçkar and Tatos mountains, as hiked by Manuel & Irina in early August 2020. The hike is quite strenuous, because it goes constantly up and down, totalling 9500m of ascent (and descent). The side valleys are generally short, and days with two or even three passes to cross are not uncommon. Some climbs straight on the mountainside are very steep. Moreover, at least half of the time we hiked without a path. However, as loose scree very rare - mostly stone with grassy patches, guaranteeing a secure foothold which makes all the difference, or big rocks - there is no unusual danger or technical difficulty. It can just be a bit exhausting at times! (Caveat: don't stick to our footsteps on the track, we might not always have chosen the easiest way up or down where there are no paths or cairns; read the landscape rather than the track.)
I strongly dislike the idea of going out in the mountains without a decent topographic map, but I could only find this online version: https://www.avenzamaps.com/maps/404331/kackar-hiking-map-135000. It helped for planning and to check on dubious passes in situ, but in the end I have to admit that Google Terrain does the job quite as well; moreover the map doesn't cover any of the Tatos part, weirdly enough. The indicated paths are not always there, either. But at least a real map gives passes, valleys and the occasional yayla (summer settlement for pasture) a name!
Kate Clow and Chris Gardner's Kaçkarlar is useful - the map, not so much the descriptions - to get some preliminary ideas of routes and access points, but the real hiking possibilities outnumber by far the limited options listed in this guidebook. The determining source for this hike were WilliamC's reports on the Trek-Lite forum (https://www.trek-lite.com/index.php?threads/a-week-in-the-ka%C3%A7kar-of-turkey.2298/#post-44063, https://www.trek-lite.com/index.php?threads/eight-days-in-turkeys-ka%C3%A7kar-mountains-please-excuse-the-length.1205/#post-21370, https://www.trek-lite.com/index.php?threads/tatos-mountains-north-east-turkey.6970/#post-134447), who very generously shared his tracks and made me understand that everyone can cook up his own preferred trans-Kaçkar route, really. I've seldom been in mountains which leave such endless room for variation.
Water & wetness
The abundance of streams meant that each of us never went with more than one liter water in the pack (joy!), and often less. Admittedly, not everyone will be as apt as Manuel at scouting and capturing water right where it wells out of the rock, but you can also take it straight from the rivulets high up in the valleyheads. Lower down however there are almost always traces of cattle, so it's strongly recommended to filter it first. As for all that water's meteorological counterpart, and those famed afternoon mists of the Kaçkar, we were mostly able to avoid it. I intentionally sought out a route that mainly - except between Kavron and Nametleme passes - remains on the south side of the range. The first half of the journey was sunny and warm, although occasionally freezing at night; for the last days we experienced cloudy and cold weather.
We saw multiple bear droppings, but no sightings of the animal itself. They obviously enjoy the wild raspberries as much as we did. We had a strong suspicion that it is bears and not humans who keep open the overgrown path heading down tot Yaylalar (last kilometers of the hike). Around the yaylas there are cows and/or goat herds, but not as much as expected. We came across just one large herd of unguarded bulls, to be approached with caution. Other than that, not much fauna to worry about. Except maybe for throngs of mosquitoes, who sting away at 3000+ meters as merrily as at sea level. Who knew!
As for fellow human beings, there were, thank god, relatively few of them. I'll never understand (or, I'm afraid, respect) the four guys who appeared at sunset on the first night, put up their battalion of tents within a few meters of ours when they had a whole lakeside to get and give some privacy, and started loudly talking and snoring away the night; nor the (young!) people who take the trouble of hoisting themselves to a lake at 3000m but then apparently cannot do without foldable chairs to sit on; nor, certainly, the spoilt eclectic party crowd who seems to think that seeing the Kaçkar means ascending Mt Kaçkar from the summercamp hell at Dilberdüzü campsite. But let them continue doing so, absolutely, if it means they won't swarm out to spoil and destroy the rest of this mindblowingly beautiful range.
Some point-by-point remarks
- I had found information about an Ardeşen-Çamlıhemşin-Çat minibus, but nobody in Çamlıhemşin seemed ever to have heard about it. There was no other option than to take a taxi, which dropped us conveniently in Kale köyü, some kilometers beyond and above Çat.
- From Tatos Gölleri we almost made a loop via breathtaking Mal Gölü, where we briefly joined the trout for a swim. You could make it a real 2 or 3-day loop by crossing back to the Tatos lakes (in stead of turning east to Derin Göl right before the pass, as we did); or make it a bigger, easier loop by omitting Mal Gölü and sticking to the broad main valleys of Ana and Ovit Dereleri.
- The pass after Zorni Yaylası is quite treacherous - very gradual, grassy and easy from the west side, steep and rocky from the east side. We completely misjudged the descent, going far too much to the left: don't follow the track there. Straight down is probably the best option, although it must be tricky too. The whole valley looks like a disaster zone: it takes some time to wend your way, without a path, through those endless chunks of collapsed mountainside.
- After that, we crossed the grand Şoroh valley and went straight up again on the opposite mountainside, shortcutting a detour via Pinağros Yaylası - that would be the sensible option, however, if you don't like mercilessly steep, pathless ascents (I'm quite sure I don't like them, but then I'm not particularly fond of passing through yaylas either).
- There are many highlights, I'd only run out of breath and trite adjectives if I tried listing all of them - but seeing Mt Kaçkar reflected in Döner Göl is certainly one of the extra special ones.
- Clockwise circling Mt Kaçkar as we did is an option, but maybe not the best one. The descent from Kavrun pass to Yukarı Kavrun is an endless slog of rocks, rhododendrons and rivulets. We avoided Yukarı Kavrun as best as we could (it could be a provision point if you don't care about self-sufficient hiking), but even from above it's a frustrating eyesore, to say nothing of the hideous newly carved "Yeşil Yol" on the western mountainside above the village, a sad piece of savage mountain butchery. And then there are the suffering daytrippers and scouting "mountain guides" on the path to the Büyükdeniz & Küçükdeniz Gölleri. Still it's possible to camp in relative isolation at the much-frequented lakes.
- Nametleme pass must be one of the easiest passes ever, although even in August there remains a patch of (treadable) snow just behind it; nothing would be easier, also, than to follow the well-worn path all the way to Olgunlar. We choose nstead to go a bit off-trail, crossing from the northern to the southern valley. There is a short stretch of zigzag-path up the small pass; after that it's a bit of a precarious pathless balancing act in the side of the mountain. Not easy, but not outlandishly difficult either, except maybe in bad weather. Our track isn't worth much in the descent: we grew a bit undecided, were on the brink of going to Olgunlar after all, via the southern valley, but ended up sticking up to the original plan and camping just underneath Hevek pass, past the horror of Dilberdüzü campsite (defigured by not less than 50 semi-permanent tents...).
- After Dargit village there is a beastly climb of 500m steep grassy mountainside, definitely not a highlight. According to the map you could also choose to go back to Olgunlar from Dargit, via Kanucar pass to the north... but a new unpaved road seems to have sprung up there.
- We remained undecided until the end, but the unstable, cold weather and the knee-cap crunching prospect of a 2600m descent made us shorten the trip by one day, ending in Yaylalar instead of continuing over Güngörmez pass to Tekkale, close to Yusufeli. But that would definitely be an interesting alternative to end (or begin) this hike.
- There is a daily dolmuş from Yaylalar to Yusufeli at 6(ish) am, driven by the same entrepreneurial Altunay brothers who manage the bakkal and the pansiyon, and organize some of the (mule-driven, beer-fuelled) "expeditions" of the summiteers.