ARARAT Trip Report, August 4 - August 9, 2007.
Before the Trip, Preparations.
Anybody that starts from "square one" looking into a climb of
Ararat can easily be discouraged. There are several trekking companies
that offer scheduled climbs, most often at a fairly high price. Add to this
that almost all information talks about Turkish buraucracy, the need to
apply for climbing permits long time in advance etc.
I always like to
organize my trips as much as possibly by myself. This is not only in order
to save cost, but perhaps more because I like to plan things independently.
The climb can then also often more easily be scheduled to fit well with other
plans and constraints. Although I could climb several mountains without any
sort of local support, I often feel that some degree of local help with
logistics and services is very useful. Not only in order to make the climb
"easier" or "more convenient", but also in order to support a local "tourist
industry" as well as getting a more inside experience with local people and
their culture. If I bring everything with me from Norway (including dehydrated
mountain food etc.), then I could in principle climb the mountain without much
interaction with the local community. This would certainly reduce the quality
of trips like this one, in a very significant way.
Thus, my ideal situation calls for a minimum of buraucracy (red tape), and a
local community from where one can purchase whatever services that seems reasonable
in order to make a memorable climbing trip. Tailored to plans that I make, not "carved in stone" by a
professional "adventure" or "trekking" company.
Unfortunately, the situation described above does not (yet) exist near Ararat.
One can only hope that things will improve. I feel pretty certain that the local
service we ended up using (Hakan Basboga) would be able to increase its
presence and visibility as well as activity volume under such more flexible terms.
After searching quite a bit on the Internet, I decided that our best bet was likely
to be a guided trip offered by a local Dogubeyazit service lead by Hakan Basboga.
It took a few iterations by email to get things the way I wanted, Hakan is obviously
often busy in the mountain and his replies to email were a bit erratic. It is slightly
easier to contact him by cell phone, as most of the mountain route has a reasonably
strong mobile phone signal. I sent him a 50 percent advance (easy bank transfer) as
well as the requested information, in order for him to apply for the necessary
climbing permits. All this was done in May, about 2 months prior to our actual climb.
Hakan took care of everything that needed to be done and we never saw anything more
of this process.
Appearently, as long as he has properly informed the Turkish authorities and received
a proper reply, nothing more happens. There were no authorities checking that
climbers indeed had a permit, however, it seems likely that any climber that ends
up in trouble on the mountain may have a problem if the authorities (Turkish army) is
called to assist in any form of rescue.
A team from the Czech Republic climbed Ararat about the same time as we. They had
just shown up in Dogubeyazit, asked around for a climbing permit and purchased this
from somebody in town for Euro 130.- per person. However, there is strong reason
to believe that this was "easy money" for whoever collected it and that this
party could have faced serious trouble if, for any reason, they would have needed to interact
with the Turkish authorities (read: army) while on Ararat.
The climbing of Ararat would be greatly simplified for both climbers as well as tour
organizers if this system could be reformed. To make climbers more aware of
the specific rules, including the cost structure of the permit would certainly be a first,
important step. That is, how much does a permit cost? How much is paid to the Turkish Mountain
Association? How much to the government? What is charged by the organizer, in order to take
care of these issues? Furthermore, illegal "instant permits" sold in Dogubeyazit should
be stopped. The Turkish could learn a lot by just looking south to Iran. Their climbing
permit system is extremely reasonable and completely transparent.
We decided to travel rather light, partly since we would use a guide service
on Ararat. Pål Jørgen and I brought along personal mountain clothing suitable
for high mountains and temperatures down to about minus 10 Centigrade (a single set
each). We took sleeping bags and mats, ice axe and crampons (for Ararat).
A gasoline burning cooking
stove (Primus) as well as some dehydrated food (to be used high on Damavand) completed
the list. Two headlamps (since at least Ararat seemed to dictate an early start).
We did not take a tent, since one would be provided on Ararat and it seemed clear that we
could rent one (if needed) on Damavand. We travelled with two medium-sized backpacks
that would pass as hand luggage on the airplanes, plus one large,
yellow North Face bag that I bought in Ancourage when returning from Denali last summer.
The plan was to keep the yellow bag as a cache for everything not needed, to use the two
backpacks as high as high camp, then carry only one common backpack between us on the
two summit days. When travelling, our yellow bag weighted 20 kilogram, while our two
backpacks were about 7-8 kilogram each.
At the time of our visit, one Turkish Lire (TRY) was about 0.55 Euro,
or 4.40 NOK. There are ATMs in most cities and hotels seem happy to
take payment in US dollars or Euro. They also readily exchange these
currencies at a fairly reasonable (exchange) rate. In larger Turkish cities, one
may also pay with major credit cards. In Iran, credit cards cannot easily
be used and it seemed pretty clear that we should bring along a sufficently
large supply of Euro (all in 20 Euro bills), to be able to pay for all
expenses along the way as well as keeping a reserve for unforeseen incidents/trouble.
Day -2, August 3rd. VISA Trouble.
This trip was planned as a two country - two mountain trip, first
Ararat in Turkey, then immediately Damavand in Iran. Our tickets had
been ordered long time in advance and departure was already 0615 from
Bergen Saturday morning. Both of these countries require a visa for Norwegians
to enter. In Iran, this must be applied for in the embassy in Oslo, while
for Turkey it is really just an extra tax to be paid when entering the
country. The Iranian visas had been applied for and we had promptly
received the passports returned by mail already in May, we noticed that they
even reproduced a picture of the passport holder within each visa stamp.
As I came to work this last day before the trip, I carried the two passports
with me since I had decided to make some photocopy backups of these
essential documents for extra protection in case something should get lost or
stolen during our trip. As I stood by the copying machine shortly before 10 in the
morning, something odd caught my attention. The passport number listed in both
visas were identical! Upon closer inspection, it became clear that everything
in Pål Jørgen's visa was identical to mine except for the use of
his picture. This looked like a serious clerical error. I called the Iranian
consular section, their phone announced that they only answered phone calls after
1400. Escalation of the effort got me in touch with an emabassy employee that in
a most helpful manner assisted in further contact with their consular section.
A fax of the appropriate passport page quickly verified my fear, a completely
invalid visa had been issued. In fact, it could easily be interpreted as a fake
where a valid visa (mine) had been copied into a second passport with a subsequent
transfer of the correct picture.
Really bad news, the only way to fix this required a trip to the Iranian embassy
in Oslo. Flights? There was a Scandinavian flight leaving Flesland in about 50
minutes - TAXI !!!! I made the flight and by 1400 everything was in order. The bad
visa in Pål's passport had been cancelled and a new and correct visa issued.
I told them that this had been a rather costly mistake and got some sympathy, but of course,
nothing more than "we are sorry"..
On my flight back around 1700, I could see the potential trouble that now had been
avoided. Trying to cross into Iran over land at its northern border to Turkey with
what looked like a fake visa - no thanks. Thus, I was happy to have discovered the
mistake, even literally in the last possible moment.
Sloppy office work in the Iranian embassy confusing the
data from our two passports back in May had wasted a full day and cost me about NOK 3600
(Euro 450) in extra travel expenses. Every expedition is likely to have some
unforseen costs, I hoped we got our share early this time and that everything would
go somewhat more smoothly starting tomorrow morning.
Day -1, August 4th. Travel from Norway to Ankara.
Pål Jørgen and I got up around 0500, had a preordered taxi waiting
and made the Oslo flight with no incidents.
We continued flying onwards to Munich, then directly to Ankara, arriving there at 1500.
In the airport we observed the Turkish "Visa tax" with a smile. You walk over to a counter
saying "Visa", the guy immediately asks for 40 Euro (20 each).
Upon receiving this, he immediately enters
a "visa-stamp" in each passport without even looking at the passport itself. Turkey should
end such primitive tax collection practices, there are better ways to collect money from tourists.
I had made a reservation in the airport hotel, located about 5 kilometer from the airport.
It looked reasonably empty and a small savings could have been made by just showing up, however,
these things are hard to know. We decided to make a quick sightseeing of Ankara and took a
taxi to the central part of town shortly after check-in. There was not too much to see,
busy pedestrian streets, modern shopping malls.
A few parks and a few monuments. Not very
much reminding you of a capital city, few large, monumental buildings etc. After a couple
of hours we were happy and returned to the hotel by another taxi. The hotel had a nice
pool and a sauna where the air had been saturated by "Fisherman's Friend" taste/smell. It took
a few minutes getting used to, but probabely cured all symptons of sore throat for anybody
entering. Later, we had dinner and enjoyed seeing a Turkish wedding, the hotel hosted the
dinner for about 150 people outdoors near the pool. The bride and groom with the closest family
were seated on top of a bridge spanning the pool.
Day 0, August 5th. Travel to Dogubeyazit.
We had an early morning domestic flight out of Ankara to Agri. This is 1:40 flight heading
more or less directly east, reminding us that our destination was about as far east in Turkey
as one can get. After landing, we needed to travel about 95 kilometer onwards to the city of
Dogubeyazit. This was the first leg of the trip for which I had not made any advance
arrangements. It turned out close to perfect. Agri was a rather small place with very
infrequent flights. Thus, our arrival was a significant event and busses and vans were lined
up outside in order to carry the passengers to their destinations. A nice minibus served
Dogubeyazit. We entered and by the time we could start out, the bus was indeed a bit oversubscribed
with three passengers sitting in the aisle between the two rows of ordinary seats.
The fare was 10 Lire per person, we were on our way by 1030.
We arrived in Dogubeyazit after 1:15, the road was mostly paved but also with sections of gravel.
Ararat came into view for the first time.
Just like Rainier and other large volcanos, it looms overhead
and shows its size, almost 3.5 kilometer vertical rise from the valley floor.
We asked directions for hotel Nuh and after a couple of wrong turns we entered the hotel and
got our third floor "luxury" room with Ararat view.
We had most of the day at our disposal and decided
to see the famous palace Ishak Pasa Sarayi, up in the hillside outside
the city. We quickly got a ride by a mini-bus that specialized in taking people there. It turned out
to be a very nice are, obviously very popular with the locals on a Sunday afternoon. People had
barbeques, they were sitting around and generally having a good time. We decided to work on the
acclimatization by making a short hike uphill. The palace was located at the lower section of a valley that
extended uphill with really spectacular rock formations
along the left (facing uphill) side. We hiked until
the trail became more level. A few Kurds had their camp
(and animals) partway up this hill. The rocks certainly
looked like a good practice area for climbing. From here, we also had a good view back down to
the city of Dogubeyazit.
Returning down to the palace, we paid the symbolic entrance
fee and walked around the entire castle.
High and low, the palace, dating back
to the 13th.century, was carefully explored.
Good workmanship and many nice details, the construction
of this palace must have required substantial
The building looked
like a combination of castle, church and palace, we agreed that a palace
was the most proper description.
We ended the active part of the day by walking the 5-6 kilometer back to our hotel.
Any party arriving in Dogubeyazit on their way to Ararat, should consider making this trip. One can easily
hike to 2500 meter (or higher) and the palace is certainly worth a visit, thus combining history and
acclimatization in a perfect way.
A dinner at a local restaurant consisting
of local Kurdish specialities made for a very successful completion of our travel. It had been agreed
that we should be picked up the next morning around 0700, in order to start our trek to Base Camp.
We reorganized our gear, leaving shoes and travel clothing in the yellow bag to be kept at the
hotel until our return projected for Friday.
A last, evening look at Ararat from our hotel, then early to bed.
Day 1, August 6th. Climb to Base Camp.
I was early up and made a quick dash out in town to find some bread and water that
we could have for breakfast. We had been woken up by the long and loud "prayer" from
the minaret (and strategically placed loudspeakers on street corners) at 0400 sharp.
It is quite amazing that the locals can live with this loud and brutal wake up already at
0400. In Marrakech, Morroco the same event took place at 0500, still very early indeed.
The minibus arrived at 0700 and we were soon on our way. Turning left, leaving the main road to Iran
near the small village of Eli, the road got gradually more rough. In fact, near a dry river bed the
road was bad enough for the driver to attempt a bypass, seemingly equally rough. Most people
would say this was a 4WD road, however by slow and careful driving we eventually gained slightly
smoother ground as we gained elevation on the very lower slopes of Ararat. A few men with horses appeared
around a bend and this was indeed the end of the road as far as a standard minibus was concerned.
Further uphill, even the locals understand that a 4WD vehicle is needed. This location has
coordinates N39:38.301, E044:14.574, elevation about 2185 meter.
We unloaded the car and had our two backpacks
plus a box with provisons loaded onto a horse.
At first, the trail cut across and climbed more steeply than the 4WD road, thus intersecting it
quite frequently. Subsequently, we left the road and continued along more regular trails.
Pål Jørgen first,
then the horse with its master followed by me at the end of
the group. We walked a bit less than one hour before arriving at a local Kurd family.
We were now at about 2500 meter, location N39:39.154, E044:15.108.
Man, wife and several children were
seated on carpets in their half-open tent structure and it was obvious that we were expected
to pay them a visit, drink tea and taste some local specialities. The husband, matter of fact,
quickly informed me that he had 7 children, then asked about my children. Two sons did not quite
match his family, but seemed acceptable.
His wife and several daughters were sitting around.
We were told that some of the children would alternate (school?), spending a few days here and
a few days in the village below.
next topic of conversation centered a bit on our heavy boots. He spoke no English, but quite
reasonable German. After another 10 minutes we said goodbye, I gave my current supply of local
coins to one of the children and we continued uphill.
About 30 more minutes and our local guide called for a rest, this time just at the top (2810 meter)
of a steeper section of the trail. Pointing to the horse, he indicated that the horse
should have a break before we completed the last several hills up to base camp.
Soon, we arrived at Base Camp, elevation 3340 meter and location N39:40.705, E044:16.211. Actually,
Base Camp has been distributed into several separate camps in the general area. There was quite a large
group of tents quite a bit lower than our camp, similarly, a pretty large camp was located a bit further
along the trail, somewhat higher than our location.
Several more Kurds worked here. A cute boy ran around
and spoke to nearly everyone. Our camp
was located in perhaps the best place, fairly high, but still
quite flat and with natural shelter.
The hike from where the mini-bus stopped to Base Camp took about 2.5 hours including the
visit with the Kurds and the other rests along the way.
Our guide Hakan came
down from High Camp in the afternoon. He had summited that day and
felt the need for some rest. He was appreciably happy when I told him that we would
prefer to do our acclimatization hike tomorrow without him. In this way, he could get
an easy day before going back up with us the day after.
We had about one hour with rain just before dinner, later the sky cleared and we had a
nice evening as the stars filled the darkness above us.
A group of 53 from Serbia had descended from High Camp. A rather big group, they had travelled from
Serbia by bus. A fairly experienced lady, having climbed many mountains on the Balkans, came
over for an evening chat. It was obvious that she had got to know Hakan while climbing higher up.
We were all quite happy after
a delicious dinner followed by soft conversation as the night gradually moved yet another
day to past tense.
Day 2, August 7th. Acclimatization Day.
Today was acclimatization day. After breakfast, Pål Jørgen and I set out
uphill at 0800. The trail was good and we kept a good pace reaching High Camp in 1.5 hours at
0930. We took a very long rest there with some snacks while watching climbers returning
from the summit. Subsequently, we continued uphill to about 4400 meter before returning to
High Camp. Everything seemed fine and Pål Jørgen did not hide the fact that
he was in excellent shape. We returned down to Base Camp in only 45 minutes.
Around 1700, we had stonger and more rain than the day before. Soon, lightning and thunder
added to the show and the tent was a very good place to be. However, at 1830 the weather
cleared and the evening turned out just as nicely as the day before.
The Kurds wanted to start an evening fire, good idea, but a questionable approach. First logs,
then gasoline. Whenever the flames are about to die out, add more gasoline. Supplement with some
paper and other burning material. Eventually, the logs started burning unassisted.
I had a nice chat with several
Kurds belonging to Hakan's team. These Kurds
are mountain people, many living in a
normadic way on the slopes
of mountains across national borders that may seem insignificant and
meaningless, decided by politics thousands of kilometer away.
Day 3, August 8th. Move to High Camp.
After a nice morning, we started out for High Camp around 0900. A bit of
luxury to have the backpacks carried further up by horse, but this is
the deal when being on a guided tour. Pål and I were the only climbers, while
Hakan normally would try to have somewhat larger groups. We reached High Camp
at 1025, about 5 minutes faster than yesterday. Found a reasonably
flat spot between all the rocks and pitched the tent.
A bit later, our cook arrived riding on
a small, but brave horse.
Obviously, he needed a ride in order to get all the way up here. The bigger
question is if we really needed him, just to cook us a single dinner. Granted, his meals
have been very nice indeed, but the logistical efforts are a bit out of proportion relative
to what Pål and I really need in order to climb this mountain tomorrow.
Again, as the afternoon hours started, we had more rain or rather hail. Big hails!
The tent has certainly been important given this afternoon pattern. More lightning, but
less than yesterday. Then a clearing sky before the night arrives.
The summit is clear in the evening light. The small neighbor,
Little Ararat, is shining red
just before the sun sets. The volcanic rock
just across the gully shows its structure, while the shadows grow as we look down below.
We can see lights from
Dogubeyazit, but also from several Iranian villages.
Hakan asked if we should descend all the way to Dogubeyazit tomorrow, or stay a last night
in Base Camp. I told him that I would prefer to break the long descent into two
days and he immediately agreed. My real consideration was to spend another night above
3000 meter in order to maximize acclimatization for our upcoming Damavand trip.
We then discussed tomorrow's starting time.
He claims the climb tomorrow will take 5 hours to the summit. I tell him that
given a rate of ascent between Base Camp and High Camp of 550 meter/hour (1.5 hours) and
adjusting for the higher elevation above us, we will still make the summit in 3 hours.
Hakan says that many parties start already at midnight or 0100, then suggests that we
start at 0200. OK, the guide should decide, I still know that we will indeed arrive at
the summit before sunrise.
Day 4, August 9th. Summit Day.
I woke up at 0145 and we had breakfast served by our cook around 0200. We started
hiking at 0215. It is dark, with thousands of stars across the dark sky and a long
string of climbers with headlights already on their way up the slopes above us.
We started out with Hakan first and me with the backpack going last. He set up a
terrific pace and I was quickly out of breath and pretty miserable. Hakan later
explained that he wanted to pass a large group before passing would be even harder.
Higher up, Pål took the backpack as well as the lead. I had recovered from
the brutal start and felt good (relieved of the pack certainly did not hurt). Before
long Hakan shouted ahead: "Pål you are killing me!" It was evident that we
all should have our turns feeling the effort this early morning. We kept passing
other teams and before long there was only darkness and no more lights up ahead.
The rocks were icy and sometimes quite slippery. The rain and hail last afternoon had
clearly frozen and partly made a thin film of ice on the rocks.
We saw all the lights from Jerevan, the capital of Armenia, down to our left.
Such a peaceful sight, there is no sense that these two people should quarrel
over this beautiful mountain. They should both be able to share it!
I took the backpack again as the pace slowed quite noticeable. We reached the
snow and made a brief stop in order to attach crampons after 1:50. The summit now
seemed quite close, but we still had a few hundred vertical meter ahead of us.
This time it was finally Pål's turn to feel the combination of effort and
thin air taking its toll. He slowed more than he could understand himself, but to
me it was pretty obvious that oxygen deprivation finally was about to lower
his pace to a gentle walk. The four Czech guys came from behind and passed us,
Hakan took advantage of superior acclimatization and was still up front. Just as
I had concluded that the remaining hike would be slower, but steady, Pål
came up on my right side and said: "Dad, the summit is not that far out, I feel
similar to how I feel when passing 2500 meter in a 3000 meter track and field race."
Having said this, he charged ahead and quickly caught up with the Czech, then
Hakan. We were now at the final, slightly steeper slope and I made a brief
pause while laughing when seeing Pål and Hakan running the last few
meter to the pole that clearly marked the summit.
We reached the summit at 0445,
2.5 hours from high camp. The sun was still below
the horizon, but we could see where it would appear. We congratulated each other and
it was revealed that Hakan was 31 years old today. The first time he had climbed
Ararat on his birthday. His friend revealed that it would indeed be fun with a
birthday party in the village. I had no problems agreeing to this. As a professional
guide, Hakan had never hesitated when I told him that I preferred an extra night
on descent. We walked along the distinct summit ridge and watched as
the sunrise began.
Yes, it is nice to see the sun rising
from high summits. The gradual
transition with the red sun
climbing through some very distant horizon clouds.
I measured the summit elevation, averaging more than 300 samples in my GPS, it
settled on 5132 meter, 5 meter lower than the often quoted 5137 figure. This
clearly shows that the 5165 meter elevation that many sources use is wrong.
The summit is a snow ridge with no visible rock anywhere. Thus, the precise
elevation will change with the seasons and could definitely be influenced by
climate change (global warming). Later GPS measurements in Iran suggested that the
GPS data may be about 10 meter too high also in this part of the world. This would in fact
point in the direction of a true Ararat elevation around 5125 meter.
The sun broke into the blue sky
and illuminated everything. The near perfect
shape of Ararat threw its shadow
far out into the country below us. We felt the
warmth and stayed even a bit longer. The weather was really perfect, no wind.
expressed enthusiasm from looking around, you really
get the sensation of being at the top of the world. It is incredibly far down
to valley floors and the terrain that extends out below us. The Czechs had
sat down near the pole that marks the highest point on the summit ridge. We could now see
more people coming up the snow field below us.
We slowly started back down at 0525 and reached High Camp
at 0645, people were
still asleep in several tents! Care was needed in
the upper parts of the rocks, the
thin layer of ice was even more treacherous on descent than it had been when ascending.
When climbing the mountain, besides darkness you always face
the rocks in front of you.
Descending has its own value, refecting back on the summit, but also enjoying a constant
scenery and landscape below you.
Looking down at the High Camp below, the first leg in a
3000 meter vertical descent.
Our excellent cook served warm soup and we generally agreed to take a nap in the tent
and relax from the early morning adventure. We agreed to start the next leg of descending
to Base Camp around 1000. This time came (too) quickly, but we started at 1030 and the walk down was quite
pleasant. We walked with the cook. He had a single walking pole that broke and he first
politely refused to take my trekking poles, then happily accepted. We reached Base Camp
and celebrated with a cold Coke (Pål) and a cold beer (me). Another hour quickly
passed before we started walking down to the mini-bus pickup point. The young boy from
Base Camp served as our "guide", actually quite useful since the area below Base Camp
is pretty full of trails, a mix of climber's trails
and Kurdish trails for looking after
their domestic animals. The terrain is much more gentle here, meaning that the distance to
descend yet another 1200 vertical meter is correspondingly longer. Looking back
towards Ararat reveals this,
here it looks almost flat, but we are steadily descending.
We reached the pick-up point (trailhead) at 1330 and sat down to wait.
The mini-bus soon arrived, however, we needed to wait a bit before Hakan arrived, then another
20 minutes for the last horse with luggage. Mobile phones has changed coordination here
just as much as we observed it in Indonesia last year. When waiting for this last horse,
Hakan simply called to check on its location and estimated arrival time. It was blasting
hot here at the 2000 meter level. We all
looked for good ways to rest while waiting.
Back in Dogubeyazit at 1515, we first relaxed a bit in the hotel, then went out and had dinner
with Hakan at 1800. Later we went to a place near the palace to enjoy more food and music.
This time together with the party that Hakan had guided before us, they were still
in town. A rather unusual team largely consisting of young diplomats from Ankara. Irish, Belgian,
Russian etc. True to good diplomatic tradition, the Belgian and the Russian guy got
into an argument leading to the Russian hitting his opponent. Not very civilized, but
perhaps a manifestation of human nature.
Sadly reminding me that the Turkish and Armenian people seem unable to
share the beauty of Ararat together.
This trip continued into Iran in order to also climb
Damavand. This part of our
trip is described in a separate trip report.
For notes on acclimatization and trip budget, see the end of that report.
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