A short but quite intense 6-day route in the Pontic Mountains around the mt. Kaçkar (but without ascent), made in the second half of May 2021 without gear (only with a short rope). Climatically, May is the driest month in the year here, and indeed - with a couple of minor exceptions we were enjoying dry and bright weather. The drawback is that this is still an early season, and a lot of passes remain buried in deep snow, which requires more effort to cross them, sometimes on the edge of extreme. On the other hand, snow adds colours to the landscape and in a couple of cases it facilitated our descent.
Camping gas is possible to buy in small shops around the bus terminal (ask for Nurgaz or Orgaz).
Logistics from Trabzon:
- bus from Trabzon Otogar to Ardeşen (₺45 per person)
- taxi from Ardeşen to village Kale (₺300)
From here a 7 km walk uphill along the road threading several more villages before reaching Başyayla.
DAY 2: 13-14 km.
From Başyayla the track goes up to the first pass Kale Geçit (2933m) and then to the seasonal village Haçıvanak Yayla. Although the track is hardly detectable, the direction is quite obvious, but some attentiveness is required when crossing the streams near Haçıvanak (both bridges are marked on this map). Again, from Haçıvanak the grassy terrain is quite comfortable for hiking, whether you managed to find the track or not. In general, the ascent to the pass Yıldızlı Geçit (3226m) is relatively easy, although closer to the top we first encountered vast snow fields. The way down went in the scree of large stones mixed with snow, and we were somewhat unlucky to be passing that in the thunderstorm, which made the stones even more slippy. The camp is situated on the bank of a beautiful lake Yıldızlı Gölü right under the pass.
DAY 3: 15-16 km.
The morning was devoted to a short descent to the huts of Karmık Yayla village, where we crossed several narrow streams. The last of them, however, was more intense, and we had to search for a suitable ford. For the next 3 km the track goes directly upstream through the deep valley, before stretching against a steep unnamed pass all covered in snow. The track presumably goes in the rocks here, but that would also be quite dangerous, because they are not steady. At first, the snow allowed for quite safe ascent, but closer to the top it got thinner and became harder to dig steps in. Our solution was to move on the edge of cliffs and snow, so that to have separate holds for hands and feet. Yet the last passage before the top was even more extreme, because it went entirely through the scree and unsteady rocks.
Anyway, slightly beaten we did manage to reach the top, finding ourselves on the edge of a wide Davalı Deresi valley. For the next 6 km the track traverses its left bank, somewhere appearing and somewhere hiding in the grass. There are several large stony track marks along the way, so one is not supposed to get lost here. Still, to be on the safe side, we chose a slightly longer, but a more intuitively certain route, going along the tributary stream of Davalı Deresi. It required some more 600m of altitude gain, which was quite tiresome after that pass. Moreover, as we were approaching the campsite at the lake Atsız Gölü already in twilight, the wind got stronger, and it never stopped beating the tent the entire night. The campsite itself is covered with stonewalls protecting against the gale, so I understand it is not uncommon to have such weather here. It would have probably been easier to put up a camp somewhere on a lower altitude.
DAY 4: 12-13 km.
The day started with another challenge: we quickly went up the Atsız Geçit pass to the north of the lake, just to find out that the way down was very steep and all covered in snow. There were some rocks on the right flank, which could be used to safeguard our descent, but again it required a lot of effort (and a rope) to make every step and to make sure that you do not fall off the snow. The entire operation lasted 1.5 hours, and down on the bank of the lake Deniz we realized that mt. Kaçkar would be too hard for us. The rest of the day we spent hiking 10 km downstream Büyük Deresi towards the village Olgunlar. Here it is the first time that we met any people in 3 days. Time passed quickly, as we were making many stops along the way for a rest, and after the village we were already looking for a suitable campsite for the night. The best place we found was a local pasture 1 km from the village upstream the Düpedüzü Deresi, with an organized spring for the cattle.
DAY 5: 10-11 km.
Non-surprisingly, we were woken up by local cows, which soon herded the entire meadow and nearly chewed our belongings. The first target for the day was another unnamed pass, which nevertheless looked considerably more hospitable and without any snow. Again, we didn't manage to detect the track and ascended almost 800m at our own discretion. The southern slopes of the ridge were indeed much warmer and were covered in grass to the entire top. However, we found the other side of the pass totally covered in snow - but it was not very steep, and for fun we slid several dozen meter down on our backs. Here we entered another wide valley of Bulut Deresi river, and simply followed the track on its right bank.
However, after 4-5 km we realized our mistake: the track crossed the river, but in reality no bridge or ford or anything suitable was seen. The stream was already intense and roaring, not to say of all the rapids. With a hope for a bridge, we went all the way down to Satelef Yayla, just to find out that there was none. Thankfully, a dog started barking on the other bank, a shepherd saw us, and after some gesture communication fetched a rope and helped us cross the river.
But that was just the beginning. Now on the left bank and returning to our inflection point, we had to cross 3 more tributary streams - and none of them was narrow enough not soak our boots.
We knew there is a camping place 2 km away, upstream the last rivulet we just crossed, but sleepless experience with lake Atsız Gölü hinted us, that a better idea would be to spend the night in the valley. So after that long U-turn along the river, and after all the crossings we eventually found a suitable place for the tent on a high cape between the streams.
DAY 6: 6 km.
The final day, when we had to cross another pass to return to the valley of Karvun Deresi, flowing into the Black Sea and from where we could thus find a transport back. Among several existing possibilities we chose to cross the pass Babur (3090m). On the map the way to finish was relatively short, but by the course of logic this had to be the 'big boss' of all passes we had subdued before, and in reality it turned out exactly like that.
The way to the campsite, which we had postponed from the day before, was already strenuous: on the halfway we found the track totally covered in snow, and it thus reqiured digging steps in a steep slope. Similarly to previous cases, here we started to deviate from the track marked on the map, in search for a better route for these winter times. So instead of climbing in snow along the stream, as the map shows, we moved toward the rocks, where the way seemed more technical, but more certain. Frequently this also involved grinding your way through the dense bushes. Through these rocks we eventually reached the top of a cliff, overlooking a small lake, jammed in ice and snow. That was the intended campsite, with hardly any flat ground visible - just rocks and snow.
Here did we realize what was ahead of us: a wall of snow, with separate dents of rock erupting from it. We took our time to relax and to calculate the possible route...
Eventually we took a decision to stick to the right flank of the ascent, where several small and large islands of cliffs were promising some hope. With short scampers uphill in the snow from one rock to another we were stubbornly approaching our target.
When the visible rocks were reached, the next part or the route was revealed: again, a high snow wall (the track being marked just in the middle of it, in the steepest part), surrounded by vertical cliffs. Going into snow would involve a risk of slipping down with a probable stop somewhere on the lower row of rocks or (in the worst case) down at the very bottom. So we continued with our initial plan, although now it meant climbing the higher rocks on the right flank and then along the ridge down to the pass. Thankfully, these rocks were steady, and with some mountaineering skills we got to the top.
Our success was in fact very timely, because dark clouds were already gathering above, the wind strengthened, and we felt the first drops of rain. The way down looked promising: first to grind several dozen meters down the scree in a corridor between the rocks, and then there is an open field of snow, where we can use the sliding trick and save our time and strength.
And it worked. Very soon we reached the blossoming meadows of Palakçur Deresi valley, where a track was slowly descending towards the huts of Paakçur Yaylasi. The distance we passed was shamefully small, but by that time we were completely worn out, and we put up our tent just on the outskirts of the village.
That was the end of our adventure in the mountains, but next morning we also had to walk several km down to a more civilized village Ayder - here we were lucky to meet a local guy with a pickup, who agreed to drive us down to Çamlıhemşin.
Logistics to Trabzon:
- taxi from Ayder to Çamlıhemşin (₺250)
- taxi from Çamlıhemşin to Pazar (₺100)
- bus from Pazar to Trabzon (₺35 per person)