The Petzl Roctrip – Turkey
A Photographic Journey
Pitch black. Total, utter gloom, the night was thick with blackness.
The dim headlights, bouncing in their casing on the front of our shed of a hire car, did nothing to penetrate the darkness of the road ahead. My eyes flicked between the faint beam on the tarmac and the emerald glow of the LCD display on the stereo. It had only been about 12 hours of travelling, but it felt like we had travelled much further, at least three or four decades back in time in fact. Each kilometre that we gained on the swathe of potholed tarmac seemed to represent another few years’ regression.
Wild dogs kept the adrenaline pumping as the tin-bucket hire car screamed with the dip of a clutch or skidded with a dab of brakes. Ditches, concrete blocks strewn haphazardly for barriers and lots of corrugated metal sheds/shops lined the road.
‘This can’t be f*cking right Neil’, I cursed. My navigator, Neil Gresham, is known across the global climbing community for a number of things, his charm is one, and his biceps are another. He also happens to climb pretty hard too, travelling the globe to some of its most remote parts in search of the best climbing, and more often than not, he finds it. I felt my confidence in his ability to decipher the crappy directions we had was well placed.
‘Mate, I’m not sure to be honest,’ Neil replied, ‘I mean, I was looking for signs saying “Cha-ki-la”, erm, “chi-ka-li”, “ch-chi”, oh, I don’t know.’ he snapped. Neither of us was truly angry, both just deeply tired.
Perched in the back amongst teetering piles of baggage and tired upholstery, were two more of Britain’s top climbers; Leah Crane a member of the British team, two-time British champion and a master of technique and Steve McClure, the best sport-climber to hail from British soil with worldwide recognition for his ridiculously hard routes. As they battled to stay awake, I grappled with the faux leather steering wheel cover and rattling gear stick as we approached another cross-roads in the blackness. As the car ticked over, perched at the cross roads, now completely convinced that we had no idea where we were I looked high out of the windscreen for a landmark, a silhouette, a light, anything … something to give me a clue, left, right, or straight? Black. Just black. My hands turned the wheel to the right and as I lifted the clutch to pull away it howled in protest again.
The air was getting hot, too hot. High in the sky, the sun was scalding any rock it touched in an instant. Climbers need friction. Cold rock gives friction. Cool, dry hands give friction. Hot rock, humidity and sweaty palms do not.
A cluster of climbers, some of the world’s best in fact, huddled in the shade below a cliff named Hörgüç Mağara. Just a few hundred metres from the sea, and in view of the ancient ruins of the city of Olympos, the steep roof of limestone rose high above them like a wave, giving the last shreds of shade until nightfall. They discussed the intricacies of their route choice. The air, for now, was cool, a pocket of friction. Proud lines of tufas, like ancient Greek pillars stuck on the rock face, covered the wall. This is what they were here for.
The gravel road pummelled the suspension, the car bounced back and forth, clinging to the roads surface in much the same way as we had been clinging, upside down, to fingers-edge width limestone holds back in Geyikbayiri, now we were southbound, to Olympos. The roads, damp from the autumn rain storms that hit overnight threatened us with a quick, cliff-plummeting ending. Driving on these roads in these conditions was tiring, climbing was easy compared to this.
A lone wooden building, with a huge ornate tea pot and a stack of pomegranates came into view as we barely held another corner. We were stopping here without a second thought.
Cool mountain air kissed our skin. Hot glasses filled with sweet tea stung our raw fingertips, six consecutive days of thrashing ourselves on some of the most physical climbing we had ever seen had taken its toll. The sugar hit was welcome, the respite from the sketchy roads even more so.
Laden with gear, hopping between the stepping stones seemed more difficult that we had originally expected. The trickle of the river over the rocks echoed around us, a breeze cooled the air and fanned tree branches as morning sunlight cast shadows through autumn leaves.
Trebenna, one of the most famous sectors in Geyikbayiris was a few minutes’ walk along the river from our basecamp, the approached finished with a steep, loose and dusty uphill section to gain access to the massive limestone caves in the cliffs above the path. Anticipation for the climbing that lay ahead easily distracted us from the heavy packs and tricky path.
Characteristic of the sector, Leah Crane, upside down and locked in to the sequence on a particularly challenging f8a+. The incredible caves of Trebenna give climbing of all angles and force climbers into all the positions and shapes they ever thought were imaginable. Just when the forearms are about to give their dying efforts, a subtle flick of the heel and twist of the knee can reveal a full ‘hands-off’ rest and provide enough respite to tackle the tricky headwalls that lie in wait.
‘Citdibi – for sure it is the future of hard climbing in Turkey’, the words tripped off Tobias Haug’s tongue as if it were no big deal, however when a man like Tobias says something like that, you know he means business. Tobias, a German ex-pat living in Geyikbayiri, has developed nearly all of the hardest climbing in the area and so knows what he is talking about. Huddled around the guidebook, Leah, Steve and Neil wanted to know more.
Rumours of a small convoy of vehicles making the 45 minute journey over mountain roads to get to Citdibi started to circulate and we were all keen to make sure that our tin-pot banger was part of the fleet. Not too long after, we grind to a halt in a makeshift car park, unload and begin the steep uphill approach through pine tree forest towards an immaculate limestone wall.
On arrival, we found the biggest continuous tufas we had ever seen, long limestone drainpipes of countless shapes and sizes. A narrow gorge plunged downwards for twenty metres or so, with climbing from the bottom, out past the lip and for another twenty to thirty metres or so above. There were audible gasps and groans of awe as the convoy hurriedly unloaded their equipment, eager to get involved. A sense of unified consciousness filled the area … ‘This is what we are here for’.
The narrow gorge, fell silent.
Seconds earlier, the shrill scream of a climber at their limit echoed down, what was hustle and bustle moments ago was now heads tilted back, eyes skywards as every climber on the ground willed success to the one above. There was silence above, then grunts, another shriek, the congregation below engaged and encouraged in a plethora of languages ‘Come on!’, ‘Venga’, ‘allez, allez’ and some languages I had never heard before, unrecognisable to me.
Above, Lena’s leg swings out wildly behind her in an attempt to regain some sort of balance as the rock revealed nothing of its sequence, elbows raised, breathing faster, scrapping for a solution. Twisting hips one way, knees the other, she desperately tries to take the strain off her arms and transfer the weight to her feet. An all-out battle against fatigue as her fingers insisted they were finished – and then off – the rope was slack and the young German superstar seemed to float through the open air behind her, towards the gorge floor where minutes before she tied in to the rope, it came tight, her belayer executing a soft catch perfectly. Applause.
Sarkit has a reputation for being a suntrap. The best place to climb in the coldest weather, perfect for the winter months and the sun-seekers. It wasn’t winter and it wasn’t cold, but we had heard good things about the sector. How bad can it be? We asked ourselves rhetorically. Autumn is almost winter, right? After all, Brits abroad, we can’t go back to the UK after exploring Turkey without some sort of a tan. We blurred the line between climber and ‘mad-dog’ tourist beyond recognition.
Marching uphill, confident in our decision, layers were peeled off. Reaching the base of the cliff, sweating profusely and extremely red in the face, “Well, we are here now so we may as well do a route” I found myself saying.
Finding the only shade at the crag I unloaded my bag, donned my harness, shoes and quickdraws, emptied a bottle of liquid chalk onto my hands and headed upwards. Thirty-five long metres later, feeling slightly dizzy in the heat I reached the top of the route. My shorts, saturated with sweat, stuck to my legs as I sat back in my harness on the rope. I looked out at the world behind me, the sky, perfect blue, not a single cloud in sight, it told me all I needed to know. We all stubbornly did the route, packed up and with our collective tail firmly tucked between legs, made a hasty retreat back to base camp for water, food and shade.
Another hard morning of climbing stunning limestone formations complete, it was time to head back to camp for lunch, shade and rest. The ramshackle hire car is called back into service, homeward bound. As we drive back down the mountain roads of Geyiksivrisi, following the switchbacks rhythmically and taking in the views down to the coast, we were surprised to find a small group of stalls perched at the side of the road, where earlier there was nothing. The handbrake was on and the doors opened. Lunch time. The wooden stalls, covered with rugs and rags for shelter, were full with fresh local produce and tended by members of the community, with a close eye being kept by smiling, chattering elders. This was perfect.
Time management is essential on climbing trips, as is skin management. Too long without a rest and the muscles are too tired to perform at their maximum capacity. Too much climbing, or too little rest and the skin on your fingertips, more often than not the only thing in contact with the rock, becomes too sore to climb with. As such, ‘rest days’ are a necessity to make sure that your performance on the rock is your best and what better to do on a rest day than to stock up on the other vital thing for your trip other than skin … sustenance.
‘You have to try Gozleme’, everyone we had encountered, that had visited the open market at Pazar before us, insisted it was a must do. After chancing upon the mountain market on Geyiksivrisi earlier in the trip, we were keen to explore in the other direction and so heading to the bigger market and the many Gozleme spots seemed like a logical option when we decided to take an afternoon off climbing.
The Gozleme stands, with the fresh pasty-like filled breads were being churned out, were plentiful as promised. Gozleme wasn’t the only form of food we found, there were stands bursting with fresh fruits, dried fruits, nuts and juices, trinkets and knick-knacks – a proper rest day.
As the sun sets on another long day of climbing, there is often only just enough energy left in us to shower, change and then eat before a hasty retreat is made to our beds.
Food and a drink by the camp fire is the perfect end to 12 hours or more of physical and mental challenge. Our bodies and our brains were getting increasingly weary as the days passed, but our senses were alert as ever. The aroma drifted through the camp and alerted everyone’s taste buds, the camp chef was our hero.On the menu tonight, traditional Turkish food, locally produced, prepared on an open fire.
Kebabs were served up and, as we ravenously tucked in, the sound of conversation and laughter echoed around the camp. Despite the thousands of metres of limestone we had climbed, the long days in the baking sun, our tattered fingers, aching biceps and throbbing shoulders, there was still a wonderful energy in the air. That energy is the reason we travel thousands of miles across the globe, the reason that we train for hours on end and the reason why we are always out of pocket.
That energy is the reason that despite our fatigue, sat there by the camp fire with minted yoghurt dripping out of the bread onto our shoes, broken and tired from the previous days, we were already planning our next adventure.
Liam Lonsdale is an ambitious photographer, writer and climber. Based in the English Lake District his appetite for adventure is massive. An energetic approach and a passion for people and culture see him travelling the globe and getting into some ‘interesting’ situations. Often described as effervescent, he is certainly one to keep your eye on.