Boone was out cold before takeoff from JFK. Too psyched to sleep, I waited for the PA announcement—it is now safe to use approved electronic devices—pulled out my Blackberry, and found an e-mail from my friend Cory with 10 travel tips:
1. ROCK OUT.
2. PROSTITUTE YOURSELF, BUT ONLY IN TERMS OF PRODUCT.
3. DRINK WINE (LOTS).
4. WATCH AT LEAST ONE GOOD SUNSET.
5. CLIMB HARD.
6. DRINK MORE WINE (LOTS).
8. CONTEMPLATE THE CONCEPT OF BEING CONTENT.
9. USE THE WORD “RADICAL” WHEN APPROPRIATE.
10. BUT MOST IMPORTANT: BE.
As I sat with my chair reclined and footrest up, headed overseas for three weeks of exploring, getting lost, climbing and shooting photos in Turkey, I contemplated my situation and smiled. Tip #8 took care of itself.
Thirteen hours later we landed in Antalya, where renting a car was as painless as Internet research had promised. Antalya, located on the southern coast of Turkey with an extensive Mediterranean coastline, is set up for tourists.
We easily followed the signs to the city center, and drove around getting our bearings. Taking what we thought was a wrong turn into forbidden territory, we found ourselves on a narrow, steep, one-way cobblestone road, but it turned out that we had just entered the old quarter of Keleiçi. After some harrowing driving, we found a little hotel near the harbor, the Reutlingen Hof, complete with Turkish breakfast for 40 Turkish Lire per night ($29)—a beautiful place to recover from jet lag.
Outside our door, the harbor was alive. Boats came and went; some were docked at the marina, but on every boat, men were working. The sidewalks overflowed with vendors selling everything from incense to cotton candy, Turkish families fished off the bridge, and street musicians played folk guitars called Baglamas and wooden flutes, or Kavals. We stayed until the sun had completely sunk behind the mountains and neither the few clouds nor the ocean reflected its light any longer. I made a mental note to send Cory a picture, and ticked tip #4.
We meandered back into Keleiçi, where growling bellies led us into the Melas Art Gallery and Cafe.
The owner, Ziat Oz, was thrilled to learn that we were from the United States. He held up one hand to show us how many Americans he had seen in the last year. We had dinner, wine (lots) and a conversation with Ziat about Turkish hospitality.
“If you meet a villager,” he said, “and you need a place to stay, they will open their home to you and give you the nicest place to sleep. They will offer you food, and if you want meat, they will kill a goat, even if they only have one, and serve it.” He paused and smiled, “Do you know how they remove the skin from a goat to get the meat?” We shook our heads.
“They remove the skin by slicing the Achilles and creating a hole in the skin at the ankle. Then they blow and blow and blow, and the skin pulls away from the meat, expanding until the goat looks like a giant balloon,” he finished, with his arms spread out into a circle.
An hour later, our hotelkeepers remembered us by name, and asked how our evening had been.
The next day we headed up into the mountains to Geyikbayiri, a cliff area with over 350 established routes. Given its proximity to Antalya and the Jo Si To Guesthouse Campground, Geyikbayiri is by far the best set up for the traveling sport climber. Jo Si To is named after the three German climbers who founded it—Jost, Siri and Tobias. When Jost greeted us he held up two fingers to show how many Americans had ever stayed at their place.
Dying to get on the brilliant red limestone, we headed up to the cliff right behind the main house. We did the two-minute approach only to unravel the rope that Boone had packed—his Hell Cave rope, all 25 meters of it, from American Fork, Utah. We ran back to Jo Si To and bought the only rope they had—a 50-meter 10.5 that cost us the equivalent of $267, illustrating the infancy of the climbing market in Turkey as well as my inability to use travel tip #2. We dashed back up and spent the day getting the beat-down on extraordinary tufa routes. I fell and fell and fell some more.
Tufa climbing is like inverted crack climbing. Instead of jams, you get pinches or open-handed slopers. Geyikbayiri offers not only 3D tufa routes, but pockets, steep and juggy routes, steep and thin routes, and even conglomerate areas. Our 50-meter rope, with a max lower of 25 meters, limited us to less than half of what Geyikbayiri offered.
At dark, we followed the light emanating from the dining hall at Jo Si To. Tobias invited us to stay for dinner; there was extra, he said. Normally you must make reservations by noon, before the staff shops for fresh food. Jo Si To only serves one dish per evening, but every dinner was to die for. For a few euros you can enjoy an incredibly civilized breakfast ($4 U.S.) and/or dinner ($8) in the dining hall with the other guests, and for a little more, most any kind of drink.
We accepted and found two open seats. The couple across from us, Serkan Erçan (pronounced Sair-kahn Air-chan) and Caroline Andersson, immediately introduced themselves.
“Hello, I am Seko,” Erçan said. The two asked about our plans, and within moments Serkan asserted: “You need to see Turkey. I will show you my country.” We would later learn that we had sat down right across from Turkey’s best climber.
I looked at Caroline, a 21-year-old Swedish ballerina turned rock climber, and she was smiling. Just like that, it was settled. After dinner and a long conversation with our new friends, Boone and I drifted down the lamp-lit path to our bungalow, took showers and finished the evening drinking more wine and playing backgammon on our porch.
Seko, Boone, Caroline and I climbed in Geyikbayiri for a couple more days, and then we were off on a west-coast tour. Our first stop was Olympos, an easy day trip from Geyikbayiri. Olympos has about 10 sectors with 120 routes, boasting exquisite rock along a beautiful coast, with the white volcanic peak of Mount Olympos visible just a short distance away. An easy walk past the ruins of a theater and fortresses built by the Venetians, Rhodians and Genoese in the Middle Ages, across a freshwater stream that runs from a rocky gorge, and up a slight hill led us to a notch where we looked down on the Sector Cennet, the Heaven Area.
I knew I was in heaven: The cliff was not so steep, had technical, hard routes and not a tufa in sight. Travel tip #5 was in the bag.
Caroline and I started out at Cennet Right and the boys headed over to Cennet Left, to Atom Karinca (5.14a), beside what is currently the hardest route in Turkey, Serkan’s Hayalperest (5.14b).
I wanted to stay and climb another day ... the routes were amazing and there were so many I hadn’t even touched. I wanted to visit Çirali at the base of Olympos and see the Chimaera—flames thought to be the breath of a monster, that blaze spontaneously from methane leaks out of crevices in the rock.
But Serkan kept our team moving. “Jenn, we must go on,” he said. “We only have little time, and I promise you, you will love the climbing in Dalyan. It couldn’t be better.”
Following the coast southwest 40 miles took us to Dalyan, known for its Lycian tombs carved into cliffs along the Dalyan River that runs through the small town.
Oddly, as Serkan was supposedly giving Boone, who was at the wheel, directions to the climbing area, we came to a dead end by a river.
“Come on,” Serkan said, smiling, already jumping out of the car. We all followed, and there they were, the Lycian rock tombs, carved into the limestone faces of the cliffs above the river over 2,000 years ago. Rows of pillars were topped with pediments in the shape of pointed arches, and walls were covered in elaborate bas-reliefs of animals and depictions of the people buried within. There were wide entrances that once closed with sliding doors.
The climbing outside of Dalyan really couldn’t have been better. The two developed sectors are the Temple Sector and Angel Sector, two single-pitch caves ornamented with stalactites and drippy tufa columns. Nearly all the routes were established by Serkan and his cousin Mustafa Eren, and most of the hard routes have never been repeated.
“Where are all the climbers?” I asked.
“Nobody is climbing here … yet,” Seko replied with a smile.
I had my first breakthrough with tufa climbing and wanted to stay another day, but Serkan was keeping us on task.
“We must go to Bafa. It is so beautiful, and there are more boulders than you have ever seen.”
Bouldering? Boone and I weren’t really in the bouldering mindset; we were just getting accustomed to the limestone routes. We didn’t even have a pad, but Serkan insisted.
“I promise you will love Bafa. It couldn’t be better.”
Boone and I looked at each other, and Boone pointed out, “He hasn’t let us down yet.”
Once a gulf of the Aegean, Bafa Lake was created when the sea receded. Bafa is ringed with boulders, and on the north shore is the town of Herakleia, taking its name from mythology’s Hercules. Rising steeply from the town is the Five-Fingered Mountain, the ancient Mount Latmos. During the tourist season, the town sees between 8,000 to 10,000 visitors total, but during the off-season, it was dead.
At the Pelikan Pension, the owner greeted Serkan by name and pulled his crashpad out of a backyard shed. We emptied our packs, grabbed our shoes and chalkbags, and, seconds from our rooms, spent the remainder of the day sharing the pad on fine-grain granite boulders on rolling grassy hills forested with ancient olive trees. The boulders, sprinkled with patches of the once 6.5-kilometer city wall dating back to around 300 B.C., stretched farther than we could see.
“How many problems have been established here, Seko?” Boone asked.
“Maybe 100 or 150, max-ee-mum,” Seko replied.
“Seko, you know that this is destined to be one of the world’s greatest bouldering areas, right?” Boone asked.
Seko said nothing.
Many of the existing problems are located in the ancient city’s necropolis (cemetery), with burial tombs dating from 500 to 1500 B.C. We gazed around dumbfounded: the tombs were everywhere. How long must it have taken to chisel just one tomb, let alone these thousands? How did they move the giant blocks? And how could there be so much rock left unchiseled, untouched and unclimbed? That was radical.
Our second-to-last stop was Izmir, a popular vacation spot for the younger crowd, with clubs and pipe bars and a lot of shopping. The climbing is about 30 minutes outside of town, and as we left Serkan handed a CD up to the front seat “to give us energy.”
“This music couldn’t be better,” he said. Listening to Sean Paul as loud as the Fiat speakers could handle, we employed travel tip #1 and rocked out all the way to the crag.
The climbing is near a small village, where old gentlemen sat around playing backgammon, smoking furiously, shouting at the dice they vigorously rolled, and maneuvering their pieces by memory at a frenetic pace. We grabbed some bread and cheese, and headed up the lonely trail about 20 minutes to a fourth-class 40-foot limestone cliffband. I was halfway up when a goat met me on his way down.
The climbing was as good as we expected. The cliff was semicircular, facing southeast to northeast, gradually rising from a slab to a full-blown cave, providing perfect afternoon conditions. Tufa columns, pockets and edges decorated the walls. This is Serkan’s favorite crag; the routes are technical and difficult, starting at 5.10. If you’re not psyched to climb harder than 5.11 all day, Izmir is not the spot for you. More than a dozen routes are 5.13b and harder, including Seko’s uber project, Super Ego, which he has tattooed on the inside of his left wrist.
Our final destination was Istanbul, and the approach ended with a late-night 45-minute ferry ride. In Istanbul, we didn’t climb. We stayed at Serkan’s parents’ house, had home-cooked meals and went sightseeing. His mom even did our laundry. After our high-energy tour, we reveled in travel tip #10. I just got to be. We all did.
Jenn Walsh works as Black Diamond’s photo editor. Boone Speed is a freelance photographer and graphic designer. They reside in Portland, Oregon.
GETTING THERE »
The cheapest fares to Turkey are usually to Ataturk International Airport, in Istanbul, the country’s most populous city. To reach other cities within Turkey, you most likely will have to fly through here.
Turkish Airlines is Turkey’s national carrier and has direct flights from Istanbul to most capital cities. Turkish Airlines offers flights to Istanbul from New York for about $650 one way.
PASSPORT & VISAREQUIREMENTS »
A passport and a visa are required for all U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens may obtain their visas upon entering Turkey ($20) or in advance from one of the Turkish Consulates. Visas given at entry points are valid only for three months. Get visas in advance for longer visits.
WHEN TO GO »
Late spring and mid fall are ideal, but you can climb year round, even in the rain, given the caves. In Geyikbayiri, Izmir and Herakleia the temps from December to February will reach around 60 degrees with lows in the 40s. The high temps March through May and October through November will average close to 70 with lows in the mid 50s. Summer months are hot ... too hot to climb anywhere but the shade. Between November and February the area receives over 30 inches of rainfall. Dalyan and Olympos will be five to 10 degrees warmer on average with roughly the same amount of rain.
CLIMBING GEAR »
* 60m or 70m rope
*20 quickdraws (most routes in Geyikbayiri have about 12 bolts, although some have up to 21).
* The Jo Si To Guesthouse Camp sells a limited amount of climbing gear.
* Antalya has one mountaineering/climbing shop: www.mountain-arts.com
* Crash pad
* There are a limited number of developed sport routes, most with 10 bolts or less.
Greece & The Middle East Rock Climbing Atlas, by Wynand Groenewegen and Maarloes van den Berg (www.rockclimbingatlas.com
); A Rock Climbing Guide to Antalya, by Öztürk Kayikci; and Lonely Planet Turkey, by Pat Yale and Jean-Bernard Carillet.
WHERE TO STAY/CAMP »
Throughout Turkey, campgrounds are plentiful; expect to pay about $5 for a deluxe site. Primitive camping is also permitted in many areas. Pensions are ubiquitous, providing a simple room with a bathroom, hot water and a Turkish breakfast for $15-$20 per night.
Jo Si To Guesthouse Camp
T: +90 533 693 66 37
*Offers camping as well as bungalows of different sizes to accommodate up to four people.
Kadirs Tree Houses
P: +90 242 892 12 50
P: +90 252 284 5104
Pelikan Restaurant and Pension
P: +90 543 5158
FINDING THE CRAGS/BOULDERS »
There is a decided lack of information for all areas other than the popular ones around Antalya: Geyikbayiri and Olympos. The best plan is to fly directly into Antalya and go straight toward Geyikbayiri, a small mountain village northwest of Antalya about 30 minutes. The cliffs and campgrounds, including Jo Si To will be visible about three kilometers before you reach Geyikbayiri. (there’s an adequate but confusing map on the Jo Si To website). By car, Olympos is only a two-hour drive from Geyikbayiri or a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Antalya, so it is possible to stay in either place and plan day trips. Greece & The Middle East Rock Climbing Atlas is invaluable in providing general information for traveling climbers. It is not a climbing guidebook. In Geyikbayiri you can get info on other areas from the staff at Jo Si To as well as other climbers.