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Jake Norton Guides Client Up Highest Peak in Turkey
Posted on October 27, 2010

By Jake Norton

Somewhere over the Atlantic, I pulled out the worn and tattered letter from my sister and re-read the now-familiar quote from H.W. Tilman’s “When Men and Mountains Meet”:

Like the desire for drink or drugs, the craving for mountains is not easily overcome, but a mountaineering debauch, such as six months in the Himalaya, is followed by no remorse. Should such a feeling arise then one may echo Omar’s cri de coeur,

Indeed, indeed, Repentance oft before

I swore—but was I sober when I swore?

Having once tasted the pleasure of living in high solitary places with a few like spirits, European or Sherpa, I could not give it up. The prospect of what is euphemistically termed “settling down,” like mud to the bottom of a pond, might perhaps be faced when it became inevitable, but not yet awhile.

Another adventure was underway, this one some 17 years in the making.

I first hoped to climb Mount Ararat back in 1993—after 6 months of study in Nepal—but the unstable political situation in eastern Turkey prohibited it at the time. Six months ago, my friend and client, Art Adams, called me up. He had looked at Ararat on a map, and while it looked interesting, he noticed another peak—Mount Artos—that really caught his eye, at least in name. So off we went.

If western Turkey—around Istanbul and as far east as Ankara—is a blend of Europe and Asia, the eastern region is decidedly Asia. Dry and austere, the region around the eastern city of Van is not dissimilar to the Tibetan Plateau. Sitting as it does near the border with Iran, the central Asian influence is palpable. Bejeweled trucks ply the highways, shuttling their wares past ancient mosques and gilded palaces perched on high hilltops. Spices and flavors from lands far away crowd the markets of Van and Doğubeyazıt, and the occasional camel even makes an appearance. It’s quite a place.

After arrival in Van, we visited the stunning Akdamar Island and Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross, toured the remains of the Van Citadel (which includes an inscription from Xerxes the Great) and got ready for Mount Artos the following morning.

Artos is a rarely climbed summit, rising to a height of 11,604 feet from the turquoise waters of the Van Sea. It’s not difficult in any way, but is a fairly long climb, with a vertical gain of some 6,600 feet. We had a long day, but Art fared well, stayed strong, and made it to the top. (You can read more about our climb of Artos in my post Guiding Lessons on Artos.)

The following morning we found ourselves in the village of Doğubeyazıt, in the shadow of Mount Ararat. A visit here is incomplete without touring the Ishak Pasha Palace, which dates to 1685. That, some rest, and a good sampling of Turkish kebaps (kebobs) had us ready to begin our climb of Ararat.

A giant, dormant volcano, Mount Ararat sits nearly alone in eastern Turkey, rising some 11,000 feet from the valley floor. It is steeped in history, most notably as the purported resting place of Noah’s Ark. From a climbing perspective, it’s not difficult in the summer and fall by the standard, southern route.

Our first two days took us from Eli Village up about 6,000 feet to Camp 2 at 13,600 feet. At this point, the terrain begins to get interesting.

The summit glaciers of Ararat have, over time, carved through the rotten rock of the mountain, creating dramatic chasms in the mountainside. Camp 2 sits on an obvious prow of rotten rock leading up to the summit glacier and plateau. I woke at 11 a.m. to check the weather and begin the day with Art, only to find that we were immersed in a lenticular cap. The wind was howling and snow fell hard; delay was the only option.

The subsequent weather check—at midnight—showed a slight clearing; since this was our only summit option, we decided to give it a try and see if the weather gods would cooperate. A light breakfast of coffee, flat bread (pita) and fruit prepared by Mehmet, our cook, got us out the door and moving uphill.

Art was definitely feeling it a bit. Only six days before, he was at home in Knoxville, Tennessee, and now he was moving past 15,000 feet near the Iranian border. But, true to form, he pushed on, working hard and cracking his usual jokes. The weather pushed on, too, with the cap descending onto us, wrapping our world in a biting soup of wind-driven snow.

By dawn, we were cresting onto the summit glacier. The steady 40mph winds were still with us, but the cap had, for the moment, blown off, giving us some warm rays of sun and a break from the snow.

The final 500 feet of the climb follow gentle snow slopes to the summit, which we hit at 8 a.m. in high wind and brilliant sun. To the east, we gazed past Little Ararat—a satellite peak of Mount Ararat—and out onto the brown, arid plains of western Iran. To the west, hints of green painted the canvas of eastern Turkey far below.

It was the first summit Art and I had shared since Djebel Toubkal in 2007, and it was well earned. We shook hands and took some photos, and I placed a Tibetan kata scarf—as I always do—on the summit for my wife, Wende, and children, Lila and Ryrie. Then it was time to depart … 11,000 feet of descent awaited us, and the weather was closing in once more.

We made it back down in one piece, and went on to soak our weary bones in the waters of the Dead Sea after visiting the ancient ruins of Petra in Jordan.

Ararat was another wonderful adventure with great company in amazing terrain. As for settling down? Not yet awhile.

Author: - Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

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