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Winter In Emli Valley

The sun had just risen behind the curtain of white mist. The weather was cold. I tried to wipe the steam off the windscreen, but there was nothing I could do about the mist outside. As I drove along the winding road between Niğde and Çamardı the view I knew to be there was invisible behind the thick mist. Soon after setting out from Niğde in Central Turkey, I had caught sight of the two peaks, Büyük and Küçük Demirkazık, heralding my approach to the Aladağlar and Çamardı. The mist swirled patchily and I wondered when it would clear. By the time I had turned off the main road, crossed the bridge over the Ecemiş River and got onto the track, my surroundings were beginning to come into focus. The vague image of Büyük Demirkazık reared up above me as I drove up to Martı Deresi, the upper part of Çukurbağ village at the foot of the mountain. Mountaineers’ friend Mehmet Taşyalak, affectionately known as our uncle Mehmet Amca, was not at home. I would drop by for a chat on the way back. Now that the mist was clearing there was no time to waste. Leaving the car I set out.

The Aladağlar range lies in the centre of the Toros Mountains which march from one end of southern Turkey to the other, and in the larger geological scheme of things are part of the mountain system which includes the Alps and the Himalayas. The Aladağlar cover an area of approximately 1000 square kilometres in the triangle between the cities of Kayseri, Niğde and Adana. The range consists of four main regions, Demirkazık, Yedigöller Plateau, the Vayvay Mountains and Emli Valley, and in every season attracts large numbers of mountaineers and hikers.

Büyük Demirkazık rising on my left was becoming steadily sharper as the mist thinned. Snow had fallen a few days ago and lay in a deep blanket over the path leading from the village to the Emli Valley, so I proceeded unhurriedly, looking up at Kaldı peak which seemed deceptively close, as if I could put out my hand and touch it. Halfway along I caught up with the rest of the group who had set out before me. That was nice, now I would not have to talk to myself as I walked.

An hour or so on we had reached the first camp. This was a large oba, a flat area known as Sarı Mehmet’in Yurdu, where the nomads had traditionally camped in former years. Although most of them have now given up the wandering life, people from surrounding villages still come here to spend the summer months, and in winter mountain climbers and trekkers take their place. This is also the last resting place of Recep Çatak, who died in a climbing accident on Mount Ararat and asked to be buried in his beloved Aladağlar.

After resting for a while, we stamped down the snow to make a smooth place to put up the tents. We decided to spend the afternoon walking, and set out for the northeast edge of the alpine pasture of Eznevit just above us. From the ridge there was a good view of the oba, and soon afterwards the Emli Valley snaking its way between Kızılkaya and Cıngıllı Beşik came into sight. The Alaca, Kaldı and other nearby peaks soared high in the crystal air around us. The pine forest in this valley is the only one in this area of the mountains, and it was extensively damaged in 1987 by an avalanche which fell from Cıngıllı Beşik. The damaged areas were re-planted and gradually the forest is recovering. The track extending halfway into the valley had been made the summer after the avalanche for gathering the fallen timber, and local villagers told us that it had lasted them for two winters.

The sun was now sinking over the horizon and the temperature was dropping fast. It was time to descend back to the camp. It was dark by the time we arrived and freezing cold. The sky was bright with stars whose light glimmered on the snowy peaks. The Great Bear, the Little Bear and other constellations stood out against a background filled with thousands of stars and crossed by the stream of the Milky Way.When we emerged from our tents the next morning, our rucksacks were half buried in new snow and it was still snowing. Evidently it had never stopped all night. After a quick breakfast we dismantled the tents and set out for Güzeller Çanağı at the other end of the Emli Valley. We planned to spend the night in this sheltered bowl. The fresh snow was soft and at each step we sank first up to the ankle and then to the knee. Our progress was slow and exhausting. Inside the forest we came across animal tracks crossing the path. They looked like those of mountain goats, which must have come down into the forest in search of food. We could hear their bleating from the rocks above.

We arrived at another nomad camping place, Koca Dölek, above which rises Parmakkaya, or Finger Rock, one of the most interesting formations in the Aladağlar. Lying at the mouth of the Akşampınarı Valley the 120 m high tower of rock looked forbidding against the snow mass.

It had not stopped snowing, and billowing mists continued to descend on us without warning. We had to abandon the idea of going to Güzeller Çanağı and turn back. If it went on snowing one more night we would have trouble making our way back through the forest, and the path between Sarı Mehmet’in Yurdu and the village might even become impassable. Walking as fast as we could, we returned to the first camp and from there are headed for the village.The falling snow and mist meant that we could barely see a few metres ahead of us and walked blindly through the whiteness. As if that were not enough we were buffeted by a strong wind. The tracks we had left the day before had disappeared completely. It was nearly dark where we arrived exhausted at Mehmet Amca’s house.

Mehmet Amca had acted as guide to the first climbing expeditions organising here by the Mountaineering Federation, and acquainted climbers with the area. He was now a close friend of all the climbers in the Aladağlar. Before the climbing hut had been built he had offered his hospitality and assistance freely to everyone who came. After Aladağlar became a national park he added the job of park ranger to that of mountain guide. Now he has retired and his son Saadettin has taken his place. Leaving the snow and bitter cold outside, we sat beside the stove and ate. Then as we relaxed Mehmet Amca talked, one reminiscence following another. Over tea the conversation flowed, time was forgotten, and the hours passed.

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