So where are the Kackar Mountains? I’m not sure – I think northern Turkey. Well this is how the conversation started. For years I had heard of the Kackar Mountains but what was involved, exactly where they were was shrouded in mystery. Occasional photographs of steep alpine summits, dense forests and flower-filled meadows sprang to mind. But visiting little-known places that are away from the beaten-track and a bit harder to get to always added to the excitement of any trip. So plans were made and William was enlisted (William is young, adventurous and strong) and we set off up a remote northern valley in the Kackar. The first day we carried several days supplies and had to gain a lot of height. It was hard work but the views and flora made up for it. Soon the castles perched on hill-tops were below us and we were camping and walking in the upper valleys. One morning approaching our final destination – Mount Kackar, two baby bears scuttled off the path as we approached them. Luckily mum was not too close.
After a snowy pass we descended to a high mountain lake – which stays iced over late into the summer, Deniz Gol, we continued our descent to Olgunlar – a village in the very heart of the Kackar.
Later during the trip we were joined by two friends and their three children – ranging from 5 to 14. Now we planned to see some more of the Kackar – but this time in style. William was still with us but no longer to help with the loads. We spent several days exploring the mountains and villages around Barhal and Olgunlar. Here in the heart of the Kackar the weather is much more stable compared to the misty northern slopes. The forests are less dense and the weather much drier. We walked up beautiful rugged valleys over flower filled meadows and high passes. Nestling in the mountains we came across many remote and very old villages built in a very unique Kackar style. These few days made us appreciate how magnificent, unspoilt and remote these mountains are.
We were based at a pensiyon in Barhal and a small hotel in Olgunlar, after every day’s walk we would be greeted with very welcome tea, served in the traditional Turkish style – sometimes with the blue eye of good fortune on the tea glass. A hot shower then supper would round off the day.
The final section of the trip involved a horse supported trek first to climb Mount Kackar and then to cross over the range back to the north side. We returned with the guides and horses to set up camp in a meadow at the foot of Mount Kackar. We sat around in the mess tent and chatted drinking tea, then the cook brought in our supper, soon after we went to bed. Just before dawn we were up again for a hot breakfast before stepping out into the frosty morning air, the last stars still twinkled and a late rising moon helped us organise ourselves. We set off at first light and reached Deniz Gol where we rested and warmed ourselves in the morning sun and thought how the children below at camp would be just getting out of bed to enjoy their breakfast in the sun. Soon we left the stony path and reached the first snow fields. Although the snow was hard in the morning it soon softened up and allowed for a pleasant easy ascent to the summit. Even at almost 4000m high it was warm, the weather was clear and the views were stunning. We descended swiftly down the easy-angled snowslopes now softened by the midday sun. After a late lunch at the basecamp meadow we set off down the valley back to the hotel and hot showers.
Our final trip, to cross the range, started in the late morning as we all had a well-deserved lie in. A few hours walk took us to a high meadow where we enjoyed the evening sun and evening meal in the warm mess tent. Another early morning start the next day, this time to cross the high pass. As we walked up the zig zag path the camp was packed and soon the horses were following us. Near the top some snow patches slowed the horses but on the north siden the trail improved and we made quick progress down to a beautiful lake campside. William entertained the family building boats from twigs with leaves for sails. A quick dip in the lake followed – but not for all – it was very cold! Although we saw many tracks and spoor left by bears these shy creatures were not to be seen.
The next day we descended to Yukari Kavron where we had a vehicle take us to Ayder – a more touristy spot on account of its thermal waters – but relaxing in a hot swimming pool was just a perfect end of this memorable trip.
Some facts: The Kackar lie in the north-east corner of Turkey. They can be reached from the north using Trabzon airport. The north side is lush and often cloudy (this is the prime tea growing area of Turkey). The vegetation on this side of the mountains is exceptionally lush and the flora and fauna rich. The southern side of the mountains are drier and best reached from Erzurum. This side is better for trekking and the best for an attempt on Mount Kackar. The trekking season starts in late June and finishes in late September.
A good guidebook written by Kate Clow is available – The Kackar.