Ice climbing and exploration in Turkey By Tunc Findik
Published on 21/06/2019
Turkey is a land of mountains and, of course, climbing. But the climbing potential is almost totally unexplored yet; we can truly say that what is done until now has just brushed off the dust from the surface. And true, there are no mountains as high as Himalayas, nevertheless Alp-sized peaks and moderate rock walls up to 900m in height are there for us to climb. In the 30’s German, 40’s British and in the 50’s and 60’s Italian climbers have explored the big faces ın the main, well known mountain ranges of Turkey (such as Aladag or Kackar ranges), but becouse of the turbulent political affair and conflicts, especially in the East regions of the country, the influx of foreign climbers have decreased gradually after 1970. What lacked in foreign climbers was more or less made up by the newer generation of Turkish climbers by 80’s, 90’s and afterwards, who explored and made new climbs, in summer and in winter, on technical routes.
Actually, in this article the main theme for me is the history and exploration of ice climbing potential in Turkey, as well as the obvious potential.
Turkey has lots of rock climbing, virtually everywhere, and 99% of climbers are rock climbers, predominantly sport-climbers. Even sport-climbing is relatively new in Turkey, starting at the beginning of 1990. In spite of a sea of rock remains unknown and unexplored, and it is a small wonder yet there are lots of new things to do, including new lines and winter/mixed climbing on major big rock faces. We have numerous sport- climbing gardens, along with some trad areas and many traditional multi pitch rock routes that are well-documented. So much for the rock climbing!
The main surprise is that this country harbors a good size of ice climbing potential, really unknown and virtually unexplored until year 2002 or so. With extremely cold winters, altitudes around 2000 meters above sea level and an abundance of steep terrain, Eastern Turkey is the perfect place for frozen icefall climbing.
The main obstacle was that nobody knew how to climb water ice in this manner and nobody remembered the potential back then, let alone knew any icefall route existed in Turkey. I recall I had often travelled to Iran or Europe for icefall climbing in winters...
The first ice route that was climbed (and by that, I mean lead-climbing, of course) in Turkey is at Van’s Muradiye town, called ‘Yezidi’ icefall (40m, WI4) by me, Efecan Aytemiz and Kursat Avcı back in winter 2002, that we had found out by coincidence. Somehow that did not ring a bell with us, though. Then, one day in 2013, one local mountaineer from Erzurum called me and said they had found a sizeable ice pillar somewhere in Uzundere, a town 84 km north of Erzurum. Thus, the 30m long ‘Serafin’ icefall was the first ice route of the area. That was how this ice climbing adventure in eastern Turkey has taken a kick-start...
Uzundere, with its unique climatic conditions creates perfect ice formation conditions; steep precipices with running water and freezing conditions, as well as ease of access to the routes. Thus, we have eventually discovered a number ice routes and made the first ascents in the following winters, including the classic lines of ‘Lucifer’ (45m WI4-), ‘Sarıgelin’ (85m, WI5-, the first multi pitch ice route in Turkey), ‘Anatolia Pillar’ (100m, WI5+) ‘Nakavt’ (250m WI5-, easily the longest ice route in Turkey).
So, I can say this area has become the cradle of ice climbing in Turkey and the introduction point for this extreme sport for the climbers in this country. Still, the potential for new routes remains to be fully explored in that same region.
Experience of Uzundere educated me to the availability of ice climbing in the adjacent areas, thus I made some explorations with the help of local climber friends in different regions of Turkey. In Van, one of the coldest cities of the area, the perfect ice pillar of ‘Erek Sutun’ icefall (30m, WI4+) was climbed by me and Gilberto Merlante (italy) in 2017. In Northeastern Turkey by Black Sea, Çamlıhemşin area produced some nice ice routes for us, namely the ‘Sudüşen’ icefall (30m WI4) and ‘Keciyatagı’ icefall (30m WI+). Surprisingly, in central Turkey near Cappadocia, in Guzelyurt, we were able to climb 30 to 40m long ice routes, such as ‘Gelveri’ icefall (30m WI5-).
In Yusufeli, Artvin, Van, Agrı, Diyadin, Maras and Hakkari areas of Northeast, East and Southeast Turkey, there sure is a treasure trove of ice climbs- waiting to be discovered by the enthusiast. Some of these climbs are obviously at locations difficult to approach in wintertime, what with the notorious avalanche danger of the region and lack of nearby roads and villages. My journey to explore ice climbing in Turkey continues- and it is my sincere wish to share the information with all climbers!
Article and pictures by Tunk Findik/ Dilaver Kisili/ Ali Ihsan Ozturk/ Arda Turegun, June 2019.
Tunc Findic, born in 1972, is a professional climber, mountain guide, motivational speaker and writer.
He lives in İstanbul (Turkey) and counts more than 750 summits, more than 350 new routes, many traditional rock and multi-pitch climbs.
He is in the Grivel team since 2014.