Day 1: Elekgölü to Eznevit Yayla The walk in from Elekgölü starts off gently through pretty apple orchards, the gentleness being welcome when you’re carrying 9 days’ worth of food and a couple of litres of water. And at this time of year there is the added advantage of ripe Morello cherries. The up and down around the boulders in Kazıkali Canyon was a bit harder but still not too strenuous and we had the entertainment of watching a couple of climbers on the canyon’s walls (we should probably have taken a photograph) and talked to another couple who were just setting up – Americans of Turkish descent. P1002752 We’d set off with a couple of ideas for the day, either walk up the length of Emli Valley and camp near where the path turns off to Eznevit Yayla, or else to take the steep route that heads directly up towards Eznevit Yayla from the mouth of Emli Valley and camp where we’d camped last September, with fine views back to Büyük and Küçük Mangırcı Valleys. The latter is a tougher ascent but we were feeling fine so we decided to take it on, but only after Bozena fortified herself with mulberries. This was a decision we came to regret as we found our intended site occupied by a herd of cows. It’s possible that they would move down in the evening but also possible that they wouldn’t. Having experienced a night with cows grazing around the tent, we know that it is not conducive to a good night’s sleep so we decided to move up to another possible camp spot higher up. Here there was just two cattle, one of which was a bull, who took offence at us and we had to circle round keeping a large area of thorn bush between us and him until he wandered off to join the other cow. (On our way up to our intended camp spot.) We certainly didn’t want to set up camp anywhere near the bull, who was still eying us and making a lot of noise, but the only option left was to continue up to Eznevit Yayla. This involved a further ascent of 450m and it was getting late in the day so we didn’t have the luxury of taking our time over it and it pretty much finished us off. Also, there is a shepherds’ camp at Eznevit Yayla but we managed to find a decent pitch, if a bit stony, out of sight of their tent and, more importantly, their dogs. It also had fine views south to Alaca (centre) and to Kaldı (left), the next day’s target for a couple of young climbers from Istanbul who had been on the same minibus up from Adana. At dusk one of the shepherds spotted us as he led his flock of sheep out to graze. He came to check us out and we learned that they spent the nights out on the mountain with the sheep and dogs and only spent the daytime at camp. We turned in thankful that we would have a night undisturbed by the bells of the sheep. Day 2: Eznevit Yayla to Dipsiz Göl (Cımbar Valley) One advantage of having struggled on at the end of the previous day was that we awoke above the first inversion we’d seen here rather than down in the mist. The first part of the day was a traverse across the east face of the Aladağ, during which we passed one of the shepherds and his flock returning to camp. It’s easy going until you have to descend and re-ascend the deep valley cut out where the Narpuz and Kara Yalak gorges combine. Here we had come across some vicious shepherd dogs last year. This time the shepherd was in residence and hauled the (presumably) alpha dog up to his tent when he saw us coming. From there we had a steady climb on a tractor track up to Arpalık Yayla, from where a mule track leads into and up Cımbar Valley. Towards the top of the valley, some shepherds set up camp for the summer. Although their tent was standing, they had yet to move up with the animals. We filled up with water here and carried on the kilometre or so up to Dipsiz Göl, where we stopped to cook up a meal (and a pathetic attempt at product placement). In the meantime, a group of four climbers came down the slopes to the north, probably from the Akçay Pass (top right corner, three photos below). When the sun got less strong, we set up camp at the same spot we’d camped at in September. Day 3: Dipsiz Göl to near Yıldız Gölü We were up early and back down to the shepherds’ tent before the climbers who’d camped nearby were up. Our route for the morning was up the slopes to the right of the blue shepherds’ tent. The view back is towards Demirkazık, a major magnet for climbers in the region. Some of the going is steep at first, with views opening up back to Dipsiz Göl. Eventually you come out onto a broad, plateau-like ridge, with views back to the Bolkar beyond Demirkazık. The pass down to Maden Valley is initially very steep and even involves a little mild scrambling. Afterwards, the descent is on unstable scree and makes for slow going. There was still quite a bit of snow and I scouted ahead to get an idea if the route was viable before committing ourselves to each section (spot the hiker). A view back towards the pass. The route runs up the scree on the right then cuts left behind an outcrop. We were so slow that we’d run out of water before reached the bottom. Trekking companies usually set up camp at nearby Karagöl and pipe water down from Çömce Göl but in their place we found a group of workmen building a stone shelter, something that seems to be happening frequently nowadays. Incidentally, Karagöl means Blacklake, something which has become a misnomer. This weird colour is a recent manifestation. We pushed on to Çömce Göl, where we coincided with a group of day hikers (it was a Sunday). They kindly forced dried apricots and pestil (fruit leather stuffed with nuts) on us, but all we really wanted to do was fill up with water and drink. After a long time sitting and rehydrating, we pushed on to Yıldız Gölü. Here we had to decide what to do next. The hikers had told us that rain was coming, and indeed the clouds were beginning to look threatening. Rather than stay and camp at the lake, we decided to continue on to some nearby springs, fill up with enough water for overnight, then continue towards Karakuzluk Valley and camp when we found somewhere we liked. We soon found a nice spot, clearly sometimes used by shepherds but currently free. Day 4: Near Yıldız Gölü to below Çömce Göl The morning treated us to a fine alpenglow. The etymology of Aladağ is debated, but one possible meaning is Crimson Mountain. We had awoken to a tent coated with ice on both sides and decided to make a slow start while the sun did a little drying for us. As we moved on towards Karakuzluk Valley we got a view towards the next day’s route: behind the hill in the foreground then cutting back right to cross the far ridge followed by left behind the pointy mountain in the centre distance. One of the joys of Karakuzluk Valley in early summer is that it has plenty of water sources. And even a stream for some much needed foot R and R. The king of the Aladağ’s flora, grand mullein. On Google Earth, I’d spotted a path that we’d previously been unaware of, descending into the Aksu Valley. Climbing from Karakuzluk to Eğri Yayla we got a view of it on the ground.This was a potential route for a couple of days ahead. Spoiler alert: we didn’t take it. The alternative would be an old mule trail that runs below the scree in the distance in the photo below. Spoiler alert: we didn’t take this one, either. Today’s walk was a loop, east down Karakuzluk, north up to (abandoned) Eğri Yayla, west up the valley from Eğri Yayla… …before a long steep descent to Maden Valley and finally south up Maden Valley to Çömce Göl. It was a longer day than we’d expected and we were spent by the time we camped in the cirque below Çömce Göl. We’d camped here almost exactly a year before. Then, following an exceptionally high snow winter, it had been alive with flowers. Now the season was more advanced and it was less attractive – proof that you can never go home again. Day 5: Below Çömce Göl to the head of Susuz Dere Canyon We were heading off for unknown territory and therefore unknown water sources, so we were up early to allow us to move more slowly to accommodate the extra weight we’d be carrying. This time we had Çömce Göl to ourselves. Göller (= Lakes) can vary in size enormously in Turkey. And back to Yıldız Gölü, a good place to stop for a snack. Today’s route was planned on Google Earth and contained some sections that we were unsure about. After descending to Akçay, we climbed some easy scree. This part of the route was certain, with the goat paths over the scree large enough to be seen on Google Earth. Although the Aladağ are very barren looking at the macro level, at the micro level they’re alive with flora, at least at this time of year. The harsh conditions that plants can survive in never cease to amaze me. I was enjoying the route and found the patches of green and yellow among the shattered rock to be very attractive. Bozena, though, was beginning to suffer from rock scenery fatıgue. Our route out to the ridge was one of the biggest question marks. In the end, we found ourselves on a clear game track that took a rather different route than the one we’d planned, saving us some distance and some unnecessary up and down. We came out onto a broad plateau. We were surprised to find ourselves following cattle prints. This is not the kind of terrain I associate with cattle. Crossing the plateau and descending into the Susuz (Waterless, or Thirsty) Valley was our other major unknown on the route. In the end, it was relatively easy – we just followed the main cattle paths, though we did have to divert slightly to avoid the occasional herd; after the bull on the first day, we didn’t want to take any chances. We also had to divert to avoid the remains of cornices a few times, though one of them had the advantage of giving us our first water since the early morning from its snow-melt stream. Eventually we hit the Susuz Valley. We’d walked most of this before so we were now. pretty confident that we’d get through. The valley consists of narrow, constricted rocky sections separating broader meadows. And make it we did, camping in a sheltered spot surrounded by low rocks that we’d used a couple of years earlier. The plan had been to head up the Aksu Valley the next day, via the upper or lower route, then cross to the Yedigöl Plateau the day after, then descend Hacer Valley to Barazma and on to Karagöl Valley the following day. This is a fine route – Yedigöl and Hacer Valley are two of our favourite places – but Bozena wasn’t enjoying herself. Maybe it was just the fifth day blues or maybe the days had been a bit too long, especially as we hadn’t been out for a while and weren’t at peak fitness, but we discussed diverting down Susuz Canyon instead, a change that would knock a couple of days off the trip. We went to sleep without a firm decision, but it looked as if that would be our likely choice. Day 6: The head of Susuz Dere Canyon to Karagöl Valley And if you read the above subheading, you’ll realise that that is what we did. We followed the indistinct path down through the rocks and grand mullein to the start of the canyon. Once a major route from Barazma to Aksu, this trail is now little used as there is a motorable road that runs round from the north and it was even more overgrown than we remembered it from a couple of years ago. However, it’s still a pleasant walk, in spite of the mosquitoes, the only ones of the trip. We finally emerged into the Zamantı Valley and sat in the shade watching the locals winnowing wheat before heading off down the valley towards Barazma, with the climb to Karagöl Valley and then beyond to Acıman Yayla ahead of us. Barazma was the only permanent settlement the walk passed through and we’d hoped to buy refreshments at the village shop but it was closed as it had been every other time we’d been here – you probably have to go and collect the shop keeper from their home. Instead we stopped in shade beyond the village and enjoyed our first network connection for days. And again, at a water fountain a little farther on. A new dirt road runs windingly up to Acıman Yayla, but for the most part the old trail still exists and is preferable. We filled up at the last water before camping, though some of the cattle seemed rather possessive of the source. We climbed over the blocked entrance to Karagöl Valley. This is a different Karagöl to the one earlier in the journey. There was only one area of ground flat enough for camping. It showed signs that cattle had been using it for sleeping but not perhaps in the last few days, so we pitched the tent. At dusk, a group of cattle came round, eyeing us and the tent suspiciously. Our hearts sank but they soon lay down and were quiet until the next morning. Day 7: Karagöl Valley to near Acıman We were up before the cows the next morning and headed off up the valley, collecting water along the way. There used to be a mule trail up the valley to a yayla by Karagöl, which lies near the head of the valley. It no longer exists however. Two years ago we’d tried to make our way up the valley and we were back to prove Einstein’s definition of insanity. Deciding against the route directly up the middle (although a Turkish climber’s blog seems to suggest that they went that way) I went off to explore the game trails on the north side of the valley. Everything goes well until you get to a section of scrambling. This is not too difficult going up, but the rock is crumbly and less nice for descending, especially with a pack. That and uncertainty about the route onwards led me to give up after an hour and return to Bozena, who had sensibly decided to wait and see how I got on. View of the difficult section. We returned down the valley... ... at the mouth of which we met Mustafa, a cowherd. We asked him about the route up the valley. He said that in the days of the yayla the trail had run straight up the bottom of the canyon but it had been washed out in floods and that now it was very “difficult”. Some people now went up the valley via the slopes on the cliffs on which I’d been trying. (I’ve now found a Turkish trip report where they clearly follow the old route straight down the canyon, page 20 and 21.) He asked if we’d seen any cattle. We told him we had and he went off to look for them, after telling us that there was a way out of the valley on the opposite slope, which would save us having to descend all the way to the meadows of Sinekli Kapız. We went to look for it but didn’t find it. Descending through the trees, we bumped into Mustafa again. They hadn’t been his cows, but he said he’d show us the route out that we’d been looking for. He took us across and up wooded slopes until we came to an area of cliffs and scree, where he pointed us in the right direction and descended to Sinekli Kapız. Coming out onto easier slopes we stopped to take in the views and to be dive bombed by alpine swifts. An imitator. We were low on water but knew of a spring coming up. There were cattle nearby but we had the spring to ourselves. At least, we did until Bozena took out a couple of carrier bags for us to sit on, at which point the whole herd started charging towards us. She had to fend them off with a trekking pole while I hastily filled up. I guess the herder feeds them salt or some such from a plastic bag and they thought they were in for a treat. We headed off uphill until they stopped following us. We were pretty sure we remembered a possible place to camp before Acıman Yayla but were getting pretty close and a little worried (there’s nowhere to camp for a long way afterwards) before we finally came across it. The area was crisscrossed with goat tracks and we could hear the herds and herders on the cliffs behind us... ... so it was no surprise when one came over to check us out and have a chat. The ground was a little slopy, though I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as it looks in the photo, but we slept well. Day 8: Near Aciman to the end We awoke to a pleasant dawn and views that stretched as far as the Amanos, 170km away, with Antakya at their feet. İbrahim took a break from leading his sheep out to pay us a visit. It had been his uncle who’d called in on us the previous evening. Note the rubber shoes. Acıman Yayla used to be a collection of nomadic herders' tents, spread over various natural terraces. With some of them staying up for six months of the year, some of the settlements have become a little more permanent, and nowadays people come up from the plains to spend a weekend away from the heat and to drink the bitter water (acısu). However, today it was still nearly deserted except for the families of a few herders. A dirt road leads down the valley for some 40km to the town of Aladağ (a recent rename, it used to be called Karsantı) However, we wanted to head west across to the next valley, the only section across the south face of the Aladağ that we hadn’t walked before. The route passed a number of large shepherd camps with plenty of water... ... before finally descending to Köküt Yayla at the mouth of Kokorot Valley. The walk out on the tractor track from here is much more pleasant than the one from Acıman and we were glad that we’d chosen to come this way. Eventually we joined the road down from Acıman Yayla and exited the national park. We had been hoping to get a lift out and avoid the boring last section, but with Acıman Yayla nearly empty there was little traffic on the road. We’d just had a last look back at the Aladağ… … and were wondering whether to look for somewhere to camp or to walk on into the night then spend hours outside the minibus office waiting for it to open when Ismail and his two companions in a Tofas Murat (Turkish version of the Fiat 124) stopped and offered us a lift. We’d seen them driving up to Acıman Yayla (they’d stopped to ask us how much farther it was) and they were now returning, having filled up with bitter water. Even though the car was crammed with 5 people and 2 packs, they still stopped to pick up a man hitching home from work at a large mine and squeezed him in the front as well. It was with relief, as well as gratitude, that we got out at the minibus station in Aladağ. Edit: now with new, improved spelling.