In January of 2020, I participate in Emre Ozbay memorial Ice Climbing Festival in Erzurum in the East of Turkey. The waterfalls were many, Ice conditions were excellent, while the air wasn’t cold. Actually, it was possible to climb rocks (lots of them) in climbing shoes on sunny faces.
The festival took place in Eastern Anatolia—the most eastern part of Turkey. The biggest city there is Erzurum. The participants were based in Uzundere—a small town 85 km to the north of Erzurum. Most of the waterfalls could be found around Uzundere and the neighboring city of Tortum. There are around 30 waterfalls that have been climbed.
I came in the middle of the festival. Because of that, I didn’t build any climbing plans as I was sure that it would be hard to find a partner. Later in the evening, I met Çetin Bairam—organizer of the festival. Bear-like guy, who holds in hands everything: food, logistics, work with rescue service, and, most important, government. Precisely as he promised, Çetin introduced me to my to-be partner—İsmail Ağdaş from Istanbul.
The next morning together with other climbers from Turkey and Russia, we went to Excalibur. Roman Abildayeff and Viktor Koval made the first ascent of this fabulous free-standing column a few days ago. I climb a pillar with joy. Ismail climbed half of the pitch and fell, also with joy. Luckily he didn’t break anything. He finished the pitch and rap down. Then our driver—Ilyas—drove us to the Cevizli village. Over the village stands the amphitheater with a few long narrow waterfalls.
Essentially, we jumped on the hardest one—Anatolian Pillar WI5+ 110m. The approach took an hour or so. I slowly lead the first pitch—it was steep and a bit chandeliered. Ismail joined me soon at the top of the pitch. Assuming that we have an hour of daylight, one headlamp between us, and complicated descent to the car, we decided to go down. It was a good day.
The next morning I went back to Anatolian Pillar with Nadya Olenyova and Lev Pantyuhin of Russia. We climbed it in three pitches, with the most difficult on the top. The middle part of the pitch was extremely chandeliered, and it was impossible to put a secure ice screw. So I didn’t bother and ran it out. Anatolian Pillar is a classic route way more committing than Excalibur.
My third day was the last day of the festival. Some guests flew home. Those who stayed went to peer at rocks around the city called Hinis. It’s located southwards from Erzurum. The rock type is basalt. The height of the rocks is around 15–20 meters, and the length of the band is a few kilometers. And no single route—traditional nor bolted—around. The weather was cold and misty, later it started to snow. Otherwise, I’d curse myself for the lack of climbing shoes. Çetin intends to hold a rock climbing festival there. He even invited me to help with developing the area. And, to mark the beginning of development, to bolt the first route. It didn’t take long.
The next day we went to Uzunkavak village to climb Lucifer and Sarygelin. It was snowing heavily. We spent two hours wandering in the steep forest on the way to the waterfalls. When we reached the waterfalls, the ice was wet, the routes were not as impressive as the ones we climbed before—all in all, climbing wasn’t as exciting as days before. On the way back, just before dusk, Ilays showed us a short column in someone’s backyard. The column was 5 meters high, so I soloed it to save time. Ismail did it on toprope and seemed satisfied. He called the waterfall Küçük Enişte. All Turks were laughing when they heard the name. We pull the ropes in the darkness. This small climb was exceptionally joyful and made our day.
On the morning of day five, we went to Hihis again. This time to climb ice. In a canyon on the outskirts of the city, Çetin showed us a few lines. All but one was out of shape, so it was easy to choose. The ice formed beneath the tube from the cowshed. It was steep, hollow, and wet. And had a distinct cow smell. The lower part was fun, the middle section seemed a bit dangerous, and I had to climb the upper third on the rock. It felt insecure, so Ismail decided not to try. The wisdom that I usually lack. It was the last climbing day. We didn’t want to push hard, so we called it a day. I named the route Inek Kokusu WI5 M5.
Before my flight home, Çetin showed us the rocks around Tortum. There are some bolted routes and space for many more. As Çhetin mentioned—in the winter, climb rocks in Antalya, in the summer—in Erzurum. Actually, if I’d have enough time, I’d try some lines even in January—it was warm enough on the sunny side.
I’m grateful to Çetin Bairam for keeping things together; volunteers for helping us with everything; Ismail Ağdaş for being such an excellent partner.