by Haldun Aydingun
It is January and you are rock climbing with your closest mountaineering friend. Perhaps there seems nothing out of the ordinary about this. A look at the January issue of any mountaineering magazine on sale at the airport will certainly reveal photographs of numerous climbers engaged in just that. The difference is that they are probably climbing in icy Arctic winds at temperatures well below zero in the Alps or perhaps northern Scotland. These are legendary climbs demanding special clothing and extraordinary endurance. With shocked admiration you read the challenge to death in their eyes.
What I refer to is nothing of that kind! It is January, but you are wearing a woollen shirt and heavy duty trousers. The rock does not freeze your hand as you grasp it, nor are you sweating. The sky is a sunny blue, a mild breeze blows gently, and the air is filled with the scent of the sea mingling with that of orange trees.
Far from being mere fiction or the blurb of an over optimistic tourism brochure, these are the conditions under which I and my climber friend Sorgun made the ascent of Camdagi behind Antalya in January. We were just 500 metres above the sea, which stretched to the horizon almost beside us. The air was as sweet as that of the Alps in summer.
When our descent was over we went down to the seashore. The January sun had just disappeared behind the mountain range on the western horizon. I threw myself into the Mediterranean for a refreshing swim after the tiring climb. The water was certainly not as warm as I remembered it from August, but it needed no heroism to go in. By the time I surfaced and looked up at the snowy peaks over 1500 metres above, I was accustomed to the cold, and enjoyed my swim with undiluted pleasure.
A cursory glance at a map might not indicate that the mountains around Antalya are of any particular interest to mountaineers. In a country where the mountains rise to above 3000 metres as you go eastwards, you may well dismiss these dwarfs as hardly worth your attention. But you will be mistaken. The mountains here are younger and steeper than their counterparts elsewhere in Turkey, and most interesting of all, some of them rise straight out of the sea towards the sky. This means that the climbing height is virtually equivalent to the summit height given on the map, and for some climbers it is the length of the climb not the altitude of the mountain which counts.
In March three years ago we decided to climb Mount Tahtali (2363 metres), one of the steepest mountains near Antalya. The point where we left our car was just 110 metres above sea level. After a walk through thick forest we reached the first rock at 400 metres, and proceeded to climb almost 2000 metres in weather conditions that included everything you could think of: gales, mist, rain, and, near the summit, firm snow. It was impossible to fit such a long climb into a few hours and we spent two difficult nights on the ridge. In short, this was by no means the soft hike implied by the map.
None of the peaks which fill the skyline west of Antalya are higher than 2600 metres, and some of the most fanglike are not even 2000 metres. But for those wishing to climb high rock walls this terrain conceals scores, perhaps even hundreds, of long climbing routes.
As I write this a team of mountaineers from Antalya are attempting to complete the first ascents of all these walls. But theirs is no easy task. Wherever they look they discover new routes of between 300 and 600 metres. These young climbers are the first generation to appreciate these rock walls. As yet there are no guide manuals or signs to point the way. So for climbers who want to try something different this region is full of opportunities.
I have no doubt that within a decade Antalya's mountains will become one of the most important climbing centres in Europe. On the coast there is plentiful high quality accommodation lying empty for the winter and available at very cheap off-season rates. The sun shines here 300 days a year, enhancing the beauty of the mountain scenery. Moreover, for those who do not prefer difficult rock climbs, there are delightful snow routes for classical climbs. One of the loveliest of these is Kizlar Sivrisi, a peak with the climatic characteristics of the Anatolian plateau. Since it is located a considerable distance inland it is not visible from the coast, although it is over 3000 metres in height. It lies in the world's largest surviving cedar forest, and is a mountain of breathtaking beauty. Since the cedar forest is under conservation, teams wishing to visit the area must obtain permission from the Forestry Department in the town of Elmali.
One last reminder, though. Just because the mountains are in a southern latitude and the weather generally so mild does not mean that climbers should relax their attention and safety precautions. These are still mountains, and on the rare occasions that bad weather strikes the storms can be fierce. The numerous burnt trees struck by lightning you will see as you walk through the forest is proof of their violence.
So during those dark winter months, if you yearn for the alpine summer then come to Antalya.