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Mt Kackar Massif - Kackar, Turkey
Mt Kackar and surrounds
Walkopedia says Thank you Alex!
Mt Kackar and surrounds
The Kackar Mts are the highest part of the Pontic Alps, which stretch for many miles along the Turkish Black Sea coast, parallel to but set back from the sea. Some parts, especially on the north side along the Black Sea are forested, while to the south, the trees are mainly in the valley bottoms (rain shadow effect, no doubt).
Every kind of ethnic group and religion has ruled and/or lived in the area over the millennia, and vestiges of some remain alongside the very dominant Muslim Turks now.
The north side is much more developed with easier access (fly in to Trabzon). Yusufeli is the main town on the south side, and that’s the route we took. From Istanbul you can fly in to Erzurum and be picked up by a car (two hours) or a dolmus (minibus, three times per day – 2.5 hours), or to Kars (and see the amazing Ani, the atmospheric former capital of an Armenian kingdom brought to ruins by earthquakes and invasion).
Yusufeli is scruffy, but with a certain small-town charm serving rural and mountain people. Our hotel (Almatur) is modern, family-run, by the river. However, the suggestion of a mountain guide was met with blank looks. Yusufeli does not do tourism. Hire a car perhaps? There are three or four companies but ‘they normally do not have cars.’
Yusufeli is soon to go under 80-90 meters of water. The tallest dam in Turkey, and supposedly fifth-highest in the world, is under construction a few miles downstream. The government is building a new Yusufeli high on the mountainside above the present town. It will not be picturesque.
We were locally recommended Kackar Pansiyon, in the hamlet of Olgunlar, as close as humans live to the west side of Mt Kackar itself (3,937 metres). The proprietor, the excellent Ismail Bayram arranged for us to meet Ismail the dolmus driver in Yusufeli for the (marvellous) drive of two hours, to cover 30 miles. Northwards along the river valley, which we followed virtually all the way, was a ribbon of green, and towering cliffs and mountains. After an hour we swung left to go westwards towards Mt Kackar, the valley growing narrower, sometimes not more than a cleft with a pretty river running through. Finally, we climbed further and the valley began to open out to more generous pastures. We stopped in the village of Yaylalar which is our nearest village of any size, alpine and pretty, though not Swiss-bijou at all.
And then we arrived at Kackar Pansiyon, in Olgunlar (2,140m) with perhaps a dozen houses. Warmly welcomed by Ismail Bayram and two of his four sons, Alpaslan and Jihad (there are also other family members about). It’s a newish wooden building (opened in 2003 when he started the business), a few yards from the river. Phone +90 538 306 4564. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Very glad to have brought warm clothes. We’ll need them at night.
The landscape is magnificent, isolated, beautiful.
There are two valleys leading upwards from the hamlet, offering gentle walks for the less ambitious. The shorter one starts heading north and then swings west towards Mt Kackar itself. Mountains rise to 3,000m plus around us, bare of trees but with abundant grasses and wild flowers. There are many old field-surrounds built of thick walls of heaped stones, clearly from a time when human labour was abundant, cheap or biddable (or all three). A few cattle graze, but a way of life is passing.
Summer flowers are said to be wonderful. A few flowers are left at the end of September: many wonderful huge crocuses; primula auricula (mountain cowslip); geraniums (lots, but no blossoms left); ox-eye daisy; a Verbascum (no flowers left), common mullein apparently.
We walk past Dibe Yayla (a nearly-abandoned herding station), and then carry on up towards the head of the valley where there is a campsite. Jagged peaks face us, looking much like the Tetons. The path swings to the right and apparently finds a way into the northern valleys of the Kackar range, allowing long-distance walkers to go down to the Black Sea.
The second valley heads west with a similar landscape of impressive mostly treeless peaks (some say it’s reminiscent of Montana). The less ambitious may turn back to Olgunlar, making it a marvellous day’s walk. Some five hours walk from Olgunlar takes you to Atsiz Lake (see Days 3 and 4 below) from which the following day you can climb Mt Kackar (a moderately hard climb, according to Ismail,) camping after descending and returning to Olgunlar on the third day, though the more energetic do the whole expedition in two days.
Circuit of main massif: To make the whole trip to the Kackar fully worthwhile there is a five-day walk around the mountain, and including climbing to the peak of Mt Kackar.
Day 1. Start from Olgunlar. Take the first walk noted above past Dibe Yayla to Buyuk Deniz Lake. Over the top. Moderately hard. 5-6 hours. Camp.
Day 2. Along river valleys to Derebasi Lake. Moderate walk. This is west of the peak. Camp there. Mules will have taken a different route. 5-6 hours.
Day 3. South and then east to Atsiz Lake which is south of the peak. Moderate. About 7 hours.
Day 4. Hard climb northwards 3 hours to the peak. Before mid-July crampons are needed owing to ice. Descent south-eastward to Dilberduzu camp (4 hours) where the mules will have arrived.
Day 5. Return to Olgunlar easwards along the valley – 4 hours max.
There is an eight-day version, as well as other options in this vast mountain range.
The Pansyon Kackar is a good base. Ismail and his family can provide guides, mules for carrying kit, and camping equipment:
- big tents for kitchen
- small tents (two-person)
Bring your own sleeping bags, and alcohol if required.
By Alex Duncan ()