After getting our bearings for a day and a half in Istanbul, it was time to move onto the next portion of our trip, exploring the Kackar Mountains (pronounced catch-car) in Northeastern Turkey.
Our flight from Istanbul to the Black Sea port town of Trabzon was at 7:00 am, which meant we had to awaken at 4:15 am, take a shower, wolf down a wonderful slice of banana baklava that we bought at a bakery the night before, and pack our bags before our driver picked us up at 5:15 am. The great thing about driving in Istanbul at 5:00 o’clock in the morning is there is no traffic. The flight to Trabzon took about an hour and a half.
We were picked up by our guide at the airport and driven up into the nearby mountains for a tour of the spectacular Sumela Monastery. The monastery was built in the fourth century. This now-abandoned 1600 year old Orthodox monastery is located at a height of 1200 meters on a steep cliff in the Macka region of Trabzon city. It is a wonder how the monastery was built on the cliff side with all of the material hauled in on horseback. A short, but steep, fifteen minute walk up a trail and stairway lead to the entrance of the monastery. The tour of the monastery took us through rooms and passages where most of the walls were covered with ancient frescoes The paintings were beautiful, even with all the damage and graffiti left by visitors over the many years since its abandonment and before becoming a protected area in the 1970’s.
After our visit to Sumela, we made the several hour drive to our pension in the picturesque town of Ayder, at the base of the Kackar Mountains just south of the Black Sea. Clinging to the mountainside, Ayder is a small mountain retreat, primarily for Turks looking for a mountain escape. Ayder is not far from the Georgian border and many of the women in the area still wear the customary headdress of the region. After arriving, we met our guide, Nardir, who would take us on two days of hiking into the alpine wilderness of these spectacular mountains. The area is lush from all of the rainfall it receives. It was definitely fall in the Kackars – the brush was turning beautiful fall colors.
Our first day of hiking started off with an hour-long drive up a 4WD road to the tiny mountain village of Honsuv. Here we started our climb up a steep trail to a high point where we could see several alpine lakes and Kackar Mountain, the highest mountain in the Kackar Range at 3937 meters in height. The weather was nice so we had lunch at one of the larger lakes and spent an hour or so exploring the area and relaxing in the sunshine before descending to Honsuv where we ended the day with a cup of tea.
Our next day of hiking started in an alpine area where we hiked to the top of a ridge, then followed the trail down through a dense rainforest to another village where we had a truck waiting for us.
We had hoped to get a spectacular view of the Kackar Mountains and the nearby villages from the high point of this hike. Unfortunately, fog moved in right when we got to the top, so the view was not as hoped. Still, the beauty of the area wasn’t hurt by the weather. The high meadows were enhanced with broad areas of deliciously ripe blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry bushes with leaves turning a crimson red. Our hike was greatly slowed down as we enjoyed hand fulls of the scrumptious wild berries along the trail from the high ridge down into the dark forest. We saw many signs of the native Gray Bear that lives in these forests, but we didn’t get to see an actual bear.
After reaching the bottom, we had tea at a nearby road-side restaurant before heading back to the pension. Just as we ended the hike, it began to rain, raining harder and harder as we descended the valley.
We ended the day by taking a much deserved soak in the local hamam, or hot springs. The hot pools of the spa were wonderful though a bit hot at 46 degrees Centigrade (about 120 degrees Fahrenheit). The hot water did wonders for our sore muscles. The hamam was quite an experience – as in most of Turkey, the pools are segregated with separate pools for men and women.
If you are interested in planning a trip to the Kackar Mountains, contact me, Mike, at Off Trail Travel – I’d love to help you plan your next adventure.
Watch a short video of our Kackar Mountain weekend here.