Mt. Ararat - eastern Anatolia

28. August - 3. September 2010



This trek to the peak of 5137 m Ararat mountain in eastern Anatolia, was suggested by my colleague, Gunnar from Hamburg, and at a Christmas party, we inspired another colleague, Niels to join us. Further more my friend Frede said ‘Yes’, just by naming the mountain. Ararat is one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Free standing and cone shaped. A marvel.
Ararat is a trekking mountain, and you will need Crampons, hiking sticks, a good sleeping bag, and clothes for cold weather. Ice Axe and rope is not needed.

Travel route
Århus - Copenhagen (train, bus [not intended], taxi [not intended]) - Istanbul (Pegasus airlines) - Van (Pegasus) - Dogubayazit (minivan) - Mt. Ararat (foot)

Ceven Travel

Flight Copenhagen - Van cost about 150€ with Pegasus Airlines, return with Turkish Airlines about 300€. I returned with Turkish Airlines from Van to Istanbul (60€) and from Istanbul through Riga to Copenhagen with AirBaltic for about 150€. The trek, everything included costs 550€.

Travel information

Links  - a travellogue of much inspiration - an American Armenian visiting Ararat

The Chinese expedition claiming to have found the Ark - - and their video. This trip was not to find Noah's Ark, but the story about the Chinese is interesting - how did several wooden rooms get all the way up below the glacier? The location is a secret, but Henri Nissen has deducted that it must be on the north side, just below the Parrot glacier. I spoke with Kemal, our guide, about this location and he also agreed it was where they found it - near the wooden beam find by Navarre in the fifties.
Suggestion for a packing list:

Relevant books

Eastern Anatolia is described in the Lonely Planet for Turkey, and also (a few pages) in the Middle East (also Lonely Planet). All the history and research about Noah and Noah's Ark, the book from Henri Nissen, 'Noah's Ark Uncovered' (revised in 2010) is a good source.

Saturday 28.8 Departure?

The flight was not until 01:30 in the morning – a shit-flight, but dead cheap. And now we were not going to make it because of a Tamil driver [no offence] doing 40-50 km/h through the dark tertiary roads of backcountry Sealand. Just an hour earlier we were in the light speed train between Århus and Copenhagen, telling the tales of the mountain we were going to scale in the next days. Then – a electric cable had fallen down somewhere on Sealand, and the different trains were going into the stations on both sides in snail-tempo to offload the passengers. We rushed out and into the soon arriving bus. This one was from Stamholmen (somewhere in Copenhagen), and it was obvious that the train company had called all bus companies, asking if any of their drivers were returning from their job, and would do some extra work. So this Tamil was now in Ringsted for the first time in his life, and was directed to go to Roskilde through villages called ‘Borup’ and ‘Viby’ – never heard of it. Now, after 1½ hours we had not reached Roskilde yet – only 30 km from Ringsted as the highway runs. We were discussing what to do, and as the time was now 23:30 – and we actually had to be at the airport at this time. Arriving, we run towards the trains, and I spotted a taxi on the other side of the street – Frede, Niels and I jumped in – how long does it take to go to the airport. Normally 35 minutes for the 40 kilometers – but should we try to do it in 25? OK! Doing 160 most of the motorway, we did it in 24 minutes. Niels gave the driver an extra 100 kr, stating: I normally don’t do this! We ran in, and were the only ones (last ones?) at the Pegasus check in counter. We were on the way.

Sunday 29.8

After only 3 hours flight (and sleep) from Copenhagen to Gokcen airport, we had breakfast and quietly woke up. We met Gunnar after domestic security – had arrived the day before from Berlin, also with Pegasus. The flight to Van in eastern Anatolia at 9:55, so we had another 1½ hours of sleep. Kemal Ceven, our tour guide was in the airport to pick us up, and we were quickly onwards with four other Germans and one Swiss guy, who had arrived the day before (had not found Van so interesting). Northwards between the Van lake and Iran to the east, crossed a 2500 m pass and after two hours in Dogubayazit at the foot of Mt. Ararat. Dusty, but nice. After 20 minutes in Hotel Nuh (Noah), we went for lunch. A place with really good kebab. Walked around for half an hour. It was Ramadan, so most was closed (Frede did manage to do a carpet deal, paying 50L for a carpet with a price tag of 45L).
At sunset the main pedestrian street started to wake up, and we managed a quick tea before going to bed.

First view

Monday 30.8. Dogubayazit (2000 m) – Camp 1 (3300 m)

routeSlept for 11 hours and the small headache was gone. Breakfast on the 4th floor of the hotel – super views towards Ararat. We found out that beside us 4 there was 7 more, all German speaking. We left at 9:45 with their richly decorated expedition bus. 11:00 the bus could not make it further up the mountain, and we started to walk in high spirit and good mood. Quietly and slowly. Jeeps could go somewhat further. At 12:00 we had the first stop at Kemal’s sister for tea and lunch break. Still quiet and easy, steadily climbing, good paths. Two of the Germans sounded out of breath and fell behind, but one of the guides followed them. Clouds over the mountain top, but perfect weather and temperature to hike. We reached Camp 1 at 16:00 where the tents were ready and so was the tea. Niels, Gunnar and I walked on for another 200 altitude meters (3500 m), 40 minutes and had a break. At that time it was 17:00, and a team of Russians came down. We thought they had been up to Camp 2 to acclimatize, but no, they had been to the peak and it had not been good – they had had altitude sickness and had not slept the night before in camp 2 because of the cold, so when they left at 02:00 in the morning, it had been really hard up the hill, and only one of them who had taken Diamox, had been OK. At the peak, and 10 hours to walk down to where we were now. Niels and I immediately took a Diamox. Diamox help the water balance within the cells, and I have heard that it helps as if you are 1000 meters lower than you actually are. Gunnar usually don't take them, and also had no problems at all this time. 20 minutes to return, great dinner, beautiful sunset and star filled night and happy trekkers. What a nice day. I froze tonight – not terrible, but enough to discover that my -5 degrees sleeping bag, probably not was that good anymore. The others had no problem. Two pairs of woolen underwear tomorrow night.

Storm Viewvan

Tuesday 31.8. Camp 1 (3300m) - Camp2 (4130m)

Again a wonderful morning, but again clouds around the mountain top at 08:30. We were all great, except one of us who had diarrhea. Breakfast in the sun and the temperature was quickly in the twenties. It was the plan to go to camp 2 and return to sleep in camp 1 to acclimatize, but Kemal thought it was going to be bad weather Thursday, so we should skip the return to camp 1 – I have him suspected for saving a day… Out of camp at 09:15, up, up, up through a ravine. Somewhat tough at the beginning, but after a break after an hour, it went quite well. Suddenly we could see the little Ararat cone to the east – we were at approximately the same altitude as the peak. Our group was 11 + 6 from a parallel group – and a French/Russian/American group which also came to camp 2 today. Again today we met some Russians coming down, and the answer to the question 'was it good' was somewhat avoiding and 'cold'. Both these and those from yesterday did not seem to have prepared well. We talked with Kemal about the two trekkers who were kidnapped a couple of years ago. 'They were with a Turkish expedition', it would never happened with a Kurdish – and if so, it would be over his body. He did not think it would be a good idea for PKK's cause. It was in Camp 1 it happened, by the way.
Everybody is 'older' and after talking to Gunnar, I found out I was the youngest with my 'only' 42 years… It seems that mountain climbing starts after the children have left the house.
At the high-camp at 12:15, after 3 hours and half a hour of break. Quiet and nicely. Camp 2 is really beautifully set on a ridge with views of east, south and west. Our place was like sheep-folds, surrounded by stone walls. We went 100 meters further up to try the crampons on a small glacier – and the part here is quite steep with loose gravel on the path. Every 5 minutes a loud stone-slide is heard from the ravine to the east, big stones crashing down. It now quickly got colder, but the sunset with rays towards little Ararat was spectacular. Dinner was tomato soup and then noodles and boiled lamb chops – nice. Went to sleep at 19:00
Turkish PepperSunset

Wednesday 1.9. Camp 2 (4150 m) – Mt. Ararat (5137 m) – Camp 1 (3300 m)

Wake up call at 01:00, and a bowl of soup and a cup of tea later (02:15), we were on the way. The two other groups were already on the ridge, and the lights from their head-lamps lighting up towards the star filled light was a beautiful sight. All were eager and no headaches, altitude sickness or anything, and all had slept. One of the members chose not to take the last leg today. And the climb was very strenuous over loose gravel and rocks. Up, up, up, very steep and only light from the head lamps. After 3 hours several of us were low on strength, but we overcame the problems at the western glacier at 05:30 from where the peak loomed a few hundred meters above. The southern route climbs as far as possible on stones since the glacier here on the south side is just 3-400 meters, where I think it must be at least 1000 meters on the north side. The glacier was nice and though it also was somewhat hard to walk with crampons, it was much better than the gravel. The two other teams came down at this point and all looked like they had had a great peak time. We reached the top at 06:40 with fine views 360 degrees, and not a cloud in sight. It was the first point where we could see towards the east, but there was not so much to see since the east peak (which is somewhat lower) blocked the view. Towards the west was the huge western glacier which we had crossed. Yerevan could easily be seen towards the North-West. The other glaciers further down could not be seen since the top is quite ball-shaped. But it was super beautiful. First we took a lot of pictures – with Dannebrog, our company flag, etc. It was very cold (-10 – 15?) and quite windy here at the top, the sky was blue and the fingers very cold. We were there only for 20 minutes, and then most could not stand the cold any more. Frede and I stayed until the last guide didn’t want to wait any more, though I would have wanted to say longer and enjoy being 'on the top of the world'. I did a GPS mark, and it said 5140m with +/- 5 meters accuracy, so I believe the 5137 m and not the 5167 m seen sometimes.
We started to return at 07:00, and it only took 20 minutes to cross the glacier this time. And then again really tough and not-funny down the gravel path – hard to the legs, and you had to concentrate a lot not to fall. Finally we reached camp 2 about 10:30 and we relaxed a bit and packed the tents. Then on to camp 1 (1½ hours). Today the peak was not enveloped in clouds in the morning, as the other days. After returning to the camp all of us had a well deserved nap. We had been lucky today, and thought it had been a great day – unlike the Russians we met the other days.

Thursday 2.9. Camp 1 – Dogubayazit

All of us had a great sleep and one of the Germans took the initiative to collect tips, and Gunnar did the work. Most chipped in about 50€ as the trekking bureau suggest on their homepage. It has handed over to Kemal when most of the other involved were present (horse drivers, cook, guides), and he had agreed to split the tips.
After breakfast, we headed down in quick pace, and it was soon hot (but not uncomfortable). It was kind of 'good bye' to the mountain. A quick cup of tea at the sister's camp. Back at the hotel, we went to lunch at the usual place, and I quickly ordered '2 cokes' to replace the water we had had the last days. Next was a visit to a Hamam – Turkish Bath. Just what we needed. Steam bath, hot tub, cold tub and a stone slap where we were massaged, soaped in and scrubbed. After a quick change at the hotel, we were invited to a Kurdish dinner with Kemal's family. So all 17 of us in the living room, with the food spread out on the floor. The cook from the trek, Murat, had rejoined to help, which meant the food was great. Back home, Frede visited the first Barber-shop, Niels and Gunnar went to the now full pedestrian street for tea and ice, and I visited an internet café.
familypetrified view

Friday 3.9. Dogubayazit – the fellowship splits.

After breakfast, we went to the palace overlooking the city. It was hot. Very beautiful and from 1680-1715. It takes about half an hour to browse through the castle. After returning to the hotel, we were going in different directions. The others went with Kemal to Van where they should stay overnight and return the next day.

I was going to do the vacation-part of my trip, now the hard work was over. So the following link will bring you to Nakhchivan/Azerbaijan part of my trip. It includes information from the north side of Ararat and the little visited enclave of Nakhchivan. Press here to continue...

Monday 6.9 (Nakhchivan) - Dogubayazit - Van

The last mini-bus to Van for today was at 14:00, so it was fine. It is a long trip to Van – 2:45 hours. I found a (totally crazy) taxi driver who took me to Akdamar Hotel. 100 TL. Fine room and lots of activities going on outside. Only thing was that it was quite warm and there was no ventilation or A/C. Walked, read, Pizza and I finally found a great place to have coffee (this is Tea-country) – great – Simit Sarayi, one block to the right of the hotel.
I woke up around 01:00 in the morning – and there was still many people outside in the street and shops that were open.

Sunday 7.9. Van – Århus

Surprisingly expensive taxi the 5 km to the airport (22TL) – it had a meter, but I must have been cheated somehow. Hmm.
It was a pleasure to fly out of Van – all guys, rejoice – Angelie Jolie has a part time job as a security / passport controller in the departure lounge. After take off, Ararat could actually be seen to the north for some time, with it’s peak ‘peaking’ through the high clouds. In Istanbul Ataturk airport at noon, got my luggage, changed to international and checked in with AirBaltic. Continued 15:05 to Riga, arrived 18:00, super quick change of planes, passport control and in the air again 18:35 on time AND (to my surprise), I even got my backpack with me. Impressing. In Copenhagen 19:00 and my train half an hour later – everything on schedule.

You can read about Nakhchivan by pressing here

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