Sport climbing and traveling in Turkey

WHO: Max Neale and Anna Joseph
WHAT: Sport climbing and traveling
WHERE: All over Turkey
WHEN: January–February

GEAR: 60L backpack, Nemo Astro Insulated sleeping pad, Marmot Plasma 15 sleeping bag, Smartwool socks

I’m thirty-four days into a two-month trip to Turkey. Traveling with a college friend, Anna, my mission here has two parts: one, get into rock climbing shape for the upcoming season in Yosemite, and two, immerse ourselves in a foreign country that neither of us have previously been to. We’ve dividing our time roughly equally between the two.

Turkey is a dream for American tourists and rock climbers alike. The Anatolian peninsula—which lies at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and comprises most of Turkey-is one of the oldest continually inhabited regions of the world. Historians say that people have lived here since 2300 B.C. Ruins are scattered across Turkey like cheese on a pizza. Perhaps the most famous site in Turkey is the ancient city of Troy, the setting of the Trojan War. Other newer buildings are equally impressive. In Istanbul we toured the Hagia Sophia, a church built in 532 AD, and the opulent Topkapi Palace, which was home to Ottoman sultans from 1465–1856.

Combine ancient history with Western influence and you get modern Turkey, the ultimate juxtaposition of old and new. Electric trams emblazoned with corporate logos whizz by two-thousand-year-old buildings. iPhone-bearing teens wearing skinny jeans walk the same streets as their grandmothers in headscarves. Religion and culture clash. As do the small market vendor and giant supermarket. The difference between new and old is stark and ubiquitous.

Geographically, Turkey is large and diverse. It’s slightly bigger than Texas, produces most of its food, and is well known for producing ornate handwoven carpets. As a tourist, it’s hard to decide where to go. The western half of the country hosts the greatest number of ancient sites, the Mediterranean and Aggean have sunny sand beaches, and the farther east you go the drier and more rural it gets. We’ve focused our traveling efforts on the country’s western half.

Outdoor recreation is relatively new in Turkey. Mountaineering got started several decades ago and continues to become more popular. (At 16,800 ft., Mt. Ararat, in the far east near the Armenian and Iranian borders, is the country’s highest peak.) Technical climbing is going full swing now. The largest and best-known climbing destination in Turkey is Geyikbayiri, which lies near Antalyla on the Mediterranean coast. Geyikbayiri boasts a warm climate and long limestone cliffbands. With nearly 500 sport routes this is an ideal winter destination. Drippy stalactite tufas, pockets, and small edges cover the red, orange, and grey walls. The climbing here is gymnastic in style and steep—the antithesis of Yosemite’s polished granite. Yesterday I teamed up with an Iranian climber, Nasim, to climb 32 routes graded 7a (5.11d). Dubbed the “7a Marathon” we started climbing by headlamp at 4am and stopped at 8pm for a massive dinner.

Did I mention the food? It’s fresh, tasty, healthy, and cheap. The world’s best baklava goes for only $4 per pound.

Logistically, Turkey is easy. Flights to Istanbul come direct from New York and are inexpensive. From there, an air ticket to Antalya costs a mere $35, and an hour in a bus or shuttle will bring you straight to Geyikbayiri, where one can choose from a variety of lodging options. With tenting, bungalows, and a communal kitchen, Climbers Garden is my top pick. Whether you’re looking for a sport climbing, cultural, or Mediterranean beach destination, consider Turkey for your next trip.

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