Photos: Jerome Mowat, Liam Cook & Chris Cooper
Alex and I have developed something of a tradition of escaping the dregs of European winter every February. Last year we sampled Leonidio in Greece, and the year before Chulilla in Spain. It must be warm, inexpensive, new to us and bonus points if Alex struggles with pronouncing it in his Cockney accent. Geyikbayiri, Turkey, ticked all the boxes and the bonus. We hatched a plan soon after Christmas.
"He must be German," said Alex. We were walking out of the departures gate in Antalya airport, looking for the airport transfer. He was referring to the only other possible climber on the flight from the Istanbul to Turkey: The 5.10 approach shoes, wiry frame and DMM Duffel bag were a giveaway. It seemed plausible, considering the campsite we were staying in was largely run by Germans, and Geyikbayiri was known to be popular with them. There was something in his subdued colors, glasses and beard that also gave him a Germanic air. He turned up a few minutes later apologising profusely and greeted us in a very proper British accent. You can imagine our surprise. Turns out he had arrived on his own, hoping to meet partners out here. It was perfect, since Alex, Liam and I were in a three.
On the first visit to a place, I like to on-sight only, doing as many routes as skin and arms allow. The routes generally meet three criteria: Recommendations from friends, striking lines or route names I can’t pronounce. With an abundance of Turkish names, this was never a problem. We climbed pretty much every day of the week we were there. When it was sunny and hot we sought the shade at sector Trebenna, a geological marvel unlike any cave formation I've seen: Huge freestanding pillars joining twenty yards up to form cathedral-like arches; cave systems that fed into one another with connecting tunnels. Each route at Trebenna was like a little adventure, all on excellent rock. Overcast days allowed us to climb at the South facing crags, most notably Sarkit, with impressive tufa systems and pokey slabs.
We were sharing dinner with Nasim Eshqi and her partner Sina one evening. A professional climber from Iran, Nasim comes to Geyikbayiri for three months every winter due to its proximity and not needing a visa to stay. They had invited us to a Turkish restaurant not ten minutes from the crag. It was large, with space for 50 or more people. We were the only patrons. Nasim pointed out that it hadn’t always been like this. "Maybe five years ago, this place would have been busy" she said, as trays of kebab, salad and flatbread were laid out. "Lots of Germans, lots of Russians. Now, look at it," I had thought it strange that at times, we were the only climbers at the crag. The popularity of Geyikbayiri has waned due to recent terror attacks, largely targeting Istanbul. The latest one, on New Year's Eve 2017, saw a gunman open fire in an Istanbul nightclub, killing 39 and wounding 70. With some governments warning against travel to Turkey, numbers of climbers had declined. "But it's not all bad" added Nasim, with a glint. "Now we don’t have to queue for routes".
Our final day was a short one due to an afternoon flight back home. I was entering the top crux of a route in Sarkit sector. Focus was high. "Don’t fuck it up now," was all the encouragement my inner dialogue offered. All of a sudden there was a slight tugging on my lead rope, followed by a loud "Shoo, gedaway, shoo!" from Alex who was belaying. The goat bells, normally a distant tinkle, were loud and by the base of the cliff. I quickly scuttled through the final mantle, clipped the chain, and looked down. I could see a figure below the tree line, presumably my belayer, running around batting off the goats. It subsided after a minute and I could see Alex’s pale face and spectacles peering up. "They started eating the guidebook." It had been lent to me by Steve McClure. Shit. In the corner were conspicuous animal teeth marks. It was still soggy. At least it would make a good story.
Jerome Mowat Climber and writer. Based in Sheffield and London.