Climbing in Datca, Turkey

By Jonathan.

After Kalymnos, our next climbing stop was the Datca peninsula in Western Turkey. As the crow flies, Datca is less than 70 km from Kalymnos. The short distance belies Datca’s inaccessibility with the journey by ferry and car taking two days. As a result we ended up spending a night on the island of Kos and a night in the city of Bodrum. Unexpectedly, they were both pleasant places to visit having nice harbours and some interesting historical sights. Although we might have got more out of our time in Bodrum if the castle, the site of the Mausoleum of Halicarnasus and the Underwater Archaeological Museum hadn’t all been closed the day we were in town.

The three and a half hour drive from Bodrum to Datca takes you through a major change in scenery. The road quickly rises from sea level into some quite mountainous terrain, through a landscape with a confusing collection of flora. We had never before seen cacti in a pine forest. As we progressed the vistas became more like South Dakota than those of the southern Europe to which we had become accustomed. In virtually every respect, Datca felt like quite a change from being on Kalymnos.

It wasn’t all change and Datca does have somethings in common with Kalymnos. Crucially for us, both places offer fantastic climbing on very good quality rock. However, the whole feel of climbing in Datca is very different to Kalymnos. Largely, this is because the crags are situated in densely forested, steep-sided valleys giving them a remote mountain ambiance despite the fact that you are rarely more than 20 minutes walk from the car and only a couple of km from the sea.

The only thing that Datca lacks from a climbing perspective is quantity. There are less than 300 routes in the current guidebook, of which two thirds are 7a or harder. Although we met three Turkish climbers who were spending 4 months in Datca, two or three weeks would probably be enough to satisfy most people.

The first sector that we visited was Sucuk as it is in the shade most of the day and clear blue skies were forecast. The climbing at Sucuk isn’t very extensive with only 21 routes, but it is a lovely crag offering steep climbing on good holds. The style of climbing is epitomised by “Les Merveilles de la Peninsula” (7a), which overhangs about 6m in its 25m length. The only exception to the general idiom was a route called Confusion; this was steep but without the good holds.

Over the course of our time in Datca we also climbed on sectors Papynosaur, Shaman and Uzuk Zurafa. These sectors are not as steep as Sucuk with the majority of the routes offering technical climbing on vertical or gently overhanging walls. Strong fingers and, on a couple of routes, the ability to hand jam are quite useful accomplishments. There is a lot of choice in the 6a – 7a grade range on these sectors, nicely complementing the climbing in the huge Can Baba cave that Uzuk Zurafa merges into. The climbing in the Can Baba cave is uncompromisingly hard ranging from 7b+ to 9a but after prolonged rain it suffers from seepage and most of the routes were wet when we were there. However, the water dripping down the walls and tufas couldn’t disguise how spectacular and compelling the routes looked. It is no surprise that the Can Baba sector is the big draw for visiting climbers and it was noticeable that the further from the cave you ventured the less traffic the routes got.

The climbing that we did was superb and it is a shame that more of the potential hasn’t been developed. If it were, Datca would attract a lot more attention and could easily become a major climbing destination. However, few if any climbers live locally so development in the area is likely to be slow and sporadic.

Other than climbing, the main activities available on the Datca peninsula seem to be swimming, fishing and walking. And we did see an impressive demonstration of slack-lining skills whilst we were climbing at Sucuk.

The ruins of the ancient site of Knidos, right at the western tip of the peninsula, were also well worth visiting. This was a pleasant surprise as it got quite a disparaging write up in the guidebook we had. Datca was a much more important centre in antiquity than it is today, and this was immediately apparent from the scale of the ruins. We spent several hours just wandering around the site trying to take in and understand what the town might have been like. Afterwards we ended the day with a swim in the Aegean from a deserted cove. This proved more bracing than idyllic as the sea is still quite chilly at the end of April!

Like so many places we have visited on this trip, we left Datca wishing that we could have stayed longer. It is probably the most tranquil of the places that we have been. If you want to get away from it all for a week or two but still have access to fantastic climbing in a beautiful setting, Datca is well worth considering.

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