Our three month journey, which is taking us between the two capital cities of the Roman empire, is coming to a close. The general shape of our route was set by the start and end points, Rome and Istanbul, and the desire to see more of Sicily and climb on the island of Kalymnos. Other than that, our stopping points were determined by our interest in exploring the history as well as the different climbing destinations along the way. This led us to allowing two weeks for the trip from Datca to Istanbul. Along the way we have taken in Pamukkale and the ancient sites of Hierapolis, Aphrodisias and Ephesus. With our very final stop being 3 days of sightseeing in Istanbul, a thick wodge of climbing was required to make the sandwich more digestible. For this we chose a place just east of Izmir called Kaynaklar.
The choice was primarily dictated by the paucity of climbing areas along our chosen route, but from what we had seen in the guidebook, Kaynaklar looked a good bet. Unfortunately, we were sorely disappointed. Undoubtedly, there are some good routes at Kaynaklar but on the whole it was not to our taste. A lot of the routes are short, scrappy and getting quite polished, often feeling like extended boulder problems. With the grading of the routes being questionable to say the least, it is a hard place to get enthusiastic about.
After two days climbing at Kaynaklar we were seriously worried about how we were going to fill the time until we left for Istanbul. There was one glimmer of hope. A crag called Sarikaya that I had come across during our research phase before we left the UK. Several hours were spent traipsing round the outdoor shops of Izmir only to find that the current guidebook was no longer available as a new one was coming out next year. However, we did manage to find the grid reference for the parking area so we decided to head there and see what we could find.
For once our optimism was rewarded. The grid reference was correct, we could see the main crag of Sarikaya from the parking area and the start of the path up was visible. On arrival at the foot of the crag, we had a second stroke of luck. A couple of other climbers were there and they had the guidebook. These climbers had come up from Antalya and were at Sarikaya that day as they were also disappointed by the climbing at Kaynaklar.
The main crag at Sarikaya is very good. Many of the routes are quite hard (7a+ and above) but there are a number of more moderate climbs (5b to 7a). However, by the end of the second day there we were running out of things to do, and our friends with the guidebook had left. We knew there were several more sectors so we decided to have an explore. Continuing past the main crag and up the hill we came to another buttress on which we could see a few lines of bolts. Whilst I wanted to continue right along the base of the crag, Gaynor started heading up the slope on the left so I decided to follow. After just a few metres we were stopped in our tracks. Ahead of us was a narrow canyon, no more than 10m wide but with clean rock walls more than 50m high on either side. We felt like we had struck gold and went back to our apartment full of enthusiasm for what the next day would bring.
What we hadn’t planned for was the return of winter. The next morning it was cool and breezy in Izmir but the sun was shining. At Sarikaya, 600 metres above sea level, it was cloudy and freezing cold. A bitter north wind was blowing, it was so cold that you could see your breath.
We had no guidebook and no idea how hard any of the climbs were so it was with some trepidation that I set off up one of the routes on the buttress below the entrance to the canyon. By the time I had got halfway up the 20m pitch I had no feeling in my fingers or toes but somehow I managed to get to the anchors at the top of the pitch without falling. Even though Gaynor followed quite quickly by the time she got down we were both more than a little chilly.
We packed the gear up and headed into the canyon which was a little more sheltered from the wind. Still with numb fingers we did a couple of very pleasant easy routes on the left wall of the canyon by which time the sun was beginning to peep through. After 15 minutes of sitting in a patch of sunlight I was beginning to thaw and decided to have a look at one of the steeper routes on the right hand side of the canyon. From below it was impossible to gauge accurately what grade it was likely to be, but all that mattered was that it was in the sun. After a tricky technical move to start, the wall got steeper but the holds improved and I was starting to enjoy myself. I could see that the hardest climbing was yet to come but was feeling optimistic that it wouldn’t be too tricky. And then I was flying through the air. The big handhold that I had been pushing up on had disintegrated. No matter, these things happen, so I got back on and had just climbed past that point, when a foothold crumbled. I didn’t fall but was a little disconcerted, a feeling that increased when I knocked off another piece of rock a couple of metres higher. What was worse is that the climbing had started to get hard and committing and with it my determination to ignore the troubling nature of the rock dissolved and I bailed out.
The exercise and excitement had warmed me up a bit and I had seen a route nearer the entrance to the canyon that looked interesting. I pointed it out to Gaynor and said I thought it looked like the most amenable route on the wall and probably wouldn’t be much harder than 6a. Having stood around for quite a while belaying me, Gaynor was getting cold but said that she would happily second it. The route gave the best climbing of all those that we did in the canyon, possibly because it was so different to anything else we had done over the last three months. The nearest comparator I can think of is the technical, insecure and strenuous groove climbing you find at Tremadog in North Wales, and, like many of the routes at Tremadog, was far harder than it looked, probably closer to 6c than my initial guess of 6a!
Over the last three months we have been spoilt by the quality of the climbing we have experienced. The one disappointment and the only place we can’t see ourselves returning to is Kaynaklar. It would have been nice to end on a high, however we have had a fantastic climbing trip that has been enhanced by going to different places that are not on the radar of many British climbers, you can’t expect them all to be superb.