An Alpine Garden

After a short visit to High Camp, we return to the comforts of Low Camp. It is an uneventful descent of about two hours duration. I pick my way through the boulder-strewn path and realize that the trekking poles are more valuable going downslope than they were going upslope.

Wilkerson scrambling between High Camp and Low Camp.

Uraz offers me valuable tips along the trail: extend the poles in descent, cup the top of the grip in the palm, use the poles to control momentum, and remove the wrist straps altogether.

“Why remove the wrist straps?” I wonder.

“So if you fall, you won’t break your forearms.”

I remove the wrist straps immediately.

The ubiquitous scree underfoot.

When we first ascended to Low Camp in the storm, I was too cold and wet to appreciate my surroundings. Now, descending to Low Camp from High Camp, it feels like walking into a garden. At 14,000′ the lack of horizontal is disconcerting; nothing but snow, grey stone, and loose gravel meet the eye. However, as we drop back down through the 13,000 and 12,000 foot marks, our feet find more level surfaces and our eyes begin to find greenery in unexpected places.

There is no hurry. The sky is clear and the afternoon sun is warm. The Low Camp bobs in and out of view. Celîl allows us to meander. I pause to photograph the flowering plants. They are all the more precious in light of their absence at altitude. Some are recognizable, most are not.

Aquilegia or Columbine?

As I pass through these distinct alpine biomes, I am reminded of the important work of Carl Linneaus. This 18th century scientist spent a lifetime developing a classification system for all living things. While much has changed since the time of his original proposals, his legacy survives in at least two contexts. The first is heard whenever the guessing game is played that conceives of a world in three groups: animal, vegetable or mineral. The second context is heard whenever a life form is described according to genus and species. These are the living legacies of the biologist and his “Linnaean taxonomy.”

Mountain dandelion with lichen.

What is relevant for me climbing on the slopes of Ağrı Dağı is the critical role this mountain played in the thinking of Linneaus. For him, Biblical Ararat was the “center of origin,” but not in a way that one might expect. Linneaus believed that the “ark” of Noah was not a real boat of wood and pitch, but a metaphor for the massif I now stand upon. At the time of the Great Flood, life was preserved here on the slopes and was eventually distributed worldwide. Because the mountain had many different (biographical) zones from base to summit (even as we have experienced from Low to High Camp), there were many niches for unique communities of plant and animal life to survive the catastrophe.

An unknown plant (to me) with flowers emerging.

While this idea of Linneaus may be dismissed for a host of reasons, one cannot scale Ağrı Dağı without remembering its role at the birth-moment of modern biological thinking.

I put my camera back into my pack and walk into Low Camp. I am the last to arrive. Items of clothing (previously soaked) are draped over guy-ropes and tent poles. These welcome our return with claps and waves. I thump in, anxious to unlace my boots and peel off my socks. I sit in the community of circular lichens and examine the damage. My blisters are perfectly symmetrical, they crown the second toe of each foot. This discomfort is offset by the smell of Mustafa’s cooking. We will dine on rice and stew tonight.