Brakes and Flamingos

I knew going up Ağrı Dağı would be a physical challenge. I expected it. I prepared for it. I wanted it.

Traversing the cap.

What I didn’t know is that coming down the mountain would freight my inexperience with a new load.

It could be compared to driving a truck and trailer over the Cascades. Going up, you stomp on the gas, run through the gears, and strain against the dead weight of the trailer. You hope that the engine or the fuel or even the open road does not exhaust itself before you make the grade. Going down, you keep one eye on the swaying trailer in your mirror, pump the brakes, and pray that your rear bumper doesn’t beat your front one to the bottom. Up or down, gravity tugs at the mass. Your momentum can save you. Or kill you.







Ice and clouds.

We pick up our packs from the frozen apron. I buckle my 70-liter to my back. We pick up our trace to the summit, this time traversing it downhill in the daylight. After working against the pull of the earth for days, the opportunity to let gravity carry me downslope is tempting, and then, exhilarating. My crampons bite the crust. I crunch forward like Odin descending from Asgard, toe-fangs straight down.







The line, toe-fangs straight down.

We string out along the open slope. I see Celîl way out front. Greg, behind him. Brad is next in line, perhaps twenty yards ahead of me. But where are the others?

I twist to my rear to check for Tanner, Keith, and Tommy. But with my head draped in hood and hat and sunglasses, I cannot see them.

At this point, a shrewd mountaineer would stop, turn, and scan. I, on the other hand, still reveling in my newfound forward momentum, attempt to execute a 180º without breaking stride. I successfully transition from forward-walking to backward-walking. The shift is smooth. I eyeball the rest of the team. More confident now, I attempt to complete the 360º, to spin back to an eyes-forward gait, but somehow, one fang catches the glaze. It is akin to losing a trailer wheel on the Mckenzie Pass, although I will later attempt to cast it as something more elegant.

Suddenly, I am not walking at all. I am flying off the roof of Anatolia . . .

. . . Ice . . . Sky . . .  Ice . . .  Sky . . .

There is no sound but whistling air. There is no fear, only the acute awareness that I am one with the hoary past. I glide over the homeland of curly-toed Hittites. I soar along the path of Alexander’s army. I float past the crash site of the Genesis Ark. I flee the mountain coop like Noah’s flamingos.

Fortunately, I have remembered not to loop my wrists in my trekking poles (Thank you, Uraz). And for reasons that can only be chalked up to cat-like reflexes, I avoid impaling myself on the sharp ends of the poles. I accidentally miss the dull ends too, although I can’t exactly remember seeing any poles at all in the midst of the excitement. All 24 points of my crampons, each one sharp enough to shred a hapless Kurdish cow wandering into my flail, bite clean air. My own calves elude their thrusts. Steel returns to frost, hungry and bloodless.

I solidly embrace the post-flood world. And then bounce.

Fortunately, I am arrested before I have the chance to even think the words “self-arrest.” One cartwheel only. Maybe two. Or three. I shake, stagger to my feet, and look back, hoping no one notices.

But Tommy does. He shouts, “oOOOooooHHH!”







Walking off the the roof of Anatolia.