“Guys, lit’s gooo.” Celîl’s lilting voice sends us into motion.
Tommy and I are on the same wave length. We eye our alpinist and mimic his every move. When he pulls on a fleece, we rummage for ours. When he twitches, we jump. When he zips a flap, we look to see if we have one. While in Doğubeyazıt we discovered that our new Turkish friend has climbed many peaks.
How many times have you climbed Ağrı Dağı?” we asked him.
“I don’t know. Meybbe one hundred.”
Despite his memory, Celîl is the real deal. If anyone will survive this outing, he is the one. We are determined to watch and follow him.
The one thing that we have that Celîl does not have is our official expedition do-rag. Tommy carried them to Turkey as a surprise for our group. The words “mountain man” are boldly scripted on the front. I wonder what Celîl thinks of this Kentuckyish audacity. The do-rag is neon green in color and is bright enough, I calculate, to glow-in-the-dark. Earlier, Tommy showed me how to wrap my noggin, knotting it in the back. There are several advantages to sporting such fashion, I calculate. Chief among them, is the assistance that it will give the rescue team when searching for my frozen body buried in an avalanche. This assumes, of course, that I conclude the tumble with nostrils up. I wonder, momentarily, if they make neon green boots?
Today’s trek will take us from Low Camp to High Camp and back down again. To the reasonable person, this up and down stuff may appear to be an exercise in inefficiency. But this is the realm of thin air, not the place of reasonable people. Today’s journey will witness a gain of 2,600 feet of elevation, followed by a loss of the same. We will return to Low Camp and repeat the same trail tomorrow. I am convinced that alpinists mutter the phrase, “climb high, sleep low,” to distract themselves from this irrational behavior. Throughout the muttering, though, the human body is adapting, building, adjusting to life above the clouds.
By the time we leave Low Camp the clouds blow by and the sun begins to dry our damp clothes. As the slope rises, so does the temperature. By mid-morning it is scraping 70 degrees. We imitate Celîl. Venting zippers are opened. Layers are peeled. Short sleeves replace long sleeves. I perspire heavily. The do-rag does its thing. Oddly, despite the warmth, patches of snow appear on the ground.
We switchback up the Biçare Ridge. The scree underfoot is challenging. It is difficult, in places, to even identify the trail. Every step carries the risk of a slip, twist, or sprain. To our right, Seytan Deresi, or “Satan’s Gulch” yawns (“Hell’s Creek” is on the other side of the mountain!). It is appropriately named. From time to time, we hear crashing sounds arising from the gulch. The echoes bounce off the brittle rock all around us; it is disconcerting. I look upslope expecting at anytime to meet the avalanche that will put my do-rag to the ultimate test.
On one occasion, we watch from the ridge, transfixed, as a boulder the size of an automobile careens down the canyon. It bounces a distance of several thousand feet, smashing and dislodging other boulders. They, in turn are prompted to take journeys of their own. Anyone caught in the melée would be hamburger. Celîl nonchalantly regards the display and offers an explanation, “Yesterday’s rain.”
A little past noon we arrive at High Camp. I check my GPS. It is 13,643 feet and sunny, although a crisp wind is blowing. The camp itself is a tumult of climbers, horses, tents, and garbage. One group has just returned from a summit attempt that morning. They are preparing to descend to Low Camp. We ask for a report and are unsettled to hear it. Several individuals from their team did not make the ice cap. Those who did make it onto the cap and eventually to the summit were disappointed. According to their verbal report, the temperature was zero degrees, the wind was blowing sixty miles an hour, and there was no visibility. Apparently the storm that soaked us on our approach to Low Camp and loosened great boulders in Satan’s Gulch also clobbered them at the top. This not what we had hoped to hear.
We follow Celîl to the far side of High Camp. There he finds a tent belonging to our climbing company. We find a comfortable rock there and rest for lunch. Today’s visit to this elevation is a short one. When we are done eating, we will head back to Low Camp. Tomorrow we will repeat the trail. It will be a do-over. However, this time it will be for real, with Mustafa and all the gear.