Excursus: Patterson's Climb 3

The piece that follows is drawn from the notes of Ward Patterson. It recounts his experience of Ağrı Dağı in the summer of 1967. Documents and photographs of  Ward’s travels are located in the George Mark Elliot Library of the Cincinnati Christian University.

The next day, I awaited some sign of my party. By evening it became clear that I had been “stood up” at the foot of Ararat. I contemplated the long trip back to Ankara–a total of 2,500 miles–for nothing at all. I looked up at Ararat. I had no special equipment for the climb and the mountain scared me to death. For one thing climbing it looked like real work. For another that snow-covered peak looked downright dangerous. When I had first seen the mountain, even when I still thought I had the Air Force with me, I had been about ready to pull out.

I decided to rent a horse for a couple of days and go up on the mountain a short way. I could take some pictures that might partly justify the heap of trouble I had gone to to get to the mountain.

Locals at the base of the mountain. Note the tattered coats (From the Patterson Collection).

As you move up a mountain, one step leads to another. If you are lucky you can get your body to move reflexively. If you stop and think, “Why am I doing this?” you will probably give up. The plans for the climb were a bit like that.

I look up now, the snow crunches beneath my hob-nailed boots. The Austrian climber, my companion whose name I can never remember, pauses above me, smiles and looks down. I think I’ve had trouble. This is his third trek up the mountain and this time he is determined to make the summit. The first time he tried to climb it alone. Somewhere just below the snow line, mountain tribesmen had thrown stones down on him. The stones struck him on the back of the head, opening up bloody gashes. Fortunately, he had been able to make it down the mountain to a hospital, but he had lost much of his gear. He had also lost most of his money.

When he recovered from his injury, he had been able to climb back up with a policeman to try to recover his things. That trip too had been unsuccessful in its objective. Later, when he learned that I was going up the mountain, he asked if he could go mit me. That is perseverance Noah might appreciate.

I was soon carried along by his enthusiasm to try for the top, though my dreams usually ended with my hanging from a nylon rope over the lip of a crevasse and trying vainly to figure out how one is supposed to pull himself out.

The Yayla tribesmen who furnished the horse spoke only Turkish, my friend spoke only German, and I spoke as little as possible. It was difficult to try to come to decisions, to say the least. Our horseman turned out ignorant of the customary camping places and gladly dumped us far below where our second camp should have been. This meant that when we actually began our assault of the summit, on the third day, we had long, long way to go.Yes, the summit is getting closer at last. But is it the summit after all? No, it is only a lower spur and the summit looms far above still. We are afraid of vomiting, so we eat only some chocolate and few peanuts. My Austrian friend has made a fine tea with some peppermint he found growing on the mountain. He rations it out to my parched lips and aching throat like Captain Bligh in the lifeboat.

To be continued . . .