Excursus: Patterson's Climb 4

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. 

Roped together, we move slowly. That drop-off to our right is more ominous by the minute. Fortunately the sky is still clear. The glare makes my face feel like it is sizzling on a griddle. At last we are past the place of danger, above the first hump. Now all that remains is that last hump. We catch a glimpse of a spike or cross or something that marks the top, just before the wind picks up and the clouds suddenly enclose us.  Everything is now obscured. It is another world from that which we have known–a more ominous world. We move on, looking for any irregularities in the snow pattern to gage our advance and mark our path by. Each step is conscious now. Each step is an effort. There is no time or place to sit and rest now. Four paces at time. Rest. Four more. Not so tired as earlier. Is this a sort of second wind? Will we make it? No turning back now, no matter what, after so nearly accomplishing our mission.

View to the mountain (From the Patterson Collection).

We are confronted with a final, steep bank of snow. We crawl up, struggle to our knees, then stand erect, ten feet from an iron spike someone has driven into the snow before us. My friend and I look at each other, a bit amazed that we actually made it. I gesture for him to go on to the spike. He has led most of the way and broken the trail in the difficult places. We clasp each other in a Russian bear hug and then he places his arm on my shoulder. Together we advance, side-by-side to the summit. I think of Hillary and Tenzing and the argument that arose in the press as to which of them actually got to the peak of Everest first. How it annoyed them that the question should ever have been raised. Now I understand their feelings.

The wind is awful and it is biting cold. Our peppermint tea is frozen in the canteen now. We go a little down the leeward side, eat the last of our chocolate and prepare for photos. The wind shrieks around us. My friend attaches the flag of his Austrian climbing club to the peg and seems to say a prayer as it flutters in the wind. It is cold, a worrisome cold. We move quickly. There is no time for wasted motion or contemplation now. There is no time to worry about exposures and settings on cameras. My mind is too dull for decisions. The shutter freezes closed anyway.

Patterson, the peg, the summit (From the Patterson Collection).

We start down through the clouds. We come to our chocolate wrappers and realize we are heading in exactly the opposite direction from that which we intend. In the clouds, and with nothing to judge direction by, we had almost made a very crucial mistake. Only our candy papers had prevented it. We can see only a few feet ahead. I follow my friend like a child. Somehow he discerns our tracks in the snow, though the wind has made them invisible to me. I worry again about that cliff, now to our left. There is no break in the clouds. We move quickly down the crusty snow, occasionally sinking to the knee when the crust breaks.

Before long we are past the danger point and all that remains is the arduous and slow work of going down the rock slopes. But Ararat is not through with us. Lower clouds cause us to lose our bearings and we spend an hour waiting for them to lift so that we can find our second camp. The clouds lift momentarily, we make out where we are, and we move downslope. It is three more hours to the Yayla camp where we will sleep.

Patterson’s hosts at the base of the mountain (From the Patterson Collection).

We are on our feet from 5:00 in the morning till 9:00 at night. I have a feeling of satisfied, exhausted elation as I crawl into my sleeping bag. I moan in my sleep, so tired that I cannot unwind and sleep. The ascent of Ararat is now nearly over. The Yayla people sleep in their black goats’ hair tents. They must wonder at our madness. Do they know about Noah, I wonder? What would they say if we told them we were interested in this mountain because of a boat?

The Turks call the mountain Ağrı Dağı, “The painful mountain.” The name seems rather appropriate to me.

With this, Patterson’s account of his “Ararat ascent” abruptly ends. Of course, his adventures (preserved in scattered notes and photographs) continue. I will pick these up and work them into future Exploring Bible Lands and Lifeways blogs. Stay tuned!