The steel pole impales the ice. But it too suffers, leaning hard to one side. That the wind is responsible for this awkward state of affairs is obvious enough, though the flags do not show it. Their fabric is all knotted and stiff; frayed ends alone are permitted to dance in this spacious arena. The colors of these standards-of-triumphs-past are are warm, even when frozen. They are a welcome contrast to the palette of blues visible in every direction, including down.
Odder yet are the icicles that grow from the higher reaches of the pole. Unlike those that descend earthward from rooftops of a more civilized winter, these stand straight out, horizontally, obscenely, and transform the pole into a blade of serrated teeth. The whole affair stands—or leans—on a pinnacle that is 16,854 feet above the level of the sea. The tip of the pole, forced to endure the eternal blast, reaches nine feet higher. This is the summit of Ağrı Dağı.
To mount this summit, Celîl chooses a leeward route that minimizes our exposure. We switchback up this horn of Ağrı’s head. I catch a glimpse of the toothed pole every now and again, but prefer not to look. I do not want to be discouraged. I do nothing more or less than focus on the back of the man in front of me. My head is throbbing; my mind is white.
The wind rises to gale force. The man in front of me stops. I wait for him to move, impassively looking down. When he doesn’t move, I look up and realize that he has nowhere to go. Further ascent is impossible. There is simply no more mountain. The only thing above us is the dark blue of the sky and the pole with its frozen colors. Below us is the entire world. It is stunning.
It is 7:05 in the morning of Saturday, August 4, 2012. The temperature is 21 degrees F.