Walking On, Leaping Off

After a brief rest, we pack up the High Camp. The sun is warm but I am too worn down to appreciate it. The two and a half hour descent to Low Camp is a blur. My trekking poles become crutches.

We arrive in Low Camp, unroll, go into our tents and collapse. We have been pushing hard at a very high altitude for fourteen hours. Now that we have dropped down to 11,000 feet, the air is thick and glorious. I draw it in and chew it between my teeth. I close my eyes. I do not twitch.

Tanner is way gone.

Ten hours later, I emerge to our last morning on the mountain. I unzip the tent fly, gingerly pull on my unlaced boots, and tramp outside. It is twilight. I check the temperature; it is a damp 47 degrees. Tanner is still sleeping soundly. I hear the others snoring. There is no rush to pack before breakfast. I lean back against a large rock, the residue of a volcanic burp. In this position, I gaze at the mountain summit. Its hoary head rises before me, clear against the sky.

Is this truly the mountain of Noah? The Kuh-i-Nuh? The resting place of the ark? The “ground zero” of a renewed world? I have now been to the top of it and back down again and must confess: I did not see an ark (or even ark-bits!) anywhere. Of course, in the terrible wind and ice, I cannot say for certain that I saw much of anything. Our permit and guide did not allow us to veer beyond the established trail, even if we could have mustered the energy to do so. We did not approach the north face of the mountain and its plunging Ahora Gorge. But this does not relieve the question: how could a structure made of organic materials (and older than the pyramids) survive this harsh environment? It boggles the mind.

I mentally back up. For reasons of faith, apart from my own small experience of the mountain, I am not prepared to call the Noah story a myth. But neither am I convinced that Ağrı Dağı is the only, much less the best, candidate.

Perhaps recasting the problem in a larger frame would help. Ultimately, the ark’s existence or nonexistence, or even the nature of the Genesis narrative, is a matter beyond empirical proof. These questions have been debated for centuries and will continue to be debated as long as there are people who read and think. My opinion does not alter the facts of the past and it may not alter the trajectory of the future . . . apart from my own. What matters this morning (and every one that follows) is simple: am I willing to believe that there is a God who cares for me and that He is at work in my world? Am I willing to believe that this is true even when I have no realia, no relic, in my hands? Am I willing to act in faith on this belief?

Somehow a Kierkegaardian leap is more terrifying to contemplate when one is peering off the side of a mountain. Especially this one.

I feel a soft breeze. I listen. Ağrı Dağı is silent. Its mysteries remain concealed.

View downslope from the trail near Low Camp.

I do hear the others rising though. I go back to the tent and shake Tan out. Together, we roll up our gear, put it in the duffels, and place them with the other bags that are collecting on the grass. Horses will carry the bulk of the camp downslope. Personals will ride on our own backs.

I am still wearing my anti-bacterial underwear. I hope they live up to the label. It will take a screwdriver to get them off now.

After some coffee and a light breakfast, we gather outside the mess. I call Celîl, Uraz, Mustafa, the guys, and the horsemen together for a group photo. We pose like survivors, looking as manly as possible. The mountain soars behind us. Alcan fires the shutter multiple times to catch the “official” shot, then he twists around so as to put his large head in the viewfinder. He squeezes off a few more rounds. We laugh, jostle each other, and draw deep from the company of friends. Only those who have experienced adversity together can understand.

The official shot.

I shoulder my pack and begin the walk out. It is three hours from Low Camp to the end of the road in Çevirme. The horses will leave after we do and pass us on the way down.

Passed by the horses.

At last we arrive again in Çevirme. Our driver and van await. So does a hot bath.

Our return to Çevirme.

As the van bounces along the dirt road to civilization, I look through the window. The mountain is slipping behind us. I remember the first time we laid eyes on the peak. It is hard to believe, but it was just one week ago. We were slack-jawed. Wilkerson’s incredulity spoke for all of us. We are going to climb this thing? “What were we thinking?”

After a pause, Ross slowly drawled (in native Kentuckian), “Regular people do this all the time.”

All the time?

I don't think so.