Doğubayazıt, our cowboy town, is the launch point for those who attempt the summit of Ağrı Dağı. It specializes in essentials: a bed to sleep in, a hot meal, a supply store, and, of course, the gendarmerie where climbing permits are issued. Nothing (except maybe Chinese-made shoes and Turkish cotton T-shirts?) is offered in quantity, but it can be found if you know where to look. That is the important part. Forget a wool cap? You can find it in Doğubayazıt. Forget your crampons? You can find them in Doğubayazıt. Forget your beef jerky? Be sure to check the expiration date.
In this way, our group follows the well-worn path of the Ararat climber. Uraz knows the routine, and in this, he is assisted by Celil, a mountain federation guide. They remind us of the things to bring; they warn us of the things to leave behind. Mental notes are made and I am convicted of the need to repack everything (for the fourth time) today.
Oddly, as I go through this check-list on our final night in Doğubayazıt, I find myself thinking of all the “one lasts”: “one last” charge of all batteries, “one last” shower, “one last” meal, “one last” shave, “one last” glance in a mirror, “one last” night of sleeping on a real bed with real sheets. I wonder if this is anything like the thought-process of a prisoner on death row?
Like a prisoner on death row (or so I imagine), I do not sleep well this night. There is too much excitement. I close my eyes and think about what it must be like to breath the thin air of 16,000 feet. I try breathing once every fifteen seconds. I soon sputter. No good. Ten seconds? Hmmm. Will I pant at altitude? Will my brain become befuddled? I’ve never done anything like this before. Will I slip and roll off the mountain? Such thinking does little to encourage my slumber. I stop the silly exercise of interval-breathing and remind myself how important it is to begin this adventure on a full tank of sleep. Don’t say it again, I tell myself. And then I say it again.
At last, the morning arrives. Somewhere I must have drifted off. I rub my eyes and pull on the new polyester (and anti-microbial) pants that I have saved for this day. I go down for breakfast. The others are coming too: Brad, Tanner, Mark, Tommy, Keith, and Greg. There are seven of us in all. We have been together in Turkey for less than a week and have a good camaraderie thing going. “I am proud to die with you men,” someone jokes aloud. We all laugh. And then we soberly throw down one last cup of coffee and use a toilet with toilet paper one last time.
We carry down the bags all freshly packed. Each of us has two: a duffel will go up the mountain on the back of a pony, and a backpack will go up in a more traditional two-legged style. This, as we have been told, will be sorted out once we reach the end of the road. For the moment, however, all bags are tied to the rack on the top of our vehicle.
Now there are just two more stops to make in Doğubayazıt. The first is at the local grocery. We meet Mustafa, our trail cook. He is a local Kurd, swarthy in appearance, probably in his thirties. When I see his trail clothes and his badly worn shoes, I am shamed. One piece of my new polyester anti-microbials easily cost more than everything in his kit put together. Despite this inequity, we will journey side by side to the edge of the ice cap.
Mustafa, Uraz, and Celil buy the groceries needed to sustain the group for a week on the mountain. I see water, tomatoes, tea, and rice carried out. The handle of a new frying pan juts out of a box. These, too, are bagged and tied to the rack on the top of the van.
With groceries aboard, we drive to the edge of town to make one last stop. Here is the gendarmerie where we will receive permission from the Turkish authorities to follow a single path to the top of Ağrı Dağı and back down again. No deviations from this plan are allowed. Celil runs in and out with the necessaries in less than 15 minutes. The uniformed guards wave goodbye. It is now a little past nine in the morning. The adventure that started many months ago with a single email is about to begin in earnest. The driver engages the transmission, promptly does a U-turn on the street, and steers toward the base of the mountain.