The place where the road ends is the place where the trail begins. For us, that place is called Çevirme. Our top-heavy transport has not traveled far from Doğubeyazıt. I look at my watch. It has been less than an hour since leaving the soldiers of the gendarmerie and the security of the asphalt surface. In that time, we skirted the east side of the Şeyhli Marsh on a road of packed earth and rock. Uraz told us that we were fortunate this day to have a dry run. Rain can reduce this road to an impassable mudhole. No one doubted him. The standing water here and there underlined his comment and challenged the reflexes of the driver. But now we emerge from the soggy basin. The van slows and approaches a cluster of low-slung buildings. Like us, the insulated electric wire strung along the Çevirme road does one more dip before stopping at a wooden pole. This is the end of the line.
I look out my window. The village consists of about a half dozen buildings, drab in demeanor and built of stacked stone. Chest-high walls ring some of these areas and offer one explanation for the Turkish name of the place: “enclosure.” Fresh dung litters the inside of these pens; dried dung “patties” (future fuel for heating and cooking) are collected, shaped like frisbees, and stored in neat heaps. Exceptions to the dark stackstone constructions include the temporary shelters of the herders and two concrete buildings, quirky on account of their color. The exteriors are bright red (persimmon, perhaps?) and tattooed with graffiti. They appear as flowers of masonry in a garden of grass, rock, and mud. This is where we unload.
The driver scampers up to the roof rack of van and begins unlacing the load. Everyone helps; we pile the supplies and gear on the ground. A few locals (kids mostly) gather to watch the activity. The boys jostle and laugh. In the gathering assembly are the horsemen who have been hired to freight our gear to the edge of the ice cap. Like the others of Çevirme, they are Kurdish in speech and race, the living legacy of horsemen who have ranged these hills for centuries. Arrangements for these porters takes place apart from our knowledge; six horses will be needed to move the camp. Our duffels quickly disappear as do the unloaded boxes. This load will pass us on the ascent and will reappear (or so we are promised) at our campsite later that afternoon.
Celîl, our mountain guide, is a man of few words. This silent manner makes his few words all the more weighty. He sings them in a lilting voice, “OooooKaaay. Let’s gooo.”
We don our backpacks. In these are drinking water for the day, lunch snacks, extra clothes, and personals. My dilemma extending up to this moment is whether or not to bring my full-sized 35 mm camera and lens. It is a heavy, but familiar tool in my hands. In the end it goes in my pack. I fret that I will regret this extra weight. But it is too late now to change my mind. I shoulder the load.
Celîl extends his two trekking poles and thumb-locks them at a familiar setting. Then, in a pace that is unbelievably slow–but measured exactly, as we will soon learn–he steps to the trail leading out of the village of “enclosures.” We look at each other, fall into line, and follow.