It was an action packed trip that involved crossing a good length of the Gavur Mountains and climbing Abdal Musa (the highpoint of Gumushane province). We endured heavy rain and hail. But we also got to see mountain goats, “ur keklik” (a bird similar to grouse) and two bears! All these are supposed to be rare sightings, so we were lucky. Seven of us met at Ikisu by the Harsit River at 6am, with four coming from Gumushane (myself, Yilmaz Sahin, Recep Ergin, Erkan Yurttas) and the rest (Vehbi Yalcin, Osman Sahin, Ilyas Sahin) from Musalla. I (Hakan Yalcin) was on a trip to my hometown from US, where I reside. The trip was organized by Yilmaz Sahin. He arranged for a van ride to drive us to Yilanli yayla, the beginning of the Cit Creek route. As we made our way towards Yilanli, the brown landscape of the Harsit River valley gave way to green vegetation and forests. It was an enjoyable ride. We passed throuh several villages. The high peaks of both north and south ridges of Cit Creek were above timberline, and covered by green grass.
Start of the trip
Looking ahead towards the head of the valley, I could see the snowy peaks of Gavur Mountains. Several side valleys were splitting up from the main valley and extending southwards. We got higher and higher. At one point, pointing to one dark-colored peak, Yilmaz showed me Abdal Musa. As we got close to Yilanli yayla, our van started negotiating a series of switchbacks. The road was a little rough. Before we reached the yayla, Yilmaz decided this was a good place to start hiking, so we stopped the van. The van went back (to pick us up in the evening from the next valley to the south in Artabel.) Near our starting point was a creek with wildflowers on both sides. We took some pictures here and started our long hike. It was about 7:30am.
View of the Upper Cit Creek Valley
Climbing the East Ridge
Climbing a talus slope
Walking southwest, we first climbed a gentle ridge. From the top of the ridge, we could see Yilanli yayla and the long Cit Creek flowing east. Continuing our hike, we dropped into a broad side valley. We took a break at a stream in the middle of this valley. Abdal Musa was now well in our view and seemed close. Yilmaz showed us our route: the East Ridge. The ridge is rocky and has a secondary peak that needs to be climbed over to reach Abdal Musa. We hiked a steep, grass covered slope to get to the lower end of the East Ridge. The views have expanded all around. After bypassing a few rock towers, we soon found ourselves at the bottom of a peak. I thought it was Abdal Musa. We started climbing a talus-covered slope. Near the top Yilmaz climbed a sharp and somewhat exposed section of the ridge. I followed him to make the climb more interesting. When we reached the top of the peak, I realized Abdal Musa’s real summit was still ahead and above. It wasn’t that far off, but fog was closing in. Meanwhile, Recep and Ilyas spotted mountain goats, which are rarely seen in the Gavur Mountains. Recep took some spectacular close-ups with his telephoto lens. We crossed a snow patch and bypassed some more bumps on the ridge before getting to the bottom of the final slope. Here we climbed the west side of the summit, which was easier than the East Ridge. We reached the summit shortly after 12noon.
Traversing a steep snow slope
While on the summit we had clear views to the east and south, but the fog completely covered our north and west-side views. Yilmaz took out the summit register. All but two members of the team signed the summit register (the other two bypassed the summit part and caught up with us later.) As the fog came on and off, we stayed about half an hour on the summit. Yilmaz pointed to a round peak across the long, snow-covered basin. This peak, our next climbing objective, separates the Cit Creek valley from the Gulacar valley (Artabel side). Lots of up and down climbing is required to cross the entire length of the basin in order to reach the round peak. We started our descent on the south-side of the summit. We went down a steep chute and then started following the south ridge of Abdal Musa. We were not on the ridge itself, but a short distance below on the west side of the mountain.
Vehbi on top of the Five-Lakes basin
There were lots of loose rocks and scree on this side. It took about half an hour to reach the low point of the south ridge. On this stretch of descent there are nice views of the Three-Lakes basin below and to the west of Abdal Musa. From the ridge we went down the east side to cross the large basin. Before marching ahead, we took a break by the edge of a snowfield and had our lunch.
When we started hiking again, the sky became very dark. Ignoring the sky for a while, we started crossing the snowfields up and down the basin. The snow was hard and slippery. Without an ice axe or crampons, it was tricky to cross the steep sections. Near a glacial lake, it started raining. The rain was coming down very hard. I put on my raincoat. Soon it turned to hail. We took cover under a large rock, hoping that it wouldn’t last long. Fortunately the hail stopped after 15 minutes. Continuing our trek, we came upon a large snowbowl. Some members of the team descended to the bottom to cross the snowbowl, while others decided to go diagonally on the steep slope in order not to lose elevation. It was a long time before we regrouped on the other side below the round peak, our next intermediate goal. Here we enjoyed great views of the Five-Lakes basin below us and to the east. While waiting for the others, Vehbi told me about his prior adventures in Gavur Mountains. It was also here that we spotted an “ur keklik” (type of grouse). Having a large, round body and small wings, this bird can barely fly. As the bird was trying to fly away, three little chicks were running on the ground, scared and unable to fly. We left them alone (after taking a few pictures.)
When we were on top of the round peak, visibility became very poor due to the dense fog. We caught a short glimpse of Adali Gol (Lake with an Island.) But then the lake disappeared in the fog. We made a quick descent down a scree slope. Now we were below the fog and could see the beautiful lake. The lake, with a small island near its north edge, is one of the most beautiful lakes I had ever seen. Its south edge was mostly covered with snow which falls from a steep slope above. We took another break here, and Osman told me about the history of Gavur Mountains. For the rest of the trip we essentially followed the outlet stream of the lake. The cascading stream has several waterfalls as it loses elevation down the valley. The flowers, initially sparse, grow more and more common. Other streams join downstream, together they pass through flower-filled meadows.
Hiking down a wildflower-filled meadow
Ilyas wanted to show me another lake in this basin, so we separated from the group. Suddenly we came upon two bears some 100m away from us. They were eating vegetation in the meadow. I took a few quick pictures and tried to reach my videocam.
Bears running away
Just at this time, one of the bears noticed us and started growling. Ilyas made a very loud noise to scare them off. The bears started running away from us, and I took a nice 20-second video of them. That was a close encounter; any closer may have been uncomfortable – for us – and confrontational. I think our odds of success against two large bears were not very good :) After the bear encounter, we continued hiking downstream and caught up with the others. We were now just above Artabel’s yayla. We took the dirt road going down to Artabel. About halfway between the yayla and Artabel, our van found us. What a relief! It was about 7:30pm, 12 hours after the start of the trip. We hopped into the warm van and went home.