A fascinating mountain to climb in many ways. Its relatively high (5136m) and can be climbed without ropes in summer but you do need crampons as the summit is always covered in snow. It is a challenge to access and you must have a local registered guide. Our family of 4 (with 2 teenagers aged 15 & 17) organised a 4 day ascent of Mount Ararat in July 2011. We flew to Van in eastern Turkey, then our tour company drove us for about 3 hrs to Dogubayazit, a small town nearest to Ararat where most climbing tours begin. You do need to be relatively fit and prepared to leave all comforts behind at the hotel!
We left our hotel in the morning, bags on the minibus roof, picked up poles and crampons, filled up with black market petrol and then joined the main road to Iran. A few miles from Iran we turned off and drove over rough tracks to the point where most groups begin their ascent at 2200m. Horses were loaded up with baggage and equipment.
Our first days hike was extremely hot with lots of sun protection required. It's about 3-4hrs to the first camp at 3350m. We passed what looked like nomadic family camps offering tea and opportunity to buy their woven products. Day 2 was to help acclimatisation. We walked with our guide and others in the group up to a point near to camp 2 at 4075m. This was much steeper, rocky but otherwise straight forward and took about 3 hours. After lunch and a brief snooze we descended to camp 1 in 1.5 hours. Despite sunny intervals it was cooler and windy. We took shelter from an amazingly heavy hail storm in the tent of a local man who seemed to be making part of his living selling beer to hikers and their guides.
We struck camp on day 3 in the mist and set off leaving our bags to be loaded on horses. Same route up to camp 2 at 4120m, arriving at about 1130. Plenty of rest opportunities with magnificent views. On arrival we found very limited space to pitch tents on flat rocky ground. It would be fair to say that there was a bit of a race and some 'mildly aggressive' reserving of plots until the tents arrived. We were surrounded by relatively steep ground covered in small boulders and expanses of snow.
We rested /slept during the afternoon. A lot colder up here and as the sun descended during our evening meal we needed hats, gloves and extra layers. There was no fresh water here and everyone had brought bottled water. Slightly lower down the melting snow could be collected during the afternoon sun.
We set our alarms for 0030. Rucksacks packed with sweets and biscuits, water, camera, crampons and spare clothing. We wore our full waterproofs. After a hot drink we set off at 0115 for the summit. Everyone had head torches which were essential for the steep scramble for the next few hours. The hike was slow, with the group of about 16 walking in single file pausing for frequent rests. We had a guide at the front and rear.
It became light about 0430 just as we finished the steep section and encountered significant snow covering. We stopped to put our crampons on and noticed the wind significantly increase for the first time. It was cold without gloves and everyone was keen to keep moving. We were the first group to summit at 0645 on 14th July. The wind was vicious making speech difficult to hear and visibility varied continuously as clouds moved over at high speed. We had about 20 minutes on the top then descended as the sun came out giving amazing views over towards Turkey. One of us experienced mild headache altitude symptoms.
The hike down to camp 2 was a real test of strength. Feeling tired, hungry with exhausted leg muscles we arrived back at camp 2 tent at 0930. Hot drinks and breakfast were well received. We rested for about 2 hrs before making a decision we wanted to be off the mountain that day. Bags were loaded onto horses as we started our walk down. Passing through camp 1 we noticed the river was dry and no water available. Thankfully we met our minibus at about 1630 and after tipping key members of the team we were off for hot showers and a comfortable bed.
We stayed at the Golden Hill Hotel in Dogubayazit (www.agri-goldenhill.com). Seemed to be a favourite with other hikers. Reasonable buffet breakfasts, spacious rooms, free wifi, plenty of hot water but on the outskirts of the town by the main road.
We booked through
Amy Beam (owner and organiser)was incredibly helpful and ensured that our expedition ran smoothly. In eastern Turkey and on the mountain I think you have to be prepared for the unexpected and be prepared to 'go with the flow' and local customs. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip and would recommend it.
Its worth reading Amy's guide to the mountain so you know exactly whats what.
Ensure you take plenty of bottled water on the mountain and sterilising tablets for water that you collect. We used water from the streams but noted they did run dry at times.
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