July 19, 2009

This trip was devised after being inspired to go somewhere new after a series of talks of where other people had been. The plan was to go somewhere hot, beautiful but not too hard, it fit the bill pretty well. We started the trip with a few days in Istanbul visiting the standard tourist attractions.On our first day we visited the blue mosque, the Topkapi Palace and ran to the underground Basilica Cistern as the heavens opened.

IMG_1443The Basilica Cistern, Istanbul

The next day we visited the newer part of town, experiencing Turkish ice cream which has a marshmellow like texture before hitting the grand bazaar in the afternoon all while being ripped off for storing our boats at the airport (£60 for 3 days).

IMG_1527Inside the Grand Bazaar

We then flew to Erzurum and drove to Yusufeli where we would be based for the rest of the trip. We stayed at the greenpeace campsite, where we met Birol who’s help would prove to be invaluable over the course of the trip. If we wanted to do a river he’d tell us the get in, get outs, hazards and have a driver waiting for us in the morning. For our first river the next day we decided on the Lower Barhal from Sarigöl which finishes at the campsite, this was supposed to be a nice easy introduction for everyone who hadn’t been in a boat for a while. In reality it was a pushy grade 4/4+ run, forcing all bar one of us to take a roll but it was my favourite river of the trip.

IMG_1618Beth on the Lower Barhal

The next day we decided on something easier and did 15k of the Çoruh from Meydan finishing at Yusufeli which was a much gentler grade 2/3 section. Most of us then continued on into Yusufeli gorge where there is a great 9k, big volume grade 4 section. After spending the evening planning we decided to do a 3 day trip along the Çoruh from Ispir to Yusfeli, a distance of 95km. After driving along the dusty main road, and stopping for Çay with the builders while they did work on the road we arrived in Ispir 4 hours later and set off. After setting of late we found a place to camp in a dried up paddy field not far from Ispir. the next day we completed about 40k of grade 2/3 before setting up camp again on the bank of the river.

IMG_1636Team Photo, taken by Oktay

The next day saw us complete the final 40k, including a few stops, one up to a castle which we saw from the river. The multiday was a great trip and a good introduction to living out of the back of the boat and the differences this makes to your paddling. After completing the multiday we were met at the bottom of Yusufeli with a minivan to take our boats back and we walked back through the town before relaxing back at the campsite in the evening.

IMG_1691Tom and Dave on the Çoruh on the multiday

We decided to do something a little pushier the next day and decided on the Upper Tortum which started below a lake and waterfall high in the mountains. It definitely lived up to this and within the first kilometer I had my first swim and broken my paddles in doing so. After changing to Dave’s homemade splits we carried on. A few km’s later we reached a river wide strainer formed by a fallen telegraph pole which I failed to clear and ended up rolling under to everyone’s shock. Carrying on we reached a tricky rapid which needed inspecting and I decided to portage. However the others ran it and Rhiannon ended up dislocating her shoulder despite still rolling up. This effectively ended the day as we got out and got her to hospital to get it checked out.

IMG_1903Tortum Waterfall

The following day we decided on a day off paddling to let everyone to recover. Birol gave us a lift to Dörtkilise Monastery which was hidden up in the mountains but we decided it would be a good idea to walk the 21k back in the 39° heat, which didn’t help in resting.

IMG_1988Dörtkilise Monastery

Back on the river the following day we set off from the campsite and did the Lower Barhal through Yusufeli with the locals watching from the bridges before passing through Yusufeli gorge again, although this time in much lower where I took my second swim through exhaustion and lack of concentration. From here we continued down to the King Kong rapids which we good fun and in high water would be pushing on grade 5. Unfortunately this is where my paddling ended as I was hit by a tumbling rock when we pulled the boats out and up the cliff which has ‘possibly’ fractured my rib.

The last paddling day saw Beth, Dave and Tom run the Upper Barhal, a notoriously hard run which has a fairly significant gradient from up in the mountains. A week ago two guys from Leeds lost their boat here which we luckily enough to find and recover for Birol but it was a nice finish to the paddling even if half of us didn’t do it.

IMG_2266Tom and Beth on the Upper Barhal

The next morning we left for Erzurum and spent a day there before heading back to Stansted via Istanbul. In conclusion it was an amazing trip and we were there at the very end of the season. High water is April-May and then dies of until July when it gets too dry. If you’re are thinking of a trip you’ll need to go asap as their damming a significant proportion and Yusufeli will be underwater in 2 years time.


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