Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Coruh - Dads and Lads in Turkey

Andy was now 17 – an age when his keenness to travel and his growing abilities as a paddler were only matched by his inadequacy of funds and far too many exams. I was looking for a suitable venue for a short ‘Dad and Lad’ trip – a taster of foreign lands and big water. The Coruh (pronounced “Choroo”) in Turkey seemed to fit the bill.

The Coruh is set in the remote rugged north east corner of Turkey – far away from the tourist hot-spots of the South. The river flows east, along the Kacgar mountains, and into Georgia before breaking its way North through to the Black Sea.

I knew that the river offered some fairly continuous and high-volume class 3-4+ rapids in June - just after Andy’s exams were due to finish. I also knew a few paddlers that had been out there and asked them what the likelihood was of the two of us finding other paddlers to hook up with. They were doubtful, but Water By Nature ran trips out there with everything laid on. More £’s of course, but who cares – we are off paddling.

Chas and his son Richard also elected to join us – deposits were paid and we settled back to a few months more work/exams. There were a few preparations to make too – Andrew needed a ratchet back-rest retro-fitted to his King pin and Richard found he could no longer get into his booster and had to purchase a new boat. The £’s were already flowing.
Water By Nature (WBN) warned us shortly before departure that Turkish Airlines can refuse to carry kayaks. Despite having successfully flown kayaks to different parts of the globe before, this put the wind up us on the way to the airport. We had packed and re-packed to get everything (including kayaks etc) below the 23kg weight allowance.

We arrived well before the check-in desks opened - better to leave plenty of time and catch the check-in staff in good unrushed moods when travelling with kayaks.
"I'm sorry Sir, but there will be a small handling charge of £11 per 'surf board'.
That was it, no hassle, no worries and 3 hours to kill before departure (more £s). We arrived at the Sultan’s Inn, Istanbul at mid-night. - time only for quick minerals on the roof terrace before turning in.

The following morning it was a flight to Erzurum, where we were met by WBN guides. We loaded up the battered Morris for a 3 hour road trip through the mountains – snow still on the peaks.

Late afternoon saw us at the banks of the Coruh, near Maden, some 30km’s upstream of Ispir. We (the four of us together with 6 other ‘punters’) gathered around for the normal pre-trip briefing – tent maintenance, camp hygiene and dunny protocol. Most of Clive’s words were drowned out by the gurgling chatter of a thousand frogs and the incessant whine of a million mossies. I did pick up a bit of good news, though – the Coruh was running much higher than normal for this time of year – a 10-year high that should provide for plenty of fun.

After 2 days travelling, listening to the sounds of the river (and frogs and mossies) and anticipating some fine paddling in the days ahead we drifted off to a sound sleep. We were blissfully unaware of the Brown Bear and large Snake that visited 100m from camp during the night.
Clear blue skies and growing temperatures joined us for a mellow grade 2 warm-up in the morning – a chance for getting accustomed or re-accustomed to big-volume paddling. After a couple of hours clouds brewed up - then thunder, lightening and hail as we hit the lunch stop. We sheltered under an old steel football stand at a long-forgotten and abandoned football field - shivering.
The afternoon run (another 15K down to the steps of Ispir) was great. The river soon entering a narrow gorge to provide fairly continuous grade 3 with loads of nice wave trains and surf waves - all read and run. A few paddlers pulled out and joined the Landrover but Andrew was totally pumped - a huge grin on his face as he discovered the fun in volume.

Cold and knackered after a long days paddle, we pulled out just before the Joan Collins set of rapids and wandered down to take a look at the first 3 Ispir Steps (Joan/Alexis/Bitch). Easy to choose lines down these class 5 falls when sipping beer from the bank but, at these levels, no one was to run them - the Landrover shuttled us around to a camp a few hundred metres downstream (just above Dynasty and Stud).
The clouds had disappeared, and the evening sun was sufficient to dry out the kit and warm up our bones. Beers and nibbles were out, a fire lit and the conversation lively. We had left the mossies far behind (they were only ever a problem that first night).

The second days paddle was a reasonably mellow 30 km grade 3 run. The sun was shining and there were endless waves to play on. It should have been an uneventful day but there were 5 swims in the morning. We soon appreciated the advantages of having a road running alongside the river. We had a Cat raft but this was purely for rescues (picking bodies up and getting them back in their boats) and not for passengers. With the Landrover running along side us – paddlers who found it all too much could hop out, sit on the roof and take the photos. With the numbers whittled down we enjoyed a fast and playful afternoon. We must have spent over an hour at a single dream wave.

After a good day on the water, moonlight, Moussaka and a good Islay Malt around a camp fire - followed by Turkish Delight - what more could you ask for.

The following day saw more of the continuous grade 3’s – floating through beautiful scenery, looking out for Rollers, Bee-eaters, Hoopoes and red Kites, drifting past many Byzantine castles perched high on the hills. We hiked up to one of these at Tekkale (“single-Castle”) for lunch – trekking across the rice paddies and picking mulberries and cherries off the trees on the way.

There were a few long 4+ rapids to run in the afternoon and scouting the first of these (‘Perfect Portage’) I knew that this would prove the biggest test for Andrew yet. It is one thing to run a long hard rapid yourself, but watching your son take on the challenge is much much more difficult!! I needn’t have worried – hearing his adrenaline-fired whoops all the way down.

After another long days paddle we clambered with our boats for a few hundred yards up to Cemile’s paddlers pad. This is a small pension in the tiny village of Tikali that has existed since the days when Dave Mamby first opened up this river for paddlers back in 1982. Indeed Dave still frequents the place, and joined us for dinner and the following days paddle. Photos of paddlers from all over the world are pinned to the walls. Sleeping arrangements are on simple wooden platforms. We took over Cemile’s gardens, drying kit and setting up the kitchen etc. The big farm house table was set and, despite being Wednesday, we declared it ‘Red Wine Thursday’ and enjoyed a civilised dinner.

A long paddling day followed – in the morning we headed up to Sarigol to paddle the river Bahal down to Yusufeli. The Bahal made for a pleasant change – very continuous lower volume alpine style grade 3 – with clear icy cold snow melt, running through a beautiful valley with plenty of entertaining drops. We pulled out in the middle of Yusufeli town and enjoyed hot soup and kebabs at a restaurant – still donning wet kit.

After the late lunch around half of us elected to run the Coruhs best ‘Yusufeli Gorge’ – a 1 hour continuous roller-coaster grade 4+ ride with 5 or more major rapids. We spent almost as long scouting the rapids from the Landrover first before returning to Yusufeli, paddling down the Bahal to its confluence with the Coruh and running the gorge. The falls proved significantly larger than they appeared from the road – but we enjoyed an incident free and fun filled end to the day.
It was gone 6:30 pm when we pulled in, loaded and returned to Tikali

Sadly sickness hit the camp that night – and Andrew and I were amongst others that missed a repeat run of the gorge the following morning before the road trip back to Erzurum. A Hamam (Turkish Bath) and massage, followed by a gourmet meal that evening finished off the trip nicely and prepared us for the flight home the following day and a return to work/school