Position: 37°58’52″N 38°44’30″E
The last time we attempted a visit to the moais of Mount Nemrut, we ended up slipping on ice and backing down the road. It was late enough in the day that walking up wasn’t practical. So, it went on the to-do list. Our route from the eastern hinterlands took us back through Adiyaman, an hour from the mountain. Despite the late spring snowstorms, we rose early, determined to complete what we’d started three months before.
A high-pressure ridge settled over central Anatolia bringing clear skies and sunshine. Temperatures rose by 10 degrees C, up from the low single digits they’d been hovering at for the past four months. Heading back up the mountain along the winding road brought us into the heart of spring. Fruit trees blossomed with showers of pink. Fields of grain carpeted in brilliant green clung to the tumbling contours of the valley. Even the birds twittered happily. Up the deep ravine we twisted back and forth, mostly in second gear because of its steep grade. Snow appeared and lined the road on either side of us.
An elderly gentlemen stood with four other men in a circle. He broke off and came over, gesturing at us. ’The mountain is closed,’ he said in English, then called over to the group and asked a question in Turkish. A road grader and a big front loader idled noisily in the background. ‘You can drive up, but you have to wait maybe one hour and a half.’ Could we walk up? we asked. ‘Sure, sure, but if you wait, they will clear the road,’ he answered. Carol learned from Google the tourist reception building and site was due to officially open in two days, which explained all the activity.
Ninety minutes? Shoot! We can walk up there and back in less time. Leaving Clio safely parked at the turn we pulled on our fleeces and backpacks. Of course, we left our hiking poles, reasoning with all the snow removal equipment they’d be dead weight. That was dumb.
The first two kilometres went by quickly. Breathtakingly steep, thanks to our lack of fitness and the altitude, the front loader and grader had done a good job pushing the few centimetres of snow off the pavement. The sun was taking care of the rest and rivulets of ice water spread across the road. Turning the corner things looked different. Drifts had formed over the ridge of the mountain and into the hollow of the road. A giant snow blower ate away at a two-metre-high wall of snow. Behind him the front loader scooped up huge buckets of snow and ice and dumped it over the side. The grader idled in anticipation.
With only a foot or two on either side, we waited for a pause in the proceedings, then waved to catch the front loader driver’s attention. Now caught between the blower and the loader, we surveyed our options when the driver tooted his horn. He pointed at the bucket, inviting us to step on. Fully five feet high, we put our feet between the bottom teeth and grabbed on to the top ones. He lifted us up and gently deposited us on top of the drift, safely out of harm’s way. We waved our thanks and turned our eyes upward for the next stage.
Footprints! Someone had passed this way recently heading straight up. That seemed the most efficient approach. Like practical sheep, we followed the steps to keep from breaking through the crust. Why had we left our snowshoes in Portland? A hundred metres higher the hill leveled off and we could see all the way to the top of the mountain. Mostly bare, the pavement was dry and free of ice for the first five hundred metres. All the clearing work was lower down, now.
The official trail to the monuments encircles the mountain. One site faces east, the other west. With the help of a hiking app, we headed around counterclockwise. Putting one foot on top of others’ kept the snow below our knees. Except when we missed a foothold, or slipped. This is when poles would come in handy. The warm sunshine softened everything, making the going easy, but dazzlingly bright. More than poles, I wished for a hat. (That was dumb.)
Carol broke trail and we turned straight up towards the summit. And then we found it – the western site. Better still, we had the place to ourselves. The figures, buried to their noses in snow, sat waiting for the tide to go out. One or two appeared to bob on the surface, as though treading water, struggling to breathe.
The totems are in great condition. Archaeologists reckon the grooved and hatched scars on several of the heads resulted from attacks by iconoclasts, plainly upset about something a thousand years ago. If the purpose of art is to elicit an emotional response, these statues have stood the test of time. It was well worth getting all that snow in our boots.
Most mountaineering disasters strike on the descent. The interplay of gravity, exhaustion and weather wreak havoc with climbing parties. Fortunately, our trip down was uneventful. That is until Carol tried to dislocate her hip sliding off a rock into a drift. One foot twisted under her while her other leg shot straight down. With a little pride hurt, no permanent physical harm was done.
Pausing for a minute with the road crew, they asked us how much snow they had ahead of them? We pointed to the crest and spread our arms in the direction of the ploughs. They smiled. It wasn’t as bad as they thought. Heading downhill we shed a layer and soaked up the warm sun. Someone upstairs had flipped a switch, starting summer – just like that. Within a week, busloads of sweaty tourists would clomp their way up and jostle for selfies. Our private tour of Turkey was almost over.