Posted on February 2, 2014 by Tobias Moss
I had done my share of Mt. Uludag research. Greek mythology had deemed it as one of several mountains named ‘Mt. Olympus.’ Specifically, it was from Uludag that Zeus had the privilege to watch one of the world’s great battles, Troy. In modern times, Zeus’ domain had been reappropriated as a modern expensive ski resort. As a resident alien of Israel on a brief trip to Istanbul, I had heard from a Mr. Google that there might be a nearby fix for my jonesing to get on the slopes.
As the fates would have it, even though this winter had brought an unprecedented and wondrous snow upon my home in Jerusalem, Uludag was in the middle of its least productive winters in decades. I’d been advised by Turkish locals that there was simply not enough snow to ski. I accepted this decree, but nonetheless convinced my travel mates to endeavor on a wintry hike.
Cue to a nauseated ride from Bursa (inaugural capital of the Ottoman Empire) up the mountain’s winding roads. My discomfort was appreciable until the woman next to me started to gag. I gave her my window seat and, perhaps through some measure of schadenfreude, felt relieved of my nausea.
As we ascended in the van, more and more snow was revealed, and when we got to the hotel base, there were real people doing real skiing! Hey now, that wasn’t supposed to be the deal! I had some last minute ski desire, but knew it would be more expensive, probably not great snow, and would split the group of us by skill level. As we hopped out of our shared van, a friendly store attendant beckoned to us. We said we want snowshoes, he pointed out boots. We said snowshoes!
Luckily we came to our senses and accept the 20 Lyra (10USD) boots he offered. We also took a map and I joked that I was trying to go swimming in the glacial lakes. Attendant Rami pointed out that those lakes were west of the map’s edge, and his shop was on the eastern edge…maybe the lakes weren’t in the cards.
Josh, Eli and I set off in our simple black boots along a skier’s traverse trail, gaining just a small bit of elevation until we came around a bend and the ski mountain is revealed. Turned out that most lifts were closed, the weather was gorgeous, and 3 epic peaks were looking down at us invitingly. Eli and I looked at each other, glad that this hike had fallen into our laps.
We followed the traverse a bit longer, as the passing ski lifts propelled my mind into downhill memories. The snow pack was dense enough to walk fairly competently, with plenty of rocks poking their charcoal grey heads out of the thin white layer. Upon reaching the base of the rocky steeper ascent to the first peak, we spread out and the 3 of us took different approaches to the climb. The incline was manageable, but finding footing was challenging with the constant variance of icy snow, rocky outcrops, and low growing foliage.
We all pushed on without pause, although Josh took a slower pace. Uludag marks the beginning of a mountain range that builds up from the Marmara Sea. Upon reaching the summit, Eli and I took in our respective views of rolling green mountains and lakes continuing into the mountain range. The intense wind at the ridge was continuous. Unable to maintain my usual social-critique-infused resistance, I embarked on a mad frenzy of selfies while letting my hair join in the melee. Eli walked over to my photoshoot, and we only enable our digitally triggerhappy fingers to shoot more.
Three or four handfuls of minutes passed before Josh emerged on the ridge. His backpack straps pulled heavy on his forearms, having fallen off their shoulder perch. He had no care for the view, and lay down behind the partial wind barricade of a boulder. We joined our companion, and began to snack. His breathing heavy, he held off for a few minutes. At last he withdrew an apple from his pack, and after a cautious examination, bit off a piece. Gurgle, cough, turn, blachhhh. Oyy. His recovering body was not up for the intake, and instead did quite the outtake.
After rest, encouragement, and forceful encouragement, Josh was willing to join us as we continued towards our goals. Luckily for Josh, peak 2 was more of a diversion than a necessity. He took the lowroad as Eli and I excitedly scampered for the extra conquest. Spectacular views once again.
From our vantage point on the 2nd peak, we saw a marker of interest on the 3rd. There was a rectangular object that in our yeshiva context reminded us of the Akeda stone, the sight of the almost-sacrifice of Issac. We both agreed we would sacrifice Josh were the 3 of us to reach the summit.
Eli and I descended to Josh’s location where he has grabbed a quick catnap. We roused him and began the propaganda campaign. “We need to get to the marker on top! The ascent isn’t so steep, and the footing looks easy! Think about that celebratory tuna sandwich!”
Josh was still dubious but Eli and I continued: “Staying down here without moving will only make you cold! We want to complete this as a unit! May I carry your backpack?” Ahh, as with any propaganda war, make the rewards tangible and you’ve got yourself an adherent. I put his backpack on my front, counterbalanced by the one on my back, and the 3 of us, this time in tight formation, began our upward march.
The going was tough and I felt myself really dragging along. My initial thought was that my legs had tired, because two small backpacks certainly shouldn’t be so belaboring. A few minutes of this trudging continued before I realized it must be this backpack. “Josh, the hell is in this thing?” “O, well, my laptop mainly.”
A 5 year old, 17-inch Dell laptop…on a winter hike…why??? Never before this moment had I so respected commonsense (to leave laptops away from vertical ascents) and the macbook air (2.96 pounds of style). I traded the extra pack to Eli, and we continued up. The Akeda stone was occasionally obscured by fast moving clouds that struggled to reach the very same peak of our desire. Nonetheless we trudged on. There was no respite from the wind on this exposed face and we were all grateful for the hodgepodge of clothing layers we were able to forage from our suitcases that had been packed with proper urban travelling in mind.
All’s well that ends well, but it is not always clear when the end is reached.
At last we stepped up on the peak, acknowledged a marker stone, and then gave thanks that the akeda stone was actually something much less religious and much more useful. It was a stone shelter built for other hikers who had come this far with the goal of a comfortable tuna sandwhich. We scurried inside. Josh collapsed quietly into a snowy nook, as Eli and I high-fived and acknowledged our adrenaline.
After our minds and lungs settled a bit, Eli mentioned that the time was 145, and while we had plenty of sunlight remaining, we ought to get on with it. The 3 of us shared a fairly inspired tuna lunch. Well, as inspired as such a lunch can be. To our disappointment we noticed a fairly large graffiti of a red swastika and 3 German words that I didn’t understand and don’t care now to look up in any Merriam-Webster dictionary, digital or otherwise.
Symbolic anti-semitism not withstanding, it was a pleasant meal to prepare us for our anticipated easier downward journey. We packed up and I stepped outside into complete whiteness—quite similar to this empty page that I’ve now filled with rambling type. The white was entertaining as it carried with it the subtext of “we’re in the clouds.” With only a quick glance at the orientation of the marker stone and the shelter, we began our descent. I, and my companions too, supposed we were in one of those wispy fast-moving clouds we had seen skirt over the peak all morning. Within moments the rolling mountains to the west and the ski resort to the east would be revealed.
In actuality, the revelation would unfold much differently. It only took a minute of motion before each of us was stricken with doubt. Did we set off in the right direction? Had we maintained the proper orientation? Was the ascent as steep and icy as this precarious descent? Had we offended Zeus so?
We gathered to overlay our mental maps of the area but the cynical fog had us fairly stumped. “Let’s just continue down a bit, the fog will surely clear as we get further off the summit.” Seemed like a decent strategy but what would be the tactic? We arrived at a form of rear-end sledding that made for easy and precarious movement. Using heels and palms as brakes, we attempted to navigate our short sight lines, knowing full well that a cliff’s edge could be just beyond.
After some cautious downhill progress, my tensions grew. Why don’t we have sight yet? On the ascent the clouds hovering at the “akeda stone” never settled upon the mountain like this. Eli suggested Josh assume his preferred position, sitting in a crumpled pile, while Eli and I walked in opposite directions in search of some respite from the white. The agreed procedure was to make sure that Josh was still visible. We set off, each throwing frequent glances back at Josh’s fading figure, while gaining no visibility in our respective directions. As we would recount soon thereafter, there was a moment where Eli and I did not take an additional step, and yet Josh’s outline vanished as our cloud blanket thickened. Close your eyes: black. Open your eyes: white.
I scampered back to the location I had come before vertigo, heroism, panic, or the Yeti would take me. I quickly recovered Josh’s form, and ran back to our slouched waystone. The 3 of us huddled, shared the fruits of our fruitless reconnaissance, and sat back down on our cautious tooshy sleds.
Eli and I anxiously pressed forward and were rewarded with an extension of visibility as we could actually see rocks some 100 feet away. What progress! Nature has a great sense of suspense, as it would not simply lift the white curtain, but rather a few minutes of evermore revealing moments ensued. Eli was quicker to see hope, as he noticed a path that just might’ve been ours. I was not convinced. Then he caught glimpse of an electric tower. I was not convinced.
Then at last, the curtain’s line was tugged with force, and the works of man were revealed. In the distance, but in visible proof, lay before us the best of human creation. Paths! Hotels! Ski lifts! A city in the great distance! O sweet relief.
Although fear had been removed, the end had not yet been reached. We had only come about halfway between the peak and the walkable path. Furthermore, our blinded orientation had put us on a steeper face than we had ascended. The only choice was to continue our butt sledding forays. As it turned out, sledding was much more fun now that the fear of cliffs had been removed. Eli and I gingerly skirted down the rest of the mountain face as I gleefully captured video of our descent. Josh, as per the day’s routine, took a more measured approach. Unfortunately for him, he had already gathered several sizeable scrapes on his legs that would later burn with the healing powers during the night’s reward of a sulphuric Turkish bath.
All’s well that ends well.
This simple phrase, while perhaps not an appropriate philosophy for you politicians out there, seems to carry quite a bit of truth. We had escaped Zeus’ clutches and reached the traverse path with just a simple and unobscured hour walk back to Rami, our purveyor of boots.
Hours later back in Bursa, we three sank into a bath filled with natural hot spring water. Josh gave a small grimace as the water overcame his wounds. Nonetheless we were grateful that the Turks have maintained their hammam bathing tradition to the highest quality. This soothing tub had been in continuous operation since 1555, when Suleiman the Magnificent mandated its creation.
All’s well that ends well, ahhhhh.