Mount Ararat has long been on my ‘to-do’ list. Climbs require a military permit. For many years, due to Kurdish insurgency, obtaining such a permit wasn’t possible. This situation changed in 2021 but Covid and other projects meant that I wasn’t able to focus my attentions on Mount Ararat until this year. So, in August and September of 2023 all of this was rectified.
Whilst some UK operators provide trips to Mount Ararat, none offered my preferred the itinerary. But it’s relatively easy to self-organise with a local guide. I tacked the trip onto a long weekend in Istanbul, at the end of August, with my wife and brother. My brother would accompany me on the mountains.
We found Istanbul to be a fascinating city and worth visiting. So, we spent three full days exploring the old centre of Istanbul.
After doing the touristy stuff, we flew to Van, near Türkiye’s borders with Iran and Armenia. Van is a cultural melting-pot located on the southern edge of a large lake surrounded by volcanoes. The lake itself is the remnant of an ancient caldera.
Our first climb was of Çadir Dağı (3554m; P1029m), the start of our acclimatisation. This mountain is located fairly close to Van.
We had started from the side of a rough road (just about motorable in a high clearance 2WD) on the lower reaches of the mountains. This road was reached from Gevaş on Lake Van via Pinarbaşi, about 1km south of which at a bridge there is a left turn on to it.
From the start point it was pretty well straight up, zigzagging to ease the gradient.
The slopes were slightly stony and covered in the sort of vegetation expected in high semi-arid areas. Stones/scree increased with elevation. Straightforward, if a bit tedious. Still, the views over Lake Van opened up as we ascended.
We turned left as we hit the broad summit ridge and the summit was soon reached. The high point is not at the shelter with sign telling you where you are but at a rocky rise 70m or so before reaching the shelter.
There were wonderful views, especially over the lake, spoilt only slightly by the haze. After an early start, we were back in Van by mid-afternoon.
Our next objective, Suphan Dağı (4058m; P2189m), was on the opposite side of Lake Van. We spent the following day getting to a basic camp site above the settlement of Aydinlar. A 2am start the next day was planned to avoid the daytime heat and because we had a 3 hour drive to Doğubeyazit the same day.
Suphan is another extinct volcano. Whilst there’s a trail much of the way, the final 300m of ascent is on ankle-breaking blocky ground. There are a number of points around the summit area of similar elevation. The southernmost one is the highest.
Then it was on to Mount Ararat (5132m; P3611m and the 48th most prominent mountain in the world). In Doğubeyazit we had the opportunity first to visit the Ishak Pasha Palace.
After a night in Doğubeyazit, we drove to the start point at c2200m via two military checkpoints. Our route on the southern side of Mount Ararat is the one most commonly taken. It has two semi-permanent camps – one at around 3200m and the second at 4100m. Horses carry most of your gear to camp 2.
Benefiting from the acclimatisation and good weather we reached each camp in less than 3 hours on consecutive days primed for our summit attempt. At each camp we shared facilities and socialised with, first, a Bulgarian group and, secondly, a Turkish group.
On 6th September another 2am start saw us join and slowly overtake most of the other teams making their ascents. Mount Ararat is a popular climb with all abilities making the attempt. Unfortunately, its popularity means that there is quite a bit of rubbish (including human waste) on the mountain. It needs a good clean-up.
Being late in the season, the permanent snow cap had receded to just 350m below the summit. Still, we had to don crampons for the final icy slope. Here dawn broke and Mount Ararat’s shadow was cast in typical triangular shape below.
We were hit by a stiff wind as we reached the summit. We joined about eight others who were already there. But they soon left and we then had the summit to ourselves for 30 minutes. The wind made it bitterly cold, but the summit was clear. Haze obscured distant views meaning we couldn’t see Aragats in Armenia. But Little Ararat remained prominent.
My brother tried to fly his drone at the summit, but the wind defeated it.
After the obligatory photos, descent was swift. We skittered down the scree and were back at the lower camp by mid-afternoon having had a brief stop at top camp for some refreshments. We left the lower camp the following day and returned to Doğubeyazit with a celebratory dinner with our new Turkish friends.
So we had a straightforward and enjoyable climb and departed Türkiye the following day. Our in-country arrangements in Van and Doğubeyazit had been organised through www.mountararattours.com – recommended.
My previous blog was on my ascent of the highest mountain on the Iberian peninsula here.