When weather got bad last August, we improvised a splendid trip in Turkey. The farthest place we went was Erzindzhan and despite the good flight I made there I noticed a cloud street over the mountains to the south.
This year, me and my brother Miti managed to break free for a discovery with the purpose to prolong the cross country season, when at the end of September the thermals in Bulgaria start dying and lowlands start to fill up with inversions. An antidote for inversions are big sun baked rocky slopes, plus a pinch of moisture.
We made a team and started to prepare. I’ve probably spent over 10 nights in researching the terrain and weather patterns. I marked dozens of potential take offs, roads, junctions and even parking places. Others helped me with the equipment because mine is heavy and old. Plamen Punchev gave me his GIN Genie X-Lite which is comfy, light and strong. Tedi bought pepper spray against shepherd dogs. Vladut from Romania gave me his old Ozone/Mantra 6 with 100 hours life left in it.
As, during such an expedition I can easily tear the wing on the rocks, or I can make too much hours, Vladut offered me to trade his wing for kabagaida (a Bulgarian bagpipe). I don’t know how much it cost and where to find it, but I agreed instantly because Vladut plays well on his flute and because it’s somehow beautiful to exchange a wing for music.
Miti baptized my newly bought 25 years old Opel Astra for its first big journey. He changing oil, water, brakes, and took enough tools to a full engine repairment, if needed. Before that I upgraded it with 15 inches wheels, taken from my old Opel Astra. I put a new stereo system, because gypsies don’t go anywhere without good music 😉
Time passed quickly and after sending the last Sopot XC group we hit the road. As Yassen said after winning the Europans in France “West is the best, but East is the beast”.
The advantage of late travel is the easier border crossing and passing of Istanbul.
The road to Erzindzhan is long but slow because of the regular speed limits and the need to stop for LPG refueling. After a long day driving we found a quiet place to pitch our tents and reset our biorhythms before tomorrow’s flying. The next day we passed Erzindzhan, bougth some burek for breakfast and continued towards east side of Munzur Mountains, where the south-easterly winds were supposed to be weaker. We entered the Kurdish territories which entrances are strictly guarded by gendarmerie and army check points. Perhaps, that is why these parts of Turkey haven’t been flown by locals, but we were silly tourists who were just interested in the mountains.
Since the Cold War, the Kurds were courted by the socialistic countries, which made them more secular, unlike the rest of Turkey. Most women are without scarves, the mosques don’t wake you up at 4 am. In Ovachik town there was an interesting installation with a rotating globe surrounded by World Enlithers like Newton, Leonardo, Gandhi… and above them – Kemal Ataturk – the father of modern Turkey. It is ironical that the Kurds, who fight for freedom and rights turns out to be the bigger bearers of Ataturk ideas, unlike nowadays Turkey which prefers more religion and control. Turkey seems like a mini version of the world’s drama between free countries and dictatorships. I feel that due to its geopolitical position, the future of the world will be decided here, not by Big Brothers with Nuclear Guns. And as Turkey is big, with many resources and development potential, I don’t expect serious internal fights and I somehow good hope for the future…
Before Tuncheli we turned right and started climbing the mountain. Soon we drove to an open space and our jaws dropped by the view. An enormous mountain slope with sky high cumulus clouds. Such a grand scale that it’s difficult to comprehend where to start from. The road was twisting upwards, passing through the nd cozy villages. There were vertical cliffs to the right with snow spots at their base. The road because dirty before the last village, but the Opel and the skillful driving of Miti were managing just fine. It’s always useful to blow fully the passenger’s heating to reduce the engine’s temperature. The point I’ve chosen was a mountain pass at 2,500 m, but the clouds and my intuition told me try the slope earlier. An indeed, it turned out that the mountain pass was funneling the forecasted SE, but the clouds above gave me confidence to try. We hiked for 200 meters above the road where Miti periodically was informing us about the increasing falling wind.
I caught a lul, took off, a wind gust catapulted me upwards, but quickly vanished, because I was in a rotor after all. After few tricks I leaked downwind, but didn’t know wether to look for thermals closer to the slope or stay safe more in front. Somewhere midway, I found the climb to the cloud above. It was sneaky but became smoother and stronger with height. Then I reached the cloudbase and flew deeper in the mountain. There I got a strict, but just climb of 7 m/s average. Stay in and don’t show your nose out.
The initial plan was to fly downwind towards the wide Erzindzhan valley, but the mountain was so appealing, the wind didn’t seemed that strong, so I decided to risk.
When we speak about risk, here, it is not about being somebody or taking meaningless risks like repeatedly throwing dices at a small and strong thermic landing field. The entering of a mountain goes with many dangers, but it also gives many opportunities, which somehow relaxes your mind. Only, if you’re not afraid of complexity of things and if you don’t care to hike for a day or two if needed.
There was a nice cloudstreet ahead, but I oversupplied myself with height and a cloud swallowed me. The vario’s compass was always turning somewhere and it was difficult to keep south to exit the cloud. The lines quickly iced. We missed the liquid stage and switched directly to sublimation. Interestingly, the ice was growing upwind. The wing screeched. It became cold. I had plenty of cold during my flying. I often had my legs and shoulders shivering, because of insufficient body fat, but now was the first time when my buttocks muscles started to shiver. And they are pretty strong after these years of mountain hiking. So powerful, that the whole wing shakes. Even pieces of ice started to fall from the wing and the lines. Perhaps, after landing I can apply for anti-icing patent. I fly with different gloves forgotten by random pilots in Sopot. One is thicker, the other is made of leather. But at 5,000 meters, the cold resets the senses and the pain was equal everywhere. Thanks that it wasn’t so turbulent, so most of the time I was keeping the brakes with one hand and energetically trotting downward the other, trying to fill my fingertips it with warm blood. This helped, but nothing could help when I got the first signs of hypoxia – you become slow and stupid. I even felt irritated when Vladut was asking me where we shall fly to. What shall I say when I don’t know my position or direction at all. Finally, I was out. Only the icy lines stayed long with me on blue sky and bright sun background.
I noticed that the dying SW parts of clouds had rounded precipitation, similar to mammatus clouds, not with the classic virga brushstroke. Probably, because the cloud consisted of light snow crystals, unlike the heavy rain drops.
Little by little I pushed against the wind, under a cloud street, and entered the beautiful Munzur Valley. The enormous rocky slopes make your skin goosebumps. And behind them is wide range, which didn’t look like a plateau at all, because it was full with dozens of sharp peaks, ridges, spurs, saddles, screes, lakes, snowy spots, meadows and even the rounded shepherd’s yurts.
You float along the convergence, like a Chinese mandarin, and soaks with your mind, eyes and hearth this cosmic view. And below there is a flat valley with grassy dunes and stony fans at the base of dry river beds. Colorful farms, small villages, trees, life. The rounded grassy mountains to the south are meeting the breeze, coming from the enormous dam with multiple sleeves twisting like snakes. The air was so generous – you can fly and land anywhere. A piece of paradise surrounded by the Biblical Euphrates river, which goes all the way to Babylon and Mesopotamia – the cradle of human civilization.
We landed in Ovachik and Miti came with the car shortly, just after we packed. In a local pub we looked for our favorite for Bulgaria shkembe chorba (tripe soup) but had, the also delicious, pacha chorba. I was motivating Miti to be our retrieve driver for this and many similar trips in future, promising him the praised shkembe and kyunefe, but ironically we couldn’t find it anywhere we stopped. I’m sure, the beauty of the mountains and the traveling spirit will do the motivation job. Miti stopped flying after an accident, now he helps us at SkyNomad school and I have the feeling that in his mind he flies more than others. The Teaches says that I have a diamond brother and I agree. I feel comfortable, both in the air and on the ground, when he’s around.
It got dark and next to the river we found a meadow dotted with willow trees where to pitch our tents. The moon rose and the rocky summits glowed like covered with a silk web. Cumulus clouds were still throwing their shadow on mountain slopes and we still couldn’t aware what have happened to us.
For those who ask me how turbulent are the places we’ve flown I can say that they’re calmer than Sopot in southerly winds. We’ve all heard about the dust devils of Kayseri and Aksaray, but the reason are their big volcanoes which steal the cream and throw inversions around them, suppressing the thermals and adding to their turbulence. In more stable weather, the Rose Valley in Sopot would fill with inversions and will also turbulize the thermals which try to squeeze along the mountain slopes. Erzindzhan valley is also pretty wide, thermals in August were starting after 12 and that’s why we skipped t this time. The logic of this research was to look for instability and steep south slopes, and Munzur mountains are probably the biggest in entire Turkey. Munzur valley is relatively small and the lowlands to the south feed it additionally with warm air. Munzur mountains are also in the middle of Mala Asia (small Asia), far from seas breezes and westerly fronts, but close to inland convergence lines. From other pilots I’ve heard similar stories about strong but smooth thermals inside Alps or Karakorum. So dear kids, don’t be afraid when you hear words like “instability” and “strong thermals”. Just come inside and stay there. It’s calm. The problems are at the border. For the entire trip I didn’t have a single collapse on my Mantra 6, except once when I left the controls to photograph Vladut.
The next day I flew 160 km towards Erzurum. Turkey is full of mountains. Take offs are everywhere. Every day is a feast for the eye and the flying spirit. East Turkey and especially Munzur surpassed our expectations since the first day. I know where I’ll be at the end of next September and I think it can become a para pilgrimage site like Basano in spring.
5,500 km, 2 days driving, 5 days flying. If we don’t count the amortization of the Opel and Miti, this trip cost us 100 euro per person. SkyNomading showed that flying can be strong without being turbulent and quality, without being expensive.
There are cumulus, even at night!
High Cloud Street
Ovachik, Munzur valley
West side of Munzur mountains
Cloud street towards Munzur Valley
Euphrates river. Go with the flow until you’ll reach Babylon.