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Esra Seyit climbing above the village.
Photo by M. Oviglia
Arrival at Kemaliye at a bend in the river Eufrate.
Photo by M. Oviglia
Competition winner Alper Tolga Kocatas climbing above the village.
Photo by M. Oviglia
Photographers and filmmakers on a boat on river Eufrate.
Photo by M. Oviglia

Kemaliye International Outdoor Sport Festival - rock climbing in Turkey


The report by Maurizio Oviglia about the Kemaliye International Outdoor Sport Festival, the largest outdoor activity meeting in Turkey in an area which has all the makings of an Asian Verdon.

Now in its ninth edition, this important outdoor sports festival is virtually unknown in Europe despite possibly being the most important event of its kind in Turkey, with major sponsors such as Coca Cola and The North Face. The festival takes place in Eastern Turkey between Georgia and Anatolia and as such it is definitely off the beaten track, in a village at an altitude of 1000 meters at the entrance to a wild canyon formed from the river Euphrates (at this point some may remember their school-day geography lessons...) which is happens to be one of the most important rivers in Asia Minor. It's precisely located on the ancient Silk Road and the village of Kemaliye turned out to be a genuine surprise, with typical wooden houses which make it resemble a Turish version of Cortina d'Ampezzo, naturally though with shops which are far cheaper!

The event was initially staged because of base jumping which the walls of this canyon have hosted for numerous years. To get an idea of what this is all about do check out the video linked here, but there are numerous others online and the most impressive and funny, shot this year by Dutch, American and French base jumpers and presented at the festival, unfortunately haven't been uploaded yet. After the first few editions, the organisers decided to include hiking, mountain biking, canoeing, rafting and climbing and in doing so they created this magnificent multi-sport festival.

The organisation of the climbing event was entrusted to Dogan Palut, one of the strongest and most famous Turkish climbers who equipped an entire cliff just above the village and organises an annual competition. Dogan has also established numerous alpine outings as well as a series of multi-pitch bolt climbs with difficulties up to 7c+ located right beneath where the base jumpers launch off.

As you look around you realise that there is rock in abundance and Kemaliye proved to be a real eye-opener since it's a sort of Verdon Gorge in Turkey. Unlike its French twin, the massive river (called Firat) literally changes colour from one day to the next, taking on hues which vary from brown to emerald green, depending on the rains that fall in the Georgia mountains from where it originates.

This year was the first year that foreign climbers were invited to take part and the organisers asked some Italians who had established new routes in Turkey's mountains in the past. So it was with great pleasure and enthusiasm that I replied to Dogan and I spent some marvellous days in the beautiful village and on the lovely rocks around Kemaliye. I tried to thank him in my own way by contributing to the development of the area and si I established the first two multi-pitch "plaisir" climbs in the canyon, "Koca Firat" (120m 6a+) and "Be Relax" (180m, 6b), together with Recep Ince, my friend from Istanbul.

For his part, Dogan bolted a new route and as a token of his hospitality he let me make the first ascent... damn... it felt like being in a competition, I couldn't fail on the on-sight, help! While doing this my wife Cecilia made the first all-female ascent of Koca Firat together with the highly talented Zeynep Tantekin who had only just recently become a mother. Their ascent was watched by spectators who had gathered from all the surrounding villages to see the base jumpers and climbers perform in unison

This is just the beginning of this new Asian "Verdon" and I've got a sneaking suspicion that we'll hear much more about it in the near future seeing that the walls reach 500m in height and that at least one side can be reached by simply stepping out of the car.

There are innumerable paradises yet to be discovered in this world, but when an earthly heaven is revealed by local climbers who share everything without jealousy, secrets and that competitive edge sadly typical of our modern society, then the satisfaction you get from establishing a new route is really complete. You get the feeling of doing something not just for yourself, but of having done something together, of having shared your love and expertise with everyone.

by Maurizio Oviglia

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