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With 1,000+ Routes, Year-Round Climbing and Cheap Living, This Eurasian Country Should Be On Your Radar

Covid stranded climbers in Southern Turkey. When the borders reopened, they didn't want to leave.

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Last November—between France’s first and second COVID-19 lockdowns—saw the photographer Jan Novak scrambling to avoid another lengthy quarantine at his home in the Hautes-Alpes. Recalling the stunning sweeps of limestone he’d seen on a camping brochure about Geyikbayiri, Turkey, he bought a plane ticket and pfffttt. Novak arrived in the village in southern Turkey, just eight miles from the storied waters of the Mediterranean Sea, to discover that limestone “springs up everywhere like wildflowers.” The area’s 1,000 (and counting) routes were “a wonder, with gray-reddish colors, caves, and beautiful vertical gray faces,” says Novak. Camping was abundant. Weather was stonker. Easy living. Then there were the “smells of delicious Turkish food, sunny days, fresh vegetables and fruits from the market, kind locals, prayers echoing from mosques, and the famous chai tea.” Novak intended to stay in Geyikbayiri for two weeks, but two months later he was still there, shutter clicking away.

Photo: Martina Tscharntke chills on Daddy Cool (8a/5.13b), Anatolia sector. Daddy Cool, says Tscharntke, who lives near the Frankenjura, Germany, is “one of the rare and atypical lines in Geyikbayiri with barely any tufas. It’s not about kneebarring and pinching; rather, technical climbing on crimps … plus the view is astounding.” Tscharntke first visited Geyikbayiri in 2018 and “fell in love with this crag and the country.” Two years later, in March 2020, she and her boyfriend were stranded there when the pandemic closed Europe’s borders. She recalls, “We decided to make the best out of the situation, stayed where we were, climbed a lot, and had a good time in the Flying Goat Camping & Hostel (you can see it in the photo). We made friends with other climbers from all around the world, who were also stuck, and with the owners of the camp, Fleur and Mümin. We were a great corona-family, and for sure Geyikbayiri isn’t the worst place to get stranded!”

Photo: Alex Megos on his new route Turkish Haircut (9a/5.14d), Citibi, likely Turkey’s first climb of the grade. During Megos’s 13-day stay, he established three 5.14b’s and redpointed two 5.14a’s, six 5.14b’s, and five 5.14c’s, topping these off with Turkish Haircut. A satisfying vacation by any measure! Citibi, says Megos, is “one of the most amazing crags I’ve seen anywhere. The climbing and ambience reminded me a little bit of Kalymnos. The rock is a very similar limestone, with lots of tufas and caves. The sea is close by, the food is Mediterranean, the fruits taste amazing, and climbers come from all parts of the world!” Plus, adds Megos, “There are not very many places with 70° and sun in winter.”

Amazing sunrise view in JoSiTo camp, Geyikbayiri. Beta: The JoSiTo campsite has showers, Wi-Fi, car rentals, a bar + restaurant, shuttle service, and rental tents and climbing gear. Campsites are $5 to $8 a night depending on your length of stay. Cabins start at $29 a night.

Photo: Resident climber Duygu Haug operates the JoSiTo climber’s campground with her husband, Tobias, and says Geyikbayiri is the “heart of Turkish climbing.” Haug moved here in 2001. “I have never had an ambition to be the best climber in the world,” she says, “but I have always had the ambition to try the best for myself. [That’s] probably why I was always the first Turkish female climber to explore and reach the next level of difficulty [she now climbs 8c].” Haug says she’s shorter than most climbers, but has turned this into a plus: “I have to find different beta than other people, and I really like to play my own game.” Here, she tufa-shuffles on No Money No Dance (7c/5.12d), Trebenna sector.

Photo: Local climber Mümin Karabas sorts out Turkish Airways (8a/5.13b) at the Anatolya sector. Born in the city of Adana, Turkey, Karabas moved to Geyikbayiri in 2000 to pursue climbing; he set up the Flying Goat Camping & Hostel, and has spent the past decade bolting new routes and rebolting old ones. “Making first ascents is exciting for me,” says Karabas. “It takes a lot of energy, and the process and story during the climb are memorable. The most challenging part is developing new areas in a country where climbing is not the most popular sport—it is not easy to find support, and you have to give a lot from yourself.”

Beta: The Flying Goat Camping & Hostel offers bungalows starting at $18/night and dorm accommodations for $13. Campsites are $8, and you can get a site in a pomegranate garden with a tent and mattress for $11. The Flying Goat has a communal kitchen, Wi-Fi, showers, and laundry service; there is a 10-percent discount for stays over 14 nights.

Photo: World Cup competitor Jenya Kazbekova of Ukraine ventured to Geyikbayiri so she could “stay in a pomegranate garden and be well fed with pomegranates from the morning up to the evening.” She arrived with her parents, both climbers, and reports that her mother, who is also her climbing coach, cruised 5.12d, while her father managed a 5.14b. Kazbekova is a third-generation climber. Her grandmother was a Master of Sport and her grandfather was a national climbing coach during Ukraine’s time under USSR rule; to this day, both grandparents remain active in the climbing world. In this photo, Kazbekova works out Colonist (8a+/5.13c) at the Sarkit sector. “Sarkit is one of the sunniest crags in Geyikbayiri—it’s perfect if you miss being warm,” she says.

Photo: Duygu Haug heads for the light on Happy Three Friends (7c/5.12d), Alabalik sector. “Every route is a different dream for me,” says Haug. “It’s not always about sending the routes and clipping the chains, but enjoying the moment, the nature, the good vibes with your partner or friends.”

Photo: Alex Megos can never get enough—morning finger-warmup routine and the ever-critical skin check, JoSiTo camp.

Photo: Haug, Game of Thrones (7c/5.12d). “A mix of emotions makes every single climb special for me—happiness, failing, success, and adventure,” she says. “Rock climbing is not only an emotional journey, but also a real one. It takes you many wonderful places and lets you explore them.”