COURTESY MATT CASTALDO
COURTESY MATT CASTALDO

In a country known for its love of soccer, another sport has climbed into Turkey’s heart: rock climbing.

I am currently studying abroad in a town called Alanya on the south coast of Turkey. This past weekend a friend and I packed backpacks and travelled west for four hours to an area called Olympos, which is known for its nature tourism and adventure sports.

We stayed in a tree house lodge compound that happened to be hosting a rock climbing festival for the weekend. Competitive climbers from all over the world traveled toOlympos and spent their time scaling beautiful seaside rock formations and drilling new metal holds for future climbers to safely belay each other.

The sport of rock climbing itself draws athletes in excellent physical shape. Climbers use their remarkably strong upper bodies and high levels of coordination to scale rock faces that look so steep and smooth that they would be better suited for playing squash than climbing.

What is striking about the competition surrounding the climbing, though, is that it is not heated but rather a communal encouragement for personal accomplishment. The climbers all know that their safety literally lies in the hands of their co-competitors who belay them, and mutual respect and friendship is the ultimate prize. The race to the top is really not against one another but against oneself.

When sitting around the campfire in our compound one evening, I overheard a pair of climbers recounting stories about dangerous situations they had overcome together. They spoke in broken English, so I asked one where they were from.

“I am from Slovenia,” one said. I asked the other if he was, too, and he chuckled. “No, I’m from France. We met climbing and have been travelling together for a while. We always try to best each other, but we have each other’s backs when we climb.”

While the international climbing community has been attracted to Olympos for its rock formations, locals have grown to love the sport that is flourishing in their own backyard.

A German man named Sebastian, who currently resides in Turkey, provided some insight.

“Climbing is a sport that is really growing here,” he said. “You see it in cities like Antalya, where I live. Many Turks have taken to climbing. I come here with my roommate a few times a month and we have a group of Turkish friends who all climb. The sports shops all have sections dedicated to climbing. It’s everywhere.”

It makes sense that climbing is everywhere in Olympos and the towns along Turkey’s south coast. Not only are there active and enthusiastic Turks and perfect terrain, but the influx of climbers has also certainly stimulated local economies.

The area of Olympos and other nearby towns is predominantly farmland, and the arrival of eco-conscious adventure tourists has provided locals with more outlets to sell their goods and a way to utilize unused space for additional income, without compromising the environmental health of the area. Campgrounds and pension hotels are sprinkled amongst roadside farms. Trails run through farms where farmers are happy to sell you fresh-squeezed pomegranate or orange juice. Even local Turks driving by on the winding, mountainous roads are happy to pick up a hitchhiking climber to make few extra bucks and mingle with travelers.

As the sport grows, so too will the popularity of Turkey as a climbing destination. One longtime employee of our campsite, who climbs and leads climbing groups, said the future is bright.

“It seemed like only a few years ago when there was nothing here. Now, we have all these lodges and climbers. We’re expanding our hiking, mountain biking and triathlon training. Festivals like this weekend’s means we are equipping new rock faces for climbing,” he said. “I expect even more climbers to come here for the beauty and natural adventure that Olympos and Turkey offers.”

Turkey’s 2014 World Cup hopes may have been dashed during qualifying by the Dutch, but there is no rocky road ahead for adventure seekers hoping to climb in Turkey.

Matt Castaldo is a junior in the College. Full contact appears every Tuesday.

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