We hadn't planned a thing. We bought plane tickets, packed only the essentials (which included sketching gear, binoculars and a scope), laced our hiking boots and took off. There was an old Lonely Planet guide which nested back and forth between our bags, providing us with some slightly outdated information on lodging. Upon arriving in Trabzon, the Kaçkar mountains, like phantoms lining the horizon opposite the blue line of the sea, seduced us. We rented a car and drove toward their whiteness, hoping perhaps, to catch a glimpse of a resident black grouse.
There was rumour of a village named Sivrikaya, which stood on the edge of an alpine plain. Each time we asked someone on our journey where this mythical Sivrikaya was, they would reluctantly shake their head and shrug their shoulders. Bilmiyorum, was the constant response. Apparently this unknown village was known outside Turkey for its proximity to the habitat of the famed Caucasian black grouse. There was a man named Mustafa, who could take you to see them.
One night, not knowing where to go but up, we headed to Ayder, which our Lonely Planet promised a bed to sleep in. Little did we know the town was entirely touristic, and being off-season, empty. Lodging under 100 lira was difficult to find, but eventually an old insistent lady in a floral headscarf offered us an unheated room with a low ceiling for 70. Fortunately she gave us a little plug-in electric heater she called a soba, which helped keep the mountain cold at the door.
Mounds of old snow lay about the green hills, and it reminded me a bit of childhood trips to Switzerland, though a lot more ramshackle and disorganised. The air was crisp, and held notes of wagtails, crossbills, and crows. I layered on two pairs of socks, bundled up in a yak wool sweater and coat, readying myself for a hike in the snow. Crunching uphill, we passed three wooden signs with crude illustrations of wolves, bears and lynxes, with instructions in Turkish of what I assume were the proper means of dealing with an encounter of each. I made a mental note of the shape of each carnivore's footprint pattern, just in case.