Lycian Way: Cukurbag to Gokceoren hike (Lycia, Turkey)

Note for those hoping to use this as a resource for hiking the Lycian Way – this is section 12 in Kate Clow’s book but in reverse.

We’ve come to Lycia to walk sections of the Lycian Way. I bought the book with the intention of walking the whole trail end-to-end but then Dad invited me to join him and Mum sailing so I did that instead. From the guide book, it’s difficult to identify the best sections for walking so we pick this section because it appears that we can get to the start and end easily, and leave the camper van parked securely at a camping ground.

We start by walking part way to Kas before jumping on a dolmus (mini bus) the rest of the way. The dolmus are quite modern and comfortable. I had pictured them rather like Indonesian or Thai local transport but of course, Turkey is not in South-East Asia. We stop at the bus station and decide to catch a taxi to Cukurbag, where the trail starts. You can walk from Kas to Cukurbag but it’s 6km uphill and we want to walk the next section of the trail. The taxi costs us 35TR ($AU17.50).

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“Lykia Road?” the taxi driver asks us. “Yes”. “Kas?” he asks again. “No, Phellos” we respond. So he drops us at an intersection and points uphill. “Lykia Road not far. If want Kas …” he points the other way down the other road of the intersection. It looks far more appealing than the steep rise that awaits us. But we stay true to our course. After a few hundred meters walking up the steep hill we reach a mosque and water fountain. This is where the trail leaves the road on the left side. If you are hiking here, this will be your last drinking water for about 6-7 hours so I recommend you fill up.

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The first part of the trail proper gives us a good indication of how tough this hike will be on our feet. I am glad that I’m wearing boots instead of joggers. The thicker sole will come in handy today. The trekking poles are also great (until half way through the hike when one of them snaps – I only bought it in August).

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The trail just climbs and climbs and climbs. The intersection where we began is at about 485m above sea level and the ridge we climb to is at about 820m above sea level. The trail doesn’t twist around the mountain. Rather, it just goes straight up the side. The fantastic thing about this is that we have fantastic views back down to where we came from and on to the coast. Photos rarely do these sorts of views justice and this is no exception.

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Not far from the top of the ridge we come to the ruins of the city of Phellos. There are no interpretive signs but you can see old rock tombs and some structures still here. Apparently this was an important city and was linked to Antiphellos, which is the present day town of Kas. We don’t explore the ruins much because there’s little information in Kate Clow’s book about them. But it turns out from subsequent online research that there are some old reliefs, more tombs than the one on the path and more structures than we saw. So if you are here, it might be worth a bit of a rest and explore.

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The ridge walk after Phellos is probably one of the two nicest sections of the hike. I love walking ridges. They offer views to both sides and the way ridges snake through the landscape is like walking on the spine of a dragon.

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The only bad thing is that the trail has been narrow since we started climbing to Phellos and the shrubs are very spiky so we all have scratched up legs. Another tip: wear gaiters or long pants for these sections of the hike if you don’t want to end up with rogainner’s legs.

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The views from the ridge to the north are spectacular. Treeless alpine peaks extend into the distance with deep valleys in between. It must look amazing in the spring when the flowers are in bloom because even the dead flower heads look lovely in this landscape.

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It’s not all rocky hiking though. At times the trail meanders through forested areas that are lush and green. It’s as though we drop into pockets of other wordliness. Almost as though the mountain is giving our feet a reprieve.

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The trees in these sections remind me of the Snowy Mountains at home, except that the bark is red not white. But it’s the way they are low and twisted and coppised that makes me feel this way. I really enjoy these pockets of forest that we come across on the 25km hike.

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After a long slow slog along the narrow and often rocky trail we reach a forestry road. We will follow this for about an hour as it cuts a swathe through the forest. The roads stand out and we’ve seen them from the trail. Fortunately, I have a good topographic map and it clearly shows that we only have to walk on the road for about an hour. If I were narrating the Pursuit of Happyness movie I would say “I call this part of the hike: the slug fest”. Hahaha.

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We reach this small thatched hut in the middle of nowhere. The road section ends here and the navigational challenges begin. There’s a lot of trees and shrubs down up here, whether by storms or wood harvesting. They cover the track and most of the trail markings. We spend some time route finding and, at the same time, find a nice spot to stop for lunch not far from the “hut”. We eat and relax in the sunshine before continuing. About 200m down the track we come across two German hikers who have also stopped for lunch. It’s amazing that we were so close but didn’t even hear each other or know the other group was there.

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The track takes us to an open rocky section. It’s stunning. I’ve never walked in this type of open rocky landscape before. It is what I imagine some of the places mentioned in Bible stories to look like. I don’t know why.

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We reach the cottage described in the guide book. It’s so isolated here on the rocky hill top. I can’t imagine living here. The cottage is deserted. Perhaps its always this way or perhaps the residents have already gone down to a lower village for the winter. Either way, it’s beautiful and stark. Here we lose the trail for about half an hour. From the other direction it’s not too difficult. There’s a big red arrow pointing in the direction from which we came and plenty of red and white markings on the rocks. But in our direction it’s difficult because there are so many rocks and if you don’t happen upon the one with the marking then it’s almost impossible to find them.
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After some mistakes made by trying to follow the markers, rather than the map we stop and start to think logically (and I find my iPhone compass, which helps). I’ve included the photo above of me pointing in the correct direction in case it helps anyone else through this section of the trail.

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Not far after the cottage is an old rocky field with crab apple trees. Under the trees there is grass that would make fantastic places to camp. I think it would be gorgeous up here at night under a full moon.

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But today we walk on down a steep rocky descent that will lead us to a creek in the valley floor below. The descent is challenging and takes us over an hour. You’d think walking down hill would be preferable to all the uphill hiking we’ve done so far but the loose rocks are a challenge as we try to walk instead of rock ski down the trail.

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We all make it safely down to the valley. It’s lovely down here and I can understand why people make it their home. Yes, it’s a harsh and isolated place but there are a few houses dotted around and the clink of goat bells rings through the valley from some distance away. This is the sound of hiking in Turkey: goat bells clanging in the distance. We stop at the creek and cool our weary feet in the clear water. We still have about 8km to hike and it’s already after 3pm. Fortunately, it stays light late here so there is no need to panic about the end of daylight. But I don’t think any of us expected a 23-25km hike to take this long. We are used to hiking on softer subtropical trails that are easier going than this rocky terrain.

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The rocky terrain is over though. We are now walking on another forestry road that will take us all the way to Gokceoren (typing that is much easier than pronouncing it; unfortunately, my keyboard doesn’t have include the Turkish alphabet so I can’t include all the special characters to really show how this is written and pronounced). About 2km from the creek there is a water fountain. This is the first water since we left Cukurbag around 9:30am this morning. I fill my bottles knowing from the map that we have a long uphill hike to the finish. There is a second spring about 1km further down the road too if you need it. This second spring is marked on the topographic map while the first one isn’t.

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We walk ever uphill on the forestry road. We make good time but these final kilometers seem endless. It’s always that way towards the end of a hike. You think “oh it’s only 5km to go” but the reality is that it’s still 5km and not going to go past any faster than the previous 5km did. Funny how the brain works. Two kilometers (1 1/4 mile) from the village proper we come to the first signs of civilisation: a house. We all let out some whoops because walking up this hill is probably the most dull part of the hike after the splendor of the mountains.
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Slowly we come to Gokceoren village proper. The valley and village are visually splendid. There’s little houses with red roofs, some old and some derelict. A village woman herds goats while another group sit together sorting vegetables. A car load of men passes us on the road towards the coast. Chickens have one last scratch in the dirt before they start their nightly run home to their roosts. Goats bleat and their bells ring through the valley. We’ve stepped a long way back in time but are less than 20km by road from the touristic village and marina of Kas with all its modern conveniences.

We learn that the last dolmus for Kas has already been and gone. Mum speaks with a lady at a farm house. She negotiates us a ride into town with a man who has a car. Dad and I wait on the street while Mum makes the necessary arrangements. We can hear the lady shouting down the phone to the man with the car from where we are. It’s almost as though she’s shouting to him across the village. The woman invites us all to sit under her verandah while she makes cheese. She picks fresh pears from her tree and offers them to us. Yum! As she makes cheese and we wait for the “chauffeur” to turn up I take in her home. Over the veranda she grows white and red grapes. There’s a pear tree and some other fruit trees. She has a vegetable crop. It’s cool and the bench we sit on is covered in a mattress so that it is like a day bed. It feels like a home. A place that provides all the woman and her family need. Making her own cheese looks like it comes naturally; like she’s done it all her life. And her smile is warm. She speaks no English and we no Turkish. But it doesn’t seem to matter: she wants to help us get to Kas.

As for the drive to Kas. It was an adventure in itself. Our “chauffeur” has obviously driven this steep cliff-side road thousands of times and takes it at breakneck speed. I sit in the front and take in the views. Blue seas over 1,100m below us come ever closer with every hair pin bend. The islands off the coast have steep cliffs. The yachts look stunning dotted against the Agean’s blue. And the 1,100m altitude disappears quickly under our wheels until we are dropped at the camping ground, paying the man 100TL ($AU50) for his trouble (this is a lot of money in Turkey but a taxi would have cost more and he has gone out of his way to drop us off).

It was a fun adventurous day out.

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