EDITORS’ NOTE: Few Old Testament stories capture the imagination like Noah’s Ark. Fascination with the possibility of actually finding the Ark’s remains has inspired expeditions to the Mt. Ararat region of Turkey for centuries. In the fall of 2004, Baptist Press sent two journalists — Tom Engleman of Atlanta and Chuck Hughes of Baltimore — to Turkey in order to document the continuing search for Noah’s Ark. What follows is the ninth of 11 installments from their journals about the experience. Our series supplements their story with an array of sidelights, including glimpses into Ark expeditions conducted by one of the best known and most controversial of the searchers, the late Ron Wyatt of Madison, Tenn.
DOBI, Turkey (BP)–Following are journal entries from two men in search of Noah’s Ark.
CHUCK: As it happens, a retired army colonel is typing information for the Turkish Mountaineering Federation while the central commander is scrutinizing our paperwork. He intercedes with the commander, who decides we can shoot in and around the area of the hotel and away from the mountain but that we cannot climb with the federation. The colonel asks to speak with us at the hotel later that night, and we leave the commander, heading back to the Hotel Isfahan.
That evening, we have dinner at our favorite restaurant, Dogus. The manager there had been introduced to us as a friend of Ismet’s, and the service and food are wonderful — plus the prices decrease each time we eat there! After dinner, we head back to the hotel to meet with the colonel. He advises us that he will help in any way he can, and Tom asks if it would be OK to interview the climbers in the morning as they prepare to leave for the mountain. He gives us permission and also consents to do an interview himself. He tells us that we still are invited to climb with them but that we cannot take the video camera. Tom decides to shoot from below.
A good point in the day is that we were accepted by the federation. We are invited to return and summit the mountain with them. They would love it if we would be able to obtain the permits to film the entire expedition. Tom tells Kemat that we will put a promotional piece together for the federation and mail a copy to him, along with a copy to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, as was expressed in our permit papers.
We hit the bed earlier than usual, as we need to be set up in the morning around 6 a.m., before the climbers start arriving.
CHUCK: Tom rises before 6 a.m. and sets up the camera equipment in the little portico immediately outside the hotel. It’s strange how everything has gotten turned around. We had a sound plan based on the information we received before leaving the U.S. Routes to take and sites to see and film had been mapped out. Once here in Turkey, however, things began to change, and our focus needed to change with the situations. We had planned to shoot some of the Victory Climb, as it was a part of our treatment for the researchers of Ararat and Noah’s Ark.
Once we got here, we found that it would be impossible to film the area of the mountain legally, so we switched gears in mid-thought. Now we’ll focus on the Victory Climb itself. Although the federation had invited journalists from around the world, only a two-man team from a local station had bothered to show up. Tom tells Kemat, the retired colonel, that we will help promote the climb as much as possible.
Since I found the Victory Climb information by accident during my research, I ask how many countries other than those in Europe know about the climb. Kemat tells us he tried to persuade an American climbing group to exchange e-mails with some of the Turkish Mountaineering Federation members, but it fizzled out. We’ll try to advertise a little in the U.S. for them.
After breakfast, the climbers begin to arrive in twos and threes, their packs loaded and looking heavier than ever. You can see the excitement in these faces. Young and old, male and female, all ready to tackle the south face of Mt. Ararat, Agri Dagi.
From where we’re set up, we have a good view of the preparations. Large three-liter containers of water are stacked to be loaded into the trucks. The food stores and an electrical generator are off to one side. Tents are packed in large white bags, ready to be stowed away. Tom is moving through the crowd with the camera.
Everyone chips in with the loading of the trucks. There are eight large diesel trucks that look more like dump trucks than personnel carriers. The tents and supplies are loaded on first, followed by the individual packs, with their ice picks, crampons and side pockets bulging with easy to locate items. We are told the packs will range between 45 and 75 pounds, depending on the climber. Some even have small front-slung packs in addition to their backpack.
The anxious looks on some faces are a bit amusing; of course, we aren’t making the climb this time. Some are biting their lips, others staring off into space. There is laughter and backslapping. Some of the men and women are solemn, anxiety written all over their faces. Tom interviews our Turkish colonel, who also sits on the board of directors of the Turkish Mountaineering Federation. He is a little nervous in front of a camera, and it appears he has stayed awake half the night, memorizing what he wanted to say this morning. Tom also interviews an Iranian gentleman who works in Ankara, as well as one of the Turkish climbers.
This is one of the largest Victory Climbs on record. There are more than 280 climbers waiting to tackle the mountain. This is only the first group. The guides in their red shirts are shouting directions to the climbers, and everything is loaded onto the trucks in short order. The sea of chatter and milling about turns into an orderly scene of people moving in deliberate fashion toward the same goal.
With all this going on, the locals are doing business as usual. Some of the children are selling sip-it cranberry juices, and others have large platters filled with sesame rolls. Several pushcarts of produce move past the caravan of trucks, on their way to the streets and markets in town. Any children not working are lined along the street, watching the parade of climbers and vehicles. Grown-ups in sport jackets light cigarettes and enjoy the spectacle.
The climbers clamber onto the trucks and perch atop the packs and provisions. Smiling broadly, they snap pictures of each other. They look like they’re having the time of their lives. Then they are off, cheerily waving goodbye from their lofty perches. Next stop is the trail to base camp, where the climb begins. Tom has enough footage to make a good story on the Victory Climb.
Tom, the Baptist and I wrap up the equipment and head to the Durupinar site for close-up and personal shots of the reputed resting site of Noah’s Ark. We show Hassan Baba our permits, and he gives us the OK to hike to the site and film.
NEXT: The Ark of Noah
This entire series of articles has been collected into an e-book, In Search of Noah’s Ark, available exclusively at http://kainospress.com.