The Best Climbing near Istanbul – Ballikayalar, Turkey aka the sweet, sweet Honey Crag! (Trip Report)

IMG-5614.JPG
Photo by the author

Overview

Ballikayalar (or Honey Crag in Turkish) is the best outdoor climbing near Istanbul.

It is about an hour drive from the city of 15 million and consists of over 70 routes on limestone. The routes range from 7 to 35m, and most fall within a difficulty rating of 5.10 to 5.12 (or VI to IX- in UIAA). Many of the older routes were originally climbed as trad, now that they are bolted the line naturally follow the cracks.There are two main sectors, the Left and the Right, as in, on the Left or Right of the valley (when peering into it).

To climb here is to steep in the history of rock climbing in Turkey. Ballikayalar is one of the original crags to be developed in the country. By sheer luck, I had the opportunity to climb with one of the pioneers: Emre has been climbing here for over 33 years and has many first and second ascents to his name.We were joined by Sevki, a big wall climber who has spent time at Yosemite. Fun fact: He met Alex Honnold there… on El Cap!… While Alex was free solo down-climbing!Overall, it’s a beautiful valley with a babbling brook running down the middle. After spending nearly a month in Istanbul, this was a desperately needed respite from a city sorely lacking in nature. Oddly, Balli sits on the edge of an industrial area. Look one way and you see factories spewing smoke. Turn around and it’s nature at it’s finest.

IMG-5611.jpg
Photo by the author

Suggested Routes

I am a beginner and stuck to the lower grades. Sevki and Emre showed me some of the “classics”, which had been developed in 1987 (older than I am!).

Percussion: VI/VI+. Originally climbed as a trad route (by Emre and others), this follows a thin line on the inner side of a cave. It involves lean-backs, bridging your feet wider than expected, and big reach ups. It is quite pumpy.

Davul (Drum): VI+: Emre had the first ascent on this one. This is pumpy, featuring big, juggy holds, bigger reaches and a lot of lean-backs. Drum and Percussion are meant as brothers of sorts, and their names allude to the pounding your arms take when climbing them.

 

How to Get There

The easiest way is by car. Take the E80 or D100 East towards Ankara. The closest town is Gebze.Public Transport: TheCrag.com and RockClimbing.com have suggestions for how to get there by bus. I won’t pretend to give advice here since I didn’t try this myself.

When to Go

Istanbul and the surrounding area to the East has mild weather in the Winter (we had 50 F/ 10 C in late December). Reading other people’s accounts, the area is climbable year round.
IMG-5610
Photo by the author

We started in a corner on the Left Sector away from the sun. The closest area to the entrance of the Left Sector faces the East and was receiving direct sun when we arrived. Around the bend, the sectors stayed in the shade until mid-afternoon. It had rained two days before and the routes were still wet in the shade. The Right Sector receives sun nearly all day.

Supplies

You can pick up food and snacks in Gebze. There are several bodegas and cafes right in town.If you need climbing gear, Istanbul is unfortunately lacking in this regard. I only found two shops that sell climbing shoes (K2 Outdoor and Everest Outdoor). Atlas Outdoor had some draws and biners. Decathalon also sells some gear, but I didn’t check out the selection.

Resources:

Gear Review: Used Scarpa X Climbing Shoes

I did it, I did it, I did it!


I am so stoked to receive my first piece of climbing gear to review for this blog from my brother who didn’t want them anymore.


They are Scarpa Force X’s. Or maybe they are La Sportiva Katana (laces)…?


Erm, no. Wait. No. They are assuredly Scarpa Force X’s.


(But hey, La Sportiva, if you are reading this, I would test the Katana (laces) if you had some lying around… PM me!).


climbing shoes.png
Uh, uh, uh. Which one is the Scarpa Force X?!?


Anywho, I am honored that Scarpa thought so highly of my editorial prowess to give me a pair of shoes distributes in the U.S. so my brother could buy them at a second hand gear shop in New Paltz, NY. I am more honored that he decided to give up climbing a few months later and leave them in the closet for me to swipe. Honored, I say!


Now now, let us not bury the lede:


The Scarpa Force Xs are the highest rated climbing shoes ever on this blog.

You seem surprised? Let me enlighten you.


To be diligent and lend a critical eye to this review, I will focus on five carefully selected criteria: Price, comfort, durability, performance, and price.


Price: Free!

Can’t beat that. Next.


Score: 5/5


Comfort: Super!

They are a size or two too large. After an initial break in period (for my feet, not the shoes), I can wear these for hours at a time without discomfort.


The heel is padded, and I may have a low-volume heel (read, small heel), and uh, they are too big, so when heel hooking they sometimes feel on the verge of slipping off.


BUT, they feel quite comfortable when they are shimmying away from my heel!


I wear these for hours straight at the gym, in the shower, and to bed — they are great in all domains.


Score: 5/5


Durability: They still work!

I’ve used them for over a year. And STILL NO HOLES.


Maybe I’m not climbing hard enough, you say? Well screw you!


This is my review and I say these are darn tough. My little bombers of climbing shoes… they once survived a nuclear bomb test, I’ll have you know.


Okay that’s not true.


Heel of Scarpa Force X


The rubber is starting to detach around the heel, meanwhile the sole is noticeably worn, especially at the seems.


All in all, for 1 year + a few months + 0-3 years of wear (indeterminate length of time via the pre-prior owner) they seem to be holding up well.


Score: 4/5


Performance: Good enough!

In the year that I’ve been climbing, these have me sending V6s and low 5.11s (indoors) and 5.10 outside.


They have enough grip for overhangy routes and toe hooks, though I do not always trust the heel. They smear well, but seriously lack edging ability at this stage (which is an impediment at higher grades). As a counter-point: That velcro! Still velcro-y.


These also perform admirably while belaying, keeping me right where I’m standing. Top notch.


Score: 3/5


scarpa-force-new
Apparently new pairs have an edge. Photo from bergfreunde.no


Price: Still free!

Can’t beat that. Next.


Score: 5/5


My Scarpa Force Xs


Total Score: 22/25

There you have it folks, my used pair of Scarpa Force Xs are officially our highest rated climbing shoes (ever) on this blog.


(Backed by objective, hard science.)


Like I said, I am stoked about my first piece of gear!