On March 2, 2018 at 06:30, I began my Unsupported FKT Attempt of the Beşparmak Trail in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. I completed the trail on March 6 at 1600 with a total running time of 4 days, 9.5 hours.
A major part of verifying an FKT is the Trip Report, which adds veracity to the claim and also helps readers connect more with the experience. As I began writing it, I quickly realized that it would have to be split into at least two parts given all the photos and descriptions I planned to include. As such, this is the first installment of the day-by-day report and the second is already in the works.
For background information about the trail, my schedule, and the attempt itself, check out my FKT Introduction post.
To view my complete gear list (which is the same as I am bringing on the Appalachian Trail), see here.
Note: I jump between units (kilometers/miles/pounds/kilograms) quite a bit. Simply hover your cursor over the unit to see its equivalent in Imperial/Metric. Example: 30 mi.
Day 1 – Cape Koruçam to Karmi
The day began when my alarm blared at 4am. Our gracious hosts at the Ambelia Village Hotel had given us a breakfast plate the night before, so I scarfed down what I could before taking what would be my last shower for several days, donning my hiking gear, and making final preparations. At 5am, we made our way to the car to meet Bryan and Chris, organizers of the Cyprus Trail Runners, who were hitching a ride to the start line and running back to the hotel on their own (70km).
We set off toward Cape Komakitis/Koruçam, which was to take about 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach. The road was dark, windy, and lonesome as we were the only ones out at this hour. We reached the Cape at about 06:20 and took last-minute bathroom breaks and photos before I slung on my pack and approached the start, a large stone with “BEŞPARMAK TRAIL” carved into it, as well as an outline of the island of Cyprus.
I said my goodbyes to Veronica, who was gracious enough to chauffeur us all the way out there, and well-wishes to Bryan and Christelle. They took off in their separate directions, leaving me at the start to begin on my own.
I waited until exactly 06:30 to begin, as it would give me a nice round number from which to calculate the official completion time. I readied my InReach, enabled the tracking function, and began my journey.
After successfully navigating the coastline, the trail led through a small village with opportunities to resupply water, if needed. I had not planned to refill until reaching Koruçam, so I passed.
The trail took a sharp turn onto a dirt jeep track and continued on for a couple miles, slowly undulating up and down in a manageable fashion. The trail made its way back to the coastline, where it stayed for some additional miles and provided great overlooks of the surrounding bays.
Before long, I was heading uphill and continued to do so for quite some time, pursuing single-track switchbacks until reaching the apex of the valley.
From there it was a fairly unexciting walk along jeep tracks and tarmac roads until reaching Koruçam Village.
Koruçam is an interesting place, as it is one of four original Maronite (a Lebanese sect of Christianity) villages in Cyprus. For the purposes of this trip, it was an important stopping point as their large church has functioning water spigots that I used to refill my bottles.
I arrived at about 10:45am and was surprised that it had taken me over 4 hours to go just 16km. This was my first reality check of the trip and it quickly made me realize the time difference between trail running and hiking. Even though I normally do a lot of walking during my trail runs, carrying 35lbs on your back makes it a whole different story!
I didn’t spend much time in the village and instead continued on, leaving Korucam behind and heading for the hills. Bon Voyage!
Following the tarmac for a mile or so, the trail eventually breaks off onto a jeep track that descends into another incredibly picturesque valley.
Having done this section before, I knew I was heading to the top of the mountain in the background. Down in the valley, the trail goes along farm roads until reaching, well, a farm. When I ran this section last month, recent rains had turned this road into a sludge fest. I don’t think it has rained since then, so now the roads were crispy with dry mud and much easier to navigate.
I don’t know the name of the little village that the trail passes though here, but there is a mosque with water available if needed. Since I had filled up in Korucam I didn’t need any and continued on.
I was now 6km from Korucam and still had another 15km to get to Lapta. As I turned the corner to head down the road, I saw a long line of cars stopped. Drivers and passengers were outside their vehicles milling around, so I figured the road was closed up ahead for some reason. As I approached, I saw what the problem was: a cement truck had overturned on the corner and was blocking both lanes of the road.
There was a crane on site trying to lift it back up, but it wasn’t making much progress. Of course, the Beşparmak Trail goes right through this section of road and I needed to get to the other side in order to continue. These situations can be tricky as you never know how long it will take – might be 10 minutes or 10 hours. I quickly made the decision to try and circumvent the obstruction by descending down into a shallow creek next to the road and following that until I was safely out of range to re-ascend the embankment and connect with the trail on the other side.
I bushwhacked through bamboo and ended up sinking both feet in the mud, but I made it around in good time.
As soon as I reconnected with the road, traffic started to flow. What the hell?! As I looked back to where the truck had overturned, I saw that instead of trying to upright the mixer, they instead just pushed it off the side of the road to deal with it later. Had I waited just a few minutes longer, I could have walked right through instead of soaking my feet. Too late now!
The trail made a quick ascent up a steep road of loose gravel, eventually flattening out. At the top, I was greeted by skiddish mountain goats and views of the reservoir below.
From then on, I was on a mixture of rolling single-track and jeep track trail until reaching Kozan Restaurant, a small family-owned business up in the mountains. It was closed as I was passing by, which was fine as all I needed was a little water from their spout.
I refilled, took a seat at a nearby picnic table, and prepared for the next section which I knew would be tough. At this point it was 2pm and I only had about 4 hours of daylight remaining. I wasn’t keen on doing too much night hiking (although it would be necessary), so I pushed on without much of a rest.
The following few miles were mostly under a green tunnel of large trees and expansive bushes which masked the trail and made it difficult to navigate. Again, this obfuscation would be a prevalent theme throughout the entirety of the trail. Throughout this section, there were multiple scenic overlooks and varying types of plants and crops which seemed out of place.
After this rocky and steep section, it was back to jeep track for a while. I could have sworn that Lapta was right around the next corner, but it seemed to take forever to get there. Having done this section only once before, I had several landmarks in my mind and it felt like I had yet to pass any of them. After what seemed like a lifetime, I did eventually make it to Lapta at 4:45pm.
My feet were barking at this point. They had taken me 36km so far, the longest I had done with a fully-weighted pack, and were ready to be done for the day. The only problem was, of course, that I still had nearly 16km remaining. I took some time to regroup, settled on the fact that I would be doing some night hiking, and proceeded out of Lapta as the sun slipped behind the mountains.
The remaining section to Karmi was uneventful, but painful. I hiked nearly all of it in the dark, utilizing my Black Diamond Spot for guidance. I was extremely relieved to reach Karmi at about 8pm, and refilled my water bottles outside the church in the center of the village before passing through to find a place to camp.
I found a nice side road just outside the village that seemed to fit the bill, so I settled down to have dinner and rest my aching feet. On the menu for the evening was a dehydrated chili with crackers, which tasted like heaven. I’ll be eating a lot of this on the Appalachian Trail, so I’m glad it tasted so good.
I talked to Bryan and Christelle on the phone – they were still out on the trail finishing up their 70km run and had about 4km left to go. They said it was slow going for them as well since some sections were much more rugged than they expected. They wished me luck with the rest of the trip and signed off. I would see them again on the final day, but they were heading back home the next morning and so it would just be me out there for the next 3 days.
And then, finally, Day 1 was complete. I laid my head down at 9pm and was out like a light.
Stats for Day 1:
- Distance: 31.5 mi
- Time: 13hr 35min
- Avg Speed: 2.6 mph
Day 2 – Karmi to Alevkaya
I set the alarm on my Suunto watch for 6am, and surprisingly I slept almost until it went off. I guess having been up at 4am the morning before and then hiking 13 hours really wore me out. Little did I know that the fun had only just begun!
I wrestled myself out of my tent, cooked some oatmeal, and prepared for the second day on trail.
It took me longer than expected to get back on trail – about an hour – as I was quite inefficient about putting away my belongings. It seemed like I packed and unpacked everything twice as I was getting it all together. This is something I’ll have to get better at to reduce time drag. Anyway, at 7:30am I was back on the trail and made a short video about the experience so far.
The first 9km section from Karmi to the Nicosia/Kyrenia Road was deceptively difficult. It started on a relatively flat and easy jeep track, but then quickly deteriorated into an almost completely vertical single track with boulders, skree, and scarce trail markings.
It was extremely difficult to navigate this section, as I could barely get an even step without slipping or nearly twisting an ankle. I was incredibly thankful for my trekking poles here, as I’m certain they saved me from at least two dozen falls.
I occasionally had renewed hope as the trail would spit out onto a jeep track, but sure enough it was always short-lived and I’d be back on rigid and overgrown single track yet again before long.
As always, what goes up must come down. Once I reached the top of this unrelenting ridgeline, it was time to make my way back down the other side. Although there were far fewer boulders on the other side of the mountain, the footing was just as uncertain and I really had to take my time to avoid going ass-over-teakettle down into the village below.
I also ran into this predicament: the trail once followed the slope of a hill, which was then completely gutted to make way for a dirt road later on. This leads to the situation in the photo below, where the trail suddenly stops and there is a 15 foot drop off to this newly-constructed dirt road below. Luckily I was able to walk the long way around and reconnect, but this was the first of many situations where the trail was bulldozed, cleared, or otherwise removed and obstructed for one reason or another. When there is little protection for the sanctity of a footpath and no one to enforce its existence, this is the unfortunate and frustrating result.
After this part, the trail followed the side of the mountain without much elevation gain or loss. The trail was hard to see in many places and I went down several dead end goat paths (despite having the route on my GPS watch) before eventually arriving at the end of the section.
It took me 3 hours to navigate the 9km from Karmi, which was both deflating and disheartening. This section ended at the main road leading from Nicosia to Kyrenia, and the trail continued on the other side of the highway. Knowing there was a water spout not far, I pushed a bit further before taking a break.
Just after crossing the road, the trail ascends quickly up the side of another mountain, and about halfway up there’s a small building which appears to be a water treatment facility. Just outside, there is an active spigot.
Never knowing how clean these sources are, I always filtered my water through a Katadyn BeFree system before consumption. The last thing I needed was a bout of giardia that would leave me soiling my shorts for the rest of the hike.
As I was filtering water and taking a rest, someone pulled up to the facility and went about doing some chores and checking things but paid me no attention. He didn’t seem to mind my presence whatsoever, so I just went about my filtering. A few minutes later, I was back on track.
The next couple of miles were a combination of steep jeep track and single track, winding up through the valley.
At the top, the trail popped out onto another jeep track that circulated the side of the mountain and overlooked the villages below.
Then, the trail went straight into the valley, sloping downward until reaching the basin. It was here that there was another directional sign.
I had just come from Girne, and the official trail dictated that I go 4km down to the Bellapais Abbey, turn around, and come all the way back to the spot I was standing and then go in the opposite direction toward Mount Beşparmak. I could have easily skipped the Bellapais section and saved myself 8km but I wanted to do the whole trail properly, even if this part was repetitive. So, I set off toward the Abbey and reached it at 2pm. There, I took a short break and had a snack before heading back in the same direction I came.
On the way back up the hill, I stopped at a little church to refill on water.
I retraced my steps and made it back to the sign crossing at 3:40pm. The sun was starting to set, but I still had a long way to go!
From there, the trail is mostly jeep track for many miles. I was pretty exhausted by now, but I knew that the sun was setting quickly and that I had some very technical parts coming up so I tried to maximize my speed on the easier parts as much as possible. This took the form of a sort of shuffling trot, where I barely picked my feet up off the ground but maintained almost a jog. I found that it increased my speed nicely while not straining my knees, calves, and quadriceps like running can.
For the next 10km or so, I kept my speed up and made good time. The views were spectacular but fading fast.
As the last bit of light drained away, I navigated some rocky boulders just before Buffavento Castle.
After that, it was dark. In the parking lot area of Buffavento castle, I sat for a few minutes to rest and strapped on my headlamp. From here, I still had about 20km to go for the day over some of the most challenging topography of the entire trail. I have run this section many times while training for races and it’s always hard. Now with a heavy pack and only a spotlight to guide me, I knew I’d need to dig deep to make it to my end goal at Alevkaya. I had no choice, in fact, as Alevkaya was the next available water source and I would need to refill before the next day. So, I pressed on.
Unfortunately this section is not only one of the most rigorous, but also the most picturesque. It was completely dark by the time I began this section, so I saw none of the views – only the ground from 2-5ft in front of my face.
My feet were screaming for me to stop, and sometimes I listened by plopping down on a nearby rock and fully extending my legs to alleviate the pressure on my soles. After a few minutes, the throbbing would subside and I’d push myself vertical again with my trekking poles. The first few steps after a break like this were always the worst. My brain was in hustle mode but my feet were pulling the emergency brake. Inevitably, I would stumble and limp for the first dozen or so steps until my mind and body got back in sync and I was able to regain my rhythm.
After passing by the Buffavento Restaurant and entering the last 9.5km section of the day, I was confident that I would make it but unsure of what condition I would be in when I did. I knew that this section was just as unstable as the last, as it included multiple steep ascents and descents on loose single track trail with tight switchbacks. My body was drained and feet eviscerated, but I pressed on.
I was in no good state to take pictures (it was too dark anyway), but I arrived at Alevkaya at 11:50pm. I was cursing myself for getting such a late start that morning and ready to flop down in my tent immediately. I made some dinner (dehydrated lentil soup), refilled my water, and was asleep by 12:30am.
Stats for Day 2:
- Distance: 32.8 mi
- Time: 16hr 30 min
- Avg Speed: 2.5mph