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Raiders of the lost Ark
Posted By Anthony C. LoBaido On 11/03/2000 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled
Editor’s note: Noah’s Ark is in the news. Insight’s current
cover story on recent satellite imaging of Turkey’s Mount Ararat reveals
an anomaly some say resembles a boat. And WorldNet Magazine’s current
(November) cover story chronicles WND correspondent Anthony LoBaido’s
recent trek up to the top of Ararat in search of the most famous sea
vessel of all time. What follows is excerpted from the WorldNet cover
Readers may find out more about WorldNet at WND’s online
DOGUBEYAZIT, Turkey — The early morning air felt crisp and clear against my sunburned face. The sky, which seemed to be descending upon my head as our climbing party ascended Mount Ararat, was powder blue and endless. The only sound to be heard was that of the crampons under my boots going “S-C-R-U-N-C-H” into the pristine snow.
The poles, ice axes, ropes, ice screws, sprained ankles, cuts and bruises were no longer the object of our collective affection. Rather, we had assimilated all the material and physical elements of the climb, and digested them much in the same manner as we had consumed French Foreign Legion-produced REMs (“Ready-To-Eat meals,” the tastiest of their kind in the world), which had helped keep body and soul together.
Only 48 hours earlier, Turkish Special Forces had driven us up Mount Ararat in Jeeps to a level just below 2,800 meters. The weather was hot and sunny, as early September seemed desperate to hold onto late August in Eastern Turkey. We loaded up our gear and waved at the dangerous Okuz Deresi ravine — just one of many places and things to avoid on the mountain. A short trek up to 3,200 meters led us to our first base camp. The next morning, we embarked on a 1,100-meter climb up to about 4,300 meters and a second night of camping.
Preparing for our final climb to the summit, we had risen at 3:50 a.m., eaten quickly and made a fast getaway, hoping to beat the melting ice and snow that might well cause our climbing party problems later in the day. Before we began our climb, I listened to my Enigma tape and the lyrics to the song, “Return to Innocence”:
Near Inonu Peak, the approach to the summit turned into an ice hockey rink. Immediately I recalled my days working in South Korea, skating to work at 5 a.m. for miles on frozen, icy streets under the brilliant stars above. I also remembered skating on the pond behind our home when I was a small boy, and how the ice had given way. One of our friends, a girl named Gina Mahr, had fallen through the ice. While everyone stood around screaming, my sister Carol simply reached into the hole in the ice and pulled Gina out by her hair, saving her life.
Standing now at the summit of Mount Ararat, wearing a snow-camouflage parka, I studied my hands, which were still bleeding from various cuts I had experienced during the climb over a million jagged rocks. Gone now were the fears of the poisonous snakes, wild dogs who thought they had been Cujo in a previous lifetime, not to mention rock slides, lightning storms and other dangers to mounting a successful assault on the summit.
There is a certain rush of adrenaline when you know any one misstep could mean the end of your life. The concentration involved and the singularity of it all must be experienced. The policeman running into a shootout, the fireman entering a burning building to rescue a little girl, the brain surgeon removing a clot. These and others must know how to be in tune with their surroundings while at the same time blocking out the rest of the world when need be. So too must the mountain climber. He or she is both in sync and detached all at the same time.
A light wind was blowing now, and I reached down and scooped up a bit of snow with my right hand. It felt cool against the cuts and abrasions on my palm. I ate the snow, wishing I had some syrup to make a Blueberry Squishy like Apu on “The Simpsons.” I had finally made it to the summit of Mount Ararat after 24 years of dreaming about this moment.
It was a moment both cathartic and esoteric.
I had hauled — with a knee scheduled for surgery after a disastrous motorcycle crash in February in Burma — a ton of mountain climbing gear from Thailand to Los Angeles, New York, Austria, Cyprus, Greece and finally the Iran-Turkish border. All this just so my tan, worn, but resoled Timberland boots could walk through the dusts of history. Walk in the steps of Lawrence of Arabia, Moses, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist and now even Noah the Righteous.
It was a timeless moment, one of those rare slices of time where the clock actually stands still. The mountain and the vista had combined to freeze time. From the top of Ararat, I could see forever, and forever included the vast reaches of my inner space, which surely are just as vast as outer space.
Noah’s Ark, of course, is a story that has outlived all of the greatest civilizations known to man. The story is both a terrestrial and cosmic event still held as sacred by almost two billion people on this planet. Christians, Jews and Muslims consider Noah and his Ark to be a literal event. Jesus Christ stated that both Lot and Noah, and the cataclysmic events that surrounded their lives and those of their respective families, were real and literal. (In Luke 17, Jesus said the “end times” of the world would resemble the world condition of both Noah’s and Lot’s days — a world filled with violence and the Sodomite agenda.)
The Apostles, in their writings, seconded this belief of Christ. 1 Peter 3:19-20 says, “Christ went and preached to the imprisoned spirits who had not obeyed God when He waited patiently during the days that Noah was building his boat.” And 2 Peter 2:5-6 says, “God did not spare the ancient world, but brought the flood on the world of the godless people, the only ones he saved were Noah, who preached righteousness, and seven others.” The Ark, according to Genesis, came to rest in “the mountains of Ararat” in what is now Turkey. As an aside, the Apostle Paul lived and taught in Turkey, and Mary the mother of Jesus is believed to have lived in retirement in the region. Lawrence of Arabia also worked as an archaeologist here upon his graduation from Oxford.
With respect to the Islamic world, the region around the Ark is littered with road signs stating “X number of kilometers” to “Nuhun Gemisi,” meaning “Noah’s Ship.” The existence of the Ark is accepted a priori by Muslims. As my Muslim guide said time and again, “People who don’t believe in Noah’s Ark are just stupid.”
All the reasons why
Why had I come to this forbidden place? Why tread upon the holy and forbidden Agri Dah, called the “Mountain of Pain” by the Turks? A place too near Iran, Kurdistan and Iraq. Only a few years back, Kurdish rebels from the Marxist PKK or “Kurdish Workers Party” had taken Western climbers hostage on Mount Ararat. During the Cold War, the mountain had been off-limits to Westerners due to objections of the Soviet Union.
The Russians at that time feared that climbers of Ararat were CIA spies, and that the discovery of Noah’s Ark might well weaken the official atheistic policy of the Soviet regime. After all, Pompeii, Giza and Troy had all been unexpectedly uncovered, so why not the Ark?
Two Hollywood films have, for the past quarter century, either inspired or terrified this writer to undertake an expedition to Mount Ararat. On the positive side was the 1976 Sun Films documentary “In Search of Noah’s Ark,” which I saw back during the time of Carter-era malaise with my grammar school friend Jimmy Gallagher. On the negative side, the popular late-1970s film about an American trapped in a Turkish prison called “Midnight Express” terrified me.
I remember watching “Midnight Express” at the movies with my high school friend Mark Michaels, who was drafted by the Phoenix Cardinals as a linebacker and now serves as the special teams coach for the Cleveland Browns. (Some readers might recall his father Walt, a former All Pro linebacker, as the successful coach of the New York Jets.) In the movie, a young hashish smuggler named Billy Hayes — who incidentally hailed from my hometown of Babylon, N.Y. — is caught and thrown into a brutal Turkish prison, where he suffers long and hard before finally escaping.
Although I had dreamed of searching for Noah’s Ark since I was a small boy, the trek I undertook to Mount Ararat and the surrounding region was, due to my journalism assignments, merely a steppingstone to another more important story in Kurdistan/Iraq. That story would ultimately lead me to
Kurdish refugee camps in Denmark.
Yet, I had come to Mount Ararat anyway, like a schoolboy wanting to mimic Indiana Jones of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” fame — especially that scene when he lines up the staff with the sunlight on the miniature map room. I had come, as though wanting to complete the service project I never completed for my Eagle Scout badge in the Boy Scouts — something I shall always regret as long as I live. I had come, knowing that there is a $1 million reward for proving the existence of Noah’s Ark. I had come, although my archaeology mentor at Baylor University, Dr. Bruce Cresson, had told me that the wood found by Fernand Navarra on Mount Ararat was dated only back “to the time of Christ.”
I had come to the remote region of Eastern Turkey, even though my parents were worried and upset and crying when I called home. I came because I always try and recall the words of my good South Korea teaching friend Marcus Doleman, who told me, “You can’t play it safe. Your life must be filled with risks to achieve what you want.” I came because two years ago, National Geographic wrote me a letter saying that an article on Noah’s Ark and the long history of the quest to rediscover it is not worth anyone’s time — no matter how many billions of people still believe in its existence.
I came because we in the West are now living in the post-Christian era, and I believe it is important that we keep searching, both for our own sanity and as a sign to a non-believing world.
I found myself, on that cool, cloudless morning, on the cusp of my journey, joining the explorers who have crisscrossed Ararat for decades in search of the elusive giant vessel. What in Heaven’s name would I find?
The preceding is the opening section of WorldNet Magazine’s November cover story, “Raiders of the lost Ark.” In the balance of this dramatic account, reporter Anthony LoBaido relays the hair-raising details of obtaining permission to climb Ararat, the life-threatening situations he endured, the humorous side of his quest for the Ark, and a fascinating and close-up look at what some believe to be the remains of Noah’s Ark — complete with photos by the author. Readers may
subscribe to WorldNet Magazine at WND’s online store.
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