Please click here for Part 2. Part 3 of this blog describes our journey to Damavand, one of the Volcanic Seven Summits.
I awoke at Shirpala on 4th August after a better night’s sleep – but not a great one. Breakfast was at a late 8am – it was also not great today so I raided some of the food left over from my lunch supplies. Today we were to descend back down to Darband and then drive 50 plus miles to Damavand.
It was another beautiful day with barely any smog.
A group of giddy Iranian women were making some noise in the courtyard. They had obviously had a relatively early start from Darband and had brewed some tea in the sunshine, and were off to Tochal. It would be impressive if they made it given the total 2,200m (7,200ft) height gain, let alone possible altitude effects.
As is necessary in Iran, their walking gear was loose fitting and most had head scarves, though a couple were a bit more rebellious and just had baseball caps with hair tied back. We could even hear their giggling as it drifted across the still air as they set off up the zig zags.
We ourselves left Shirpala around 9am.
The descent through the roped section was easier than I had anticipated.
When we reached the outskirts of the village we took a higher route and so did not pass the restaurants again. I do not know why this was done as it was less interesting. But we did now have a look at a chairlift that follows the gorge.
But eventually we ended up by the statue. A few from the group made a beeline for an ice cream parlour. It was hot, hot, hot – probably around 35C-38C. I just glugged some water. My innards were feeling better but I did not want to risk the ice cream.
A nice large modern people carrier was waiting for us. And the bags we had left behind at Kassa Tours had already been loaded. There were seats for 12, though three of these had been taken up with boxes of food and cooking equipment. Our two junior guides were dropped off separately in Tehran. The driver fought our way out of Tehran.
It was so hot that Mehti decided that a traditional Iranian cold dish was called for. The driver stopped the vehicle at the side of the busy road and Mehti returned a short while later with Persian ice cream sitting in faludeh. It was rude to refuse. Faludeh is a frozen syrup with vermicelli noodles and flavoured with rose water. It was quite nice, different. Though I did not manage all of the vermicelli as they were a bit starchy.
At about 2pm we arrived in the town of Polour, which is the nearest town to Damavand. The restaurant we were to visit was on the opposite side of the road. So our driver decided to make a U-turn in the four lane highway. As he straddled the road (the outside lanes in each direction) we heard a squeal of tyres as a car that was coming from the direction we had realised there was a blockage. I steeled myself for the impact. Fortunately it never came.
That excitement over, we pulled up outside the restaurant and went in. We were shown to a long table by the entrance. A dirty window at the back gave us a view of Damavand. It looked gloomy up there. We were presented with a veritable feast. There were lamb and chicken kebabs, flat bread, pickles, salad, yoghurt, garlic, eggplant and saffron rice. Drinks comprised carbonated drinks and doogh. Doogh is a traditional yoghurt based drink with water, salt and mint. To my taste it was both odd and quite nice!
From there we were driven a short distance to “base camp”. It is perhaps now worth explaining that there are routes up all sides of Damavand. We would climb the most popular, south side. On this side there is base camp, camp 1 and camp 2. Base camp comprises a large building at 2,200m (the Polour Camp) run by the Iranian Mountaineering and Sport Climbing Federation. It is not a base camp in the traditional sense. It is a large 3 storey building with a number of dormitories, cooking facilities, a climbing wall, offices and an indoor sports hall.
Indeed you can barely even see the mountain from there.
We would stop here on our return. But for now we would swap our people carrier for more robust vehicles that would take us and our gear to camp 1. The place was busy with climbers celebrating a successful climb and others, like us, preparing to go up.
We had a bit of a wait and I spent some time talking to a dentist from Shiraz. He had summited the day before. From our discussion, he seemed keen to move to Europe to practice and the UK would be his favoured destination. He peppered me with questions about visas and life generally in the UK. It was quite interesting to see how many people were able to speak quite good English, especially when they had never had the opportunity to go abroad. In the case of this guy, his degree had been in engineering and English was required for this degree.
We had to leave and I said goodbye. Our vehicles were packed.
And we set off in our 4WDs. One was a Jeep Wagoneer, a car that we had used on Orizaba in Mexico last year. They are great cars for rough roads/tracks. But I was in the other car with Phil and the guides!
Having lost our two young guides we were joined here by Majid, an Iraqi Kurd. He had moved to Iran at the time of the Iran-Iraq war and he spoke with a thick accent. Mehti seemed to regard him as a bit of a super hero. Majid was married, his wife also being a climber, with a two year old son. Majid had climbed on big, cold mountains and had lost a number of toes in doing so.
After an initial 15/20 minutes on tarmac we turned off on to a track and had a bumpy 45 minute ride up to camp 1 at 3,200m (9,000ft) passing shepherds with their flocks and guard dogs.
Camp 1 is called Goosfand Sar and we would stay here the night. I was slightly concerned about this camp because my research before going to Iran suggested that this camp was crowded, noisy and dirty. As it happens, I did not think that it was too bad. It even comes with its own mosque.
Our accommodation was to be a converted stable. Here we are making ourselves at home.
And here is a short video clip showing the surroundings.
As we festered at one end of the building – reading, snoozing or listening to music – our guides prepared and cooked our meal over gas stoves. All day I had been cursing the fact that I seemed to have lost my buff. This had been a life saver in South America, especially once I had developed my throat problems. I had searched high and low for it in the hut on Tochal, looking around my bunk and emptying my rucksack at least twice. I was depending on it being available for the higher altitudes on Damavand. But I could not find it anywhere.
For dinner we were having chicken in batter plus sliced roast potatoes and salad. A table cloth was laid on the floor and we sat cross-legged around it. I found myself a roof support to lean against. Although I was now regretting again the ice cream I had had earlier in the day, I ate enough.
So we were now set for our attempt on the highest volcano in Asia. Tomorrow we would ascend to camp 2, the day after we would go on an acclimatisation walk to 5,200m or so and the following day we would make the summit attempt.
Before turning in I went outside to have one last look at the view.
In my next blog (please click here) I will tell the story of my time on the upper reaches of Mount Damavand.