Damavand Guestbook and Trip Report - Gillian Groom

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Trip Report - Gillian Groom from Australia - Sep 2014

As a solo female traveller I contacted Mr Soltani (Solard [at] gmail.com) when I started organising my long awaited trip to Iran. Apart from seeing the country and meeting the people, climbing Mt Damavand was an important part of my trip. I was impressed with the depth of information on Damavand Website and even more so when Mr Soltani put me in touch with a fellow Australian woman who had summited Damavand with his company the year before.

Gillian Groom, Polour Camp Damavand, September 2014
Gillian Groom
Polour Camp, September 2014

The service pre-departure was great- all of my emails and questions were answered really promptly and he tolerated my numerous very basic questions very nicely. Coming from sea level I had concerns about altitude so Mr Soltani put together a program to include visa assistance, pick up from the airport, organising my hotel in Tehran and an introductory 2 day, 1 night climb of Mt Tochal, then the climb of Mt Damavand a day or so later. All of the arrangements went very smoothly and I was really impressed with my guide, Amir. We had a good 2 days trekking Mt Tochal, the accommodation, transport and food was exceptional. The Mt Damavand component of the trip (see below) was also carried out brilliantly. Damavand Mountain, Iran.

It was good to finally meet the man who had organised the trek for me and he took me on a sightseeing afternoon of the local surrounds. I had an opportunity to take a lot of photos and sample honey and tea in a beekeepers tent, among other things. The accommodation at Polour Camp was very comfortable and we shared an enjoyable meal that night in the local town. I should also point out that safety is very important to the company and they were highly professional regarding this. Below is an excerpt from my trip diary detailing the Damavand climb.

Ardeshir Soltani, Gillian Groom and Amir Manian, Polour Camp Damavand, September 2014
Ardeshir Soltani, Gillian Groom and Amir Manian
Polour Camp, September 2014

September 27th 2014

It's now about 6pm, I'm sitting in a little 2 bunk room at Base Camp in the light; we have electricity! The wind is howling around the camp, it's whistling a bit through the tiny gap in the outer storm/winter window, there's a kind of alcove with the 2 sets inside. Must be utterly freezing in the winter, I can imagine all the snow around. It's noisy outside as the large group from Polour Camp are heading down for dinner. Hiking Trekking Mt Damavand Iran.

It feels as though the kitchen is close to the room, the very good smell of dinner is wafting up. I make up my bed, given that I'm alone I get to pile up 3 of the 1cm thick foam mattresses and have as many blankets as I want. Someone has left a sleep sheet- it becomes my pillowcase. Kind of like Nepal I think the blankets and pillows probably don't see much washing- they do however smell a lot better than the Nepal ones. Currently still in my boots and really dusty pants. Have graduated to a couple of extra layers on top- the merino singlet, tshirt, LS merino and LS merino hoodie AND down vest.

It's comfortable inside, outside though you need to add a scarf and gortex jacket- the wind is cutting. So, the altitude- 4237m, physically, at rest I feel fine, some intermittent face tingling which I think is Diamox related but no headache. Add in a trip upstairs to the room and I'm out of breath. I am really hopeful it won't get worse or there might be some improvement even. Based on how well today has gone we very keen to attempt the summit push tomorrow- the winds will be more favourable than the the day after. Mt. Damavand Hiking Trekking Tour.

Anyway, to backtrack on this day- another 0530 wake up, it's light early here and I like to get up early. Drive to town for breakfast- very delicious soft feta, bread and cucumbers, Iranian breakfasts are truly delicious!. Back to camp to get the jeep for the 45 min drive to Camp 2. At Camp 2 there is a very opulent and shiny mosque. The jeep ride in was very, very reminiscent of Nepal- rocky, dusty, windy, bumpy, mules, bumpy, dusty.... Swathes of brown stubble and rocks.

The driver is a true professional- handles the bumps very well and is a really friendly guy. We started walking and whilst it was hard work breathing initially a rhythm developed that was comfortable (21% gradient). Mt Damavand was visible the entire way- little streams of white smoke constantly coming from it. Took first break at 75 mins then another, another 75 mins after that- perfect excuse to eat a lot of chocolate and nuts from the pre-packed plastic bags that the company supplied. Good news- this was the half way point.

It's always really hard to get started after a break- every time I have every trekked, that first bit is always hard. We walked another hour or so by which time the wind had picked up. Still warm though behind rocks. Took a good half an hour at the third stop to recharge - the sky was a bright blue and the vegetation that warm flaxen colour- it was a kind of perfect moment. Then we were off again. Amir, 15 mins in, pointed out Camp 3- such a bonus, the shortest leg.

We were passed by a mule train and 2 Kurds (identified by the really baggy gathered black pants) passed us on their way down. They had been breaking rocks and looking for the right sized rocks to build a new bathroom up there. Reached Camp 3 after 4 hrs, 45 mins. I was happy. The camp building was quite imposing looking with multiple tiers of tent sites in front of it. Met Seyel (an Afghani), Egbad and Akhbar, drank tea, ate biscuits and got tired. Wandered around for a while and met a couple of other trekkers.

We sat in the sun and chatted until it got cold by which time it was almost dinner time- lamb stew with potatoes, whipped up by one of the other groups leader. I ate with Chris and his Tehrani friend, Rostam. They were keen to walk with us tomorrow. Amir was fine with the arrangement so we arrange to be up at 4am for a 5am departure. Went to bed pretty early. Will tomorrow be successful? I really, really hope so. If not it doesn't matter too much as I have an extra day built in and can try again the following day. Ski Mount Damavand Iran.

Gillian Groom and Amir Manian, Polour Camp Damavand, September 2014
Gillian Groom and Amir Manian
Polour Camp, September 2014

September 28th 2014

Awake at 0200 feeling really, really nervous. But no headache! Lie and wait till 0400 then get into the multiple layers that are going to protect me from the winds on the summit. Meet the others in the kitchen and eat 2 biscuits and a cup of Nescafé with dairy creamer (yep, really!) then we're ready to start. It's now 0500, head torches on. Starting Elevation - 4200m. We have 1434 vertical metres to climb, 3.3 km total distance at a 31 degree elevation.

I'm already puffing on the first small incline out of the camp. The sun is just coming up in the east and the surrounding mountains are black against that beautiful first orange, red band and lightening sky. I can't contemplate getting my camera out, it's too soon to break the rhythm. We are going at a really slow, sensible pace. Amir takes the lead. We are taking the southern route; the most common and non-technical. We make slow but continuous 'one foot in front of the other' progress up the sandy, rocky terrain. We take a couple of water breaks before a longer break where we're out of the wind tucked in behind a rock.

The sun is up and flooding the surrounding landscape, it's an amazing sight over the valley and mountains to the south. As the sun continues to rise we can see our tiny shadows on the rock face to the west. These moments are a good distraction to the breathlessness. It's really hard work. But still no headache. We reach the first ridge and eat some Bounty chocolate bars and pistachios and more water then after 15 mins we're off again. 4500 m = 300m altitude gain. The first 5 steps after a break are heavenly, then the oxygen is sucked out of your legs and for about the next 20 steps my legs are dead until they get back into a rhythm again. I hate that bit.

So we keep climbing, the terrain is sandy and rocky, you tend to sink into it a bit as you take the next step, it's essentially a switchback incline and this continues until we reach an area that involves a steeper rock incline. The wind has picked up and it's pretty cutting around the exposed skin on my face; a fashionable combo of polar fleece hat (thankyou Mr Soltani), buff and scarf are in use to try to combat that issue until we're in the sun then it's the cap, buff, sunscreen, scarf combo- definitely a better look! All the while we have our eye on the frozen waterfall that marks the half way point, it looks tantalisingly close- all the time, but we don't seem to make much progress toward it.

Amir says- don't look at it, too distracting. Our next stop is at the end of the first ridge at 4914m (714 m altitude gain), we hide from the wind and we share dates, lollies and muslei bars, then it's back on track. We encounter a snow line far off to the left, the wind has whipped it into little peaks like the place in Nepal after crossing the Thorung La Pass, I decide my next distraction technique will be to think about the trek day over Thorung La- it was easier!!! We are now not resting until we get to the waterfall area where there are flag markers. We hit an area of rock that involves using both hands to get up, hard work.

The reward is a very short ( maybe 4 m) flat walk at the end of it though. Finally we hit the flag marker where the waterfall is off to the right, this feels monumental, a big milestone. We take a fairly long break here and actually rest, backs to the rocks. Take the obligatory photos of the flag, the waterfall and the valley below. The Lar River and Dam standout with their bright blue water, although the water levels in the dam have apparently dropped markedly this year from last. Everyone is excited.

Time to get on and make the next push, we're now at 5100m and almost 4 hours in. The terrain has now changed, we're in the sulphuric area so there are lots of rock with yellow crystals which then gives way to white, limestone like small rocks. The vents at the summit are constantly blowing white smoke, it's quite striking. The effort to trudge is getting harder and we are going at snails pace. It's funny, the breathing is ok at rest but even the slightest walking creates about double respiratory rate. I forget to take an altitude measurement, I just know it's high!

Gill and Amir, Sulphuric Area near Damawand Peak
Gill and Amir
Sulphuric Area near Damawand Peak

As we approach the summit the slopes are streaked green and yellow and the surface gets powdery. Here is where I get my first taste of sulphur in the air, it burns and makes you cough. Rostam and Chris are a bit further behind us, the gap has widened and the sulphur clouds are wafting around us. Amir is really strong- he seems immune. I get another lung full which sets off more coughing but Amir, ever encouraging is right there and a great support. There's a steep hill to get up and more smoke is heading our way, Amir tells me we have to get up as fast as possible and virtually pulls me along.

We get out of the smoke and round the bend and we're at the top! Amir congratulates me and I actually don't believe him, he has to tell me another couple of times and then I feel completely overwhelmed. Amazing. Chris and Rostam arrive and we are all pretty excited, we've become new best friends over the last 7 1/2 hrs. It's pretty awesome.

Gillian Groom, Mount Damavand Summit
Gillian Groom
Mount Damavand Summit, September 2014

It looks like there is a glacier behind us and we are surrounded by a white and yellow streaked surface. We celebrate in the best possible way- with Snickers bars and water. We are at 5632 m. Suddenly don't feel even vaguely breathless. Take a bunch of pictures and soak it in before heading over to the technical peak.

There are flags and memorials and momentos and the famous dead sheep and ? fox carcasses on the rock. We congratulate each other again and take more pictures- the Kathmandu water bottle that went to EBC, Kala Patthar, Gokyo Ri, Mt Agung, Mt rinjani crater, etc. then we do the various individual shots, the 4 of us shot, our shots with our guides, the jumping in the air shot..... The downhill is initially excellent, we take a different route and sort of ski/ slide down the scree.

Gillian Groom, Mount Damavand Summit
Gill Groom
Mount Damavand Summit

We make very fast progress. Take a couple of breaks to drink some water and then keep going. After the fun bit it just gets super slippery and I rack up about 3 falls, minor but annoying. No one is immune, luckily no one gets hurt. We keep going and start to meet other trekkers coming up for acclimatisation hikes. We get back to Base Camp at 1540- it has taken only 2 1/2 hrs to return. We've had a 10 hr and 40 minute day. Mr Soltani calls to check on us and Amir asks if I want to keep going to get to Polour Camp tonight. Hmm, another 3 hrs downhill? Hmmm, a shower at the end- yep, I'm up for it. So, at 5 pm I down a bowl of noodle soup and 2 chunks of celebratory watermelon, pack up, say goodbye to every one that I've met and we're off again. It's 5:30. The sun is going down, it is utterly beautiful light and then it's dark.

Head torches back on and we're retracing the 4.7 km trip we took yesterday. Slipping and sliding and falling twice. Inhale even more dust. Take a break for water, watch a beautiful sunset and moonrise, later turning off the torches altogether- it is pitch black, starry and utterly silent - so awesome. The camp light never really seems to get closer and my legs are almost like jelly then we hear the dogs and some voices- we're there. I was looking at some other random light somewhere off in the distance!

It's 8 pm- a 2 1/2 hr descent. The jeep is waiting and we bump over the 'road' till we hit bitumen, arriving back at Camp 1, Polour, at 9pm. Mr Soltani is there with a big congratulation, a room with a shower and the promise of some dinner. So, at 1030 pm I sit around a table (clean, hair washed, lipstick institu, head scarf back in place, modestly dressed) with Amir, Mr Soltani, the owner of the building and 3 other guys who work there and virtually inhale a chicken kebab with rice, tomatoes and lemon basil. We toast over tea- one of the men says how fortunate we all are to be united around the table with the mountain in common. I agree. All very surreal. What a day. In summary I highly recommend Mr Soltani and the Mt Damavand Climbing Group, they made this experience of a lifetime work for me. Thanks so much.

Gill Groom, Perth, Western Australia

g.groom [at] iinet.net.au

Ardeshir Soltani, Gillian Groom and Amir Manian, Polour Camp Damavand, September 2014
Polour Camp, From Left:
Jafar Hosainpour, Jalal Aboulhasani, Abdoulah Hekmat, Gillian Groom and Amir Manian

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Gill Groom from Australia MDIC21AUG12N