Guestbook and Trip Report - Sean Murphy

The Official Website of the Mount Damavand Guides Iran

Sean & Brian Murphy from Ireland - August 2015

Sean Murphy on Facebook
My brother Brian and I had decided to undertake the Mount Damavand, Iran economy tour, both for budgetary and timing reasons. However we had climbed several 5000+m peaks before, so were aware of the perils of high altitude, nonetheless we were curious as to whether we could summit the peak without adequate acclimatisation, or to put it crudely, could we get up and down the mountain before altitude could properly get its claws into us!

Mount Damavand Peak - Sean & Brian Murphy from Ireland - August 2015
Hike Mount Damavand Iran
Sean & Brian Murphy from Ireland - August 2015

The booking process, and email interaction with the manager, Mr. Soltani, had been seamless, professional, and fuss free throughout, and at 5am on the morning of the first day, our guide Ali was waiting for us in the lobby of the hotel. He made a quick stop in north Tehran to pick up our exquisitely packed lunch boxes for the trek! After a couple of hours spectacular driving we reached Camp 1 and Soltani, who greeted us warmly with a round of tea, before the 4 of us headed back to Polour for breakfast, and our first experience of a Persian omelette.

That done, we said our goodbyes to Soltani and headed off in a Jeep to Camp 2, on one of the roughest roads I’ve experienced, though hats off to the engineers for getting any sort of road built up there. We were deposited in Camp 2 to begin the trek. As per the warning on the website, its somewhat run down, more high altitude farmyard than camp. Facilities were poor to non-existent, especially compared to the bounty waiting in camp 3.

The climb to camp 3 took us not much more than 3 hours, and effects of altitude were conspicuous by their absence. We started to get to know Ali who was on his way to the summit for the 246th time! He had also climbed in the Tien Shan and Pamir ranges, summiting Lenin Peak. Arriving at camp 3 we were informed that as part of the package we had a private room as opposed to a dorm, which was a huge bonus, but probably more of a relief to everybody else in the refuge, given my snoring! And so on a day which began under 1000m in east Tehran, by early evening we were at 4250m, higher than many of the major Alps!!

Hiking & Trekking Mount Damavand Iran - Brian Murphy and Ali Fard
Trekking Mount Damavand Iran
Brian Murphy and Ali Fard

The refuge was superb, unlike anything I’ve seen at such an altitude. There was a series of artificial rock terraces for tents and camping, a helipad, and a refuge which stocked all sorts of goodies like coca-cola! Ali got some tea and soup into us and was very keen for us not to sleep until late, and to walk around the camp. This we did, to a limited extent, but good old Ali had a habit of popping up out of the blue, to remind us to visit farther flung parts of the camp such as the helipad! At dinner, we saw the first example of Ali’s zest for cooking, as we received a feast of chicken and veg in sauce, Iranian rice, washed down with coke. Climb Mount Damavand

That night altitude unleashed itself as insomnia struck. I had visited the facilities a couple of times since arriving and, although well maintained, they are squat toilets, and European legs take a while to get used to that! After a visit at midnight, I took a precautionary Imodium in the hope I would get some sleep and not have to trek out there again. However by this stage sleep was fitful and rare.

We were to wake up at 5am and leave by 6am, and met these deadlines. By this stage a mild headache had started to manifest itself, and I had little appetite for breakfast. Given Brian’s vast fitness advantage over me (he is aiming for a sub 3 hour time in the Dublin marathon in October), we decided I would set the pace for the three of us.

Hiking Damavand Mountain in Iran - Sean Murphy - Ali Fard - Brian Murphy
Hiking Damavand Mountain in Iran
Sean Murphy - Ali Fard - Brian Murphy

The weather on summit day, as it was all through the trek, was excellent. I set a conservative pace, but Ali re-assured us we doing ok. After a couple of hours, I had noticed camp 3 was still disconcertingly nearby. I held off on asking Ali for an altitude check for as long as possible, when I did ask, it turned out we were at 4800m. My inner pessimist accepted this ok, but Brian later told me that was the point where things started to go downhill for him

Things had already gotten bad for me. It was much as I could do to take several steps before resting on my ski poles for a breather, how they held up from the strain I do not know. The headaches were getting worse, and I simply had stopped looking where I was going, relying on Ali to tell me which scree path to take. I could barely whimper a one word answer to any question I was asked. I asked Brian to take point at this stage, as he was in a much stronger state than me, and was able to pick out the best paths himself. Mt Damavand Hiking Tour.

Passing 5000m and the frozen waterfall, things continued to get tougher. Ali was superb throughout. He has an uncanny knack of being able to accurately estimate the times we would arrive at landmarks, adjusting these as we slowed up. He also kept us informed as to where we were on the mountain, and what the next landmark was etc. His accuracy in this regard was unprecedented for a guide, in my experience. I have found some guides have tried to feed falsely optimistic information, perhaps to encourage the climber, but, conversely, it only serves to demotivate instead. So, Ali’s constant encouragement and advice was really appreciated, to put it mildly!

It was good he kept us informed, as I was in a world of my own at this stage. At one stage I was climbing for about ten or fifteen minutes without a single coherent thought in my head, before eventually the realisation hit that I was on the side of a mountain in Iran!! For that short while I could have been anywhere really. The headaches were by now unreal, literally mind blowing. It feels like there is a rock in your skull as opposed to a brain (which ironically feels like it is not fit for purpose at this stage). Any slight movement of your head results in the ‘rock’ being moved and a resulting burst of pain unlike any migraine I’ve experienced at sea level.

By the ‘false summit’ at about 5400m, the energy levels were gone. What kept me going was the fact that I had failed to summit the last major mountain I had attempted, Aconcagua in 2011, and I couldn’t bear a second failure, so I continued to edge up the mountain. Bizarrely, I also felt a strong urge not to stand in the way of Ali’s 246th summit! Another of Soltani’s guides is on his 296th so I didn’t want the gap to widen.

Hiking & Trekking Damavand Iran - Ali Fard - August 2015
Hiking & Trekking Damavand Iran
Ali Fard - August 2015

Ali took the lead now, moving ahead to show us the best paths towards the summit and to encourage us to keep on the move. Unbeknownst to me, Brian was now suffering nearly as bad as I was. I say unbeknownst as we were not communicating at this stage, talk being an expenditure of energy beyond our means. One lucky factor was that the sulphur fumaroles were not blowing in our direction near the summit. It was an interesting landscape up there, many of the rocks stained yellow by sulphur.

We arrived at the summit at 12:30pm. I sat down against a rock exhausted. Emotions, nothing! Aside from us, there were just two Iranian lads who had unfurled an FC Tractor banner. My addled brain remembered this team losing the Iranian premier league in particularly heartbreaking circumstances this year. I wanted to chat to them about this, but couldn’t speak. I had also been looking forward to seeing the Caspian Sea, but I forgot all about this until I got back to camp 1! I was just very keen to move on down, so after a couple of photos we did so. Ali gave me a quick head message before we headed off. It briefly helped the headache, and was enough to get me moving!

Ali didn’t take us down the way we came up, he figured in our exhausted state we were more likely to stumble, and a stumble on that route could have consequences. So he bounded down a series of scree slopes where falling wasn’t a problem. We plodded after him, tripping and stumbling, forgetting to use our ski poles properly. The effect altitude was now having on Brian became very apparent, as he started throwing up on the way down from the summit. Having reached 5000m on the way down, Ali told us to sleep for twenty minutes or so! This was an easy request to comply with, and after he woke us, we continued sloshing through the scree.

Now, far below, camp 3 came into view, and for the next couple of hours, it didn’t seem to come any closer into view! Nonetheless we ploughed on, fighting fatigue and headaches. We eventually arrived back at 17:45. Ali sprang into the kitchen like a man who had just nipped out to buy the newspaper, while we retired to our room, completely shattered. Brian pointed out at this stage that running a marathon is nothing compared to climbing at high altitude, and he’s done enough of both to make the comparison.

Ali was working wonders in the kitchen again and served up a hearty pasta and salad dinner, luckily our appetites were back as well. The refuge was packed at this stage, as the Iranian army had taken over the place, they were doing the ascent the next day. Ali found us a spot behind the shop counter to eat our dinners, which lead to a stream of Iranian climbers asking the two Irishmen with blank faces in Farsi for a cup of tea. It was a recurring theme of our trip of the locals addressing us in Farsi. One Iranian student pointed out that we looked both looked Iranian, so that must explain that! A Belgian climber, who was then chatting to us over the counter, was stunned to hear we climbed it without acclimatisation, which gave us a nice buzz. Mr. Soltani also rang us from Camp 1 to pass on his congratulations.

That night, we slept the sleep of the dead, but when we woke up the headaches were back. I also had problems with my vision, as everything appeared cloudy and hazy, and I was having difficulty seeing where I was going in the refuge. Ali had us behind the counter again for breakfast, so any Iranian looking for tea was getting little reaction again, bar me blinking like an idiot, trying to clear my vision! Ali didn’t seem too worried about it, and he was right, as the problem had resolved itself by camp 2. Perhaps a little altitude related bleed in the eye or something.

Mount Damavand Camp 1 Polour Resort - Sean Murphy - Ardeshir Soltani - Brian Murphy - Ali Fard
Mount Damavand Camp 1 Polour Resort
Sean Murphy - Ardeshir Soltani - Brian Murphy - Ali Fard

We left the camp at half eight, and Ali had to slow us down, as our lift at camp wasn’t due until 11:30! It was a leisurely and pleasant walk down to camp 2, as any remaining altitude related problems resolved themselves, and we met many of Ali’s friends and colleagues on the way down. We had a quick cup of tea in camp 2, purchased a t-shirt for the collection, and we drove back down the bone-shaking road to camp 1. There, Soltani greeted us warmly and brought us in and we snacked on melon. After that, the four of us went down to the Esperin restaurant in Polour for ‘lunch’, though ‘feast’ would be a more appropriate description! Huge lamp chop kebabs with massive places of saffron rice hit the spot! Afterwards Ali dropped us back to Tehran, back to the eagerly awaited comforts of the big city!

In summary, this is an excellent value tour, and is the quickest way to climb Damavand if you are short on time. Mr .Soltani ensured everything was organised very professionally, and everything went very smoothly. Ali was a superb guide, as outlined above, and I gather that Soltani’s other guides are just as well qualified. Obviously, there is a concern over ascending so quickly. We certainly found this tough, and would recommend a couple of nights in Tehran prior to beginning the climb, especially a night in Polour if possible. All in all, we highly recommend this tour, and advise you to get to Iran, before the crowds surely arrive in the next few years!

Sean Murphy from Ireland - August 2015

Sean & Brian Murphy from Ireland MDIC21AUG13H