| Part 5: Climbing Mt
Polour -> Camp 2 ->
Camp 3 (Damavand)
Mountain refuge of the
Iranian Mountaineering Federation at 4200m of altitude, 80000
Rial. Recently completed building (2009) with a big common room with
tables and chairs in the ground floor and a big sleeping room with 60
beds. The beds have no mattresses, just wooden planks. There are
blankets, although most people use their sleeping bags.
There is no
kitchen which you can use to cook things. People bring their gas
bottles and kitchen utensils to cook their own stuff.
Toilets are very
spartan: they are in a separate building outside and there is no water
to flush in the toilets, only outside (very smelly). This
means that should you wake up at night and
need to use the toilet, you have to dress up and walk to the toilet in
The refuge however has solar panels and in the sleeping
rooms there are A/C sockets which can be used to recharge phones and
other low power devices, but probably not something like a hair dryer.
The only water is the one outside the building, basically a pipe of
black rubber through which ice cold water flows continuously. It's
therefore impossible to take a shower in this place.
Weather: sunny day, with
a few clouds
in the sky. Fresh in Polour, more fresh in camp 3 at 4200m.
I wake up shortly before 7am. After breakfast at 8:20am we get into the
4WD car. We (Hossein, Fatemeh, Omid and me) have put all stuff which we
are not going to carry ourselves into two big backpacks which donkeys
will carry for us to camp 3 for 350000 Rial.
We arrive at camp 2 (where the mosque is) shortly after 9am. This lies
at 3000m and from here you start the climb. We load the heavy backpacks
on the donkeys. After some price haggling with the owner of the donkeys
we start the climb at 9:20am.
Initially the climb proceeds smoothly and we make good progress.
However the higher we get, the thinner the air gets and around 3800m or
so I start getting difficulties with the strength, i.e. it gets more
more difficult to walk.
I manage to cope with this by using a deep breathing technique similar
to the one used by the apnoe divers to pump air into the lungs. That
works remarkably well and solves the breathing problem and just leaves
the exhaustion as a problem.
The cold wind at altitude also starts being a problem because I'm
wearing only a T-shirt and a singlet. I make it to Camp 3 and
immediately start wearing clothes. Also, I haven't eaten much since
yesterday and I probably need to eat something quickly.
When I arrive at camp 3 I'm exhausted and my head is very hot
while my hands are ice cold. It's as if I had fever and I speculate
that I got a cold because I walked in the cold wind just with T-shirts.
The other members of the team are much fitter than I am. Hossein is a
routine climber who just climbed a 4000m peak one week ago and Omid is
a sports instructor who exercises every day for several hours.
Camp 3 is a new building built two years ago with very basic
facilities. There is a big dormitory with perhaps 60 stacked beds. No
running water inside the building - you have to go outside. The toilets
are also outside, a problem at night. There is no restaurant and no
food or drinks are sold.
Despite the exhaustion I have no signs of altitude sickness. No
headache, no pain. But it's just a question mark if tomorrow I will
be able to make it to the summit because I'm so tired and perhaps have
We sleep around 8:30pm, or to put it differently are in the beds at
this time because tomorrow we are supposed to wake up at 4am. In
practice I'm awake until after midnight because I'm not used to
sleeping so early.
Camp 3 -> Mt Damavand
summit -> Camp 3 -> Polour -> Tehran
Hotel: home of Fatemeh who
offered to host me for the night.
Weather: sunny, blue
sky, a few
cloudy in the sky. Freezing point around 5000m, at some point it even
starts to snow. Less cold than I expected in the early morning.
This is a very short night followed by a very long day. I probably got
no more than 2 hours of sleep, because initially I could not fall
asleep, then at 3:30am some people in the bed opposite ours start to
get active pointing their powerful head-mounted light beams everywhere
in the room. It's one of the disadvantages of large dorms: whoever is
active in the night disturbs everybody else.
In any case at 4:30am we "officially" wake up. I still have what seems
to be high fever (my head is very hot), so I take a paracetamol pill to
lower the fever. Given my condition I don't know if I will be able to
complete the climb today.
Hossein, who today is acting as tour leader, starts making tea by
boiling water in the gas cooker on the bed. We have a simple breakfast
and at 5am Hossein, Omid and me start the climb. Fatemeh
will stay in the refuge waiting for us.
Outside it's still dark and we use torchlights to proceed. It's not
that cold actually, but it's quite windy. The climb proceeds initially
relatively smoothly. Around 6:30am the sun is rising over the valley,
but we can't see it until 7am because it's behind the mountain.
The more the climb proceeds, the more tired I get. It's basically an
altitude problem (lack of oxygen), because I'm only partially able to
apply the deep breathing technique because the trail is in very bad
trail consists of lose rocks, stones and very small
stones, sand and dust. This makes it tough to maintain a constant
walking speed, because I continuosly have to adjust my walking to the
variable ground with the consequence that my breathing rhythm gets out
of synch with the
walking steps all the time.
Hossein makes a number of stops and offers food and even hot tea during
these stops. Imagine having a cup of tea on a high mountain in the
middle of nowhere. This is part of the Iranian hospitality culture
(most Iranians feel obliged to take care of their guests) and of this
Iranian custom of having picnics everywhere (in Iran you see everywhere
people having picnics in parks and other areas).
In addition to these planned stops I put in a lot of unplanned short
stops and even microstops, because I get exhausted all the time and
need to stop for some time to get some air and breath deeply. It
happens that I walk 10-20 metres then I have to stop for 10 seconds or
so to breathe deeply.
After a while Omid gets impatient about the slow pace and continues
walking alone to the summit (not a problem because the trail is well
In the middle of the climb I start wondering if I should turn back
given that I'm completely exhausted. However in the last third things
start improving because I'm finally able to apply the deep breathing
technique. Surprisingly, despite the altitude now well above 5000m I'm
able to proceed with much fewer stops. In the last 300m before the
summit Hossein starts carrying my backpack which now is much lighter.
Hossein is delighted and says
'look there is the summit - we've made it - inshallah...' and hugs me.
I reply, let's praise god when we really have reached the summit,
from here it still looks very far away.
Close to the summit there are sulfur gas emission coming out of the
rocks. I try wearing the special filtered mask which Fatemeh has
provided, but it
limits too much the inflow of air so I stop using it.
Finally at 11:25am we reach the summit of Mt Damavand at 5670m above
level. WOW, I'm impressed. With almost no training and little
acclimatisation I'm managed to get to the top of this mountain. Quite
According to the plan we should have reached the summit in 5 hours at
10am, and now we are 1:25 hours over the time, meaning that there is
less time left for everything.
Mt Damavand is a dormant volcano. In the crater on the summitthere is a
small glacier. On
the summit we meet a few other climbers who also did the climb today.
We only spend around 20 minutes on the summit, then we head back at
11:45am. The descent proceeds faster than the ascent, but also here
are necessary due to fatigue due to the high altitude.
In the last third of the climb I get very exhausted. Hossein shows a
way to get down sliding over loose rocks, small stones and
sand. That would be a fast way of getting down, but my problem is that
I don't have enough strength in the legs anymore.
We are still at a
significant altitude (above 4500m) and I'm not able to apply the deep
breathing technique because of the constantly changing rhythm of leg
movement (sliding down on a stone bed means that you have to constantly
adjust your legs and balance).
It's 3 something pm when we finally reach camp 3. I'm really exhausted
and there are still 1200m to descend. I start thinking that perhaps I
should get down on a donkey.
Fatemeh offers some hot tea and I lie in
the bed to recover a bit. I ask Fatemeh what time we go down to camp 2.
'At 5 - is that ok?'. 'Sure' I reply.
Probably Fatemeh does not believe
me and I'm not sure either if I will be able to walk down the mountain
at 5pm, but there is no other choice. We must get down today, because
cannot spend one more night at camp 3 (the place is simply put too
Shortly before 5pm I hear that there is no donkey which can carry our
stuff down. Hossein and Omid, who are the fittest in our team, will
carry the heavy stuff. In addition we have consumed almost all food and
drinks, so there is less weight to carry.
The descent to camp 2 proceeds smoothly. We are at camp 2 around
7:30pm, with very few stops. I'm surprised that I am still able to walk
(and even fast) after such a day.
At 8pm we drive back to Polour and from there at 9pm we start driving
towards Tehran. It's 11pm when we arrive at the home of Fatemeh and
Hossein. Despite the late hour Fatemeh prepares another cup of tea and
even offers to cook something. I politely decline because we are all
really exhausted and I never eat so late anyway.