Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 5: Climbing Mt Damavand

11-12.8: Munich -> Dubai -> Sharjah -> Shiraz
13.8: Shiraz, Persepolis
14.8: Shiraz
15.8: Shiraz -> Pasargadae -> Abarqu -> Yazd
16.8: Yazd
17.8: Yazd -> Meybod -> Chak Chak -> Kharanaq -> Yazd

18.8: Yazd -> Abyaneh -> Kashan
19.8: Kashan -> Tehran -> Polour
20.8: Polour -> Camp 2 -> Camp 3
21.8: Camp 3 -> Mt Damavand summit -> Tehran
22.8: Tehran
23.8: Tehran -> Mashhad
24.8: Mashhad -> Tehran
25.8: Tehran -> Kuala Lumpur

20.8: 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 darkness.
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 and 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 high  fever.

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.

21.8: Camp 3 -> Mt Damavand summit -> Camp 3 -> Polour -> Tehran
Hotel: home of Fatemeh who kindly has 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 condition.

The 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 identifiable).

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.

Suddenly 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, because 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 sea level. WOW, I'm impressed. With almost no training and little acclimatisation I'm managed to get to the top of this mountain. Quite an achievement.

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 many stops 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 we cannot spend one more night at camp 3 (the place is simply put too spartan).

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.

Copyright 2011 Alfred Molon