THE NEW KILIMANJARO?
Mt Damavand is, at 5,671m, the highest mountain in the Middle East and the second-highest volcano in the northern hemisphere. It also happens to have the iconic tapered shape of Mt Fuji. Not surprisingly this makes it very recognisable in Iran, appearing on the IR10,000 note and on the packaging of numerous products. Sat within a couple of hours’ drive of Tehran, the mountain makes a very rewarding climb for peak baggers wanting an alternative to overcrowded summits like Kilimanjaro. Unlike its African counterpart, aspiring climbers are not required to hire a guide though it would still be a good idea for those less experienced at such altitudes. Make sure you acclimatise properly in order to avoid altitude sickness which is best done by making a slow ascent over several days, staying at least two nights at 4,000m before attempting a summit push. The best starting point is Polour Hut at 2,270m, where regardless of nationality, a permit fee of US$50 is levied. The classic route is up the south face, though you can also try the west face which is shorter but lacks infrastructure. The north and northeast sides offer longer and more difficult options. From Polour camp, hitch a ride to the Sahab al Zamen mosque, located at around 3,000m. From here trek to the Baghar Shelter at 4,290m, a comfortable hut run by the Iranian Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (IMCF). Stay at least one night and preferably two here. Start your summit attempt early to allow enough time for the descent. The top is covered by a small glacier and depending on conditions, crampons may be necessary. A contrasting hazard near the top is that as an active volcano, sulphur fumes can be an issue. Climbers should check the wind direction beforehand and bring something to cover nose and mouth. The mountain is very exposed and the summit can be very cold: in winter, temperatures can reach -30 to -40˚C. The climbing season runs from June to September. In order to beat the crowds, avoid weekends and Iranian holidays, when the mountain becomes the focus for local outdoors types. Damavand is also rewarding for ski mountaineers with spring snow conditions in April and early May.