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‘Merci Vanet’ Alam-Kuh, Iran – First Ascent
Words by Elena Wiewiora – German DAV Expedition Team
It’s Thursday morning. I am sitting at the dentist, waiting for a call from the Iranian embassy who are preparing our visas. My boyfriend, Phillip, is having his wisdom tooth out. Four days later, we’re on a plane to Teheran, plus two visas, minus one tooth.
The first goal on our trip was the sport climbing crag of Pol-E-Khab, located near the Chalus Road – a famous street leading from Teheran to the Caspian Sea. This huge granite wall offered everything we were looking for: from five-star sport climbing routes to clean crack climbing.
We stayed here for a little while, sleeping in our tent directly underneath the rocks, where we met our new Iranian friends. We were psyched by the amazing number of different routes on offer, but were equally overwhelmed by the humanity and motivation shown by the local climbers in the area.
The next climbing area we headed to, Baraghan, was a kind of paradise. We slept next to the cool river, and climbed on the huge Tufa’s that dotted the landscape.
Finally, we headed off to the bigger mountains.
Located in the Alborz mountain range, Alam-Kuh is the second highest mountain in Iran, with an elevation of 4,805 metres. We had originally planned to climb the north side of the mountain, but we had accidentally walked into the wrong side of the valley.
Our mistake soon turned into a stroke of luck. Immediately our eyes became transfixed on the two huge rock faces before us. After talking to some local climbers and shepherds, we realised that nobody had ever climbed there before.
Whilst we would have loved to stay in this valley and explore the untouched rock, we didn’t have enough gear with us.
One thing is clear: We will be back!
After our diversion, we finally arrived in the valley which leads to the north side of the mountain.
We were just starting the approach when three shepherds welcomed us to their simple stone-hut. This allowed us really get in touch with the local population, their delicious food and customs before heading further into the mountain.
After over 1600 metres of altitude and time later, we reached the base camp at the bottom of the Alum-Kuh north face.
The journey was long and hot, and I felt quite sick. Diarrhea and a tired body forced me to have a rest day. But whilst a short rest helped me to recover a little, the altitude at base camp made total recovery nearly impossible. We decided to return to the valley before body fatigue and illness could get any worse.
After a few days of further rest and a beautiful time in the desert, we are were our way back to the valley of untouched rock. We were planning to do the first ascent of this interesting rockface we came across, and this time we were prepared for it. Ropes, pitons, hammer, two sets of cams and a whole plethora of other things were waiting to be used.
We arrived in the valley by evening, and started to work on building our camp for the next few days.
The whole time we were looking at all the possible lines but one part of it was exactly what we were looking for. Our planned route consisted of cracks and dihedrals, and looked climbable without bolts.
We tried to read the wall and we thought about all the possible exits, and the unknown descent.
I realised that there is a huge difference between climbing at home, with perfect topos or descriptions and climbing in a valley without mobile reception and without any information about the route.
It was early in the morning the next day.
We were looking straight up the wall and were super psyched to be here. With all the gear on your harness, you have to feel safe.
We thrive on the adventure and enjoy climbing in unknown terrain.
We found our way through the steep parts of the wall and reach the top. Happier than ever we were sure that we wanted more: we were already talking about what we could do over the next few days whilst looking for a descent from the current route we were on.
Despite a broken helmet, being a few pitons down, and some involuntary contact with a cactus on the butt, everything was perfect.
We had two days left. The decision to try another first ascent was easy.
We were scrambling up some loose rock and discovered another top line. We returned to the base camp, made some preparations for the next day but soon noticed that our bodies were tired. When we woke up the next day, I noticed that Phillip had got a heavy fever and felt very weak. With a heavy heart, we decided to return to Teheran instead of trying for another first ascent.
Even though we had health issues a couple of times, we were very happy with the result of our expedition and the huge amount of new experiences we gained.
We have bore witness to a very kind country with some incredibly friendly people. We have seen first class climbing areas and explored untouched mountains. The potential for new routes is enormous and we are proud of what we have achieved. This was my first long trip to a country where I was neither able to read or speak with locals.