Trekking on Mount Damavand in Iran
Osprey adventurer Fabiola Straub climbed her first 5000 metre mountain in August 2019. Fabiola had to overcome many challenges during the ascent; find out more about her adventure here!
Trekking day 1: At the foot of the Damavand
On August 27th everything started at the foot of the Damavand for my friend Nic, our guide Reza and me. Since our large trekking backpacks (Kestrel 58 and Kyte 66) were carried by Mulis to the first camp at 4,000 m altitude, we only had to carry our day packs (Talon 18 and Tempest 20), in which we carried all necessities for the first stage of the adventure.
The volcano, Damavand, in front of us seems bigger than ever and my hope for a summit success is getting smaller and smaller. I painfully realise that we are already at the height of the Zugspitze (Germany’s highest mountain) and that every step will mean a little willpower. Nevertheless, we start walking, driven by the thirst of adventure; however, after a few minutes we notice that we are traveling far too fast. Reza urges us several times to slow down. This is not the Alps. It is quite difficult for us to forget our usual speed and to adapt to the steps of the guide. Again and again, he demonstrates correct breathing and warns us not to take any breaks.
At noon we arrive at the first camp earlier than planned. The simple tin hut with a round roof doesn’t seem to be that high, but the gently rising flank of the volcano is deceptive. At 4,000m we are already 200m above Austria’s highest mountain, the Großglockner. The first 1,100 metres in altitude were exhausting, but we found it easier than we thought. We are full of confidence that we will set off again after a short lunch break and make our way to the second camp at 4,600m. After a 30-minute nap in the sun, we unfortunately have to face the facts. I had thought Nic’s fatigue was normal and result of the exhausting hike. However, he feels worse every minute and soon he experienced symptoms of altitude sickness. There was no longer any thought of going any further. Reza decides to let him go back to sleep and we both set out to pitch our tents near the shelter. We would spend the first night at 4,000m and later climb another 200 metres to acclimatise. The rule is: climb higher, sleep lower.
After our short acclimatisation tour, our next problem arises: Despite his hat, baselayer and down jacket, Nic couldn’t get warm in his sleeping bag. Not only does the success of the summit seems increasingly unlikely, reaching the second camp is also a long way off.
Trekking day 2: The ascent to 4,600m
After an extremely stormy and rainy night, Reza wakes us up at 7 a.m. Due to Nic’s poor condition, he decided to change our original plans of an ascent in 3 days and give us as more time, which we need. Nic was actually able to sleep through the night and felt a lot better.
Breathing becomes more difficult with every step, the paths become more and more indistinct and Reza often has to consult his GPS device. Although the second stage is only 600 metres in altitude, we quickly realise that the first day, on the other hand, was a walk. Halfway through the distance we have to use our hands more and more, it becomes more of a scramble than a hike.
In the afternoon we finally reach the end of the second stage and actually stand at 4,600 metres above the sea level. Up to about 4,000m above sea level everything below us is wrapped in a thick blanket of fog, a sight that I will certainly never forget. It feels magical and although the senses are heightened so high up, the moment is still barely tangible. After a breathtaking sunset, we return to the shelter.
Trekking day 3: The summit day
At 2 a.m. you can hear the mobile phone alarm clock ringing from all corners of the shelter. I feel tired and weak, but the thought of the upcoming ascent quickly awakens my spirits. Eight Iranian mountaineers have joined us, they trust our guide to guide them. It’s freezing, around -15 degrees, and the wind blows relentlessly. The higher we climb, the harder it is to find the right path. It is also getting steeper and steeper and we always need our hands to move forward.
Every step needs willpower, we are almost 5,000 metres above the sea level. After a few minutes, however, the path suddenly seems to end, we see nothing but ice in front of us. We hadn’t packed any glacier equipment and didn’t expect such conditions at this time of the year. Within a few seconds my decision is clear: The summit is not worth risking our lives and so we turned back to Camp 2.
There aren’t many peaks that we’ve given up on our numerous tours in the Alps. No matter how exhausted we were or how heavy our legs seemed, we pushed each other and sooner or later always stood on the summit cross. So, do we have to be annoyed that we gave up so close to the finish this time? Does that mean we just weren’t fit enough? I would say: no. Of course, it is a shame that we did not reach the actual ‘destination’ of our trip. Nevertheless, we climbed up to almost 5,000m and can definitely be proud of ourselves. Not only because we made it this far, but also because we made what was probably the best decision at the right moment.
Our guide had to abandon his first attempt at ascent seven years ago, at 4,200m. He said it took him five full years to try a second time. Let’s see if we too will be on the summit of Damavand in five years’ time.
“Would you do it again?” I’ve heard this question many times, since we climbed Damavand in August. It is still very difficult for me to answer that question. Only on the evening of our return to the capital Tehran was my answer clear: Never! Three weeks later, I look back with mixed feelings. I will certainly remember the hardships of these three days on the last mountain of the Orient for a long time. The physical but also the emotional strain, exceeded everything I had experienced up to that point. Nevertheless I will never regret the decision to climb Damavand with 5,671m.
KESTREL & KYTE QUOTE
“The Kestrel 58 and Kyte 66 more than met my expectations of good trekking backpacks. Both could be reduced to a minimum size for transport in a suitcase, but offered enough space for our comprehensive equipment on the hike, including tent, camera equipment, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, food, clothing, daypack, camping stove and other small items. The carrying systems can be optimally adapted to our respective back lengths and shapes.”