Finally, we were actually starting to climb Mt.Damavand, Asia’s highest volcano with its straight-up paths enlivened by friendly local Iranians. Ascending from Camp 2 to Camp 3 is a good opportunity for becoming more familiar with climbing on a volcanic cone…
Today we were going to make a straightforward ascent of almost 1200m altitude gain, all the way up to Bargah Sevom Hut, the site of Camp 3 on the Southen Route of Mt.Damavand. Laying perched up on a high lava ridge at 4200m, the hut’s building is teasingly visible even from Camp 2, as well as all the way while trekking up to it.
1200m altitude gain from one go to 4200m might not be the wisest approach to achieve a proper acclimatization. So to make up for the limited campsite choices, we opted for getting plenty of rest and a late morning start to our second day on Damavand. However, other climbers had other strategies, as they began to arrive by car from Camp 1 as early as daybreak, and quickly pushed up the mountain. Wherever were they rushing so early in the morning? Camp 3 lays only 3-4hours away… Later we would learn that most probably they were aiming to catch a bed in Bargah Hut, as they run out pretty fast. For those of us opting to sleep in tents, considering one chooses the climbing days wisely, there’s plenty of space to pitch a tent.
Soon most of the people aiming for Camp 2 had moved on higher up the mountain, leaving only us and the few other foreigners who had chosen to sleep their first night at Camp 2, rather than start the push directly from Camp 1. It seemed all foreigners had the same climbing strategy in mind 🙂
Breakfast with the Alborz Mountains shaping the landscape unfolding before us was quite an experience. The only thing pushing us to pack our things was catching the last mule bag transport up to Camp 3. It was very surprising to discover the close-knit collaboration and fair approach of this muleteer community. All mules are put together and each muleteer gets, in turn, a day of the week to lead the mules up and down the mountain and collect the money earned during that day. And may I say it’s not an easy job, while it is their only source of income and a seasonal one that is. It’s a sort of win-win situation: the local people earn an honest pay to sustain their families, while the climbers ease their climb, which is already challenging due to the straight-up climb with potential acclimatization issues. More so, there is a set limit of how much weight they put on mules’ backs, and the mountaineering federation has set fixed prices per kilo, as to prevent abuse.
We also turned in a juicy watermelon and some water bottles for safekeeping to the muleteers. However, our English and their English didn’t quite meet: as we would later understand the muleteers enjoyed a watermelony feast immediately after our departure, misunderstanding the melon as a gift instead of part of the load to carry :)))
While putting together our daypack and readying ourselves to start trekking up to Camp 3, Romanian words reached our unbelieving ears. Soon enough what seemed mishearing proved to be true. There were we on Asia’s highest volcano, and over 3600km away from our homeland, running into another group of our own Romanians. Can you believe that? 🙂
A cheerful bunch from north of our country had come all the way here with much the same climbing strategy and travel itinerary. Great minds think alike! 🙂
With such an opportunity to exchange words in our own mother tongue so far away from home, we delayed our start a bit longer. Eventually, we tore ourselves from our fellow countrymen and began our trek for the day.
Finally, we were actually climbing on Mt.Damavand’s volcanic soil! The trek from Camp 2 (3020m) to Camp 3 (4200m) starts and continues for more than half its distance on a gentle climbing slope. All the while Bargah Hut, like a watch-post high above on a ridge, reminded us where we were heading to. Small green flowering bushes colored the otherwise stark volcanic landscape. The iconic delicate red poppy flowers have long since dried, as we chose mid summer’s warmer temperatures and less chances of snow in favor to these red flowers.
A lonely and out-of-place “dangerous curve” road sign, sitting on the side of the path, was bringing a smile on the barely started climbers’ faces.
Going up to Camp 3 we constantly met people descending, some cheerful as they were successful summiting Damavand, others less fortunate and in lower spirits. Climbing high mountains isn’t always as easy as it might seem. Some couldn’t or didn’t know how to acclimatize, others were pushed back by the bad weather that had seized the summit for the past few days, covering it in snowfall and high winds. As of that day weather on the summit was beginning to brighten up, as the clouds were breaking apart freeing the summit from their tempestuous embrace and leaving room for the sun to melt away the powdered snow of the previous days. Lady Luck, as always, was on our side! 🙂
Just about halfway up to Camp 3, the path became steeper as we began to climb on the side of a lava ridge covered with fluid figures shaped into the once molten rocks that now lay petrified in their movement. As of this point, Bargah Hut disappeared from sight high on top of the ridge and stubbornly kept so until we were very near it. From here up the going got slower and we began to catch up with some of the earlier climbers.
Most climbers are local Iranians, rarely do we meet a European looking face. Occasionally we come by some daring Iranian women as well, slowly, but steadily pushing up the mountain. Yet again Iranians’ hospitability pleasantly surprises us when total strangers offered us from their fruits, sour-sweet plums just perfect to give a boost of energy while cutting any potential altitude nausea. Not only are Iranians generous with sharing their food, but also with their kind words both inquiring about where we are from, as well as encouraging us up the mountain.
One step in front of the next, exchanging a smile with a stranger, maybe even a few words, taking in the amazing landscape surrounding us, and sooner than expected the Iranian flag from Bargah Hut started piercing through from between the volcanic rocks, then followed the hut’s roof and in no time we found ourselves before a stepped amphitheater anthropically built to house countless tents leading up to Bargah Hut.
Climbing up to Camp 3, when approached in the proper rhythm, proves rather easy: ascending 1200m positive altitude gain over only about 4km in almost 4 hours. The next step was exploring the surroundings, learning where’s what, while at the same time climbing a bit higher than where we were going to sleep, so we could be true to the dictum “climb high, sleep low”.
Bargah Hut was full to the roof with climbers. Some ended up sleeping even on the floor, covered only with blankets, as they didn’t prepare any backup solutions. For the rest, there’s plenty of room to pitch a tent, the lucky ones, as were we, found a spot protected from the wind. Tucked under a big sloping rock, we laid our tent, which was going to be our home for the next two nights.
Some of the early birds and fast climbers that passed us by in the morning at Camp 2, we found tending their headaches in the neighboring tents. Few courageous or rather unconscious were planning to head straight for the summit the following night. Others were already at their several-th climb and seemed that maybe they liked it the rough way 🙂 While chatting with some of the climbers we managed to convey some reason into a few of the more younger, inexperienced ones, convincing them to add an acclimatization day to their climbing scheme, if they wanted to have a more enjoyable and successful summit bid.
Imperceptibly and unexpected, while preparing dinner, fatigue started to kick in, just like a low battery becomes quickly depleted. Warm food and sleep were the best antidotes at hand and also the best approach to ensure a good acclimatization.
Only biological needs were able to tear us away from the coziness of our good down sleeping bags :)) However, it proved a fortunate event. As the sun was literally falling behind Damavand’s western ridge, a sea of clouds was blanketing the valleys below, while far away in the distance the lights of a towering antenna climbed high above Tehran began to shine visibly as the orange-red sun was setting in one of the most beautiful sunsets we were so far blessed to see…
Nightfall came with relentless headaches, as a sign that 1200m altitude gain can sometimes be more than the body can accommodate. Continuing to constantly drink water all throughout the night was one of the best remedies at hand, and by next morning it would prove its efficiency.
Our first day actually climbing Mt.Damavand proved to be a beautiful experience. The following day was going to be a rest and acclimatization day for us, while for others would be their summit bid, as during climbing season on Damavand the constant going and coming of climbers aiming for its summit never stops…Tags: alborz, bargah, camp2, camp3, damavand, iran, mosque, mule, trekking, volcano