Deep into the dark and silent night the unearthly ring of our alarm clock removed us from the coziness of our sleeping bags. The time had come to start our summit bid. Outside, the camp was silent, still asleep. Damavand‘s tall and dark silhouette was looming high above the tents, contrasting against the starry clear sky. Two lonely lights where already making their way towards the summit, high above Camp 3. We soon followed in their footsteps, leaving behind the now familiar surroundings and heading up unknown paths still cloaked in darkness. Would we find our way to the summit? Would we make it?
route map and altitude profile for day 4
Behind us, bit by bit Camp 3 was waking from its slumber. One by one the tents slowly began to lit-up, as other climbers were also about to start their summit bid. As the minutes and then the hours past, a long winding trail of slow moving head-torches was lighting up the path leading away from Camp 3. Slowly-slowly we negotiated our way higher and higher up the mountain, momentarily unveiling the path from the black night’s embrace. Breathing the low oxygen saturated air, we found ourselves as if translated into a space beyond time. The hours melted imperceptibly one into the next, as the darkness of the night gave way to the first light of dawn. The all-surrounding black slowly metamorphosed into countless hues of blue, then rosy pink and pale white. Together with the rising sun a long pyramid of shadow began to take shape over the deep valleys below, as if the cold night was not yet ready to give up all the surroundings from its dark embrace. Such a rare and unique phenomenon is usually experienced only on very high, solitary mountains, as the rising sun comes up from behind a towering peak, casting a long pyramidal shadow over the surrounding lower mountains and valleys.
As we approached the summit, at least by our altimeters’ readings, the dark volcanic ash began to disappear below an odd-looking white coating. From a distance, it seemed to be a layer of permanent snow. However, once close enough we encountered the last hundred meters to the summit to be covered with a white-yellowish sulfuric deposit, brought to the surface from deep within the volcano by powerful fumaroles ceaselessly venting below the summit. Warm, slightly stingy gases are blown out from these fumarolic vents, creating white clouds dancing on the clear blue sky. As always, Lady Luck was on our side, as favorable air currents were stirring the sulfuric fumes high and away from the trails circling the summit, allowing us to climb unhindered by the unpleasant gases.
Just a little bit more to go! Slowly-slowly we went up around the venting fumaroles, and sooner than expected we found ourselves on the crater’s rim. A perfectly round, small, white crater filled with a frozen lake crowns the majestic, perfect cone of Damavand. Comparing it to Kilimanjaro’s wide Kibo crater, this one is quite intimate and small, only about 150m wide. Bathed in warm sunlight, and after a long climb, we found the crater very inviting to rest and contemplate the infinite horizons. From where we were standing it wasn’t too obvious which was the highest point, the crater rim being quite even, if it weren’t for the occasional head that kept popping up above some rocks. That must be the place! A memorial plaque and some goat bones and skin marked the summit. We’ve made it! Damavand, 5671m!
Among all the happy climbers celebrating successfully reaching the summit, we run into our friendly tent neighbors, who by the way were a group of middle age men, and quite determined and brave we could say.
Though we felt like staying for hours on the beautiful summit, sunbathing under the pleasant warm sun, we knew this was only half-way and we could not linger too long, as we had an equally long way to descend. From the summit we could see not only the hut and colorful tents from Camp 3, but all the way down to Camp 2 and even beyond, and it was a looong way down….
From pre-expedition documentation we knew there was a different trail for descent, as to be honest descending on the trail we came up didn’t seem alluring at all. Following one of our tent neighbors we caught sight of the descent route and it wasn’t quite what we expected. It was actually a controlled slide on knee-deep volcanic ash and scree, and a pretty quick and seemingly effortless decent at that. However, as we knew by now, distances are long on a high volcanic cone, and even sliding on ash and scree eventually builds up to become tiring. With Camp 3 always tantalizing in sight, though hardly looking any nearer, we slid and rested, and slid and rested till there was no more ash and scree to slide on, and we started walking, by now tired and with sore feet. Closer to Camp 3 we run into our Romanian friends who were out on their acclimatization climb, their joy and humor boosting our batteries and making us forget there was still more to descend till our long expected tent.
The long day’s climb up to the summit and back down called for some rest at Camp 3, before we could proceed further down. Warm food, some sleep and we were ready in time to catch the last mule bag transport down to Camp 2. With our bags leaving before us, we followed in the mules’ footsteps, bidding fare well, good luck and good weather to our fellow Romanians who would be attempting to climb Damavand the following night.
Descending off Damavand with a feeling of fulfillment from successfully reaching the summit brought new savor to our each movement and richness to the landscape. I wondered were we baring the same glowing aura surrounding the descending climbers we met the days before while we were heading up the mountain? O:-)
The sun was setting casting its famous golden-hour warm light and embracing the high pastures covering the foothills of Damavand. In this twilight three colorful paragliders were dancing in the sky, adding to the awe and magic of the moment.
It was the first day of the weekend and the trail was becoming busy with Iranians of all ages and genders enthusiastically heading up the mountain to make their quick attempt on the summit. We had chosen well when to climb Damavand and when to leave. Though leaving proved slow at times, since we could hardly make any progress as we would pass from one group of local Iranians to the next, all eager to take pictures with us, the foreigners.
The last glimmer of light had gone and nightfall was all embracing by the time we were nearing Camp 2. Amazingly, even at this late hour climbers, though fewer, were still continuing to arrive and start climbing for Camp 3. Behind us a trail of moving lights was heading up towards Camp 3, while a few lonely lights were still up on the mountain, late descending from the summit…
Warm lights and the familiar shape of the green mosque were welcoming us at Camp 2. Mohammad, our smiling friend, was anxiously awaiting us to drive us down to Camp 1 and hear all about our adventure up on Damavand. Back in Camp 1 we chose to sleep outdoors under the night sky and before the watchful shape of Damavand, still visible even in the dark night. Such a rare and blessed moment to cherish and remember under the starry-starry sky…
Tomorrow we would be opening a whole new chapter of our journey through the poetic lands of the once Persia, one equally enriching as climbing the majestic Damavand…Tags: alborz, camp 2, camp 3, cone, damavand, fumaroles, iran, pyramid, sulfur, summit, trekking, volcano