Ranking 5th of the Volcanic Seven Summits, Damavand is the highest volcano of the Asian continent. And frankly its isolated volcanic cone, freestanding above all the mountains around it, is literally awe-inspiring. Vast dry pastures cover its foothills, together with free-roaming mule herds creating a surprisingly silent landscape reminding of Mongolian steppes. Though distances are short, the mountain is quite “loooong” 🙂 , its towering cone rising fairly steep. Crowned with a small crater painted white-yellowish by sulfuric deposits, this potentially active volcano ceaselessly vents off sulfur through fumaroles visible even from far distances. More impressive than the landscape are the many Iranian men averaging in their 40s and 50s, daringly climbing their country’s highest peak. It feels like Damavand is a sort of second Mecca for Iranians, and many make a purpose of doing this second “Hajj” to its top.
FACTS & FIGURES
Mount Damavand, with its distinctive freestanding pyramid shape, soars to a whopping 5671m in middle of the Alborz Mountain range, inland off the shores of the Caspian Sea.
Petrified lava flows scar its steep slopes, as a stark reminding of its once active volcanic activity. Damavand last erupted around 7300 years ago, ever since only the fumaroles, emitting sulfur below the top crater, remain as hints reminding that Damavand is still potentially active…
Compared to Kilimanjaro’s massive 24 km wide Kibo crater, Damavand’s crater is fairly small and shallow, and while we were walking around its rim, it was arguable which is its highest point, if it weren’t for all the joyful trekkers gathering to take their picture on the summit 🙂
Damavand’s top crater
sulfur fumarole under Damavand’s summit
LEGENDS & MYTHS
The Alborz Mountains, and also Mt. Elbrus of the Caucasus, take their name from Hara Barazaiti or Harborz in short, a legendary mountain in Zoroastrian tradition. Literally translated as “high watch-post”, in the Zoroastrian scriptures of Avesta Harborz was described as being the geographical center of the universe, around which the stars and the planets revolved, and behind which the sun would hide at night. It was also believed to be the source of all the mountains of the world, and thought to lay at one end of the bridge of judgment that all souls must cross to the afterlife.
The highest of the Albroz Mountains, Mount Damavand is a significant mountain in Persian mythology, poetry and literature, symbolizing Iranian resistance against despotism and foreign rule. In Zoroastrian tradition, it is the home of Saheb-e-Dilan, the “Masters of the Heart”, and the prison of the evil three-headed dragon Aži Dahāka until the end of the world, probably the way ancient men explained the “fire-breathing” mountain 🙂
Considering its height and its location only about 60km away from Tehran, the metropolis capital of Iran, we were expecting to see Damavand’s distinctive silhouette shaping the horizon. However, even the 4000m high mountains towering on the outskirts of Tehran were barely visible due to the dense vapors hovering in the atmosphere over the dry lands of Iran.
Early morning of our second day in Iran found us leaving Tehran and heading to the heart of the Alborz Mountains. Scouting the horizon for Damavand’s shape we were left long in waiting. Eventually, a lonely lenticular cloud appeared in the sky, as the only hint that a high peak lays hidden behind the 3000m+ mountain walls enclosing the horizon.
Excitement mounted as our GPS was showing we were closing in, but none of our expectations came close to the literally jaw-dropping landscape that met our eyes when the mountain walls opened, like curtain drapes at the theater, revealing the impressive silhouette of Damavand, freestanding in the middle of its surrounding mountains, like a king on a throne reigning over his subjects.
first sight of Damavand
Even though we were in the middle of August, we were fortunate enough to find Damavand’s top powdered with snow, offering a scenic view of the mountain rarely seen in summer. The previous days snow had fallen on the mountain, and a cloud was still shrouding its summit from view. Weather on the mountain is always unpredictable, even in the middle of the climbing season…
Damavand towering over its surroundings
We were about to start our adventure climbing Asia’s highest volcano…
Keep close, as soon we will return with our story of the next days on Damavand 🙂