May 2010

It was only thanks to the, er, participation of the Iranian immigration authorities that the Abu Dhabi Alpine Club Mount Damavand Expedition was able to prove the Middle East has a peak more than 6000m above sea level.


Dead Sea level, that is, because on the day when Wendy was scaling the summit of this dormant volcano outside Tehran, I was 1600km away in Jordan.
While altitude sickness meant she was vomiting on the foot of her guide — sorry, was that meant to be a secret? — on the 5671m summit, I was 6094m lower on the banks of the Dead Sea, tied with several hundred others in being the lowest human being on the planet. (Not counting Rush Limbaugh, obviously)
Of course none of this would have been possible if not for the Iranians’ decision to deport me when I landed in Ayatollah Khomeini Airport, prompting my Plan C trip to Jordan instead.
Good Bye Damavand
The irony was that while the Iranian immigration official was telling me politely but firmly I had to catch the next flight out, I had a grandstand view through the airport windows of Mt Damavand standing snowy and proud above the hills encircling Tehran.
They wanted me to reboard the Tajik Air jet on which I’d just flown from Dushanbe. This was not shaping up as a very good idea because I had a single-entry visa for Tajikistan which I’d already used when I came overland from Kyrgyzstan.
“Umm, would you mind if I flew to Dubai instead?” I asked. And two hours later and with my wallet $200 lighter, I was on board an Iranian Air flight back to the UAE and trying to work out how I was going to explain this to Wendy, who was supposed to meet me in Tehran the next day.
As I queued in immigration at Dubai, I texted Wendy: “Do you want the good news or the bad news?”
She wanted both, as it turned out. “The good news is Damavand is in perfect condition and the weather is set to be sunny for the next week,” I replied. “The bad news is I’ve been deported from Iran and I’m back in the UAE.”
Wendy took this with remarkably equanimity, opting to continue with her trip solo and deciding a case of cider was an appropriate penalty for leaving her in the lurch.
“This could be a fairly unusual week,” she added.

unusual hiking outfit

After returning to the Dhabs, Plan B involved visiting the Iranian embassy in the hope of securing a last-minute visa and flying back to Tehran, only to be told any application would have to be approved in Tehran, involving a delay of about three weeks.
So Plan C kicked in and I went to Jordan instead, where I was confronted by a fairly camp-looking gladiator at Jerash, threatened with arrest for being in Petra at night because of delays caused by Bedu hospitality, and being underwhelmed by Wadi Rum.

GladiatorPetraWadi Rum
All this led me to the pleasant village of Dana on the escarpment overlooking the rift valley separating Jordan and Israel.
With a Dutch couple and another couple of Arctic Canadians, we hiked down into the valley the next day, which involved being invited in for tea with some of the Bedu families herding goats in the valley.

Hike to Dead Sea

Somewhere along the way, we crossed sea level and kept descending, oblivious to our new underwater status. (Just like the Dubai property market, really) The others caught a taxi back to Dana but I hitched towards the Dead Sea for a swim.

Dead Sea, Jordan

When I returned to the Dhabs a few days later, it turned out that the day when I’d been pickling myself in brine in the Dead Sea was the same day Wendy had climbed Damavand.
“Hey up, got back from Iran today,” she texted me. “Totally amazing trip, people incredibly kind and made it to the top!”

Top of Damavand

Later, while handing over the cache of cider, I heard the whole story. Just as I’d found on my ski trip to Iran a few months earlier, she’d found the Iranian people to be awesome and friendly and helpful and basically the exact antithesis of how the country’s government is perceived by the West.
She’d managed to get a guide to make it easier to get around the patriarchal ways of the country and climbed the mountain with him, summiting along with a couple of Turkmenistan climbers as well.

been there… ;)

Hopefully I’ll be able to get back to Iran and actually be allowed in so I can find out for myself what Damavand is like.


< Snake Gorge & Jebel Shams VF    Dubai Canyoning & Climbing >

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