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Alam Kuh (4,805m) and Damavand (5,610m), AAC Exchange

On June 5, 13 Americans, forming the second part of an exchange between the AAC and the Alpine Club of Iran (ACI), arrived in Tehran. The first part of the exchange took place in the Tetons during July 2010.

On our first afternoon we drove through the fastest, craziest traffic I’d ever seen and hiked up to the popular bouldering area of Darband, just north of Tehran. Women wore flowing robes that covered their bodies and most of their heads. Many had dyed blonde hair, make-up, and a chic look I didn’t expect from such a conservative Muslim country. At one point the trail offered a view of Tehran and its seemingly endless high-rise buildings, shrouded in suffocating pollution.

On the 6th we split into two groups, each accompanied by ACI hosts. Stephen Alvarez, Brandon Bargo, Greg Crouch, Jim Donini, Mary Ann Dornfeld, Jennifer Flemming, Mark Wilford, and I headed to Alam Kuh, the highest peak of the Takht-e Suleyman Massif in the Alborz Mountains of northern Iran. Alum Kuh is Iran’s answer to the Diamond on Colorado’s Longs Peak. It’s a high-altitude bastion of vertical granite more than 300m tall and the second or third highest point in Iran. It also seems to have a similar season to the Diamond, for it was plastered with snow. It looked like the Alps in winter. We’d have been better equipped with ice tools and crampons than the rock shoes and chalk bags we brought.

Nevertheless on the 8th Flemming and I climbed a new three-pitch route on Alam Kuh’s North Patakht Wall—a granite buttress separate from, and lower in elevation than, the main wall. Pruchnic’s Pillar (140m, 5.10c) climbs a low-angle arête to steep finger and hand cracks that weave between two large roofs on the walls southeast face. On the 11th Mohammed Bahrevar and Wilford climbed the standard route on Alam Kuh’s main face—the German Ridge—in full winter conditions. That same day Donini led a second group up a nontechnical snow route to a subpeak. The Iranians were keenly interested in learning how to jam cracks, and on two occasions Americans and Iranians top-roped together. But the weather was generally poor, with lots of snow and wind, so climbing time was limited. On our way back to Tehran, we spent half a day sport climbing on the orange granite walls of Pol-e-Khab, which has dozens of excellent routes up to 5.14a.

Meanwhile the other group, Tom Bowker, Marilyn Geninatti, Lydia Pyne, Tim Terpstra, and David Thoenen, traveled east to Damavand, a Fuji-esque volcano and the highest peak in what is traditionally referred to as the Middle East. They spent two days acclimatizing and getting established at the Bargah Sevom Hut (4,250m), where they’d hoped to stay for two nights before attempting the summit. However, an approaching storm forced the team to cut short acclimatization, and on the morning of June 9, Terpstra, Geninatti, and six members of the ACI summited Damavand in high winds and low visibility.

On the 12th the Damavand group moved farther east to the province of Semnan. On the first day here Bowker and Pyne established Remembering Chris, a 5.8 on the south-facing wall of Sangsar Sol. The next day the team hiked north of Shahmirzad, and explored the rim of an isolated canyon ringed by kilometers of beautiful unclimbed rock. This region offers a host of potential first ascents and is worthy of a return.

Our exchange set out to build an ongoing relationship between Iranian and American climbers. In this it was a huge success. Plans are in motion for a women’s exchange, with 10 ACI women joining AAC ladies in Colorado during the summer of 2012. Plans are also in progress for a joint AAC/ACI climbing trip to Tajikistan in 2013. Most importantly this exchange fostered a dialogue and understanding between the people of our two countries—people who live half a world away but share similar hearts and minds.

Spilet Tour & Travel Co. in Tehran helped facilitate plans that we, as American, would not otherwise have been able to make. It’s extremely difficult to get a visa to visit Iran. Even after two years of planning, the status of our visas was in question until the week we left the U.S. Once in Iran the government watched us closely. I highly recommend contacting Spilet Tour & Travel Co. if you’re interested in climbing in the country. Thanks also to our ACI hosts, Abbas Sabetian (ACI president and participant in the Tetons event), Abbas Mohammadi (past ACI president and participant in the Tetons), Erfan Fekry (ACI secretary), and Abdolhamid Avani, Pouya Barzagar, Latifeh Boghrat, Moslem Dadashnia, Babak Doctorzadeh, Omid Ehsami, Abolgharsem Eshaghi, Rahim Gharadaghi, Nima Imani, Hossein Joudak, Parvaneh Kazemi (just returned from ascent of Manaslu), Jamal Moeini, Majid Maddah, Maziar Otoukesh, Majid Sabetzadeh (participant in the Tetons), Ali Asghar Saeedian (participant in the Tetons), Dalil Safaei, Dariush Taheri (participant in the Tetons), Hasan Yazdani, and Amir Hossein Yousefian.

Chris Weidner. AAC