My recent trip to Iran was different to my previous travels. Usually, I go to a place with the specific objective to try a certain hard route or to take part in a competition. This time, together with my boyfriend Marco we planned a series of activities and wanted to visit as much as we could of the country. At this point I would like to mention that what I consider to be the most wonderful present I’ve received from almost 20 years of competing is friendships made all around the world. Marco and I met a small group of Iranian climbers six years ago at their first ice climbing world cup competition. From there a friendship evolved that brought us to finally accept their invitation and go visit them in Iran.
We knew that competitive ice climbing has developed a lot in Iran over the past years and so we wanted to organise a workshop to share our training experiences with the locals. I particularly enjoyed the women’s course; it was wonderful to see a group of women between the age of 13 and 40, all eager to learn and enjoy the climbing discipline that I love so much.
Our second task of the trip saw us exchange ice axes and crampons for climbing shoes and chalk bags, as I was officially invited to participate in the International Bisotun Rock Climbing Festival. The village of Bisotun is situated in the western part of the country, in the province of Kermanshah, and its 1,200-metre-high wall is considered to be one of the highest in the world.
At present, there are about 50 multi-pitch routes in existence, but we decided to visit some sportclimbing areas instead. The crag of Cheshme Sohrab surprised us with some amazing routes that were almost 40 metres long. I was happy to have climbed the hardest route of the crag – a wonderful 8a+ – on the first day of our visit. The wall is vertical with technical climbing in it’s first part and then it becomes more overhanging, with physical climbing at the end. On the second day we visited the crag of Chalabeh, which is situated in a canyon and consists of different walls of various heights. I must say I did not expect to find such a high-quality limestone to climb on.
Sometimes, I see a picture of a climbing place in a magazine or on the internet and I am so impressed that all I want to do is go there, no matter how far away it is. This was the case with the climbing area of Sefid Mountain, also called White Mountain, in Isfahan. This rock stands on the south border of the city and looks like a mushroom growing out of the ground. The climbing style is very steep, with incredibly good pockets and holds. I have never seen a rock like it before and climbing directly above the apartment towers of Isfahan made for a unique setting.
Isfahan is a city popular with tourists, thanks to its cultural heritage. Naghsh-e Jahan Square is one of the biggest squares in the world and together with the Shah Mosque and various bridges over the Zayanderud River (also known as the River of Life), they have been declared World Heritage sites by UNESCO. Unfortunately, we only had a few hours to visit these fabulous sites before getting a taxi back to Tehran.
From Tehran we reached Polour, the mountain town that’s a starting point for climbing Mount Damavand. This quiet volcano is not only the highest mountain in Iran but also in the whole of the Middle East. Marco and I decided we wanted the new experience of climbing a high mountain – it was the first time for both of us to climb above an altitude of 4,000 metres.
We spent two nights in the Bargah-e-Sewom shelter at 4,200 metres, before attempting the summit. Because of the high altitude and not having enough acclimatization time, we slept very badly and the route to the summit felt extremely exhausting. But the spectacular view and the happiness we felt to have made it to the summit, beating our tiredness, made up for the fatigue.
The last objective of our trip was bolting a new drytooling route because we wanted to create a training route on which the locals could measure themselves. After having spent three hard days of bolting in an overhanging wall, Marco finished the new route and I was able to do the first ascent of it, followed by our dear friend Masoud. We proposed the grade of D13-, which means this new route is the hardest drytooling route in the country. Marco and I decided on the name ‘La via della seta’, the Italian for Silk Road, remembering this ancient road that connected our two countries of Italy and Iran.
This trip was incredibly varied, at times also quite exhausting with all the different activities, travelling and the quantity of luggage we had to move. But it was also incredibly rewarding and we will never forget all the natural and cultural beauty we saw and on top of it all, the hospitality we encountered.
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