I had become blissfully reassured with the fact that Google Earth and my map showed a smooth slowly descending ridgeline. Little did I know that we would actually encounter 600 vertical meters (2000 vertical ft) of steep talus fields and walls made of crumbling rock. The other thing that never crossed my mind was the possibility of running out of drinking water. It was after all going to be a wet and foggy place. In the end, we got so thirsty that we drank out of a cattle watering hole. Coming across a grave at the height of our desperation did not help our spirits either.
Google Image Maps
The 4030 m (13222 ft) Mt. Veravasht (a.k.a. Dehla) rises to the southeast of the Chalus River Gorge in the Central Alborz Mountains of northern Iran. The distance between the summit of Veravasht and the Caspian Sea shore is only 42 Km (26 miles). The western slopes of Veravasht drop 3000 vertical meters (10 000 ft) to the bottom of the Chalus River Gorge. Caspian Sea Forests cover the northern and western slopes of Veravasht up to an elevation of 2300 m (7500 ft).
Southern Slopes (L) Veravasht, (R) Basham Sardi
Veravasht is not one of those peaks whose summit gets crowded with weekend summer climbers but it is well-known to the Iranian climbing community. Recent designation of Verabasht and its nearby areas as an environmentally protected area that requires a permit for entrance has cut back even further on the number of climbers that visit this mountain.
Veravasht is usually climbed starting from the village of Vali Abad (2050 m, 6725 ft) which is located on the southwestern slopes of the mountain. This village is easily accessed via the busy Karaj-Chalus Rd, a major artery connecting the capital city of Tehran to the Caspian Sea Coast. I did not want to climb Veravasht via its standard route from Vali Abad. Instead, I wanted to start at the 3170 m (10400 ft) Labashm Pass to the southeast of Veravasht (see detailed map). This approach would put us further away from the base of the mountain but it would save us 1100 m (3600 ft) of vertical climb and allow us to bag some of the nearby peaks. For the descent, I wanted to go down the long serpentine northeastern ridgeline of Veravasht. My maps showed that this ridgeline would take us near a small village named Keykoo (kiku) which sits at an elevation of 1875 m (6150 ft).
Neither my guide nor anyone else that I was aware of had any information about my chosen route. I could see portions of our planned ascent in some of the pictures I had taken from far away a couple of years ago. My only source of information for the descent was my 1: 50 000 Map and Google Earth. They both seemed to show a smooth and slowly descending serpentine ridgeline. I was well aware of the fact that the Google Earth images for that part of the Alborz Mountains were not at all detailed. From experience with other mountains I knew that what might be depicted as a broad hump might indeed turn out to be a jagged peak with many other jagged sub-peaks.
Dates: June22 through June 25, 2007
Major Peaks Climbed: Veravasht 4030 m (13222 ft)
................................Basham Sardi 3935 m (12910 ft)
Minor Peaks Climbed: Jir Asbi Ow 3918 m (12854 ft)
................................Usher 3858 m (12657 ft)
................................Jirchal 3750 m (12303 ft)
Trailhead: Labashm Pass 3170 m (10400 ft)
End Point: Keykoo Village 1875 m (6150 ft)
Total Hiking Distance: 23.75 Km (14.75 miles)
FRIDAY JUNE 22, 2007
Having spent the last two days climbing the Naz
Peaks, my guide Salim & I had gone to the village of Gachsar on Karaj-Chalus Road and spent the night in a hotel. Staying in a hotel where we could take a shower and sleep on beds was an added bonus that was not in our original plan.
Woke up in the hotel just before 7 a.m. Breakfast was complimentary. Being a devout Jewish man, Salim does not eat animal products that are not kosher. Knowing that for the next few days we would be eating canned food again, I made sure I stuffed myself with his unused portions of eggs, cheese, milk…
We then checked out and had the hotel call us a cab. We were soon on the Karaj-Chalus Road heading north. The road went up mostly barren slopes to reach the Kandovan Tunnel at an elevation of 2700 m (8850 ft). The tunnel is 2 Km long and marks the boundary between the dry southern slopes and the lush northern slopes of the Alborz Mountains.
North of the tunnel, it became cloudy and much cooler. After a few kilometers, we turned east onto a narrow side road known as Yoosh-Baladeh Rd. Beautiful alpine fields, some of which were covered with red poppies, were all around us. The road kept snaking up the mountains until it went above the clouds and reached the 3170 m (10400 ft) Labashm Pass. A big patch of snow sat on the south side of the pass. The cabbie dropped us off and left.
From the Pass, we could not see Veravasht or the Basham Sardi Peaks but the southern end of the fog-filled Chalus River Valley was visible below us to the west. A hill which had some type of a communication tower on top of it was directly to the north of us. We started to hike at 9:40 a.m. and headed northwest traversing the grassy slopes of the aforementioned hill.
Road Basham Sardi
After a short hike, our first objective, the 3935 m (12910 ft) Basham Sardi Peak came into view. We needed to go northwest to reach a 3430 m (11250 ft) saddle between Basham Sardi and the 3644m (11955 ft) Siah Band Peak to the east of it. The road on the west side of the Labasm Pass was well visible below us. It made a lot of twists and turns and looked like the track for one of those electric racing car toy sets. To the south of us, Azad Kooh
(4390 m, 14404 ft), Kaman Kooh
(4234 m, 13891 ft) and many other peaks of the Kholeno Massif
began to be seen.
Azad Kooh & Kaman Kooh
Pink Cliffs Pink Cliffs
We traversed a black talus field and continued up the grassy slopes that took us below the pink cliffs of the Siah Band and Shamzar Peaks. The vegetation became very lush and beautiful.
Clouds filled the Chalus River Valley below us to the west. Every now and then I could feel a puff of moist Caspian Sea air brushing against my face. This air was so gentle and pleasant and brought momentary relief from the harsh cool and dry air of the mountains. The smell of the sea brought back wonderful memories of my childhood back in the 1970s. Every summer we used to drive from Tehran to the Caspian resort towns. The quick transformation of the barren mountains around Tehran into beautiful lush forests on the Caspian Sea side seemed like nothing short of a miracle. I used to love those care free summer days when I did not have to worry about school and could play on the beach all day long.
Siah Band Peak
Veravasht & Basham Sardi Siah Band Peak
It was 11:20 a.m. when we reached the 3430 m (11250 ft) saddle. I took off my big backpack and went to enjoy the views. To the north, I could see nothing but a vast sea of clouds. To the northwest, Veravasht and Basham Sardi Peaks towered above the clouds while to the east, the rocky summit of the Siah Band Peak looked like a fortress sitting in the sky above the clouds. To the south, many of the snowy peaks of the Kholeno Massif were in good view.
Talus Field Siah Band Peak
After a snack and a quick rest, we left the saddle at 11:45 a.m. and headed west toward the Basham Sardi Peak. For some time, we had to follow a rocky ridge-top which stayed at the same elevation. We did however encounter more than a few difficult spots that forced us to go down talus fields and come back up again. This took a lot of time and energy without allowing us to gain any elevation.
It was becoming very windy. Clouds from the Chalus Valley were now inching their way up the valley to the south. To the north, clouds had come up to the edge of the ridge-top and were at times pouring over the ridge-top to the south. On a few occasions the clouds came over us and made us hike in the dense fog for a minute or so at a time.
After passing many obstacles, the ridge-top finally began to go up in elevation. We were now aiming for a 3563 m (11690 ft) rocky high point on the ridge-top known as Borz. The wind grew stronger and colder. Clouds were now below us in all directions. I was beginning to wonder if these were just Caspian Sea clouds or this was a sign that a major storm was brewing.
Azad Kooh Sorkhab
We finally reached the summit of Borz and went behind a big cliff that sheltered us from the wind. We sat there for a rest and had our lunch. On the slopes far above us we saw a herd of mountain goats (or whatever creatures they were). They too seemed to have noted us. In a blink of an eye they ran across a steep snow bank and went over some cliffs until they were out of our view. It is amazing how these animals so easily run over such dangerous terrain. Salim was saying it would take us 45 minutes to go the way that they went. We would have to rope up, wear our crampons, use ice axes…We also saw a number of eagles soaring in the wind. Salim kept telling me to take a picture of them but I was unable to capture them in my camera’s view box and did not have the zoom power to take a decent picture anyway.
Shamzar & Owlaj
We then began to hike again. The ridge-top was no longer rocky. We had to struggle up the slopes but at least we did not encounter any obstacles on our way. The wind had become extremely strong. These were among some of the fiercest winds I had ever experienced. To lessen the danger of being blown off the mountains, Salim kept telling me to stay off the crest of the ridge-top. We then came across an interesting flat-top tower-like structure on the slopes near us. Looking at my maps, I was later able to identify the spot as Point 3710 m (12172 ft). Behind us, the Shamzar (3711 m, 12175 ft) and Owlaj (3692 m, 12113 ft) Peaks appeared as rocky cliffs that rose above a sea of clouds.
Point 3710 m
Point 3710 m
Point 3710 m
The wind was unrelenting making us wonder how we were going to find a spot to set our tent for the night. We went past a couple of false summits until at 4:10 p.m. we finally reached the summit of Basham Sardi Peak. My GPS indicated an elevation of 3940 m (12927 ft) and showed that we had hiked 6.45 Km (4 miles) Salim said we must immediately leave the summit and start looking for a suitable camp site. I said that I could not leave the summit without filming and taking pictures. Like a concerned mother he kept telling me to not under estimate the power of the wind and not go near the steep drop-offs.
The views were absolutely breath taking. To the south, the snowy 4000 m peaks of the Kholeno Massif rose far above the clouds making an incredible scene.
To the northwest, Veravasht Peak appeared majestic.
Veravasht & Jir Asbi Ow
I was hoping to get a glimpse of the Caspian Sea to the north but the only sea that I saw was that of the clouds below me.
Sea of Clouds
To the east, The Shamzar, Owlaj and the many other peaks that sat behind them, made an impenetrable barrier to the Caspian Sea Clouds. Unfortunately, the glare and haze of the afternoon light prevented me from seeing any sign of the high peaks of the Takhte Soleyman Massif (4850 m, 15912 ft) which were to the W/NW of us.
Shamzar & Owlaj
We then left the summit of Basham Sardi and headed northwest down the ridge-top toward the Jir Asbi Ow Peak looking for a place to set up our camp. We were looking for somewhere away from the wind and ideally near a patch of snow that we could use as a convenient water source. We kept looking and looking but everywhere was either windy or too steep to set up the tent. We finally found a spot at the base of a cliff that provided good protection from the wind. My GPS showed an elevation of 3905 m (12812 ft). The ground was not flat, so we had to grab our ice axes and start digging out the ground to make it flat. After a hard day of climbing, that was a very dirty and back braking task. I also hated to uproot the hardy vegetation that survived at that elevation but we did not have a choice. How else were we going to set up our tent? After half an hour of hard work, we had flattened an area as large as half the base of our tent. At least we had a flat area for the two of us to put our sleeping bags on. Everything else had to be thrown on the sloped area in the back of the tent.
No place to camp
Summit of Basham Sardi
From near our camp
As the sun set, it became very cold. We had our dinner and fell asleep in our cozy sleeping bags.
SATURDAY JUNE 23, 2007
Salim got up at the crack of dawn to read his Torah and do his prayers. I woke up at 6:10 a.m. Everything inside the tent felt cool and damp. Stuck my head out of the tent and saw dense fog all over the place so I went back to sleep. Got up at 7:30 a.m. and went out of the tent. Visibility was no more than a few meters, it was drizzling and the temperature was probably just above the freezing mark. Obviously, we were not going to go anywhere in that weather.
Got back to the tent and had breakfast. I had made a color photocopy of a portion of my 1:50 000 map for the area and brought it with me to use in the mountains. I now saw a part of it had become wet and the ink had smeared all over the sheet making a big part of the map un-useable but I thought our route was fairly obvious anyway. Salim started to talk about avalanche, the type of snow pack, avalanche rescue…probably stuff he had to learn to become a licensed guide. He was getting all excited and going on and on talking about it. At least it was an interesting subject and a good way to kill time.
By 9:45 a.m., the weather had not changed so we went back to sleep. Got up at 11:30 a.m. We were down to only 1 liter of water so we needed to go get water. Dense fog still covered everywhere. We marked the coordinates of our tent on my GPS (the elevation was 3905 m, 12812 ft) and began going down the southern slopes in hopes of finding a water source. There were many patches of snow around but they all sat on slopes made of crushed rock so we did not see any running water. The fog began to become less dense. I could see that we were at the base of a bunch of cliffs below the summit of Basham Sardi Peak.
We went further down to an elevation of 3810 m (12500 ft) where we reached a snow bank that had dirt/mud at the base of it. Salim dug a small hole below the snow bank to collect the water. He was waiting for the mud to settle at the bottom of the hole but that did not seem to be working very well. I remembered that back in 2004, my other guide had done something with paper money to filter water. I said that to Salim and he said, oh yeah, why didn’t you say that sooner. He took a crisp new bank note, folded it along its length into a V-shape and put it in the tiny (2 cm wide) stream of water that was running down the muddy slope. That seemed to filter out the mud. Very quickly we filled all of our water containers (4.5 liters) and were back up to our camp by 2:00 p.m.
We had our lunch and then it seemed like the clouds were finally breaking up. The Veravasht & Usher peaks slowly began to come to view to the northwest of us. It was too late to start hiking but we thought we better go out and figure out the best route for tomorrow.
Veravasht from our camp
We went to the top of the high point above our camp. I saw cairns there and realized that we were standing on the summit of the 3918 m (12854 ft) Jir Asbi Ow Peak. The summit actually consisted of two high points. Our camp was in the notch between the two high points. All around us we could only see walls below us. The only way to go toward the Veravasht Peak was to go down the steep scree filled gully between the two high points.
Lachal from Jir Asbi Ow
Veravasht from Jir Asbi Ow
Lachal Chalus Valley
We then went back to the tent. Salim sat there to read his Torah and I went on top of the second high point that formed the summit of Jir Asbi Ow Peak. Clouds still completely filled the valleys below. The peaks of the Kholeno Massif were also hidden in clouds. This made me think that these were not just the usual clouds from the Caspian Sea, but we had had a storm affecting all of the Central Alborz Mountains. I really loved it there. All I could hear was the sound of the wind and an occasional bird that flew above me in the wind. Clouds kept rising up the slopes making very dramatic scenes.
Being an antisocial person, I really wanted to be there all alone but after an hour or so Salim showed up saying he got worried about me. We could see a small building on the slopes several hundred vertical meters below the cliffs below us. Salim was saying that must be where the environmental protection agents stay. He was saying if we had gone to climb Veravasht via its usual route, they would have surely asked to see our permits (which we did have).
We then went back to the tent to prepare our dinner. Salim’s religion does not allow him to light fire on Saturday nights, so he prepared everything and then gave it to me to heat over the burner. For religious purposes, he is also allowed to produce small amounts of wine on his own. He had brought about 100 cc of wine and was being nice and asked if I wanted to try it too. I was jokingly thinking, no thank you, I don’t have any burning desire to drink the “moonshine” that you concocted in the corner of your kitchen. Acute blindness at 13000 ft will not be fun.
I went out after dinner. The sun had set and it was very cold. In the twilight, I could still see clouds filling the Chalus River Valley way below us. In the western horizon, I saw the shadow of a series of peaks that I immediately recognized as Alam Kooh (4850 m, 15912 ft), Khersan (4680 m, 15354 ft), Takhte Soleyman (4659 m, 15285 ft)…I took a picture but it came out completely black. I was very excited thinking that tomorrow I will probably get a good view of these peaks from the summit of Veravasht.
Chalus Valley at dusk
SUNDAY JUNE 24, 2007
Got up in our camp below the summit of Jir Asbi Ow Peak. It was not foggy like yesterday but there were high clouds far above the peaks and the valleys were still filled with clouds. We seemed to be in a free zone between the two sheets of clouds. Had breakfast, then packed everything into our heavy backpacks and left our camp site (3905 m, 12812 ft) at 6:50 a.m.
Veravasht from our camp
We headed northwest descending into the steep scree-filled gully that we had identified yesterday. The scree was quite nasty. Salim went in front of me and told me to stay right behind him so that if I fell or created a scree avalanche, he could avoid the whole thing before it speeded up.
Nasty scree-filled couloir
We slowly went down until we reached a 3740 m (12270 ft) saddle where the slopes became grassy and easy. We could look back to see the fortress of the Jir Asbi Ow Peak behind us. Hiked northwest along the top of the ridge-top until at 8:05 a.m. we reached the high point known as Usher Peak (3858 m, 12657 ft). My GPS showed an elevation of 3850 m and indicated that we had hiked 1.75 Km (1.10 miles).
Below the summit of Usher
Jir Asbi Ow
Stayed on the summit long enough to take a few pictures. All of the valleys below us were still filled with clouds and high clouds still filled the sky far above us. We were wondering which way the weather was going to turn.
Left Usher and continued northwest down the easy slopes to a 3780 m (12401 ft) saddle and then up the slopes toward the summit of Veravasht Peak.
Toward Veravasht & Dehla
Basham Sardi Shah Peel Kooh
We first went up to a 3943 m (12936 ft) high point known as the Dehla summit and rested there a little. Salim was saying if we had climbed Varavasht via its usual route from the village of Vali Abad, we would have reached the ridge-top at this spot. The weather remained the same and it seemed like my hopes for having a fantastic view from the summit of Veravasht were not going to come true.
We then went up the last slopes and reached the 4030 m (13222 ft) summit of Veravasht at 9:30 a.m. A sign marked the summit. My GPS showed an elevation of 4023 m and showed that we had hiked 4.23 Km (2.67 miles). The view was quite disappointing. I knew that on a clear day, you could probably see everything from Alam Kooh to the west to Damavand to the east and maybe even the Caspian Sea to the north, but not today. Everything was lost in the haze and clouds. I could however see the 3434 m (11266 ft) Shah Peel Kooh Peak rising like a volcanic cone with a rounded top above the sea of clouds around it to the northwest of us. Basham Sardi & Usher were visible to the southeast.
For the first time, we came to see the northeastern ridgeline of Veravasht that I wanted to use as a descent route to the village of Keykoo. In some palaces, the ridge-top seemed to have steep rocky areas that did not look very inviting. The ridgetop also seemed to go down into the lower clouds. We had no idea what was awaiting us on the portion that was hidden by the clouds. How were we going to find our way in a foggy place like that anyway? Also neither of us knew for sure if the village of Keykoo really existed. It was just a tiny spot we had seen on the map.
Salim and I began to wonder if we should forget the northeastern ridgeline and descend via the usual route. After some discussion, Salim said that if we go down the usual route, we will be in the Vali Abad Village by the afternoon and in Tehran by tonight. Lots of people climb Veravasht via that route every year, come on, let’s be adventurous and go explore a new route. I was happy to hear that, so I quickly agreed. Since his cell phone worked at that spot, he called the tour company and told them that we were going to descend into a foggy unknown so they should not get worried if we were a day or two late. I also called my aunt in Tehran and told her the same thing. That of course got her very concerned. She was telling me don’t go into such dangerous places. You come to Iran every year and go into these remote mountains. I feel responsible for you. What am I going to tell your mother if something happens to you? I had to tell her my dear aunt, the purpose of this phone call was not to get you more worried, but to let you know that I might be a day or two late, so please don’t be concerned.
North slopes of Veravasht
We left the summit of Veravasht at 10:05 and headed northeast going down the crest of the ridgeline. The ridge-top was quite broad and made for a quick and easy descent at first. It was covered by beautiful yellow and purple flowers. The fog-filled valleys below made very dramatic scenes. The north wall of Veravasht itself had also come into view.
Summit of Veravasht
We reached a low point and then had to go up a little to reach the top of another peak called Jirchal. My 1:50 000 Map did not acknowledge the existence of a peak there. It only showed contour lines of 3720-3740 m. My other map however had shown this peak. I was wondering if it was a true “peak” or just a little “high point”. It looked like a “peak” to me. It was 10:55 a.m. My GPS showed an elevation of 3760 m (12336 ft) and a hiking distance of 6.86 Km (4.26 miles).
Shah Peel Kooh from Jirchal
We seemed to have reached the end of the easy descent portion. Below us, in every direction, we could only see steep scree-covered slopes that were interspersed with walls that seemed to be made of crumbling rock. Salim told me to stay put while he went to look around to find a route. Everything below an elevation of around 2900 m (9500 ft) was hidden below the lower blanket of clouds. We did not want to end up on a densely forested slope where visibility might be nonexistent. Google Earth images had shown that the ridge-top remained forest-free so we wanted to stay close to the top of the ridgeline as much as possible. The clouds above us had become thicker and we were worried about getting hit by a thunderstorm on those exposed slopes.
Nasty Scree slopes
Nasty Scree Slopes
After a few minutes, Salim came and told me to follow him. We went to the edge of a “wall” that was only 2.5 meters or so tall. We took our backpack off. Salim went down the wall, I sent the backpacks down to him and then I followed down the wall. We had to do that in a couple of places.
Nasty Scree Nasty Scree
We then left the ridge-top and veered west going straight down a steep talus field that sat among a number of cliffs and other crumbling and oddly shaped rock formations. One wrong step could have created a rock slide or sent us tumbling down the slopes. Shah Peel Kooh Mountain was now directly in front of us rising above the clouds. The three little snow patches on top of it made me feel like it had a face and was looking back at me.
Shah Peel Kooh
Once we had descended roughly 200 vertical meters (650 ft), we turned back north and started to traverse the scree slopes heading toward an area on the ridge-top where we could see red colored cliffs. The loose rock was quite unstable and dangerous.
Red Rock & Shah Peel Kooh
We finally reached the ridge-top again at the base of the red cliffs. Seeing the grassy area there, we falsely assumed that the nasty rocky slopes were over. The elevation was 3400 m (11150 ft). We were now much closer to the lower blanket of clouds and were wondering how we were going to find our way to the village of Keykoo once we entered the fog. I knew that if I gave the geographic coordinates of the village to my GPS, it would guide us there but I had never taken the time to learn to do that. Salim, however, said that he knew how to do it. My original 1:50 000 Map had lines that depicted longitude and latitude in 5 minute intervals. None of the numbers appeared on the portion of the map that I had photocopied and I sure did not have a ruler or anything else to accurately measure the map. As I mentioned earlier, a portion of the map had become wet and the ink had washed off, but the Keykoo Village area remained intact. I eyeballed it and came up with these coordinates: 36 20 30 North & 51 24 00 East (Once we got to the village the true numbers turned out to be 36 20 12 North & 51 23 45 East). Salim punched in the coordinates. We knew that the village was to the northeast of us but the GPS was pointing to the south. That was disappointing. Salim realized that he had made a mistake. He did it again and this time it pointed to the right direction and showed a believable distance. At least if we got stuck in the fog, we would know which direction to go but it would not tell us what to expect on our way. We had a snack and noted that we were getting low on water. There was no longer any snow around us and there was of course no running water on top of the ridgeline. The north wall of Mt. Veravasht could be seen very nicely from that spot. The upper clouds were now beginning to break up.
North slopes of Veravasht
Ridgeline descending into clouds
As soon as we began to hike, it became apparent that we were going to encounter much more nasty rocky/scree slopes. The only difference was that the rock was now reddish pink. Keeping our balance over the loose rock and maneuvering around the tight exposed cliffs with those big and bulky backpacks was quite difficult. In one spot we had to get on our hands and knees and crawl over a catwalk which had an exposed edge. Our backpacks were getting stuck on the rock above the catwalk so we had to take them off and push them in front of us. We were exhausted but had no choice but to continue.
At 2:45 p.m. we were down to an elevation of 3200 m (10500 ft). We found a flat spot at the base of a cliff. Sat there and had our lunch. At the end of the lunch, we were left with only 400 cc of water. Salim went to look around to find the way forward. He went to the left, to the right, to the front and to the back but didn’t see anything that he liked. There seemed to be only another 100 vertical meters (330 ft) of rocky ridge-top left but there was just no easy way out of there. In the end, we entered a steep scree-filled gully and very slowly inched our way down. In two places Salim roped me up, sent me down first and then came down himself. He was telling me that it was very nice of me to not complain to him about the difficult terrain. I told him that I had chosen that route on my own knowing very well that we had no information about it. He said many other people who hire him, be it Iranian or foreigner, blame him as soon as they run into difficulties. They tell him it is his fault. He is the guide and he led them to a nasty spot.
Near where we had lunch
Gully we descended
Clouds receeding, forests appearing End of difficulties, start of grassy slopes
At the bottom of the gully (elevation 3100 m, 10150 m), it appeared that we were finally finished with the nasty rocky slopes. A little further down, a lush cover of grasses and small plants came to cover the slopes. We were about 100 m (330 ft) below the top of the ridgeline and were traversing the slopes on the east side. Clouds below us began to recede and I could see forests appearing below. I was thinking that maybe we would get lucky and the fog would go away before we could reach it. It was around 5 p.m. We needed to find a source of water and a place to camp.
Way in the distance, we saw a small structure on the slopes ahead of us. Salim was saying that it was probably a shepherd’s camp and we would be able to fill our water containers there. When we reached there, we found ourselves staring at a big tombstone with a picture of a young man on it. This fellow was apparently only 25 years old and had died in 2006. I could see a poem written in a language that I could not understand (probably a Persian dialect called Gilaki). A few dead bunches of flowers were sitting at the base of the tombstone. Who on earth was this man and what was he doing there? (The next day we found out that he was a young shepherd who got stuck in an early autumn snow storm and died of exposure in that spot. His body was apparently taken down to the village). Well that did not help us. Psychologically it made us feel much worse.
We continued down the slopes. We were extremely thirsty. Twice we stopped and took just a tiny sip of water. I had to try hard to stop myself from drinking all of the water that was left (maybe 200 cc by now!). How could you be in such a lush and wet place and still have to deal with lack of water? The tip of Mt. Veravasht could be seen behind us in the late evening sun. We could also look back to see all of the nasty rocky slopes we had descended. Good thing we stuck to near the top of the ridgeline. We could see even more rotten cliffs on some of the lower slopes. The clouds below us continued to slowly recede. That was working in our favor. We had already reached where the cloud cover used to start (at around 2900 m, 9500 ft).
Looking back at ridgeline
Tip of Veravasht
As we continued down, the slopes became much easier and we increased our speed. We went by beautiful fields of red poppies. The north faces of the Shamzar (3711 m, 12175 ft) and Owlaj (3692 m, 12113 ft) Peaks had now come into view behind us. They rose far above the sea of clouds below them.
Salim said that he could see a shepherd in the distance. I did not see anyone but knowing that my eyes are not very good at seeing distant objects, I did not say anything at first. We kept going and going and I was still not seeing anyone so I kept asking Salim where the shepherd was. He was getting frustrated saying, are you blind? He is right there. We finally reached a spot where a shepherd could be seen 100 vertical meters below us and out of our way. We did not want to waste energy to go down the slopes so Salim began to yell asking him directions and distance to the Keykoo Village. At least we knew that the village did exist. The guy said he had no water with him but could take us to his camp which was 20 minutes away. Salim told me that these people can not be trusted with time and distance. He says 20 minutes but I bet you we will end up following him for more than an hour before we reach his camp. We decided to not follow the shepherd and then continued down the ridge-top.
Islands in the Clouds
We were then getting very close to the lower cloud cover. The last rays of the evening sun were shining brightly over the top of the clouds. In the distance, I could see a couple of high points barely rising above the sea of clouds like some sort of low tropical islands. We soon reached a place where there were large numbers of cattle roaming the slopes. Cattle poop was all over the place. No one was tending the animals.
There was no escaping the fog. We soon descended into the clouds like an airplane before landing. This was so reminiscent of my experience on Mt. Siyalan
last year. Where on earth were we going to go now? We should have gone with that shepherd. My GPS was showing that we should abandon our northerly direction and head east to reach the village of Keykoo. I knew that Keykoo sat a little north of 36 degrees and 20 minutes. The GPS was showing that we were at 36 degrees 19.8 minutes, so why was it pointing to the east? Had Salim punched in the right coordinates? I was not going to abandon the ridge-top. Google Earth had shown that the ridge-top remained free of forest. What the GPS showed might have been the shortest route but it might have led us to a dense forest or a wall.
We were quite desperate but kept going down the ridge-top in the fog. It was starting to get dark. We came across a trail. That was a good sign. Soon after that Salim yelled in joy as we found a water hole. I saw a number of metal trays filled with murky water and a bunch of cattle drinking out of them. There was mud and cattle poop all over the place. Was I desperate enough to drink out of that? On closer examination, I saw that fresh water came out of a pipe and poured into the trays. We went to the water pipe and all of the cattle ran away. We drank tons of water, filled our containers and washed the dirt off of our hands and faces. When I was finished with the water, I saw a big bull standing near me and staring into my eyes in a not too friendly manner. It was as if he was defending his water hole. I looked at his horns and thought that he could cause serious injury if he were to charge but I knew that despite their looks, these animals are quite docile. We put on our (BIG RED) backpacks and left.
Just a little below the water hole, we found a spot near a number of small trees to set up our camp It was 7 p.m. and the elevation was 2460 m (8070 ft). We had been hiking for 12 hours and had hiked 13.5 Km (8.5 miles). The ground was sloped and again Salim said we had to flatten it. We spent the next 45 minutes digging the ground with our ice axes and flattening it for a spot wide enough for half the base of our tent. I hated that dirty work and hated to destroy the lush vegetation there.
Where we camped
Clouds continued to recede and by 8 p.m. we were out of the fog. In the twilight, I could see a fog filled valley below us with the Shamzar & Owlaj Peaks rising far above the clouds. The cattle kept mooing. We drank lots of tea and then ate a quick dinner and were soon fast asleep,
View at dusk
MONDAY JUNE 25, 2007
Moo Alarm Salim
At the first light of day the birds started to sing and then the cattle began to moo. Some of the cattle made a usual mooing sound while others made very strange noises. I got up around 5:15 a.m. The fog was gone. We were on an east facing slope that was covered by a lush growth of grasses and small plants. A dirt road could be seen at the far bottom of the valley below us. It must have been the road that went to the village of Keykoo. The village itself could not be seen. Some of the nearby slopes were forested. Shamzar & Owlaj Peaks were to the south of us.
We went to the watering hole and washed our dirty ice axes and hiking poles and then we went back to the tent. After having breakfast, we packed everything and left at 8 a.m. heading down the slopes.
Shamzar & Owlaj Peaks
I was still hoping to get a glimpse of the Alam Kooh Peak (4850 m, 15912 ft) and the Takhte Soleyman Massif so we veered west until we reached the crest of the ridgeline. Snowy peaks could barely be seen in the haze of the distance. They were so blurred that I could not even identify them. The Village of Firooz Abad appeared far below us to the northwest.
Firooz Abad Village
We then went down to a broad saddle that sat at an elevation of 2210 m (7250 ft). A middle aged shepherd and his two sons had set up a shack there and were running a cheese making operation. They were very nice and offered us much food and tea. Salim talked to them for quite some time. Another shepherd came down the slopes and brought with him a herd of sheep and his two shepherd dogs. The dogs looked so cute but from experience I knew that those were no cuddly pets. If you approached the herd when the shepherd was not around, you would be savagely attacked by those dogs.
Dog & Herd
I then saw a little donkey that was chasing a much bigger mare attempting to mate with her. It was quite obvious that the mare was looking for a long legged stallion and had no interest in an ugly little creep like that poor little donkey.
Donkey in Love
Keykoo Village Keykoo Village
We then left the shepherds and went down the slopes on the east side of the saddle. The village of Keykoo finally came into view. It seemed to be a collection of no more than 30 homes. I was glad to see that my GPS was pointing exactly to where the village was. Some of the slopes around us were very steep and were covered with dense forests. If we had inadvertently gone to one of those slopes yesterday, we would have had a hard time finding our way out of there. The mountains above us were beginning to fog up again.
We finally entered the village (elevation 1875 m, 6150 ft) at 9:30 a.m. We had hiked 3 Km (1.85 miles). A friendly group of men and women came to greet us. We paid a young man to drive us to the village of Marzan Abad on Karaj-Chalus Road and then took a cab back to Tehran.
Road to Keykoo