Mt. Damavand is with 5,671 mts. (18,606 ft.) the highest mountain in Iran and the entire Middle East, and, as the highest Volcano in Asia, one of the Volcanic Seven Summits (coming in fourth place after Ojos de Salado in Chile, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Pico de Orizaba in Mexico). It is located in the central Alborz range surrounded by many 4,000+ mt. peaks. The shape of the mountain is an almost perfect cone. The climb in summer is usually straightforward and - apart from the high altitude and possible bad weather conditions - poses no real dangers. The easiest and most common access is from the south side, with basic shelters at about 2,900 mts. and 4,200 mts.
I took a guide, named Hussein (I can really recommend him, he has climbed Damavand more that 500 times and seems to know everything about the mountain and everybody passing by en route) via "Araz", a Teheran-based operator. Hussein picked me up at 4 am. in the morning from Khomenei Intl. Airport in Tehran. After stocking-up food for the next 5 days in Tehran, we set out for Damavand. With Hussein's adventureous (but average Iranian) driving style, which was in fact more dangerous than the entire climb, it took us about 3 hours to reach Reyneh, the village on the south side of the mountain. From the village a gravel road turns left and it is another 30 min. drive up to the base camp at Goosfand Sara (2.900 mts.). Goosfand Sara consists of a mosque, a concrete shelter without any glass in the windows (gets quite chilly at night) and some tents from local shepards. A USD 50 charge is levied there by the Iranian Mountaineering Association for climbing Damavand (most people are not aware of this). As the weather on the first day was quite foggy and cold, we didn't do much more than hanging around in the tent of a sheperd.
Next day we got up late (we were in no hurry since the main concern was to acclimatise slowly) and hiked up to the second camp called Barghah-e-Sevom at about 4,200 mts. Locals offer the possibility to bring up your gear there by mule charging about USD 10-20, depending on your bargaining skills. The hike took about 4 hours and the path is very obvious. There were some other people at the shelter and luckily Hussein and Araz had their own tents up there, making it not necessary to sleep the following two nights in the smelly concrete shelter. If you want to bring your own tent, it's surely a good idea and there are enough spaces to pitch it. Over the summer season there is also a friendly Kurdish guy up there, selling water bottles, cookies and chocolate bars. Apart from this there are no facilities. However, a new shelter 50 mts. up from Barghah-e-Sevom was in summer 2007 half finished (looked comparably luxorious). In the afternoon, I (as almost everybody up there) got a light headache from the altitude, but no problems apart from that.
For summiting we had either the choice to wait one more day at Barghah-e-Sevom, possibly ascending up to 5,000 mts., but since I felt ok and there was nothing to do at Barghah-e-Sevom anyway, we made the attempt right on the third day. The same day 8 other people made it for the summit. Everybody except us, got up and set out in darkness at about 5 am., which is really not necessary on a clear day. We started at about 9 am.. The path up to the summit is quite visible although not marked at all. At about 5,000 mts. there is a frozen ice fall to your right hand side (sounds more impressive than it actually is, its only about 2-3 mts. high). After about 5,200 mts. I clearly felt the lack of oxygen and my pace slowed down considerably. On the summit area there are also a lot of places where sulphuric gases come out of the volcano, making breathing additionally difficult. Nevertheless, we reached the summit relatively quickly after only about 4 hours at around 1 pm. and I was really too exhausted to walk around on the summit ridge. The descend back to Barghah-e-Sevom, where we spent the last night took another 3 hrs. via a slightly alternative route a bit more to the west.
- The use of crampons, ice-axes or any other technical equipment is not necessary as there are no glaciers or any technical parts. However, bring very warm clothes. According to Hussein, most fatalities (and there are a few each year) occur due to under-equipped climbers freezing to death in the summit area after getting lost in bad weather conditions.
- Whether you use a guide or not is up to you. Basically (especially if conditions are good) you can do it easily yourself as many people do, since the path is really clearly visible. However, I found it quite practicable since I did not have to worry about the transport from Tehran and about food and cooking. And since Hussein knew the mountain really well, you are also on the safer side under bad conditions. The price for the 5 days was 630 USD.
- Once you leave Goosfand Sara, nobody (incl. all the Iranians on the mountain) will worry about whether ladies adhere to the Iranian dress-code, but since it is ususally quite chilly on the mountain, you will probably cover your head anyway. The well-deserved beer after reaching the summit is of course not available.
- Neither at Goosfand Sara, nor at Barghah-e-Sevom there are any cooking facilities, so you might want to bring your own cooking gear. The guy in Barghah-e-Sevom only sells chocolate and water. There is a drinking water source at Barghah-e-Sevom, but this was dry when we arrived. Alternatively, there is enough snow around to melt. Food shops en route from Tehran to Reyneh seem to be limited to the average Middle-East 5-sqm.-shops selling everything from washing-powder to tin-cans, so it might be a good idea to stock-up on food before you leave Tehran.
- As far as I know, public transport via shared minivan from Tehran exists only as far as Polur and Reyneh. The hike up to the first base-camp from there might take about 2 to 3 hours. However, on weekends it should be easier to find somebody to give you a lift, as there were a lot of local families around the mosque when we descended to Goosfand Sara on friday.
- I did not find any detailled maps of Damavand and information on the climb in the travel-guidebooks is usually limited to a few lines. However, there is a scientific book in German on Damavand available which includes a detailled map (I did not purchase or see it, but its: Damavand, Der höchste Berg Irans, Karl Gratzl, Robert Kostka, ISBN-10: 3-7059-0135-4).