NOTE: Many sources use the name “Paloon Gardan” in reference to the Kholeno Massif. In this discussion, Paloon Gardan will be one of the peaks of the Kholeno Massif.
Kholeno Massif in Central Alborz
Detailed Map of Kholeno Massif
Kholeno Massif sits in the geographic heart of the Central Alborz Mountains of northern Iran. After the 5671 m volcanic cone of Mt. Damavand and the peaks of the Takhte Soleyman Massif which rise to the high 4000 m range, Kholeno Massif (along with the nearby Dokhaharan Massif) contain the next highest peaks of the Central Alborz Range. The elevations of the peaks of the Kholeno Massif are in the low 4000 m range and culminate in the 4390 m summit of Mt. Azad Kooh (see Footnote #1 below). The massif can be captured in a box roughly 34 Km (east-west) by 23 Km (north-south) (Between 51:20:00 and 51:42:30 East, 36:00:00 and 36:12:30 North).
The massif is made of a number of interconnected ridgelines that are entirely above 3500 m in elevation (a good part of the ridgelines are above 4000 m). A quick look at the map of the massif reveals three NW-SE running parallel ridgelines and a diagonal one that connects the three parallel ridgelines (along with a few other side branches). Most of the peaks of the massif are high points that rise on the crest of the ridgelines. Identifying individual peaks along the length of these ridgelines can be arbitrary but with some diligence, the list can be limited to those points that are at least 50 m above their surrounding saddles (see footnote #2 below).
Kholeno Massif is the source of the major rivers of the Central Alborz Range. To the west and south, the massif gives rise to the Karaj and Jajrood Rivers. These rivers drain into the central basin of Iran. To the east and north, you will find the headwaters of the Lar and Noor Rivers. These two rivers are the main tributaries of the Haraz River. On the northwestern corner of the massif, you will find the origins of one of the branches of the Chalus River. The Haraz and Chalus Rivers drain into the Caspian Sea.
The mountains that rise to the north of the Noor River Valley block moist Caspian Sea air from reaching the Kholeno Massif. Except for the extreme northwestern corner of the massif, the lush Caspian Sea forests have not been noted in the Kholeno Massif. The valleys and the mountain slopes in the massif are covered by grasses and alpine tundra. Winter brings cold temperatures and heavy snowfall. Repeated winter avalanches create very large deposits of ice and snow at the bottoms of some of the valleys. These deposits along with the snow fields on the north facing slopes at higher elevation, survive well into mid-summer.
Below you will see pictures from the Varengeh Rood River valley on the west side of the massif and a branch of the Noor River on the north side of the massif.
LOWER VARENGEH ROOD VALLEY (2450 m-2750 m)
MID VARENGEH ROOD VALLEY (2750 m-3100 m)
UPPER VARENGEH ROOD VALLEY (Above 3100 m)
(Branches to Kholeno & Paloon Gardan Peaks)
UPPER VARENGEH ROOD VALLEY (Above 3100 m)
(Branch to Sootak the Small)
GAVAN POSHTEH PASS (3650 m)
At 3650 m, Gavan Poshteh Pass is one of the high passes of the Kholeno Massif. It sits on the lowest point of a ridgeline that connects the Kaman Kooh Group of peaks to the west to the Paloon Gardan/Narges Group to the east. Varenegh Rood River Valley is on the south side of the pass and a branch of the Noor River on its north side.
BRANCH OF NOOR RIVER (2600 m-3400 m)
Two picturesque lakes in the Kholeno Massif can be worthy destinations on their own or serve as ideal spots for the establishment of base camp: Kholeno Lake and Kaman Kooh Lake.
Kholeno Lake & Kaman Kooh Peaks
(L) Kherschal 4253 m & (R) Farakhe No 4230 m from Kholeno Lake
Kholeno Lake sits at an elevation of 3830 m in a large alpine cirque that is surrounded on (almost) 3 sides by steep mountain slopes. The lake forms in late spring by the melting of the area snow fields and reaches its maximum size in late summer. It can be reached by starting at the 2450 m village of Varengeh Rood and hiking 21.5 Km up the Varenegh Rood River valley. From Kholeno Lake, you can have access to the 4387 m Mt. Kholeno the Great and some of its jagged nearby peaks. Kholeno Lake is one of the headwaters of the Varengeh Rood River.
KAMAN KOOH LAKE
Kaman Kooh Peak & Lake
Azad Kooh & the outlet of Kaman Kooh Lake
Kaman Kooh Lake sits at an elevation of 3740 m in an alpine bowl created by the north slopes of Kaman Kooh (4234 m), Yakhchal (4194 m) & Sarmahoo (4165 m) Peaks. The lake is fed by large snow fields above it and drains to the north giving rise to the Nessen River (a branch of the Noor River). Kaman Kooh Lake can be reached by starting at the Nessen Village (2600 m) and hiking 12 Km up the Nessen River valley. From the banks of Kaman Kooh Lake you will have great views of Azad Kooh Peak (4390 m) to the north and Kaman Kooh, Sarmahoo & Yakhchal Peaks to the south.
Varengeh Rood Valley can be termed “Avalanche Alley”. If you visit the mid to upper valley in late spring/early summer, you will encounter one giant avalanche remain after another along the length of the river
Many north facing slopes and high valleys are large snow repositories. By late summer, however, most (but not all) of the snow melts away
There seems to be a small glacier in a valley on the north slopes of Mt. Kholeno the Great (4387 m). Detailed information about this glacier seems to be non-existent. I am not a geologist and have visited the Kholeno area only in mid June when much of the north facing slopes were still covered by the remains of winter snow. This makes it difficult to distinguish a true glacier from a seasonal snow field (at least from far away). While many of the valleys in the Kholeno Massif do point to glacial activity in the distant past, the mentioned valley is the only one that raises the possibility of the existence of an active glacier.
THE PEAKS OF THE KHOLENO MASSIF
Those peaks of the Kholeno Massif that are higher than 3900 m can be divided into several groups as below:
Azad Kooh is probably the highest peak of the Kholeno Massif (see footnote #1 below). “Azad Kooh” means “Free Mountain”. The peak is so called because unlike the rest of the peaks of the Kholeno Massif that are connected by high ridgelines to their neighboring peaks, Azad Kooh is a free standing mountain that sits on the north end of the massif away from the rest of the high peaks. The rocky walls on the north, east and west faces of Azad Kooh make it appear as an impenetrable fortress. Its prominence and distinctive shape make it visible from miles away.
Peak 3910 m
Peak 3910 m sits on the south side of Azad Kooh and is completely dwarfed by it. I have never heard or read anything about this peak.
These peaks sit in the center of the Kholeno Massif. They rise on the crest of an (almost) horseshoe-shaped ridgeline that surrounds the upper portions of the branch of the Varengeh Rood River that goes to Kholeno Lake. The closed end of the horseshoe is an alpine cirque that sits at an elevation of 3800-4100 m. Kholeno Lake sits on the low end of the cirque.
This group rises in the easternmost part of the Varengeh Rood River valley. To the north and east Paloon Gardan & Narges form the headwaters of two of the main branches of the Noor River. To the south they tower above the upper portions of the Lar River valley. On the east side of Mt. Paloon Gardan you will find a high ridgeline that stretches 20 Km east to reach the Kabood Pass at the junction of the Dokhaharan Massif. This ridgeline gives rise to many other peaks and can be thought of as the backbone of the Central Alborz Mountains.
These three peaks rise on the crest of a ridgeline that runs NE-SW and connects Kholeno the Great Peak to the Paloon Gardan Peak. To the northwest the peaks give rise to the Varengeh Rood River and to the southeast they form the Lar River. On the northwestern side, you will find many snow filled valleys and bowls at elevations that exceed 3600 m.
The Sarakchal Peaks are connected to Mt. Koloon Bastak via a 7 Km long ridgeline that drops to a minimum elevation of 3830 m and is the southernmost ridgeline of the Kholeno Massif. The Sarakchal & Koloon Bastak Peaks along with their connecting ridgeline are well visible from the ski resorts of Shemshak & Dizin near the capital city of Tehran.
The Dalkoli Group of peaks makes a ridgeline that separates the Varengeh Rood River valley to the north from the Velayat Rood River valley to the south. On the north slopes of these peaks, you will find large snow filled alpine bowls. Bandalkoli Peak creates rocky ridgelines to the north of it that give rise to impressive sub-peak horns.
These peaks make a ridgeline in the southeastern part of the massif that separates the Lar River valley to the north from a branch of the Jajrood River to the south. While Kharsang Kooh & Gizno are prominent rocky peaks Jahneston and Varzab are 10 peaks/high points that rise on the crest of the ridgeline and have been lumped together under these names.
Varzab & Jahneston
Sehchal & Sikno 3936 m & 3877 m
Sehchal & Sikno (along with Shivar Kesh, Chal Gardan & Hezarla) create a group in the western end of the Kholeno Massif. The group rises above the junction of the Varengeh Rood River (to the north and west) with the Velayat Rood River (to the south and east). These peaks are separated from the peaks of the Dalkoli Group via the 3570 m Shivar Kesh Pass to the east. From the ski resort of Dizin, the southern slopes of Sechal appear as a notable triangular peak.
Sineza 3933 m
Sineza South Slopes
Sineza North Slopes
Sineza Peak rises on the crest of the very long ridgeline that goes from Paloon Gardan Peak to the Dokhaharan Massif. The other peaks in the vicinity of Sineza are in the 3700-3800 m range. Sineza sits in one of the remotest parts of the Central Alborz Mountains days away from any trailhead. It is only mentioned by those who do multi-week ridge-top “Grand Tours” of the Central Alborz Mountains (from Damavand to the Takhte Soleyman Massif).
The Sorkhabs are a couple of jagged peaks that rise in the northwestern part of the Kholeno Massif. The southern slopes of the Sorkhab Peaks are steep and are covered by brilliant reddish scree. To the north, the Sorkhab Peaks create walls below their summits. In contrast, Sootak the small are a series of very gentle peaks. The Iranian 1:50 000 map gives an elevation of only 3972 m for the highest Sorkhab Peak. The Russian map only shows one peak and gives an elevation of 3905 m. From all angles, the Sorkhab Peaks appear higher than Sootak the Small (whose elevation has been confirmed at roughly 3850 m by my own GPS and the map). This might be an optical illusion but I am now fairly certain that the Sorkhab Peaks are in the 3900 m range. These peaks separate the Varengeh Rood River to the south from a branch of the Chalus River to the north.
Sootak the Small
Sootak the Small
1) Azad Kooh Peak can be thought of as an independent peak or part of the Kholeno Massif. Older sources give a rounded figure of 4375 m for Kholeno the Great and 4355 m for Azad Kooh. The Iranian 1:50 000 map gives only contour lines of 4380-4400 m for Kholeno the Great and an exact figure of 4390 m for Azad Kooh (The 4387 m figure that I use for Kholeno the Great comes from the Soviet Military Map). My (barometric) GPS altimeter measured the elevation of Kholeno the Great at 4386 m and Azad Kooh at 4377 m. So which one is higher? Who knows, they are about the same.
2) There are no official (or unofficial) lists of the 4000 m peaks of the Central Alborz (or Kholeno Massif). The most detailed topographic information comes from the Iranian 1:50 000 maps with contour lines of 20 meters. Using such maps to identify peaks that rise more than 50 m above their surrounding saddles obviously has its limitations. In identifying the peaks listed in this page, I have also used information that comes from my own observations, pictures and measurements (with my barometric GPS altimeter). With few exceptions, the names of all peaks are as they appear on the “Guide Map of Climbing the Peaks of Central Alborz” by “Gitashenasi” Publications (a schematic cartoon-like map which is not to scale).
See above links for individual peaks.
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