Day 7 – Mt. Sabalaan
I loaded my backpack with a tent, sleeping bag, pad and some food and water and took the taxi to Tabriz Terminal. Here, everyone tries to discourage you from going to the mountain, on top of the list is your mom and the bottom of the list must be the taxi driver. The driver told me how his neighbor’s son fell and died and I should just go to Bazaar and smoke Hooka instead and enjoy myself. I paid him extra tip for being concerned and got off at the terminal where I took the bus to Meshkin (AKA Meshkin Shahr.) The bus was hot but by now I have developed resistance to some heat. Finally, the bus was half full and hit the road by 10:40, 20 minutes late. I was told, the trip would take 2 hrs but in fact it was a 3 hr trip plus the initial delay. I was supposed to meet my hiking partner (Hashim) at Meshkin Terminal at 12 and I was obviously late. I had spoken to Hashim on the phone and appeared like he had done a lot of climbing in Sabalaan area and was familiar with the mountain. I was more than 1.5 hr late and when I got there he was waiting patiently. I was expecting a guy in hiking clothes with a backpack; instead there he was a guy in dress shirt, slacks and dress shoes with only a sleeping bag and some apples! He insisted we eat lunch and take the taxi to the next town before heading to the mountain and I obliged. I was reluctant to eat the chicken and rice from a hole-in-the-wall place since I was warned about the possibility of getting ill but to be polite, I dug in and ate a plate. After the lunch we took a taxi to just outside the city and from there we waited for another taxi to Gotourlu soo where we would start our hike from the road. The other option was to take a Land Rover to the Shelter at 3500 m at the base of the mountain. We both agreed to do the extra hike to from the road to the shelter as a 4 hr warm up and stay at the shelter to acclimatize before hiking to the summit.
The taxi that took us to gotourlu soo was plugging along until the road started to become steeper and the driver hesitated with the pedals and suddenly the car did not have enough power to take the driver and five passenger to the top of the hill and stopped. The driver said he has to go backward and come with higher speed so he can make this hill. No one said anything and he started sliding backwards. The taxi started picking up speed second after second and the driver started hitting the break but there was no break!!! He started to panic and zigzagging backwards in high speed. Two things could happen at this point: get hit by a car coming from behind or plunge off the side of the road. There was a pile of dirt and I told the driver he should aim the back of the car to that, our only chance to stop. He did so and we slowed down and stopped. The family riding in the back of the taxi especially the woman and the kid were frightened as were we. We offered some water to them and they kid felt better. The drivers’ face was white and took a few minutes before he gained his composure. The car started again and we made it to the top of the hill and to Gotourlu soo in another 15 minutes and the time was about 3:30 PM when we finally unloaded and started our treck. Hashim changed to his jugging clothes and walking shoes. I took my loaded backpack and we started our uphill trek. There was no trail but Hashim appeared to know where he was going so I did not say anything and we chatted and walked. We came across a group of nomads who had their yurt setup and herding their sheep and the women were making bread. Cautious of their sheep dogs, we approached the ladies and chatted with them a bit and they offered fresh hot bread to us. The bread smelled very good and we took small samples and returned the rest. We continued and chatted with a few more herdsmen before continuing our way.
The trail got steeper and we picked up the pace but my backpack was getting heavier as we gained altitude. Hashim offered to carry the backpack for a while and I was skeptical he could handle the load since he was very skinny and no real hiking shoes. We took a break and I offered water to Hashim but he refused since he was carrying nothing but after I told him he could carry the backpack and the fact that I had two bottles of water, he took a sip and admitted that he felt better after drinking the water. I was surprised how Hashim could carry the heavy backpack on the steep slopes and I followed him letting him to set the pace. After one more hour we took another break and I took the backpack and another 45 minutes we were at the shelter. We had made the unmarked track from the road (about 1800m) to shelter (3500m) in 2.5 hrs which was a record according to Hashim in all his hiking. I took his comment as a complement. We took a brief rest and surveyed the shelter but decided to setup a tent and sleep in the tent because of noise and smell. We setup the tent and took a few pictures before settling in for a dinner of chicken, bread, cheese, hot tea and dates that I had brought with me. It was quite a feast and we felt much better after the meal and a brief rest. After dinner we went out and chatted with a few mountaineers most of which were unhappy about the dirty condition of the mountain and all graffiti work. We prepared our backpacks for the morning and slept around 9:30. I went to sleep in no time and ignored the generator noise that was used for lighting the shelter. At 3:00 I woke up to found out the Hashim had not slept because his sleeping bag was very thin and clod and the ground was very cold. He borrowed a couple of blankets from the old man that takes care of the shelter and said that he’d like to sleep in and start the hike at 7 AM. I agreed and went back to sleep. We woke up around 6:00 and after a breakfast of bread, cheese, dates and tea we were on the trail at 6:45. We went up the loose gravel trail that got steeper. After about half hr the shoulder strap for sack Hashim was carrying broke and we consolidated our packs and took turns carrying my backpack. We made a good pace and passed many teams that had started at 6AM and then the ones who had started at 5. We were on top by 9:15 and started taking pictures from the scenery and the lake on top of Mt. Sabalaan. I scrambled to the top cliffs to the real summit but no one else showed any interest passed the lake even Hashim did not want to scramble to the top of rocks. We stayed at by the lake for 45 minutes and headed back down and we were by the shelter by 11:30. There we hired a LandRover and went to the village of Gotourlu Soo where many were waiting either to get into the hot spring or to get on the bus. We found a few climbers and hired a taxi to take us back to Meshkin and I found a taxi back to Tabriz even though I was warned not to take taxis to Tabriz (and stick with safer alternative: the bus) or be terrorized by their driving habits. I was truly scared shitless by the taxi drivers careless driving and passing the slower cars over the blind curves. I just closed my eyes and prayed and before I knew, I was in Tabriz.