Aug 18, 2014

The People You Meet: Destination Iran!

People often ask me why I climb mountains. I climb for the sheer magnificence of the vistas I see and experience at altitude - high above the cloud, looking out from a sheer precipice over the curvature of the earth far, far below. I’m but a tiny speck of sand in the panorama framed by the horizon. But also, I climb to find out who I am. This form of ‘vertical’ meditation helps me to connect with my thoughts and put into context my place in the world around me. I believe that in order to really connect with someone, you need to know yourself - and climbing has helped me to do this. It’s taught me about courage, commitment, creativity, discipline, teamwork… Climbing has helped me to realise that at the end of the day, at the end of my life, it’s not going to be where I placed in the race or the summits I’ve stood on, it’s going to be about the relationships with the people I’ve met along the way and the experiences shared.

These shared experiences are what drive me to the mountains– to experience new cultures, meet new people, to explore new landscapes, to challenge my perceptions. My expedition to Peru to climb Alpamayo last month reminded me of this. Attempting to engage with the locals in the mountain-town of Huaraz in my rudimental Spanish, trying new foods like the traditional Peruvian ‘pachamanca', experiencing the differences in the way that expeditions are organised and run, and the different mountaineering styles and techniques… despite feeling ‘lost’ in this new country and new environment, my senses were heightened and I felt truly alive.
"Why are you going to Iran...?"
So, to answer the question I’ve been asked on numerous occasions… “Why are you going to Iran?” From the reactions of most people that I’ve spoken to about my forthcoming expedition, it seems that I, the ‘Diva in Down’, can’t have picked a less credible, less comfortable, less diva-esque holiday destination than if I’d decided to go wind-surfing off of the coast of Somalia.
When the opportunity arose to combine my passion for the high mountain vistas and experiencing a new culture in the Islamic Republic of Iran, I didn’t hesitate.
If you listened blindly to the media your picture of Iran would be one where men with stones stalk the dusty streets in search of adulterous women, while the government spends its time rigging elections in between sessions of feeding pieces of glowing green metal into a centrifuge.
But in speaking to friends, colleagues and even complete strangers who have been to Iran and experienced first-hand the hospitality, the culture, the atmospheric teahouses, bustling bazaars, deserts punctuated by historic oases and rugged mountain ranges, I couldn’t have a more convincing argument of why I am so incredibly excited to go ‘off the beaten path’ and see it for myself.
I’ve been told that if you like people, you’ll like Iran. Iran is a nation made up of numerous ethnic groups and influenced over thousands of years by Greek, Arab, Turkic and Mongol occupiers. If what friends and locals say is true, it’s a country that is endlessly welcoming and a country that is desperate to been seen for what it is, rather than what it is depicted to be.
I experienced a great example of this ancient hospitality last Thursday evening when a group of friends and I went for dinner at the Persian restaurant, Kandoo, on Edgeware Road here in London. The waitress was Iranian and rather than ordering off of the menu we told her of our forthcoming trip and asked her to order for us based on her local knowledge and passion for Iranian cuisine. We were not disappointed – dish after dish of succulent lamb, chicken baked in rich, fragrant sauces and spiced to perfection were served with understated elegance until we were so full that finishing the aromatic saffron ice-cream dessert was even a challenge. She then shared with us an insight into what we could expect to experience in Iran – from tips on what to wear, what to eat, and what to see… and even gave us her family’s contact details in Teheran to visit for an opportunity to see and experience the city from a locals perspective.
As with many of my trips, this adventure, rather unsurprisingly, involves a mountain. Whilst in Iran I will be climbing Mount Damavand. At 5671 meters (18,605 feet) it is the highest summit of Iran and the western Asia. What Everest is to Nepal, Damavand is to Iran – the mountains silhouette is one of the most recognisable icons in Iran, appearing on the local currency and on bottles of spring water and numerous other commercial items. It is a perfect cone-shape volcano located in the central part of Alborz Mountain Range in north of Iran on the southern coast of the Caspian Sea. ‘Damavand’ means ‘Breathing Mountain’ primarily because whilst it is a dormant volcano, it still belches out sulphuric fumes strong enough to kill unfortunate stray sheep.
Snow covers the entire mountain in winter and the upper parts in the other seasons. Damavand has a narrow summit crater usually covered with snow-cap and cloud. The snowy white peak with its regular lenticular cap cloud is one of the most beautiful sights of Iran. In a clear day it is visible far from 250 km.
Counting down the days...
With my visa in hand, I am now literally counting down the days… This week will be spent on an itinerary similar to the run up to other expeditions - packing, training, rounding-off some final work-related objectives and preparing to experience the culture and hospitality of this beautiful country and its people. I am very much looking forward to challenging my original perceptions of this country, arriving with an open mind, experiences to be shared, and eager to learn from the people who I meet along the way.


  1. This is beyond inspirational and utterly cool. Love the writing and answering my question and in fact now I'm thinking 'why the heck not?'. Thanks for wanting to visit Iran in your quest and changing the perceptions of it...can't wait for you to come back and tell me your journey - the full story.