above Naghsh-e-Jahan Squaare, Esfahan, Iran
As I mentioned before travelling in Iran as an American was difficult. I'm used to traveling where I want, when I want but in the Islamic Republic my itinerary had to be pre-approved by the government. Changing the schedule because of light or weather was virtually impossible. Further, I could never be alone. There was always some government approved minder looking after my every move.
That wasn't the case in the mountains. As it turns out, government minders can't climb so high. After all, that is one of the reasons middle class Iranians climb. In the mountains you can talk, get to know your climbing partners, make friends.
above, sulfur gasses stream from vents at 18,000' on Mt Damavand
I made a lot of friends in the mountains. The Iranian mountains are so beautiful and majestic that it is easy to forget that the Iran has an oppressive government and that the US and Iran are virtually at war. On Mt. Damavand I got to be good friends with Mohammed Norouzi. He is a very accomplished high altitude climber with world wide experience. Once in Afghanistan he was rescued by US commandos when the Taliban surrounded the mountain he was climbing. He very kindly helped get me to the top of Iran's tallest peak and showed me the fantastic fun of glissading a 4,000 foot snow field back down to camp.
Above, Mohammed passing 16,000 feet on Mt Damavand
After the climb several American climbers asked Mohammed to come visit them in the US. He politely said "no." After pressing him a bit more he finally said "look, I've climbed in Pakistan, I've climbed in Afghanistan, I look like Osama bin Laden, there is NO WAY the US will give me a visa." No one argued with him because we all knew he was right.
above, back in Tehran it is hard to forget Iran's political realities.
In the mountains it is easy to ignore the political world for a while. That is why middle class Iranians flock to the high places. Up there you can forget almost anything.