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2010 - 2011 American/Iran Climber Exchange: IRAN
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July 2011 :: Iran (Islamic Republic of) :: Various

After a string of arrival flights landed in the wee, wee hours of the morning of June 5, we dealt with minor immigration hassles, cleared customs, rendezvoused with an amazingly wide awake contingent of ACI hosts, drove to our downtown Tehran hotel, napped for a few short hours, and then gathered for the first time as a group for a late lunch. By early evening, we were hiking up into the foothills of the mountains north of Tehran. Our destination: Darband, a prime bouldering site popular with young Iranian climbers. While our jet-lagged napping resulted in arriving at the site too late in the day to enjoy the company of local boulderers, we were able to get in a couple of hours of solid pump before heading back downhill to the first of many traditional Persian dinners.

The following day we split up into two groups. Jim Donini, Mark Wilford, Chris Weidner, Branndon Bargo, Mary Ann Dornfeld, Jennifer Fleming, Greg Crouch, and Stephen Alvarez headed to  Alam Kuh. Alam Kuh, the highest peak of the Takht-e Suleyman Massif, is located in the Alborz mountain range in the north of Iran between Tehran and the Caspian sea. At 4,850 meters high, it is the second highest peak in Iran. The steep, 800 meter granite north face provides some of the most difficult mountaineering routes in the country.

Lydia Pyne, Marilyn Geninatti, Tim Terpstra, Tom Bowker, and David Thoenen traveled east to Mount Damavand, at 5,671 the highest peak in Iran and the highest volcano in Asia.

Both groups were accompanied by large contingents of ACI host climbers.

Uncooperative weather plaged the Alam Kuh team. However, on June 11, Mark and Mohammed Bahrevar climbed the German Ridge in full winter conditions to the Alam Kuh summit, while Jim led a second group up a neighboring peak. On June 13, Jenn and Chris managed to sneak in a first ascent on  Alam Kuh's North Patakht Wall (Cafe Mohammad, 130 meters, 5.10c).

The Alam Kuh contingent stopped at Pol-e-Khab on their return to Tehran for a day of rock climbing at a popular local crag.

The five members of the Damavand team were joined on the mountain by sixteen members of the ACI. After a day of lower elevation acclimatization hiking in a splendid alpine environment, a forecast for incoming storm conditions forced the team to move forward their climbing plan by a day and cancel a planned rest day at Damavand's Bargah Sevom Hut at 4250 meters. Despite being short changed on acclimatization time, Tim and Marilyn left the hut early on the morning of June 9 and, accompanied by six members of the ACI, summited Damavand at mid day in high winds and low visibility.

On June 12, the Damavand crew moved further east to the province of Semnan. On the first day in Semnan, Lydia and Tom put up a new route on the south facing wall of Sangsar Sol [Ed: Details of route to follow.]. The next day the team hiked north of Shahmirzad, exploring the rim of an isolated canyon ringed by miles of beautiful unclimbed rock, a region worthy of a return visit and a host of potential first ascents.

June 14 saw the itineraries of the two groups merge once again in Tehran for a bus ride south and two days of touring Esfahan's rich cultural resources. While there, the delegation shared housing at a Ministry of Education hostel with a wonderful group of children visiting Esfahan from their orphanage in Bam, the site of an earthquake which killed 26,000 of its inhabitants in 2003. Volleyball diplomacy ensured that the first Americans that the children had ever seen left them with a good impression. 

The formal exchange program ended in Tehran on the afternoon of June 17 with a late afternoon meeting and exchange of gifts. One very important outcome of the meeting was a commitment by both parties to continue our special relationship with joint events in 2012 and 2013.   

—Southern Appalachian Section Chair David Thoenen