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Alam Kouh , Story Of The Great Wall

Submitted by blackjack on 2001-10-19

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Alam kouh North Face Winter 2001
Alam Kouh north wall is undoubtedly the most prestigious wall in Iran. Its steep granite and its altitude (4150m to 4850m) make it the wall of character in Iran. A team of two German-Ira-nian members, Harry Rhost and Amir Alai, climbed it first in 1964. French and Polish teams established three more routes until Islamic revolution in 1978.

It was, however, Iranian turn to establish their own routes on the wall, which began in 1984 after 3 years of ascending inch by inch, a route called Arash(A2, 5.9, 350m).

First winter attempt goes back to 1974 by a polish group. From 1980 to 1991 a handful of Iranian climbers tried the wall and all failed, suffering one death and some frostbite hands and feet. The difficulties in front are coldness, which is around -40°C at night and -20°C during the day, powder snow pouring from above, not having sun on the wall, and other general winter conditions such as storms and snow falls.

Though most of the established routes can be climbed in one day, with a record of 1:30 hours in summer, weeks of activity did not fruit in winter till 1991.

In winter of 1991 another large team went there only to climb three pitches of Arash route after spending 20 days on the mountain. One of the team member, Ishkhan Ebrahimi, suffered severely from frostbite, which resulted in cutting off all his toes and most of his fingers. From the large team, however, remained one determined climber. Mohammad Nouri was to climb the wall at any cost. After some more test and spending nights on the wall (another obstacle of the climbing the wall in winter for Iranians), he soloed Arash route in 4 days.

A couple of more alpinists attempted the wall since then, and failed until the winter of 2001.

From the beginning of 2000, Mohammad Moosavi Nejad (leader) and me, Ramin Shojaei (technical leader), had the plan of trying a new route on the north wall of Alam Kuh in next winter. We joined forces of two old mountaineering clubs in Iran: Damavand Mountaineering Club and Arash Mountaineers Group. [page]

In autumn of 2000 some 400 kg of rations and pieces of a small 1*1*2 wooden “cage” were brought to Sarchal, and finally on Feb., 1, 2001 a team of 9 climbers departed for the climb with our all climbing equipment and extra rations which weighed 200 kg. Two of them, Ara Megerdichian and I, were going to climb the wall using big wall siege style, while others would back up us. Kazem Faridian, a talent and strong team member, was unable to join the team at the last minute. Fortunately, after only one day, he joined the team again.

Bringing our rations and equipment below the wall, Alamchal, which formed our ABC, took us 6 days, one day of them trapped in Sarchal due to bad weather. In the last hours of the sixth day, while others were busy with assembling parts of Mahyar Pour Abdolah’s innovated small hut, which we called later “ The cage of Mr. Lion”-Mr. Lion is Mahyar’s nick name-, in flat trains of Alamchal, me and Ara started fixing the first pitch below the “Golesang”. I fell into a crevasse below the Golesang that is usually covered fully in winter. This time, because of few snow falls during previous autumn, a thin bridge had covered it. Fortunately with no problem I came out of it.

We had decided to install the hut below the wall and digging a large snow cave in Alamchal, and using portaledge on the wall as necessary, but observing the situation in reality, we concluded it was impossible to carry the parts to the base of the wall and assembling it there.

The second day of technical climb was to fix another 200m of rope to the base of the wall and hauling bags there. In the middle of Golesang a large powder avalanche got Kazem and me. I recall I looked above and saw an avalanche, nearly 200m width was coming down from the wall. After a moment of shock I shouted down to Kazem “avalanche...” and sticked to my ice axes. Kazem recalls ”Hearing Ramin’s shout I looked up and avalanche hit my face.” Other than extreme cold following it that shivered us bitterly, we did not hurt at all.

Third day was to climb the first pitch of the main wall. Kazem took the lead and Ara belayed him. I was to carry loads to the base of the wall. In the beginning of the route Kazem found little cracks to nail anything. With small cams, two bolts and some skyhooking he had managed 10 meters, before the nut of one skyhook he was standing on opened. He fell on less steep rock and his ankle injured. Bringing him down involved all of the team members who based at Sarchal and at that moment were carrying more loads to Alamchal. It was anyway their last day of being in the mountain, albeit not for Moosavi Nejad, Abbas Aghasi, and Mohammad Nouri, cameraman. After carrying Kazem down to Roodbarak in 1.5 days, these three came back 3 days later along with 5 new team members who were coming to help for another 7 to 10 more days. There remained only two in Alamchal, Ara and me.

Until their arrival, I had completed pitch 1 (A2, 50m), and Ara pitch 2 (A1, 35m) passing a small overhang he called Seepan, his club name. Ara was hand drilling the holes for belay in partly cloudy sky when the sights of coming team were seen.

Next day the weather broke and we could do nothing other than being the guest of University of Sharif’s 5 member team who was trying 1973 Polish route. Next day Esmail Motehayer Pasand, who were newly joined the team went to lead pitch 3, Ara to belay him and Ali Parsai to carry bags to the last belay. Ali, who had previously suffered from frostbite felt pain in his fingers and did not risk more and came down to the cage from the middle of Golesang to cure himself. Esmail and Ara cleaned partly pitch 2 and rappelled down to our camp. Meanwhile Abbas Mohammadi and Mohammad Nouri went to repeat their first winter ascent of Haftkhanha peaks (around 4700m) in winter. It would take at least two days from Alamchal.

Next day Esmail led pitch 3, this time I was belaying him, Ara cleaning pitch 2.

Up to 20m above pitch 2 the route continues in a straightforward crack that goes for another 40m to end up on a buttress. Esmail traversed left from that point (20 m above pitch 2), to reach the less steep rock, a gully, we hoped to climb faster. The majority of the gully can be freed in normal summer conditions, but in winter wearing plastic boots, bulky clothes and gloves, free climbing was out of discussion, and surely had the risk of a fall, which we seriously wanted to prevent. In that extreme cold even one hour of unconsciousness would result in death. So we aided the rock. Esmail Finished pitch 3 (A2, 40m), fixed static rope and rappelled down that day.

Abbas Mohammadi and Mohammad Nouri climbed 3 peaks of the range and came back too. In these days Omid Amohammadi and Ali ... climbed the nearby Shaneh Kuh and Miansechal peaks (4300m). Next morning I cleaned pitch 3, hauled bags and started climbing pitch 4. Ara played the role of the frozen one, the belayer. The weather broke when I placed the first anchor. The gully accumulated a river of snow powder in my face in such a way that I could not sometimes look above to find a place for anchor. 25m had passed when I asked for more biners, nuts, and cams. Ara had to put out some of his gloves, because with 4 layer of them he could barely do anything more than holding rope in his figure eight-if one can hold at all with that system of gloves-. This was enough for him to feel so cold in his hands in that pouring snow. There were no options at that time other than rappelling as fast as possible. It snowed for next two days. Ali and Esmail had to leave us in the afternoon of Feb., 16 who had run out of time. Abbas Mohammadi, Omid Amohammadi, and Ali ... had already left the mountain. There remained Ramin, Ara, and Mohammad Nouri at Alamchal. Moosavi Nejad and Abbas Aghasi who were carrying loads to Alamchal all of these days and spent some nights there were at Sarchal now. Feb., 17 I started from the last point. I climbed another 20m in very unstable stones and pitch 4 (A2, 45m) which took me much energy and psyche was complete.

We stayed at camp for another day due to bad weather. [page]

Next day it was Ara’s turn to lead. While he was hand drilling two holes for the belay and some more up, I cleaned pitch 4. First 5 meters of pitch 5 was skyhooked and drilled by Ara, until he felt pain in his hands again. This time we only changed our roles. But changing special belaying clothes- a very strong down jacket, an above knee multi layer over boot, and lots of gloves- and leading equipment took us very much time. I climbed another 15m before it was time to rappel. Mohammad Nouri had come to the top of pitch 3 and with a lot of difficulty was filming. Frozen batteries had to be warmed by flames of a stove. On a small and narrow ledge he had to lit the stove and warm camera under a cover. A very hard task! He had lost a small rucksack on Golesang the day before while filming in storm.

Although we could not see the end of the route, because of an overhang above us, the three of us rappelled fixed ropes hopping to finish the route next day. However, to our relief we had passed unstable rocks. That last 40m of loose stones we considered the crux of the route.

In Feb., 20 at 10:10 I was at the end of fixed ropes and did not wait for Ara to belay me who was still jumaring at the base of the wall. I prepared myself to lead and before Ara would reach and get ready for belaying I had climbed 6m solo. It was the first time I was soloing. The route traverses left below the overhang, and after 2m up again in its left side turns right. I called this overhang “Khoob-e-man” or “my good," for my 3 years old son who liked a pop sung with that title.

Above Khoob-e-man the summit loose stone's band was visible that was the sign of the end of the route. It was also less steep. Therefore I shouted down, “There is not much left." I climbed 10m aid and another 20m free(5. to install Iran’s flag at the highest point I reached. However there were no stable rock to drill or to place anything else. I was already on the band. So I climbed back 10m and found somewhere safe for belaying. I placed two bolts, forming the last belay of the route. Pitch 5 (A2, 5.8, 45m) was over.

That same day we cleaned pitch 4 and 5. Ara brought down some equipment and the remaining, including 9 ropes and 20 kg of equipment were my task to clean. At 19:00, exhaustion forced me to leave the work for another day. We did not see Mohammad at camp and concluded he had gone to Sarchal curing his painful toes.

Next day it was falling heavily. Our cage had burdened in fresh snow and to our amazement Mohammad dig it out. He had moved to snow cave in the previous afternoon. We did not expect good weather for next few days. Having already run out of time for a week, we left cleaning the route for a weekend later.

The two in Sarchal welcomed us and the next day we reached Roodbarak to be the last of the team coming off the mountain, ascending a new route and second ever winter ascent on the north wall of Alam Kouh. We called the route “Anjoman” (means association) to the honor of The Alpine Club of Iran (also called Mountaineering Association of Iran) founded in the previous year.

Summary of Statistics:

New route on the north wall of Alam Kuh, Anjoman(V, A2, 5.8, 220m)

Team members: Mohammad Moosavi Nejad, leader, Kazem Faridian, Ramin Shojaei, technical leader, Mohammad Nouri, cameraman, Abbas Aghasi, Abbas Mohammadi, Ali Parsai, Ara Megerdichian, Esmail Motehayer Pasand, Mahyar Pour Abdolah, Afshin Lahouri, Mehdi Broumand, Omid Amohammadi, Ali ....


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