Sébastien Baritussio returns to The Lab to write his third entry about his ski trip and complete the retelling of his Iran adventure with compatriot David Alzieu. You can find part one here and part two here. In part three, there is both extreme joy and great tragedy.
We are back now from our ski trip to the Iranian mountains above Tehran, and our minds are filled with conflicting memories and emotions.
As we expected, we’ve been able to experience breathtakingly picturesque landscapes, with such incredible sights, unlike anything we are used to in Europe. Indeed, one of the most unbelievable things was that, only two hours from a capital city as crowded and traffic-jammed as Tehran, we were so close to such beautiful and special mountains. The mountains made us feel more connected to nature, at all times, while we were there.
After a couple of days spent enjoying the fresh powder snow covering the Iranian resorts, such as Dizin and Shemshak, it was time to attempt one of our goals of the trip: to climb up and ski down Mount Damavand, the tallest mountain in Iran, with its summit at an altitude of 5,610 metres.
In order to achieve this, we had previously met two Iranian alpinists, Meysam and Kourosh, both highly experienced. Meysam, 30, who otherwise works with computers, and Kourosh, 50, both living in Tehran, quickly became our friends on this trip. Their experience was invaluable to us; each had summited Damavand six times already, and they would lead us to the top.
Our plan was to leave the valley and start touring up early on the morning of the first day, ascending from 2,200 metres to an altitude of 4,200 metres, and spend the night in one of the Damavand refuges located up there. Then we would climb to the summit on the next day, ending the day by skiing all the way down.
The peculiarity is that the refuge doesn’t look like the common refuge you would find in Europe, as it provides the alpinists only with a cold shelter with beds and walls. You need to bring all your night gear and food with you.
The first day went well, with something like an eight-hour walk; and, in spite of a cloudy and windy morning, we could enjoy a cold and bright sunset from our elevated vantage point at 4,200 metres. As Damavand is located quite far from other high summits, the view is so amazing and wonderful; it gives you the feeling of being on another dimension of Earth.
In the camp, there were about fifteen Iranian mountaineers, among whom we were the only foreigners. We were also the only two guys with their ski and snowboard gear. It was fascinating to chat with these mountaineers and guides, and to share these special moments with them.
The last hours of our walk were so cold, as well as the following night; that it was cloudless, revealing millions of stars, made it feel even colder.
At 5am, after having slept with our ski boots inside the sleeping bag in order to warm them for the morning, we started our ascent, alongside Meysam and Kourosh, as well as another ten people. Everything was fine, except the coldness. The coldness penetrated deeper and deeper into our flesh with each step we took higher towards the summit. After a while, facing these conditions with the thermometer approaching -40°C degrees, Meysam and we decided to give up and to go down looking for a bit of warmth.
We put on our ski and snowboard gear, and started a special descent all the way down in the fresh Damavand snow, enjoying the feeling as we skied into a glorious sunrise, at an altitude somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 metres on one of the faces of the Iranian volcano. According to mythology, the mountain is hiding a three-headed dragon within its 5,610-metre peak.
Meanwhile, Kourosh and some of the others decided to continue towards the top in spite of the cold.
Later we learned that of those who continued upwards, only Kourosh and three others actually made it to the mountain’s peak; the others, like us, turned around at various points and came back down. Unfortunately, and terribly sadly, on his way back to the refuge from the summit, Kourosh suffered hypothermia and was unable to make it back to the camp quickly enough. Regrettably, he passed away at high altitude. We’d like to offer our deepest condolences to his family and friends, and we will forever keep his memory in our heart and mind. We are incredibly grateful for all he did for us and we give respect to the mountain and nature; they are always stronger than us.
After this tragic event the return to Tehran was very bleak. It took us a few days to get back and have the heart to return to the mountain, but the call of the great outdoors is always stronger and we caught some fabulous late-winter skiing and weather in the Alps.
We at Linde Werdelin also want to extend our sympathy to all those who knew and lost Kourosh. It saddens us that a life was lost on this expedition. While we had no interaction with him directly, it is clear that he was an integral part of Sébastien’s skiing quest, quickly transcending the role of guide and becoming a friend.