Karl May once wrote adventure novel called Durchs Wilde Kurdistan even though he had never been there before. We went to the center of that area in nowadays Iraq, straight to the mountains. Is Iraqi Kurdistan really wild? Let´s see.
Slovaks finally on the top (ascent to Cheekha Dar 3611 m)
I like seeing places where
there is almost impossible to meet tourists. Because of that you are able to
get to know locals better - too see who they truly are. Also, you will have
a unique travelling experience. Nowadays, everybody can travel everywhere.
Massive tourism is killing "spirit "of countries that is often hard to see.
Luckily, there are still places that you can discover or re-discover. Mountain
range Zagros can be considered to be one of these places. These mountains take
big part of today's Iraq and Iran. And we stood right on that border - that
border is guarded by Iranian military and we would not be able to climb one peak
of these mountains without help of winter. This peak is called Black Tent
(Cheekha Dar). It is the highest point of Iraq with height of 3611 meters above
the sea. Last foreign expedition reached the top in 2011 but November 2018 was
ours. Why is alpine tourism in Iraq so complicated and unpopular? This was
caused during the era of arabization and Saddam Hussein. During these times,
military used to build bases in mountains and these bases were protected with
mines. Due to this fact, it is a must to have reliable guide who knows
where the mines are. But the highest peak of Iraq is special. It is located
right at the border with Iran and Iranian army build a new military base
on the plateau - and this is why it is forbidden to climb that mountain. But
the winter came and this was ours chance.
Meeting the mountaineers
Sun has already set when we arrived to the city of Choman in Arbil governorate. We are waiting for our guides - Salar and Casim. They are courageous boys who guide tourists to local Halgurd that is few meters lower than our peak. It is located far from Kurdish borders and mines were cleared from there. This is a great opportunity to make some money for them. They are not professional tour guides - they do not exist in Iraq. We did not have a choice, we had to trust them. Salar is 32 years old, he has sharp nose and black hair. He is the only one who speaks English - we are trying to speak to each other. Casim is kind of clown - he is constantly smiling and singing. But you could feel his strength and humbleness - I started to like him immediately.
Journey to the unknown
Few days ago rained like crazy and forecast was not nice as well. But in the day of our climb weather improved. Driver is coming for us, we had to drive by 4x4 vehicle for small part of our journey. The terrain is rocky and very wet because of rain. The first problem occurred - the bridge we had to pass was completely destroyed because of rain. We had to start walking from 1600 meters above the sea. Super elevation 2000 meters is a real challenge and I am worried about my knee during climbing down. I had a problems with it in High Tatras (Slovakia) before. Two youngsters came to us right after we suit up. They seemed nice and our guides started a conversation with them. I found out later that they were Kurdish rebels which are roaming around mountainous areas. I expected to meet them but I was not worried because Kurdish people are very friendly. I know this because this is my 4th visit of this area. I am trying to forget the problems with my knee during the climb. We are climbing higher and higher with brakes every hour. There is no road because there were not many attempts to climb this mountain. We are walking up until we notice this astonishing view. Unspeakable feeling - beauty, silence, ice and snow. Our guides are happy about icicles and they are licking them. This will be just a second climb for Salar here even though he climbed Halgur tens or hundreds times.
On the hot border
Last steeper part and we are almost on the top. My buddy - climber Martin Juris is passionate about creating content, so he is taking photos and filming like crazy. I like watching him enjoying this. He is the professional with a great heart - and I am glad that he agreed to take part in this trip. I guess you won't be surprised if I tell you that finding right person for this trip is very difficult. Martin convinced me immediately because of his experience and open-mindedness. I have already absolved one trip in the Alps with him. "We had been through better times in the pub "This is his memorable statement that can always make me laugh even during the hard times.
This is it - the top of the plateau. Salar shouts at us to wait. We cannot wait to reach the top. Guides are going first for safety reason - just to make sure that Iranian military is gone. I told to myself: "Fine, at least they won't shoot me first. "Finally, everything ended up well and we reached the top. The temperature is around zero and the country looks like cut out from fairytale. I still couldn't believe that we made it here. We are first Slovaks who made it there. All this work paid off. I am noticing the military base beside the top. The soldiers must have a good time here during the summer. Martin and Casim started to celebrate success with dancing. They start with Slovak folk and they continue with Kurdish one. I am recording everything. So, this law is viable here - Everything is wild in Kurdistan.
Dramatic journey back
It seems that our guides are not in rush, they are singing and preparing tea and food - just like at the picnic. The problem is that it starts getting dark. We were climbing to the top for eight hours. We are keep goind but it is freezing cold. We climbed down the hardest part during the day. Later, Salar apologized to us that he did not take the rope. The terrain was very steep and difficult to climb down.
Finally, it happened. I started to have a problem with my knee. After some time I could not move with a leg and I it hurt terribly. I sat down desperately. I walk until I can, but I had to give up later. I would call a Mountain Rescue Service but you would rather meet smugglers here. But I realized that this is not life endangering situation. I will crawl down in the worst case - even if it would take whole night. Martin supports me and he gave me fix bandage - we fixed the knee and I am pulling my right leg behind me. My movement looks like mixture of prey animal and bad clown. We are moving terribly slowly and we are running out of water supplies.
In the end, we really met a smuggler. I am shouting on Salar to ask him for help - I could ride on his donkey. But he disappeared in the dark. His path was clearly different.
All is well that ends well
We are finally climbing down it becomes a lot easy for me to keep walking. We found some river when we just sat down and drank. We had no idea where were our guides, so we are just shouting our names and we finally find each other. One easy part to go - we arrived to our car around midnight. I was terribly exhausted, but alive. Everything ende dup well. All trip took us 17 hours. If I would not have problem with my knee, we could do it in 12-13 hours for sure.
We are recovering for whole one day - we are not interested in other climbs. I am very grateful for Martin's support. He encouraged me for a whole trip, told me stories that made me think about something else than my knee.
We are getting better - physically and psychologically. We kept exploring Kurdistan and we also went beyond its borders. We are visiting the town of Sulaymaniyah with museum that used to be the torture room and prison from the era of previous regime. But this is the different story.
Autonomous area in the north-west Iraq with its own government, flag and anthem with area 78 736 km². The population of this country is about 6 million people, it is divided on governorates Arbil, Dahuk, Sulaymaniyah a Halabja. Kurds also live outside of the official borders of Kurdistan. For example in towns Kirkuk and Khanaqin. Arbil is considered a capital city. Locals speak Kurdish, Arabian and the currency is Iraqi dinar. Mountains in the north-western part of the country are part of the mountain range that stretches from Balkan through southern Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and it ends in the Himalayas. There are 4 seasons in this country which are changing regularly. The country experienced dark era of Saddam Hussein, when Kurdish rights were suppressed. In the end of 80's during the operation called al-Anfal, the genocide of the Kurdish nation happened. I tis estimated that 100 000 people were murdered and more than 4000 villages destroyed.
Date of trip: november 2018
Author: Peter Gregor