Opposite from top left:
A sheepherder in the
mountains; Rayen Citadel,
south of Kerman, is a
medieval mud brick city
that was inhabited until 150
years ago; Naqsh-e Rustam
in Persepolis with ancient
carved reliefs; a woman
from the village of Bavanat.
This page from top: Mule
drivers at Alam-Kooh
base camp; view from the
summit of Alam-Kooh.
Night and Day
The night before arriving at base camp we make camp by
the river, and on the other side is an Afghani man who is
taking care of 2,000 sheep with the help of five dogs that
bark all night long. Far from being an annoyance, the
activity adds a note of adventure.
The next morning, we start on the trail very early
because we have a difficult, long day ahead. We climb
two 12,000-foot passes before finally descending to our
base camp. On the second peak I find another Afghani
sheepherder taking a rest in the morning sun. When he finds
out I am from the United States, he smiles broadly and says
how much he admires America. He then asks how can it be
that it is morning in Iran and nighttime in the States? I pick
up a round rock and do my best to explain it to him as Ali
translates. Finally, the Afghani man puts his palm over his
heart as a sign of respect and wishes us safe travels.
The view from this second pass is gorgeous, with high
peaks, lakes and ice. A few hours later we arrive at a beautiful meadow and set up our base camp by a creek and
yes, on the other side of the valley is yet another Afghani
sheepherder with about 1,500 sheep and four dogs.
We wake up to a gorgeous sunrise, golden-colored
mountains and crystal-clear air. We set off very early for
the summit of Alam-Kooh. The trail is easy for the first
hour, then gets very narrow and steep and is full of loose
rock. Halfway up we meet an Iranian group of about 15
men and women (yes, women are free to go trekking in
Iran) who had come up the night before. When they hear
that I am American everyone shakes my hand and tells me
how much they love the USA.
We reach the summit around noon, and what a wonder-
ful feeling to stand at the top enjoying the view. The sense
of accomplishment is always a natural high.
The Road Home
On the long Turkish Airlines flight home, I look back at my
experiences in the desert, the mountains and the country.
To me it is regrettable that Americans are so hesitant and
misinformed about Iran. We are strategic friends with
other countries in the Middle East where women are not
allowed to go outside on their own, drive a car or go to a
cafe. In Iran you see young and old women driving cars,
walking hand-in-hand with their boyfriends and having
lunch with their girlfriends. One thing that impresses me
is that even very conservative women dressed all in black
are not afraid to share a cup of tea at a cafe with more pro-
gressive women wearing makeup and just a scarf over their
heads. Women in Iran are also not shy about striking up a
conversation with a foreigner like me.
I have been to Iran many times and the people there are
some of the most welcoming around. The only real danger
in Iran is crossing a city street — for that you truly need
determination, agility and nerve. m
I am hoping to climb Alam-Kooh,
the second-highest peak in
Iran at 15,912 feet. I am the only
foreigner on the trail.