The Zagros Mountains stand at over three thousand metres and guard the high passes into Persia. They are sacred to the Kurdish people who offer the warm welcome of their traditional hospitality to any visitor to this remote region.
This expedition has just been completed in 2013 and so we currently evaluating the trip and will release details of the 2014 trip shortly!
Mission: An expedition to climb Mount Halgurd (3,607m) in the Zagros Mountains, Kurdistan, Iraq.
Despite a reputation for political uncertainty, Iraqi Kurdistan is a fascinating place. Home to the ancient city of Erbil, packed with exquisite mosques and hectic bazaars, incredible highland landscapes filled with stone age caves, lush valleys and a culture of friendship and nobility untouched touched by decades of persecution. Kurdistan has been autonomous since 2003 and has not suffered the violence experienced by the remainder of Iraq. Since that time only a handful of intrepid visitors have dared to travel to the area and now, we are proud to offer an expedition to blaze a trail and pioneer a challenging expedition into these forgotten mountains.
Jagged mountains rise to display snow-capped summits high above lone shepherd huts, and waterfalls crash down from the brown cliffs into raging rivers. Iraqi Kurdistan is a land of beautiful hope; of traditional warmth, generosity and desire for peace in a country undergoing a rapid transition to modernity against a terrible backdrop of war. In the Kurdistan Autonomous Region, vast highland plains are dissected by raw and rocky valleys which are flanked to the East by the formidable Zagros range. It is here that we will set foot in a place that is as remote as it is spectacular.
After a successful expedition to recce the Zagros Mountains in March 2012, the team at Secret Compass have decided to return to Iraqi Kurdistan to make another winter attempt of Iraq’s second highest mountain, Mt Halgurd. At 3,607 meters it is an excellent challenge in one of the most beautiful mountain regions we have visited anywhere in the world. On top of this, the hospitality of the Kurdish people was an experience in itself worth returning for.
Mount Halgurd stands in the Zagros Range, which bisects Iraq, Iran and Turkey. It stands 39m lower than Iraq’s highest peak, Cheekah Dar- which unfortunately cannot be climbed for political reasons, as it sits on the border with Iran. The mountain does not require any technical experience, and the skills required on the mountain will be taught on the lower slopes. This includes use of Ice axe and crampons. Until the mountain was climbed in 2004 by British mountaineer Ginge Fullen, Halgurd was thought to be the country’s highest mountain. Most people in the region still consider Halgurd to be the tallest mountain in Iraq. Though this might not still be the case it certainly is the more beautiful of the two.
Changing perceptions: For most people, the first images that spring to mind when thinking of Iraq are of conflict and war. The Gulf War and the American Invasion of Iraq in 2003 have understandably remained etched in peoples’ memory. Iraqi Kurdistan, which was to a large extent spared by the latest conflict, nonetheless went through particularly difficult times itself, during the course of which its populations were crushed by the totalitarian forces of the former dictator of Iraq. For a while, the Kurds were riven by internal conflict which led to a form of civil war.
However the situation has improved considerably since then, and in claiming to be a “Switzerland of the Middle East”, Iraqi Kurdistan is proving that it has been able to overcome these contradictions and take full advantage of a particularly strong cultural identity. Erbil will be an unexpected surprise to any visitor with it’s luxury hotels, shopping malls and world class airport: a sharp contrast to the 5000 year old citadel in the city centre. The diversity of its landscapes, from vast highlands to magnificent mountain ranges, makes it a hikers’ paradise. Covering a surface area of about 20% of the whole of Iraq, Kurdistan will constantly offer the traveller new horizons, vast plains and high mountains, as well as towns with the authentic charm that can only be found in oriental cities. Wedged in between the borders of Iran and Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan runs its own affairs in the north-east of the country. It is mountainous rather than flat, green rather than arid. And most importantly, it is safe.
Iraqi Kurdistan, or Kurdistan Autonomous Region, is an independent region within Iraq. It borders Iran to the east, Turkey to the north, Syria to the west and the rest of Iraq to the south. The regional capital is Erbil. The region is officially governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government. The establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government dates back to the March 1970 Autonomy Agreement between the Kurdish Opposition and the Iraqi Government after years of heavy fighting.
Will be in a basic hotel in Erbil. From here we will be staying in a mixture of local guesthouses, shepherds huts and tents!
Is usually kebab based in Iraq with rice and bread. We will be using dehydrated trekking rations on the mountain. Expect to be invited into several homes along the way to eat delicious yoghurt and drink traditional tea.
Will involve bumpy rides in 4WD vehicles and trekking.
REALITY OF TRAVEL
This is a unique and exciting opportunity to be part of an exploratory expedition to one of the worlds most inaccessible peaks. Our experience of running expeditions in post conflict zones mean that we have a strong team in place to ensure success. However, this is an exploratory expedition to an area that has no tourism infrastructure whatsoever. Don’t expect well organised local fixers, things to run on time, and any sort of luxury. Do expect delays, haggling, bureaucracy and some unique local characters! This is why we love running these sort of expeditions, the reward comes from the challenge of getting there!
SUITABLE TEAM MEMBERS
Should be over 21, fit and healthy as this trip involves 5 days continuous days of strenuous trekking at altitude, gaining a total height of just under 2000m carrying a pack weighing around 20kg which includes all your own equipment. There will be no porters on the mountain.
The expedition will be fully guided, with 2 Guides for up to 12 Team Members.
SAFETY AND SECURITY
The UK FCO currently have no restrictions on travel to Kurdistan. We will strictly adhere to international boundaries and ensure that at no point do we enter Iran. There is a threat from minefields in the area but we conduct a thorough reconnaissance of all routes beforehand and employ a local Kurdish guide to ensure we stick to proven routes. We would be happy to speak further about safety and security in the region.