The day's first rays of light make it over the mountain tops to grace the backs of the expedition team members ascending to the summit of Mt. Halgurd


Kurdistan expedition insight

Written by Chris Hunt Photography by Martin Hefti

Adventure is addictive for different reasons depending on who you ask. For some the opportunity to discover something new proves irrefutable, for others a simple injection of adrenaline will suffice. For our Kurdistan expedition team, waking to dream conditions well above the snow line, before successfully summiting the highest peak in Iraq, has no doubt won them all over as future alpinists.

“It was tough getting out of the tent to both prepare and stomach the boil in the bag at 4am,” recalls team member and UK based school teacher Vicky Burford. “But sunrise on summit day when we were cutting steps up the mountain was a moment I will never forget.”

This is what sunrise looks like on summit day on Mt. Halgurd
Team mates Phil,Matt and Rick get their heads down for the final ascent of Mt. Halgurd

Upon the unzipping of tents, the serene mix of sublime weather conditions and stillness that comes with a 4am start high above the snow line, hinted at a successful day on the mountain. Under an uninterrupted canopy of stars, all that stood between them and the final ascent to summit of Mount Halgurd was cramming full of calories.

“We made our way from high camp to the base of the slope before sunrise, walking under a perfect starry sky for about 90 minutes,” recalls 48-year-old Swiss neurologist, Martin Hefti. “The moment we reached the long, steep slope of snow and ice that leads to the summit was absolutely perfect.”

The atmosphere, a thick mix of excitement and anxiety, the ultimate goal of the expedition now upon them. The pre-climb nerves firmly set in across the team as they prepared their crampons and helmets.

“Just when everyone was ready to start the ascent, the sun broke over the horizon into a flawless dark blue sky,” remembers Martin. “It’s these moments that make alpinism addictive.”

There’s nothing like a fine display of nature to bless a summit attempt. The team made a smooth ascent to the summit in sublime, picturesque conditions.

Hiking at dawn to summit the highest peak wholly in Iraq, Mt. Halgurd
Kicking steps on Mt. Halgurd, shot on spring's 2017 Kurdistan expedition

“(Team leaders,) Phil and Lachlan certainly made sure that the ascent was technically within reach of everybody,” continues Martin. “I came prepared for a much tougher climb but then it could have been if weather conditions had been different.”

Limbs rested and egos suitably stroked, the inevitability of daily life has now returned for the team. For some, plans of the next alpine adventure are well underway while others sit content in the knowledge that a lifetime goal has been ticked off.

He might be back to the normality of working life, but it hasn’t taken Martin long to line up the next opportunity to get back into the snow.

“My wife and I will be in the Tien Shan mountains (China) in July this year,” he says. “We’ll do a bit of high altitude touring back home through the summer and have plans to cross the Ruwenzori Range from Congo to Uganda in March next year. But we also have to look at your Georgia expedition a bit more closely.”

Turns out stargazing in Iraqi Kurdistan can be sublime.
Sunrise in the Zargos mountains
Qaysari Bazaar, downtown Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan

Thinking about joining an expedition this year? Lean the skills to summit your first 5000m+ peak in Georgia in May, or claim the adventurous first ascent of one of Greenland’s unnamed and unclimbed peaks in August.

See the full list of our expeditions here.

The Journal

Adventure Inspiration

To receive expedition updates and adventure inspiration from Secret Compass, just add your email below.

See you on a team soon…

Terms and Conditions
  1. One entry per person.
  2. Closing date for entries is 12:00 JAN 19th.
  3. Entrants must be at least 18 years old.
  4. The prize includes: 1 ticket valid for one-day entry on either Saturday 20th or Sunday 21st January 2018
  5. Getting to the venue in London is the responsibility of the winner.
  6. The prize is only available from 20th – 21st August 2018.
  7. The prize cannot be exchanged for a cash alternative.
  8. The prize cannot be sold or used by anyone other than the winner.
  9. The promoter reserves the right to provide an alternative prize of similar value should the specified prize become unavailable for any reason.
  10. Neither the Promoter nor any other person or party associated with this promotion shall be liable for any loss or damage whatsoever suffered (including, but not limited to, indirect or consequential loss or damage) or personal injury or death suffered or sustained in connection with either participation in this promotion or with any prizes offered.
  11. The promoter reserves the right to cancel or amend the terms of this prize and without notice in the unlikely event of a major catastrophe, war, earthquake or any anticipated or alleged breach of any applicable law or regulation or any similar event or if circumstances arise outside of its control.
  12. The winner will be selected randomly by Secret Compass on 19 JAN 2017.
  13. Attempts will be made to notify the winner using the email address provided at the time of entry. If the promoter, having used reasonable efforts, is unable to contact the winner, then the prize is forfeited and further draw(s) may be conducted.
  14. The winner may be required to take part in reasonable publicity as specified by the Promoter.
  15. The Promoter cannot be held liable for IT system failures or delays or loss of entries.
  16. The organiser reserves the right to cancel this competition, or to change any condition of this competition, without notice.
  17. Acceptance of these terms and conditions is a condition of entry.
  18. No purchase necessary.