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IRAN

expedition handbook

DATES: 04 Nov17 Nov 2017 COST: £3,499

This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this Epic Secret Compass expedition to Iran’s Lut desert.

Read on to discover our ethos and team-centred approach and for the nitty gritty like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations. Use the buttons below to ask questions or to apply for this team or, once approved, to secure your spot on this expedition team with a Booking Form and a £400 deposit.

Key facts

  • Arrive: by 1000 on 4 November 2017 into Tehran.
  • Depart: leave from Tehran any time on 17 November 2017 onwards.
  • Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive cover.
  • Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in.
  • Balance due: 90 days before departure on 4 August 2017.
  • Find FAQ and Testimonials online.

Aim

The aim of this epic desert expedition is to carry out a 220km east to west traverse of Iran’s Lut desert, also known as the Dasht-e-Lut.

Summary

As a member of this pioneering expedition team, you’ll pass through an ever-changing landscape of imposing sand dunes, some shaped like stars which radiate out across the desert plains.
Traversing dunes, rock corridors, kaluts, meteorite fields and rocky plateaux, this expedition will be carried out by the team on foot, with support and water supply from 4WD vehicles.
Secret Compass’s first expedition to the Lut was so unique it featured in National Geographic in 2016. This traverse remains a rare achievement, the desert having only ever been crossed on foot by a handful of adventurous travellers. If you’re passionate about Persia and intrigued by Iran, experience the geology, the desert stars and the solitude on this boundary-pushing desert venture.

Highlights

  • Follow in the footsteps of Thesiger (1964) and Marco Polo (1271).
  • Trek the world’s largest kalut system.
  • Visit meteorite craters and hunt for remnants.
  • Cross the infamous ‘plain of pain’ (named by Secret Compass).
  • Explore the region that’s home to the world’s hottest spot.
  • Pass through former Silk Road haunts.
  • See Kerman, one of Iran’s oldest cities.
  • Discover Tehran after the expedition.

Flights

You need to organise your own international flights. We have a unique partnership with Student Universe (a specialist division of the Flight Centre Travel Group and no, you don’t have to be a student to use them). The dedicated Secret Compass team understand us, our destinations and use global buying power to save you money and offer security along with a 24-hour assistance helpline. Fill in a free, no-obligation Student Universe Flight Request Form or call (UK) 0844 560 9799 for assistance in booking international flights.

It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed or refunded if the expedition dates are changed or if it is cancelled for any reason. See our online Terms and Conditions.

You need to be at the team hotel in Tehran by 1000 on the 4 November 2017, many flights arrive early in the morning so you may wish to arrange an extra night’s accommodation and the expedition officially ends after breakfast on the 17 November 2017 although you are free to depart anytime as many flights depart early in the morning.

Insurance

Travel insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy. Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).

  • Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad of at least $500,000.
  • Activities: ensure that any expedition activities are included, these could be trekking, horse riding, rafting, MTB etc.
  • Geographical region: check the geographical region you are going to is insured (often the US and Canada or countries such as Afghanistan are not insured).
  • Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and the Travel Aware site.
  • Dates: make sure the period of cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice your claims due to this.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose these to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.

Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hour emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit our Expedition Travel Insurance page.

Visas

Visas are your responsibility. The visa application process for Iran requires two stages, the first stage is a visa reference number which Secret Compass will apply for on your behalf.

The second stage is the actual visa application itself. British and EU passport holders require a visa to visit Iran. The London embassy started issuing visas in early 2016 and require you to submit your application in person between 1400 and 1700 on Monday, Wednesday or Friday. Please lodge this application in good time as the process can be long and unpredictable. Women should wear a headscarf in their visa application photo. If you are not a British citizen, please check the specific entry requirements for your country as they can differ considerably. A separate document with more information will be sent out once the team is confirmed.

Please note that recent changes to US entry requirements mean that if you live in a country which is part of the US Visa Waiver Program but have recently (since 2011) travelled to Iran then you will not be able to use the Visa Waiver Program and must apply for a full visa to travel to the US. See here for more details.

Passports

You should have a passport with at least 6 months validity remaining from the end of the expedition. It should not contain an Israeli stamp. Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies with you in a safe place.

Day 1: Nov 4 – Tehran

Arrive in Tehran and make your way to the team hotel by 1000 to meet your leader. There will be an expedition briefing and the chance to leave extra items in the hotel before a team lunch. In the afternoon, transfer to the domestic airport for a flight to Birjand and a night in a comfortable guesthouse.

Day 2: Nov 5 –Birjand

Meet your 4×4 drivers and local guide, Mehrdad, in Birjand for a final shopping trip before driving to the edge of the Lut desert. The trek starts with a short walk to the evening’s campsite.

Day 3 – 10: Nov 6-13 – Lut Desert

Over the next 8 days, you will experience the variety of the challenging Lut desert terrain. The first challenge will be high sand dunes before the team drops down onto rocky desert and out into the plains. Keep an eye out for fragments of meteorite which dot the ground – the largest ever found weighed 18kg but most are much smaller! The next landmark is the Eye of the Lut lake – a remnant of its former glory. It is the only water source for miles around but very salty, so not safe to drink. After passing the eye, you will continue towards the kaluts traversing the base of the impressive star dunes (some of the largest in the world). Entering the kaluts is like entering another world, don’t expect it to be easy going though as soft sand drifts between the rock walls. The exact length of trekking days will vary from 5km to 25km+ depending on the progress of the team, the weather and conditions underfoot.

Day 11: Nov 14 – Kashit

Today may be used as a contingency day for any delays on the expedition, otherwise you will emerge from the kaluts at the edge of the Lut desert having successfully completed your trek. From here, the team will be driven to Kashit, a desert oasis and a welcome sight after your days in the heart of the Lut. There will be a final night of camping here.

Day 12: Nov 15 – Kerman

From Kashit, the team will drive to Kerman, one of the oldest cities in Iran and home to wonderfully decorated bazaars, comfortable guesthouses and the long-awaited showers!

Day 13: Nov 16 – Tehran

After a relaxed morning to explore Kerman, the team will fly back to Tehran for a celebratory team meal and a night in a comfortbale hotel.

Day 14: Nov 17 – Tehran

The expedition officially ends after breakfast today although team members are able to depart anytime and many flights require a very early morning check in. Transfers to the airport or any extensions to your stay are not included in your Secret Compass expedition and you must ensure that your visa is valid for all of your plans and you check any restrictions based on your nationality.

About Secret Compass itineraries

Please remember that this itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but may not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team will adapt, flex and change the plan depending on the numerous frictions you may encounter along the way. An adaptable, team-centred approach is required. In addition, the local airline timetables are only confirmed in October or November so there is flexibility in the itinerary to accommodate changes to the predicted flight timetable.

 

Fitness

All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, this is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you may be sore, tired, hungry and wind-chapped! You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train for the expedition and arrive fit and ready to go. You will be required to be fit enough for the following.

  • Expedition Grade: 270
  • Daily activity: varies but up to approx. 10 hours per day.
  • Walk: up to 25km a day.
  • Carry: up to 15kg.
  • Terrain: across rocky, sandy and sometimes steep terrain with shifting, uneven surfaces.
  • Climate: very hot and dry, up to 35C+, potential sandstorms, cooler nights.

Medical

Vaccinations. Please seek advice from your health professional on recommended vaccinations. The NHS Fit For Travel site and Travel Health Pro are both useful.

Dental. It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are very unpleasant.

Previous experience

No specific previous experience is necessary to join this expedition but team members would benefit from multi-day trekking and camping experience carrying heavy daypacks. Please do not underestimate the challenge presented by the conditions in the Lut desert.

Money

You cannot rely on being able to use ATMs in Tehran and many banks will block activity on debit or credit cards. We suggest you bring cash in USD$ or Euros to exchange for Iranian rials. This expedition is all-inclusive so you won’t need much money, just for airport transfers (who will usually accept $), some souvenirs in Tehran or Kerman or for (discretionary but always appreciated) tips.

Communications

Secret Compass will have an Ops Room manned in the UK throughout your expedition. If your family need to get in touch with you due to an EMERGENCY they can call the Ops Room on +44 (0) 207 096 8428. The Ops Room will ensure the message gets to the expedition within 24 hours. Unfortunately we are unable to pass routine messages between your family members and you.

Cell Phone. There will be signal in Tehran and perhaps Kerman but for the majority of the expedition you should expect to be out of range.

The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for the 2017 expedition to Iran. You will be required to carry a daysack with personal equipment for the full day of trekking, lunch, at least 3 litres of water and a share of the group emergency and communications kit. The rest of the equipment will be transported by 4×4 vehicles which will rejoin the team in the evening. Secret Compass will supply tents, stoves and cooking equipment.

Discounts

Secret Compass have arranged team members discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of these will be sent through on booking.

Baggage and sleeping

  • RUCKSACK OR DUFFLE BAG: Max 70litres. This should be soft-sided (no wheels) and compressible. Space is severely limited in the support vehicles so please pack sensibly.
  • DAYSACK: 30litres. Large enough for your personal kit, suncream, lunch, water and share of the Secret Compass emergency and communications kit. Make sure it is comfortable to use when loaded.
  • WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable “canoe” or “dry” bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb etc to help keep sand out.
  • SMALLER DRY BAGS: As above, but smaller bags to put essential items in. These will hopefully keep your gear dry and sand free.
  • SLEEPING BAG: Rated to at least 0C comfort as the temperature drops at night.
  • SLEEPING MAT: Thermarest or equivalent. Bring repair kit.

Clothing

  • 2 x TREKKING SHIRTS: thin trekking shirts that dry quickly. Long sleeves to provide insect and sun protection.
  • THERMAL BASE LAYER: Long sleeved thermal top. Helly Hansen or equivalent.
  • 2 x LONG TREKKING TROUSERS: Thin trekking trousers that dry quickly and are comfortable.
  • MID LAYER: Fleece or equivalent.
  • WARM LAYER: It may be cold in the evenings.
  • WATERPROOF JACKET: Gore-tex or equivalent.
  • WALKING BOOTS: Must be worn in before the expedition. Please consult your nearest outdoor store for advice on choosing the correct boot. We recommend a specialist desert boot from providers like Altberg.
  • 4 x HIKING SOCKS: Fit well with your boots and provide cushioning.
  • SANDALS: For around camp. Flip flops are not recommended.
  • WIDE BRIMMED SUN HAT
  • WARM HAT: For in the evenings.
  • GLOVES: For in the evenings.
  • 4 x UNDERWEAR: Sport or Cycling shorts don’t chafe.
  • HEADSCARF: Must be worn by women in public. Textured cotton or linen stay in place better than silk or synthetic, hair pins also help with this.

Eating

  • LARGE BOWL
  • MUG
  • KNIFE, FORK AND SPOON
  • WATER BLADDER OR BOTTLES: You need to be able to carry a minimum of 3 litres of water.

Health and Hygiene

  • WASHBAG: This should not be massive! A small drybag or resealable freezer bag is ideal.
  • WET WIPES: There will be no washing facilities during the trek so bring plenty.
  • TOILET PAPER: A small personal supply is useful.
  • ANTIBACTERIAL HANDGEL: Enough for the entire duration of the expedition.
  • SANITARY PRODUCTS: Bring nappy sacks or similar for used items.
  • LIP SALVE: With UV protection.
  • VASELINE: Keep readily available to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters.
  • INSECT REPELLENT
  • AFTER SUN/MOISTURISER: optional.
  • SUN CREAM: Minimum of factor 30.

Small first aid kit

A team medical kit with a comprehensive primary care provision will be carried. Each team member should also bring a small, personal kit with painkillers, zinc oxide tape, plasters and blister plasters, antiseptic wipes, diarrhoea tablets and rehydration sachets. In addition please bring any personal medication you normally use, it’s worth noting down the generic/chemical name for your medication in case you need to buy more. Please also ensure that your medication is legal in your destination.

Other

  • WATCH: Optional.
  • TREKKING POLES: Highly recommended even if you don’t normally use them as the team are covering long distances on uneven, shifting terrain.
  • HEAD TORCH: Bring spare batteries too.
  • GOGGLES: In case of dust or sand storms
  • SUNGLASSES: With UV-filter lenses
  • SPARE GLASSES OR CONTACT LENSES
  • PENKNIFE: Optional but useful.
  • DUCT TAPE: For emergency repairs to your kit.
  • KARABINER: For securing rucksacks in vehicles, hanging boots up etc.
  • SPARE BOOT LACES
  • RESEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS: For dirty washing, wrappings, etc

Our approach

Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines of the world’s most remote reaches. Inspired by history’s great explorers and challenges, you’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.

Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than not expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Each expedition is thoroughly reviewed on its return and team members will have the opportunity to provide feedback which helps to inform planning for future expeditions.

Local partners and bureaucracy

Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.

Infrastructure and natural events

The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.

Food

In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs)

Part of a team

Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.

Typical teammates

There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure and their sense of humour and positive outlook. A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teammates help each other, look out for each, encourage each other and help each other when needed. Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.

Teammate mentality

You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. These elements combine to create the unique character of each expedition. On expedition, challenges, frictions and changes to plans are inevitable. Teammates should meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success. Such things make the journey more interesting and are often most memorable parts when looking back.

Risk management

Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.

  1. Risk assessment.
    We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/ severity if it does occur.
  2. Safety plan.
    As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
  3. Delivery.
    The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.

Key risks.

Key risks encountered on this specific expedition include desert driving and blisters. If you would like to see the full Risk Assessment for this expedition, please email info@secretcompass.com

Incident management and medical.

As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies. This will be discussed in full at the arrival brief, so everyone is aware what action will be taken. In summary, incidences are usually managed on the ground by the expedition leader in the first instance with remote support from Secret Compass’s 24 hour Operations Room before evacuation to the nearest appropriate medical centre.

Informed consent

It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that on this expedition you will be in a wilderness environment and medical evacuation will take an extended period of time (potentially up to 2 days) and will require wilderness extraction techniques and carries by stretcher. In-country search and rescue and emergency services are very basic or non-existent and the expedition will rely on internal resources for medical evacuation. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.

Testimonials

Read team Testimonials or watch this short video featuring expedition teammates (filmed on location in Ethiopia) for an insight into life on expedition.

 

Cultural

Islamic codes of behaviour and dress are strictly enforced. In any public place women must cover their heads with a headscarf, wear trousers (or a floor length skirt), and a long-sleeved tunic or coat that reaches to mid-thigh or knee. Men should wear long trousers and long-sleeve shirts. Whilst in the desert, it may be possible to remove the headscarf. British, Canadian and US nationals must be accompanied by a government approved guide/translator, Secret Compass arranges this for the stated itinerary. The import, sale, manufacture and consumption of alcohol in Iran is strictly forbidden on religious grounds, with no exceptions for foreigners.

Terrain

This expedition will cover a variety of terrain from soft sand dunes and drifts to gravel desert and rocky surfaces. Comfortable, well-fitting, supportive boots are essential.

Weather

November is the start of winter in Iran and Tehran may even see some snowfall (rare but it happened in 2016). Temperatures in the Lut desert in November average 28C although you should be prepared for it to feel hotter as there is no shade and little humidity. Nights are cooler with temperatures dropping towards 0C with wind chill.

Transport

Airport transfers are the team member’s responsibility, the group WhatsApp is useful for arranging lift shares in necessary. Tehran International Airport is located about an hour’s drive outside of the city. There are excellent public transport links to the centre or taxis are available on fixed rate transfers (they will usually also accept $ or Euros). The expedition will start in Tehran city for a briefing at 1000 before a private transfer to the Domestic airport for the short flight to Birjand. The team will use 4×4 vehicles to reach the trailhead in the Lut desert and for support throughout the expedition. The expedition itself will be on foot.

Accommodation

Whilst in Tehran, Kerman and Birjand, the team will stay in comfortable guesthouses on a twin-share basis. Although the team will not stay in Tehran at the start of the expedition, arrangements have been made for the group to leave any extra luggage there for collection at the end of the expedition. Any extra nights outside of the Secret Compass itinerary can be booked directly with the hotel. Whilst in the Lut desert, the team will be camping in tents provided by Secret Compass which will be transported by the support vehicles.

Food

In towns, the team will eat well in local restaurants whilst they will be accompanied by a cook during the expedition who will prepare basic but tasty fresh meals for breakfast and dinner whilst lunch will be a packed-lunch style. Team members are expected to help with food preparation and clearing. Dietary requirements can usually be catered for but should be discussed with Secret Compass in advance, vegetarianism is not widespread in Iran and it can be difficult to find vegetarian options. It is recommended that you bring a favourite snack or cereal bar for each expedition day as a morale boost.

Leader

This expedition will be led by Luca Alfatti, Wanderlust’s Guide of the Year and regular Secret Compass expedition leader (and team member!). He has travelled widely through Iran, including leading the inaugural Lut Desert crossing in 2015, and is a walking encyclopaedia of interesting facts and languages combined with the all-important sense of humour. As an added bonus, Luca is a qualified paramedic and loves running blister clinics mid-desert expedition!

Communications

Secret Compass staff will be carrying at least two methods of communication, usually a Satellite Phone and a DeLorme two-way communication device. These will be used for regular updates to head office and for emergencies. Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.

Here are some frequently asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our general FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.

I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?

Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying. The food situation is outlined in the Practicalities tab.

I’ve never done a desert trek before. Can I come?

It’s hard to recreate the conditions of a desert trek in the fog of Wales or the humidity of Singapore so we don’t require our team members to have completed a desert expedition before. However, experience of multi-day treks or expeditions, as well as a good level of fitness and positive attitude, will be a great preparation for this trip.

Can I arrive a day late?

As the plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates to the trailhead of the expedition, so start and end dates are not flexible.

Can I charge electricals?

Once the expedition phase begins, there will be no access to mains power. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration.

Do you provide further advice?

You might find our Get Ready section useful, with further advice about fitness, flights, travel insurance, visas and our approach to risk management.

How can I apply?

Use the buttons below to contact Secret Compass with your questions or to complete our no-obligation Application Form to join this team. Someone will get back to you promptly.

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