At £26.99 they were the most expensive pair I’d ever bought. But I couldn’t have been more glad of my knee-length, wool-lined waterproof socks as I slogged through waist-deep snow in a cheap pair of trainers. My shoes were soaked through; I couldn’t feel my hands or nose; the 30-kilo pack dug into my shoulders and made my hips ache; but at least my toes were warm.
A fresh covering of snow had fallen overnight. I knew this because that same blizzard had been blowing spindrift in my face for the previous 10 hours as Leon and had I cowered beneath the insect mesh of the ultralight tent that we’d erected on the marble floor of an open-air hillside tomb.
It had seemed like a good idea until the wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped to minus 20 and the wolves had begun to howl through the darkness. Needless to say, we didn’t get much sleep on the first, inauspicious night of our expedition.
The plan for the trip was very simple, as the best plans always are: we would find the source of the longest river in Iran and follow it to the sea. We carried winter clothes, packrafts – inflatable one-man boats – and full camping equipment, and we would make our way down from over 3,000 metres in altitude to sea level by any means necessary.
This was, of course, simply an excuse to pursue the real aim of the trip: to spend five weeks exploring the culture, society and geography of one of the world’s most misunderstood nations. This was why I’d spent the previous two years learning Persian language rather than paddling techniques.
Over the next few weeks I am going to share this fascinating and unpredictable journey with you in pictures. I am going to refrain from elaborating much more on the story for the time being, as Leon and I plan to do this later in the year in the form of a documentary film (incidentally the most difficult film either of us have ever attempted to shoot).
For all our ambitions of simplicity, the tale that did unravel was far more complex than either of us expected. I hope that the following images from this journey will offer a glimpse of what’s to come.
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The journey began high in the Zagros mountains of Iran’s Chaharmahal & Bakhtiari province, a couple of hundred kilometres from the major city of Esfahan. It’s well known as the coldest region of Iran, and was still deep in winter’s grip when we made our way there in mid-February.
It was not possible to follow the river’s banks directly, as they were still buried under several feet of snow. So we took to the mountain roads, hoping that they would remain clear and that the blizzards of the first night would not return.
The Alpine snowscapes of the Kuhrang region began to pass behind us as we crossed into more southerly watersheds and began to lose altitude. Warnings of wolves and bears roaming these wild landscapes never grew less frequent, though we were yet to actually spot one of the animals. At the same time, the river began to widen – though we were still unable to tell how long it might be before we were able to inflate our boats and relieve ourselves of these bloody packs…
Hospitality is a much-talked-about feature of travelling in Iran, as I knew from four previous trips to the country. But we did not expect our first night’s camping to also be the last night we would spend in the open for the entire duration of the trip.
It wasn’t until after a week of trekking that we found the point at which the river joined it’s first major tributary, and suddenly it began to look like we might be able to squeeze a couple of packrafts through among the boulders.
More next week. Do come back to find out how we got on! (Hint: it involved one of us getting very wet indeed…)
Items of equipment for this trip were kindly sponsored by Big Agnes and Osprey Packs. Our Iranian visas were procured with great efficiency courtesy of The Visa Machine. We’re also grateful to the folk at Lyon Outdoor for supplying Exped drybags and Aquapac waterproof camera cases for this journey.