According to ancient pre-christian text of the mystic seer Zoroaster, Damavand contains the sleeping fire-breathing dragon Azi Dahaka. At the summit of the volcano lies a 150-200m wide crater, which has a small crater lake that freezes through in the winter months. There are active fumaroles at the volcano’s summit, and hot springs at various locations around the flanks of the volcano.
Damavand was first climbed in 905 AD by Abu Dolaf Kazraji, although an Englishman named W.T. Thompson was the first European to summit in 1837. At the time, Thompson noted that Iraninas were climbing the volcano to mine sulfur for commercial use.
Geologic Background / Eruptive History
Damavand lies in the Elburz (Alborz) mountainous region of the Mazandaran province. Interestingly, the volcano is thought to be the result of a geologically isolated mantle hot spot that is causing melting of the overlying non-volcanic crustal rocks, and is not the result of tectonically-related (subduction) volcanism. The volcano towers almost 4,700 m (15,300 ft) above the surrounding countryside. Imagine skiing that!
Although classified as dormant, Damavand is still considered an active volcano. The last known eruption was around 7,000 years ago, from the volcano’s summit. Effusive, or inexplosive activity evidenced by eruption of trachyandesitic lavas has dominated the recent history of Damavand over the past 600,000 years. Activity at the fumaroles and hot springs around the volcano increased in 2007, frightening locals into thinking a reawakening of the volcano might be imminent.
A major explosive eruption at around 280,000 years ago produced an ignimbrite, or pyroclastic ash flow that is visible in the Haraz river drainage. The total eruptive volume of the currently visible volcanic cone is thought to be around 400 cubic km, and the region surrounding the volcano is interspersed with evidence of sector collapse and numerous examples of erosion and deposition of volcano material by fluvial geomorphic processes.
Damavand has several perennial ice fields. The largest and most well-known is the Yakhar glacier in the valley of the same name on the eastern flank of the volcano near the Arosakha and Chalchal glaciers. The Yakhar starts just below the volcano’s summit, and extends down to an elevation of 3,500 m where it gives rise to the Talkhrood river. On the north face of Damavand lies the Sioleh and Dobi Sel glaciers. The Kafar Dareh glacier adorns hte south side of the volcano.
Iran? Americans can’t go to Iran! Correct. If you are American, it’s probably not a very good idea to go to Iran and try to ski this volcano. Regardless of your political persuasion, it is a well-documented fact that Iran takes a dim view of American tourists, and they are likely to arrest you immediately upon entry into the country and throw you in jail forever and assume you are a spy.
If you happen to have a passport from a country that isn’t engaged in several wars in the Middle East, then you might have more luck heading to Damavand to go shred 15,000 feet of 30 degree corn. Once you get there, your best bet is to link up with a tour company. There are a few such outfits that will guide you to the top of Damavand:
Mount Damavand Guide (Including Self-Guided GPS routes)
The classic South Route is the easiest way up Damavand. A short 2-3 hour drive from Tehran on the Haraz road through the village of Pulor will take you to the start of this route. Along the way you will make use of two high elevation campsites – the Goosfand sara camp at 3,000m (9,800 ft), and then the Bargah sevom hut at 4,150 m (13,615 ft). Your route will take you past the Kafar Dareh glacier. The South route is not technical if undertaken in the summer climbing season of June to September.
There are other, more difficult routes up Damavand, including the northeastern route between the Sioleh and Dobi Seh glaciers. This route starts in the village of Nandal and passes via the Takht-e Fereydoun hut at 4,300m / 13,000 feet. On the western flank of the volcano, the ascent route includes a stay at the Simorgh hut at 1,400 m / 13,500 ft. On this route you can see the 40-foot tall Abshar Yakhi waterfall at 5,100 me elevation.
Damavand offers great skiing. Check out this expedition video from 2008:
Iran Mountain Zone offers a guided 7-day ski tour up Damavand in the winter. They suggest March – April as the ideal time to ski the volcano, when the weather isn’t as harsh as mid-winter and the snow is likely to be at it’s deepest. Think Mt. Shasta, but 1,000+ feet taller and with being able to ski to sea level. They don’t publish their pricing, but you can reach out to them with the details of your group and desired dates via their website to find out how much your expedition is going to cost.
Where to Check in with the Local Scientists
Damavand is monitored by the Geological Survey of Iran. They maintain a network of at least 10 seismometers around the volcano, and it is these instruments that would typically show the beginning of volcanic reawakening via an increase in the frequency and magnitude of earthquakes within the cone of Damavand should the volcano come to life. As always, check their website for any reports of changes in activity, and be sure to ask your guide(s) if any status has changed when you arrive.