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Iran Diary

Zagros Mountains & Karun Canyon

We were in the Zagros Mountains in 1976 where we partially explored the impressive Karun Canyon (before we were thrown out by the army). The mystery of the cliffs of the Karun River Canyon may tempt others with a nose for adventure though sad to say like much of that part of the world it all seems out of bounds for the moment. Undoubtedly the best way to find out about them would be to descend this fast and beautiful river in a raft - which is what Tom Allen and Leon McCarron did many years later, emailing me to say, “From Dopolan down to Ma'dan there was some utterly stunning terrain. I'm no climber but I imagine you could pick any number of spots. The descriptions about towering cliffs on the north-east side and rock slopes on the south-west side of the valley are correct. Also there are more true canyons upstream of Do Pulan than downstream, whilst from Ma'dan onwards the water's backed up behind a series of dams.”

See Tom's website and photos

We also made the first ascent of the 1000m Kuh-e-Bisotun cliff above the Silk Road. Route: the central Anglo-Swiss Pillar, Grade 5 finishing just right of summit.


This peak is situated above the village and sacred spring of Bisotun, about 30km east along the road from Kermanshah to Hamadan. At the eastern end of the cliff are carvings from the period of Darius the Great 2,500 years ago. The peak itself is an outlier of the Kuh-e-Parau massif where the Ghar Parau cave is situated. As far as we know, back in 1976 we were the first people to climb here or climb any big wall in Iran.

Start below the pillar and just right of a cave slit, and ascend grooves between ribs for about 150m (3, 4) to a large terrace. (This point can be reached easily from the left by ascending a broad gully then walking along the terrace to the field below the diagonal chimney good bivy site) then scramble up to the base of the main pillar). A series of enjoyable cracks and chimneys (3, 4) lead up the left centre of the pillar to a belay at a tree below overhangs. Go directly up through the roofs (5, one peg) then more cracks and chimneys follow (4) up the pillar to a large ledge. Straight up the wall above (3) to below a prominent flake crack. Go right, below this to the edge of a gully and then up a difficult hanging crack (5+) to below a slab. Ascend this from its left edge, delicate (5) and move up left over bulges. Traverse horizontally right on ledges to enter the gully (5+) then regain the pillar by crack systems up the left side of the gully which eventually lead to the large terrace (3, 4). Bivouac sites.

Go left on the terrace and up the rib on the right of the big diagonal chimney (3), then up a difficult crack on a 5m finger (5+, two slings for aid). From here traverse right across a steep wall and up a difficult corner (5+, two pegs) to a small ledge. Move easily left then up diagonally right (3), then across a rounded bulge (5, one peg) into an open corner above the large overhangs. Easily up the couloir (3) for three rope lengths finishing on slabs to the right, then follow cracks (mostly 3, one section 5) to the top of the pillar. Beyond here is a maze of towers and gullies. Scramble directly upwards to below the central rib behind which is a corner trending left. Move into this then out left and up the left edge of the rib in fine position (3, 4) until forced back into the corner. After 5m (5) continue more easily up the corner slabs (3, 4) to a platform from which a short scramble and a 10m chimney lead to the top about 100m right of the summit.

Jan 2002

There are now about 50 routes on the wall, including an E4 and two new French routes. There is also a cafe at the bottom run by an Iranian climber. Useful contacts: