In May 2018, I successfully climbed the highest mountain in Iraq! I had been reading about Halgurd (3607m) for almost a year. It is a mountain filled with potential difficulties: sensitive location on the Iranian border, permission issues, land mines, no maps, no clearly defined route, scarce information, notoriously strong winds, and a location in the heart of the volatile Middle East. But after months of planning and two days of hard effort through waist deep snow, I made it. I even (poorly) skied part of the descent (first time on skis in 10 years!).
I was in Iraqi Kurdistan leading a week-long tour for Lupine Travel. After this, I stayed in the country to complete my Halgurd climb. Land mines, laid by Saddam Hussein in the 1980's during the Iran-Iraq war, had been my main concern. I therefore employed a local guide to take me through the minefields on the lower slopes of the mountain, before continuing alone to the summit. The risk associated with these mines is very real. In the few days I spent in this area, two local people were killed by landmines. The locals often wander knowingly into minefields to collect edible plants, or even dig up, dismantle and sell the components of the mines.
Completing this climb late in the winter added to my difficulties. The deep snow had retained its depth but was complete mush, meaning that ascending through it was incredibly tiring and slow-going. Nonetheless, on reaching the highest of Halgurd's three tops, I felt incredibly satisfied to achieve this unusual but quite unique goal.