The day's first rays of light make it over the mountain tops to grace the backs of the expedition team members ascending to the summit of Mt. Halgurd


mountaineering in Iraqi Kurdistan

Photography by Martin Hefti

Adventure is addictive for different reasons depending on who you ask. For some the opportunity to discover something new proves irrefutable, for others a simple injection of adrenaline will suffice. For our Kurdistan expedition team, waking to dream conditions well above the snow line, before successfully summiting the highest peak in Iraq, has no doubt won them all over as future alpinists.

“It was tough getting out of the tent to both prepare and stomach the boil in the bag at 4am,” recalls team member and UK based school teacher Vicky Burford. “But sunrise on summit day when we were cutting steps up the mountain was a moment I will never forget.”

This is what sunrise looks like on summit day on Mt. Halgurd
Team mates Phil,Matt and Rick get their heads down for the final ascent of Mt. Halgurd

Upon the unzipping of tents, the serene mix of sublime weather conditions and stillness that comes with a 4am start high above the snow line, hinted at a successful day on the mountain. Under an uninterrupted canopy of stars, all that stood between them and the final ascent to summit of Mount Halgurd was cramming full of calories.

“We made our way from high camp to the base of the slope before sunrise, walking under a perfect starry sky for about 90 minutes,” recalls 48-year-old Swiss neurologist, Martin Hefti. “The moment we reached the long, steep slope of snow and ice that leads to the summit was absolutely perfect.”

The atmosphere, a thick mix of excitement and anxiety, the ultimate goal of the expedition now upon them. The pre-climb nerves firmly set in across the team as they prepared their crampons and helmets.

“Just when everyone was ready to start the ascent, the sun broke over the horizon into a flawless dark blue sky,” remembers Martin. “It’s these moments that make alpinism addictive.”

There’s nothing like a fine display of nature to bless a summit attempt. The team made a smooth ascent to the summit in sublime, picturesque conditions.

Hiking at dawn to summit the highest peak wholly in Iraq, Mt. Halgurd
Kicking steps on Mt. Halgurd, shot on spring's 2017 Kurdistan expedition

“(Team leaders,) Phil and Lachlan certainly made sure that the ascent was technically within reach of everybody,” continues Martin. “I came prepared for a much tougher climb but then it could have been if weather conditions had been different.”

Limbs rested and egos suitably stroked, the inevitability of daily life has now returned for the team. For some, plans of the next alpine adventure are well underway while others sit content in the knowledge that a lifetime goal has been ticked off.

He might be back to the normality of working life, but it hasn’t taken Martin long to line up the next opportunity to get back into the snow.

“My wife and I will be in the Tien Shan mountains (China) in July this year,” he says. “We’ll do a bit of high altitude touring back home through the summer and have plans to cross the Ruwenzori Range from Congo to Uganda in March next year. But we also have to look at your Georgia expedition a bit more closely.”

Turns out stargazing in Iraqi Kurdistan can be sublime.
Sunrise in the Zargos mountains
Qaysari Bazaar, downtown Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan

Keen to head into the mountains this year?  See the full list of our expeditions here.