This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this epic Secret Compass expedition to Iraqi Kurdistan.
Read on to discover our ethos and team-centred approach and for the nitty gritty like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations.
Use the buttons below to ask questions or if this handbook answers all of your questions you can request a space on the team by completing the booking form and submitting a deposit (bound by our T&Cs). We will then be in touch by phone or email to hopefully approve your place on the team!
Upcoming Expedition Dates
13 March to 21 March 2021.
Arrive: at the team hotel in Erbil by 1800 on Day 1.
Depart: leave Erbil any time on Day 9 onwards.
Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive cover.
Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in.
The aim of this epic expedition is to make a summit attempt on Mount Halgurd (3,607m).
Conquer Mount Halgurd at 3604m.
Attempt other challenging peaks (conditions permitting).
Learn and practise crampon and ice axe use.
Explore an area with no tourism infrastructure outside of the cities.
Visit Erbil, one of the oldest inhabited citadels in the world.
This snow-covered mountain is the highest climbable peak in Kurdistan’s Zagros ranges and the highest mountain that lies wholly within Iraq.
In addition to climbing Mount Zagros, this expedition gives you the chance to experience the rich and hospitable culture of the Kurds. Explore Kurdistan’s incredible capital city of Erbil and enjoy a typical Kurdish welcome in the smaller mountain communities encountered en route to Mount Halgurd itself.
You need to organise your own international flights. It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed or refunded if the expedition dates are changed or if it is cancelled for any reason. See our online Terms and Conditions.
You need to be at the team hotel in Erbil by 1800 on Day 1 and you can depart any time on Day 9. Airport transfers are your responsibility. There is a taxi service available at Erbil International Airport.
Visas are your responsibility. Official advice states that all nationalities must obtain a visa prior to arrival from their local embassy, however we have been made aware that there is currently a visa on arrival service available at Erbil airport for the following nationalities; Australia, New Zealand, UK, EU, Canada and USA. Please note this service is subject to change but, as of January 2019, the above mentioned citizens will be issued with a free 14-day tourist entry stamp which is valid ONLY WITHIN KURDISTAN.
You will need:
• 1 completed visa application form
• 1 passport photograph(s)
If you will be travelling within Iraq outside of the Kurdistan autonomous region, or if your nationality is not listed above, please ensure you have the correct visa in advance of travel.
All expedition members should have a valid passport with at least 6 months remaining. Please ensure you have at least 2 spare pages in your passport. Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies and spare passport photos with you on the expedition in a safe place.
Travel insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy. Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).
Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad of at least $500,000.
Activities: ensure that any expedition activities are included, these could be trekking, horse riding, rafting, MTB etc.
Geographical region: check the geographical region you are going to is insured (often the US and Canada or countries such as Afghanistan are not insured).
Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and the Travel Aware site.
Dates: make sure the period of cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice your claims due to this.
Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose these to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.
Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hour emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit the insurance page on our website.
Day 1 – Erbil
Arrive in Erbil and travel into town to the team hotel for the start of the expedition. Meet the team, briefings and kit packing. Dinner and Hotel.
Day 2 – Zagros Mountains
Leave Erbil and drive to a town in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains (4 hrs). There will be a chance to explore the town before dinner and early bed. Night is camping just outside town or a homestay if available.
Day 3 –Zagros Mountains
Walk up into the Zagros mountains. We trek towards our first camp just above the snow line. After setting up camp we will have the opportunity to learn essential winter skills training. Camp.
Day 4 – Zagros Mountains
Up at first light to summit Halgurd (weather permitting). We leave our base camp and trek up with the day’s essentials. Time for some quick snaps at the top before back to basecamp. Relax during the afternoon. If the weather is bad, we will stay at another camp and ascend on one of the contingency days.
Day 5 – Zagros Mountains
Contingency day for the summit. If the weather is on your side and the summit was reached the previous day, the team will pack up base camp and start the trek around the ridge towards a neighbouring village. Camp on the ridge this evening.
Day 6 – Zagros Mountains
Contingency day for the summit. If the weather is good, further trekking around other peaks or continue your trek, potentially summiting a nearby peak before heading down towards this evenings camp.
Day 7 – Zagros Mountains
Descend from the mountains and back onto the road. Arrive in town for well earned kebabs. Dinner and camp/homestay.
Day 8 – Erbil
We leave the sleepy mountain town and return to the city lights Erbil (4 hours). We return to our original hotel and enjoy a night on the town. Dinner and Hotel.
Day 9 – Erbil
About Secret Compass Itineraries
Please remember that this itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but may not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team will adapt, flex and change the plan depending on the numerous frictions you may encounter along the way.
All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, this is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you may be sore, tired, hungry and possibly wet! The biggest challenge on this expedition will be dealing with the potentially cold or snowy weather conditions, carrying full winter kit and camping for many days. You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train for the expedition and arrive fit and ready to go. You will be required to be fit enough for the following.
Daily activity: varies but trek up to approx. 8 hours per day.
Carry: up to 20kg.
Terrain: mountainous terrain (up to Scottish Grade 1), reaching 3607m in altitude. /li>
Climate: temperatures ranging from -5 to 20 degrees C.
Dental. It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are very unpleasant.
No previous experience of alpine conditions is necessary to join this expedition but team members should be comfortable jogging for at least 45 minutes and be able to walk for 8 hours per day in the British hills carrying 15kg for at least 3 days running.
US dollars (USD) are preferable which can be changed for local currency in Erbil. ATM (cash) machines in Iraqi Kurdistan are rare so it is advised to withdraw money before you arrive. Other useful currencies are the Euro and Turkish Lira.
This expedition is all-inclusive so you won’t need much money, just for a beer in the town and some souvenirs on the way or for (discretionary but always appreciated) tips.
Secret Compass always suggest carrying an emergency fund of $100-$200 in cash. Ensure debit/credit cards are unblocked and you have a spare.
The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for our expedition to Iraqi Kurdistan. Some items are vital so please read carefully. There are some examples and video guides on our website under the kit section.
All kit and equipment should be appropriate for a Scottish winter trip with potential for sub zero temperatures and high winds. Good, crampon-compatible boots and gloves are essential to protect your extremities. A suggested personal packing list is below, Secret Compass will supply group equipment, tents, stoves, water filtration, crampons, ice axes and helmets. You will be required to carry all of your own kit for this expedition along with a share of a group equipment.
Secret Compass have arranged team members discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of these will be sent through on booking.
Baggage and Sleeping
RUCKSACK: (60-70ltr) A comfortable rucksack that fits your back, a good outdoor shop will be able to help with fitting. All your personal gear needs to fit easily into this pack and have enough room for a tent, food and share of group equipment provided by us. A pack with an adjustable support system or equivalent recommended.
DAYSACK: (Optional) To use once base camp is established, should fit inside or clip onto the outside of your main bag. Still needs to be big enough to fit warm layers, crampons, snacks etc eg. around 30ltrs.
WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable “canoe” or “dry” bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb. You need a large one to line your rucksack.
SMALLER DRY BAGS: (Optional) As above, but smaller bags to put essential items in. The large rucksack liners sometimes leak so anything important needs to be waterproofed individually. This also helps to keep you organised.
SLEEPING BAG: Rated to -10 comfort. 3-season is absolute minimum. Add a liner for extra warmth. Down is good but may need waterproof protection eg a bivi bag.
THERMAREST: Winter roll mat required as pitching tents on snow. Bring a repair kit!
WATERPROOF WALLET: For your passport and money.
2 x LONG SLEEVE SHIRTS: Thin trekking shirts that dry quickly with long sleeves.
1 x WATERPROOF SHELL: Gore-tex or equivalent.
1 x WATERPROOF TROUSERS: Gore-tex or equivalent. Consider a bib-style.
1 x THERMAL BASE LAYER.
2 x TREKKING TROUSERS: Thin trekking trousers that dry quickly and are comfortable.
1 x MID LAYER: (Optional) Fleece or equivalent.
1 x DOWN JACKET: Down Jacket or synthetic equivalent.
4 x HIKING SOCKS: Fitting well with your boots and comfortable.
1 x CRAMPON SUITABLE MOUNTAIN BOOTS: Ensure your boot is worn in and comfortable. 3 season walking boots (Rated B1 or B2) with stiff sole capable of taking “flexi” crampons (sturdy and worn-in). Recommend you visit your local outdoor store for advice on fitting. Conditions could deteriorate to equivalent of cold Scottish winter.
GAITORS: To prevent snow getting into boots and to keep feet dry!
WARM HAT: Must provide ear protection.
4 x UNDERWEAR.
GLOVES: Cold weather gloves with wind protection.
MUG: Metal mugs are great to use on stoves.
KNIFE, FORK, SPOON: Long handle to reach inside the ration packs.
2/3 x ROBUST WATER BOTTLE: Nalgene or Sigg are recommended.
1 x CAMELBACK: To combine with above. You need to be able to carry a minimum of 3 ltrs of water.
THERMOS FLASK: Great warmth and morale boost on the mountain, 0.5.l.
Health and Hygiene
WASHBAG, TOOTHBRUSH & TOOTHPASTE: Ensure it breaks down small. You do not need a large travel washbag – small dry bags or sealable sandwich bags work well.
ANTIBACTERIAL HAND GEL.
SOAP: Anti bacterial and BIODEGRADABLE.
TRAVEL TOWEL/SARONG: (Optional) Quick drying is ideal.
WET WIPES OR BABY WIPES: To clean yourself with.
TOILET PAPER: (Optional) Travel tissues are ideal.
LIP SALVE WITH UV PROTECTION: This is essential as chapped lips are painful.
VASELINE: Keep readily available on to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters.
MYCIL FOOT POWDER OR EQUIVALENT: This will be very useful for keeping your feet and other sweaty areas dry at night.
INSECT REPELLENT: (Optional) Bring Deet or other strong repellent.
AFTER SUN/MOISTURISER: (Optional).
FACTOR 30+ SUN CREAM: The sun can be lethal in the snow.
Small First Aid Kit
A team medical kit with a comprehensive primary care provision will be carried.
A WATERPROOF BAG OR TUPPERWARE BOX: Keep kit dry and safe.
PAIN KILLERS: Ibuprofen and paracetamol.
ZINC OXIDE TAPE AND SMALL SCISSORS.
4 x MELOLIN DRESSING PADS.
2 x CREPE BANDAGE.
COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar-looking blister packs for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard / original item.
DIAHORREA TABLETS: Immodium.
DIORALYTE SACHETS OR SIMILAR REHYDRATION PACKS.
PIRITON TABLETS: (Optional) For allergies.
EURAX CREAM: (Optional) For bites.
ANY MEDICATION YOU NORMALLY USE: It is worth finding out the generic/chemical name for any medication in case you need to source more in-country. Please also ensure that your medication is legal in your destination.
WALKING POLES: (Optional) Collapsible trekking poles with snow baskets.
HEAD TORCH AND SPARE BATTERIES.
SUNGLASSES WITH UV-FILTER LENSES.
GOGGLES: (Optional) Ski goggles for whiteout conditions.
PENKNIFE: Remember to not pack in hand luggage!
LIGHTER: Storm proof for lighting stoves (and burning loo roll).
GAFFA TAPE: (Optional) For emergency repairs to your kit, you can take some off the roll and wrap it around something else in your kit like a water bottle.
1 x KARABINER: For securing your rucksack.
SPARE BOOT LACES: (Optional) Also handy for fixing gear, creating washing lines etc.
SMALL SEWING KIT.
RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS: For dirty washing, wrappings, etc.
WATER PURIFICATION TABLETS: (Optional) Secret Compass will purify all water and these will likely not be needed, they are a back up in case our systems fail.
GIFTS: (Optional) Gifts are always appreciated amongst locals.
Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines of the world’s most remote reaches. Inspired by history’s great explorers and challenges, you’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.
Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than not expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Each expedition is thoroughly reviewed on its return and team members will have the opportunity to provide feedback which helps to inform planning for future expeditions.
Local partners and bureaucracy
Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours.
Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.
Infrastructure and Natural Events
The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.
In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs)
Part of a Team
Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.
There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure and their sense of humour and positive outlook.
A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teammates help each other, look out for each, encourage each other and help each other when needed. Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.
You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. These elements combine to create the unique character of each expedition. On expedition, challenges, frictions and changes to plans are inevitable. Teammates should meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success. Such things make the journey more interesting and are often most memorable parts when looking back.
Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.
We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/ severity if it does occur.
As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.
Key risks encountered on this specific expedition include political instability and international tensions, accidents or medical emergencies whilst trekking in a remote environment and unexploded remnants of war. If you would like to see the full Risk Assessment for this expedition, please email email@example.com
Incident Management and Medical
As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies. This will be discussed in full at the arrival brief, so everyone is aware what action will be taken. In summary, incidences are usually managed on the ground by the expedition leader in the first instance with remote support from Secret Compass’s 24 hour Operations Room before evacuation to the nearest appropriate medical center.
It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that medical evacuation will take an extended period of time (potentially up to 5 days) and will require wilderness extraction techniques and long carries by stretcher. In-country search and rescue and emergency services are very basic or non-existent and the expedition will rely on internal resources for medical evacuation. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.
Read team Testimonials or watch this short video featuring expedition teammates (filmed on location in Ethiopia) for an insight into life on expedition.
Dress: Local laws reflect that Iraq is a predominantly Islamic country. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religious customs at all times, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or visits to places of religious significance. Come prepared to dress conservatively when in built up areas. Women will be required to bring headscarves and wear them where appropriate.
Gifts: Whilst it is by no means obligatory, if you would like to bring gifts to donate to the local schools, good ones would be would be: pens/stationary, children’s toys etc. Also the guides are very appreciative of any trekking kit that you have no use of at the end of the expedition.
After driving in through foothills the trekking part of this expedition will be in high mountain environments with snow fields and you will spend several days camping above the snowline. The highest point we will achieve on this expedition is 3,607m. This is the equivalent of skiing on a high slope in the French Alps. The team won’t be covering vast distances each day but the expedition will be made more challenging by the mountain terrain and snowy conditions.
The averages in Erbil at that time of year are around 17-25 degrees Celsius. However if the weather is good it can be significantly hotter and vice versa. We will likely be above the snow line for 2-3 days of the expedition so the temperatures will potentially be much lower (as low as -5 degrees Celsius) and it will be necessary to have the necessary winter mountain clothing (see Kit List tab). March/April should be considered as equivalent to Scottish Spring conditions – the assumption should be cold, wet and windy with a chance on settled weather. In previous year’s conditions were extremely changeable from arctic white out and heavy snow fall through to sunburnt alpine days.
We will be eating in local restaurants during our stay in Erbil. On the expedition Secret Compass will provide all food required in the form of dehydrated trekking rations. They taste better than they look and supply all you need in terms of calorie intake. Dietary requirements can usually be catered for but should be discussed with Secret Compass in advance.
You need to organise your own international flights to Erbil and are responsible for your own transfer from the airport to the team hotel.
Road: We will be driving to Choman from Erbil and will be travelling in 4×4 vehicles up Route 3. We will be using the vehicles on the return journey to Erbil once the expedition has been completed.
Foot: The remainder of the journey will be by foot. You will be expected to carry all you need for the expedition in your rucksack and day sack, including shared group equipment.
The team will stay in hotel in Erbil, details will be confirmed before the expedition takes place. For all other days the team will be camping in tents provided by Secret Compass, staying with locals or using shepherds huts.
Reality of living rough for days. Occasionally people on our expeditions are not prepared for camping for multiple days. Living in these conditions can degrade your health if you do not look after yourself and increase fatigue if you are not used to living rough. You need to be highly organised so that your night and morning routine is done efficiently and quickly. If you are inexperienced at camping, it is essential that you get as much practice as possible prior to the expedition.
You will have an experienced UK guide who will be wilderness first aid trained and have extensive experience of trekking, working and operating in remote areas of the world.
Secret Compass staff will be carrying at least two methods of communication, usually a DeLorme two-way communication device and a local cell phone. These will be used for regular updates to head office and for emergencies.
Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.
Cell Phone. Your mobile roaming will work in towns. There may be no coverage along the majority of the route.
Here are some frequently asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our general FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.
What are crampons?
Crampons are spikey things that attach to the bottom of walking boots to facilitate trekking on snow and ice. For this expedition it is imperative that everyone’s boots are crampon compatible, a B1 rating boot is advised. Consult the internet or your local outdoors shop staff for advice. Secret Compass will provide crampons for all teammates.
I’ve never used an ice axe/crampons before. Can I come?
Yes. As long as you fulfil the fitness requirements and have an adventurous spirit and willing to work as a team, then you will have no problems. Those new to higher mountains or environments requiring helmets, crampons and ice axes will learn everything they need to know to feel confident once up at higher altitudes.
Can I bring my own crampons?
Teammates are welcome to bring crampons, let Secret Compass know so they don’t bring crampons out for you.
Can I arrive a day late?
As the plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates to the location where the training will commence, so start and end dates are not flexible.
Can I charge electricals?
Once the expedition phase begins, there will be no access to mains power. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration.
Will my camera work in the cold?
Battery life can be a challenge in cold climates. If camera or phone battery life is of paramount importance, research the best ways to protect and keep your batteries warm and come equipped accordingly.
Will there be telephone signal?
In Erbil, yes. Don’t rely on it but there has also in previous years been some signal on parts of Mount Halgurd.
Do women need to cover their heads?
In Erbil and urban areas women will need to cover their hair/ heads with a scarf or similar. Modest other clothing (long sleeves, long legs) will also be required.
Once out on the mountain with just the team for company, there will be no need to cover hair (though you’ll want to anyway – with a nice warm hat!).
I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?
Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying. The food situation is outlined in the Practicalities tab.
Do you provide further advice?
You might find our Get Ready section useful, with further advice about fitness, flights, travel insurance, visas and our approach to risk management.
How can I join this team?
If you feel that the Handbook answers all your questions, you can request a space on the team by completing the booking form and submitting a deposit.