On a freezing zero-degree night in March 2013, globetrotter Redzuan Rahmat (better known to friends as Red or The Furious Panda was lost and alone in the wild mountains of Iran, wearing nothing but two cotton shirts and a pair of stream-soaked pants. Below, he shares his harrowing account.
I was out on the remote village of Ghazor Khan, in the Alamut Valley, Iran. I was there to hike and see the Castle of the Assassins, an actual historical location where the secretive 11th-12th century sect known as the Hashashins based themselves.
I hiked up to the castle, a two- to three-hour return trek including time at the summit. The Castle of the Assassins was perched spectacularly on a huge mass of rock overlooking the village below. I took plenty of photographs.
Back at the guesthouse, there were many entries in the guestbook written by previous travellers who had trekked around the area. I decided to follow some of the maps that detailed routes down beyond the castle, past some lakes and circling back to the village.
It was getting late and the afternoon sun was slowly setting. I made the wrong choice of continuing instead of turning back. After following the hand-drawn map to the lake, I made a right turn, climbing up the ridgeline instead of going straight down the valley. This short-cut led me to the top of the ridgeline, where I could see Ghazor Khan village, but there was a chasm separating me and the village. Walking uphill along the ridgeline led to a dead-end – a rock face.
Another wrong decision: I decided to lower myself into the chasm. It was maybe a 45 degrees slope, and the gravel made me slide down so fast that I was truly worried I would break my neck falling down the 20m deep chasm.
In the chasm, I realised there was no way I could climb back up either side. From here, the sides look daunting, almost 90-degree walls. I figured there was only one way to go – that is, to follow the stream downhill.
From there, it was all about clambering over rocks and going down along the river. Self-doubt crept in as I scaled obstacle after obstacle. Then there were the drops, little mini-waterfalls of 1m or more as the stream wended downhill. The problem was that I was trying to stay dry and if I sprained an ankle it would probably be the end. There was no phone reception and no one knew where I was. This was compounded by nightfall, which was fast approaching. I took out my headlamp but its use was limited.
To prevent myself from jumping 2m down into puddles of rocks, I began to scale down the sides. I was rock-climbing now, without a belay. At some parts, the chasm was narrow enough that I could make an arch – my hands on one wall and my feet on the other – and shuffle myself down. If anyone saw me then, they would think I was completely insane.
And I fell, many times. Every wrong move I made, I would end up scraping my elbows painfully each time.
I next came across a 3m drop, whose bottom I could not see, even with my headlamp. By then I was exhausted. I tried the left wall. Not possible. Right wall? No footholds. I tried sitting down and contemplated sliding myself off the ledge. Bad idea again, because by then the stream had wet my pants completely.
There was no way around it. I would have to spend the night there. There was a little underhang, almost a crevice, which allowed me to squeeze in almost into a sitting position. No chance of lighting a fire there, just rocks. But at least I had water from the stream, as well as dried mulberries I bought at the beginning of the day – the only food I had during the entire ordeal.
How bad was it that night? The photo below showed snow during the daytime, so it must have been anything from 0 to 5 degrees Celsius at night. I was protected from the wind by placing my bag at the entrance of the crevice. And the rocks I was lying down on were so cold I had to pull out the inner soles of my shoes to use them as padding. I placed one on my right shoulder, and one on my right hip – leaning to one side and making these the only two contact points between me and the rock floor.
I tried my best to stay awake, thinking if I fell asleep, I might not wake up. In my mind I was thinking, “Well, Redzuan, it has come to this. You’ve had a good run, and have been lucky to have visited and seen the places you have.” I was still silently praying when I nodded off.
I woke up shivering. I think I shivered myself awake actually. I looked at my watch. Only 20 minutes had passed. I grabbed a handful of mulberries and munched them, trying to give myself some energy. This time, I thought to myself, “If I could last the night, I will be alive. Yes, I can do this.”
I alternated between sleep and intermittently waking up every half hour to forty-five minutes. I suspect I had hypothermia back then.
Someone up there must have been looking after me, for dawn came at 5am. And with the sun, it became warmer. I could now see out the drops and not worry about getting wet. I resolved to continue and follow the stream.
The chasm widened up the further south I went. It was still too steep to climb up either side. A few hours of walking and I came across a fenced up area with small tools within. This meant that people were near. It was true. After eight kilometers of walking, I reached the road. No vehicles were there, so I followed the road back up to Ghazor Khan village, which was another eight kilometers of uphill walking.
Back in the village, Ali the guesthouse owner told me he panicked when I did not return for dinner and asked everyone in the village and even called the police. Apparently, there were wolves at night. I did not encounter any, because even the wolves were not stupid enough to go down into the chasm …
I spent the rest of the afternoon in bed with a fever – and a newfound appreciation for life.
Despite this near-death experience, I recommend everyone visit Iran. This incident took place during the last two days of my trip, but the previous 23 days were fantastic. Iran is, without a doubt, still one of the most amazing countries I have visited.
This post was originally published in Redzuan’s travel blog, The Furious Panda.
About the author:
Redzuan Rahmat is a travel fanatic who yearns to see everything and experience everything. Red loves visiting unusual destinations and is equally comfortable getting lost in museums, mountains, and malls. He spends his spare time obsessing about his next trip, usually to some remote corner of the world. He blogs about his adventures & misadventures on The Furious Panda