The summit shelter at Tochal

Tochal 2019

In July 2019 in Velenjak, at about 6,000 feet, it was perhaps 35ºC, and the air was a little bit cloudy. But I decided I would go to the peak of Tochal again anyway. The issue with the clouds concerns visibility. I had no doubts that I would be able to reach the summit, but that views from the summit would be less than ideal. This proved to be the case.

My preparations were minimal: a small bottle of water, a bag of mixed nuts, lip salve (learned by the experience of cracked lips), camera, tripod. Practically all of my shirts have double cuffs, so I packed some silk knots in case I needed to roll down my sleeves to avoid sun burn.

The walk up to the Telecabin base station was uneventful. The ticket booth had moved, or I should write changed. It was no longer the undeserving small, grey shack with a 9 inch square window. It was now a much grander showroom-type ticket office.

I bought a return ticket to Station 7. The price was 600,000 rials – about £3.75. From Station 7 there it was about a 30 minute walk uphill to the summit. I liked the name Station 7. It was reminiscent of a John le Carré story.

The Telecabin tickets are like Oyster cards. There are stops on the way to Station 7, and some people only go to the first stop. Tickets are inspected accordingly.

I climbed into a car that already had two passengers. The man said to his companion خارجی /khā’reji/, meaning ‘a foreigner’. I said آره /ā’re/, meaning ‘yes’. They were both a bit surprised. A forth passenger climbed in. They were discussing amongst themselves the origin of the name and word Tochal.

We arrived at the change station. At this level there is a cafe and a restaurant, and a good view over Tehran on a clear day. Some people walk upwards from here to the summit. I got into the next stage car and soon enough arrived at Station 7.

The first thing I noticed while walking up from Station 7 towards the summit was the view was good towards the north and west, but no so good towards the south and the east. Tehran was mostly hidden under cloud. Tochal peak is at just over 13,000 feet. My lungs had to do some extra on this trip.

There were a few patches of snow here and there but it wasn’t cold. The ski lifts were dormant.

The walk up to the summit was uneventful. I overtook a few people going up, and none passed me. The loose rocks sometimes offered better purchase for my boots than the track itself which is relatively steep. I made a detour to step onto some snow and found it was hard-packed but melting slowly.

On the last 100 yards or so I put on some swagger. Then I reached the summit. The shelter was now bright yellow. I don’t know when or why it was repainted.

There were perhaps thirty people sitting around all over the summit usually in small groups, drinking tea, eating nibbles, enjoying the constrained views and the clear air and peace.

I looked to the east in vain for Mount Damavand, and maybe I could just barely see it. But not with any clarity. I possibly even imagined it. Its recognisable shape was hidden. I drank some water and ate some nuts and sat for while on the small rocks. The sky was very blue but with the haze of clouds.

To the right, meaning generally to the south and towards Tehran, I could see people walking up rather than taking the Telecabin. I’ve thought about doing this myself – I certainly don’t think it’s beyond me. It would easily take several hours.

To the north and the west the views were generally clearer and one could see far into the distance. The wind howled briefly and it was a wonderful sound.

I stayed on the summit for perhaps an hour, then headed back towards the Telecabin. Downhill is always easier, but in places the rocks slipped from under my feet. It wasn’t dangerous, but I anticipated slipping over and landing on my back.

From behind me I could hear a mobile phone ring tone, then the mumbled and vague voice engaged in a conversation. The conversation stopped. A minute later I heard the same ring tone. The voice behind me was annoying. I stood to one side and let a man in a red top pass me. He was carrying two ski poles in one hand, the other hand was holding his phone to his ear. His voice slowly became inaudible but I could still see him. He was apparently talking all the way to Station 7, at least that is what the hand holding the phone to his ear indicated.

There are no trees on Tochal, however there are some small shrubs and flowers here and there which have found a home amongst the rocks. I saw one or two butterflies. On the flowers I found a few bees. Their lives here cannot be easy.

I took the cable car down to base station, handed back my ticket and walked down to khabgah in Velenjak. I could feel that despite having been in the open for only a few hours (not including time in the cable car), my face and arms were a little sunburnt.

It was a good and pleasing excursion. With clear skies it would have been perfect.

On this trip I also wore my newly-repaired suede boots. On my visits to Tehran I usually buy a pair of relatively cheap suede shoes or ankle boots from Pooshin Shoes on Vali Asr Street near Tajrish as I tend to do a lot of walking – sometimes 12 miles a day. I don’t mind what happens to these shoes, they are more or less expendable.

So this year I bought a new pair of boots. But after about 6 weeks, the heels of these boots had disintegrated and had split badly. They were fit for the bin. But I took them to a man who repairs shoes in the street near to Tajrish on Vali Asr Street. Coincidentally he is near to Pooshin Shoes but on the other side of the road. A week later I collected my boots, the repair was terrific – the whole sole and heel had been replaced. The shoes had been brushed and looked almost as if new. The cost was 800,000 rials – less than £5.

About the author: Sadface