Mesmerizing Mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan

Hiking in Kurdistan Mountains: Citadel of Hewler in Erbil, ancient fortifications in Kurdistan, Iraq. Secret Compass photos.
Hiking in Kurdistan: Citadel of Hewler in Erbil, ancient fortifications in Kurdistan, Iraq. Secret Compass photos.

Hiking to 12,000 feet in the Zagros Mountains of Northern Iraq

By Luke Dowley

As a winter sports enthusiast, I often dream of climbing the high peaks of the world. It seemed to be such an attainable reality when I was a child to find myself on the summit of a mountain in the European Alps or skiing through untouched expanses of snow in the Andes.

How about hiking in of all places, Northern Iraq?

Members of the Secret Compass team trek to the summit in Iraqi Kurdistan Mountains
Members of the Secret Compass team trek to the summit in Iraqi Kurdistan

The first things that come to mind when one thinks of Iraqi Kurdistan aren’t always positive.

Iraq, along with many other nations in the Middle East, has for the past several decades, struggled through numerous violent conflicts and economic downturn.

Finding Peace

The Kurdistan territory lies in Northern Iraq, with Turkey to the North, Syria to the east, and the rest of Iraq to the south. After years of conflict between the Kurds of the North, and Arabs of the South, Kurdistan found its peace.

In 2003 it gained autonomy from the rest of Iraq and has since become somewhat of a thriving and economically prosperous territory of the middle east.

The most important thing to take out of this very brief synopsis of the history of Iraqi Kurdistan is that it is safe. Furthermore, the area has blossomed into what may soon become a much more popular destination for those looking to experience some of our planet’s most breathtaking mountainous landscapes.

Because the tourism industry in this country is too young to be considered “developed” by any means, traveling to this newly established adventure destination is not easy without proper guidance. Here is where Secret Compass comes in.

Views from above the clouds on Mount Halgurd in Kurdistan.
Views from above the clouds on Mount Halgurd in Kurdistan.

Secret Compass is a UK-based company that specializes in travel tours to the remote corners of the world in search of adventure and areas usually unexplored.

Becoming Part of the Team

When an individual joins Secret Compass on one of their excursions they are not just signing up to go on a guided adventure, they are becoming a part of the Secret Compass team.

Together, you will as a unit achieve goals and reach heights (both literally and metaphorically) that you have never been to before.

That is what makes this travel company so unique. That and they take travelers to Afghanistan, Iraq and other places that to many people would be considered ‘off-limits.’

Secret Compass will be running another expedition to climb Mount Halgurd which lies in the Zagros Mountains and towers above the earth at 3,607 meters above sea level (approximately 11,834 feet).

There will be no snowmobiles, ski lifts, or rides of any kind up to this mountain. For you fit travelers looking to take the next step in their adventures, you have found your place.

Secret Compas rates the difficulty of their excursions on a 0-360 degree scale (based on the degrees of a compass.

Naturally, the higher the degree, the more difficult they feel the trip will be for an individual.

This trip to the Zagros Mountains has been labeled a 270-degree difficulty, making it a moderate to advanced adventure. I certainly recommend some hiking experience.

The City of Erbil, Kurdistan

A successful journey to the top hiking in Iraq.
A successful journey to the top hiking in Iraq.

The trip, which spans 9 days, begins in the ancient city of Erbil. With a population of around 1.5 million people, Erbil is the largest city in the Kurdistan Region.

Mixed in with luxury hotels and expensive shopping malls and boutiques you will find 5,000-year-old buildings, including a large citadel in the city center.

Following a day in the city, the team will drive to Choman, where their trek will begin into the mountains. Accommodations in the evenings will vary between local houses and yurt camps (excluding the hotel while in Erbil).

All of what you bring with you will be carried on your back as you climb higher and higher into the mountains.

Because this is not a commonly traversed area for tourists the locals are actually quite friendly, and will often offer food or even shelter along the way, one of the many facets of this trip that makes it so unique

Upon reaching the base camp you will spend a night a prepare to the next day’s hike to the summit. Experienced guides will safely escort you and the team to some of the most breathtaking views in the world and to heights that 99% of this world will never reach.

This is a truly bonding experience, and whether you know your companions or not, this adventure will link the group with memories that will never be forgotten. For many, it’s the little things such as waking up to the smells of breakfast being cooked just outside your shelter or watching the sunset behind the towering mountains around. whatever it may be, videos and pictures will not be able to capture it.

This 9-day excursion costs 1,499 British Pounds (about 2,350 USD) per person. If mountain trekking isn’t your passion but you are searching for an adventure of the same nature there is much more offered year-round by Secret Compass and can be found at their website.

Additional Secret Compass Excursions include:
*Remote trek through the jungles of Panama
*Mountain biking through Kyrgyzstan
*Crossing the Sinai Desert in Egpyt
* High Altitude Trek in Afghanistan
Contact Secret Compass, or call them at +44 020 7096 8428

Luke Bio Pic lnd thumb


Luke Dowley is a former Editorial Assistant of and a graduate University of Massachusetts Amherst. He runs a drone photography business.

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