An incredible canyon with deep water soloing and climbing walls over 100 meters tall was just re-discovered in Iraqi Kurdistan – the Bride & Groom Canyon. With the country still under quarantine, people are looking for interesting ways to spend their time in the hot summer. Fortunately, there are few restrictions on wilderness recreation, and that means a lot more discoveries of beautiful oases that would otherwise only appeal to a few. This past weekend, the Destey Lwtke Crew, with whom we established the First Climbing School in Iraq, the Hawraz Climbing School, followed a hot lead and found a small slice of paradise.
The area was first re-discovered by the Piramigroon Mountaineering Group’s members Khalid Kotal and Peshraw Wasfy. The canyon is located in the Dukan District on the east side of Iraqi Kurdistan and lies on the edge of the famous Lake Dukan, a major recreation area in the country. Historically, the canyon area has only been accessed by boat, but it was nearly forgotten because it is so remote with no visitors in many, many years. However, at the beginning of July 2020, Khalid and Peshraw decided to hike across the desert into the canyon, re-discovering this incredible oasis.
This past weekend, July 9, 2020, Destey Shaxawany Lwtke followed the same trail, loaded with climbing gear, and discovered a paradise for climbers and hikers alike. Hidden among the deep canyon walls are refreshing aqua-marine pools of cool water surrounded by rock begging to be climbed. Right away, the members of the group jumped into the cool water and started their first foray into deep water soloing by identifying places where the water was deep enough for a fall. In fact, this may be the first documented instance of deep water soloing in Iraq in history! And, although they wanted to say all day, the group continued to explore up the canyon, climbing and rappelling to their heart’s delight. There was far more to explore than they could fit into just a couple days.
This oasis is named Bride & Groom Canyon and is actually thousands of years old. The story behind the name stems from a young couple that were to be married in this canyon. In the story, the ceremony involved a raft that the couple would use to float on the water and cement their bond in the eyes of God, but tragedy struck and the raft broke apart and sunk. In the process, both the bride and groom drowned and the entire canyon was named in their memory. As is true about many parts of Iraq, the area was lost to time as conflict and hardship swept across the land. But now, as the people of Kurdistan rediscover new opportunities, they are reuniting with their natural treasures.
With an entire population of a country looking to escape the confines of their quarantine, the Bride & Groom Canyon presents an ideal location to get away; ideal but dangerous. We are cautious now because outdoor recreation is new to the people of Iraq, and can be extremely dangerous especially with the summer heat. This is the reason that we opened the First Climbing School in Iraq in history – because the average person lacks the most basic understanding of what is necessary to be safe in the wilderness.
Already, due to the photos emerging from this and last week’s trip, many people are planning to visit. This means crossing many miles of hot desert with plenty of dangers such as rock fall, venomous animals, deep holes and wells, and now water hazards. Fortunately, thanks to the remoteness of this location, it is unlikely that the volume of visitors will pose any immediate threat to the environment. While we have this time, we are working with many national professionals such as Nabil Musa who is the head of the Iraqi Waterkeepers organization, who are instructing our students on environmental conservation and preservation. However, the same can’t be said for personal safety. We are encouraging all people interested in traveling to reach out to us for information on what to bring and what to do, but it’s a big job. Please consider making a donation to our program, we are a non-profit and open to anyone requesting information or training.
All images provided by photographer Aso Golmohamed