Apart from climbing Mt Damavand, the other main activities in the area are skiing at Abali and bathing in hot-spring pools at Abgarm.
Climbing Mt Damavand
There are 16 routes up Damavand, but the vast majority of people take the classic southern route. For information on the northern route, talk to the English-speaking owners of Varzesh Kooh, who are happy to share their knowledge and put you in touch with guides.
From a technical point of view, Damavand is basically a walk-up. Climbing so far so quickly is its most dangerous aspect, with altitude sickness (watch for dizziness, headaches, nausea and swollen fingers) claiming lives every year. The volcano last erupted about 7300 years ago, but it still belches out sulphuric fumes from near the summit, strong enough to kill unfortunate stray sheep and ward off mountaineers.
Most first-timers use a guide and you can expect to pay about US$550 for an all-inclusive (guide, transport, food, lodgings, donkey etc) three-day tour from Tehran. This includes the US$50 fee foreigners must pay to the government to climb the mountain. A guide alone for a two-day climb will cost about US$100 per day.
Damavand is best climbed in three days, starting at Polour Mountain Complex and going 11km by road to Camp 2, then trekking from there to Camp 3 or Base Camp, before making the ascent; www.damawand.de has maps and details of the various routes. There’s no water en route and no way of booking the hut; on Thursday nights and holidays it is packed with students from Tehran. Bringing a tent, sleeping bag and perhaps a stove (and leaving it in camp during the final ascent) is recommended. Even in July, nights are freezing, and it can be -10°C at the summit. It's recommended to fill water bottles during the day, as the water will be frozen when you first get up.
In August you should be able to climb to the peak without special equipment. The summit doesn’t require any technical gear, but it does require fitness, warm clothes and hiking boots for the loose rocks. Bear in mind that the weather can change suddenly and snowfalls are a possibility, even in summer. Most people return from the summit to Tehran in one day.
After expending all that energy climbing Mt Damavand, you’ll be pleased to know that in the upper part of Abgarm village, about 6km east of Rineh, several hotels have been built around hot springs. Almase Shargh Spa Complex is a modern public complex open to men; women have to hire the place as a group. Alternatively, ask around about renting a room for the night in the village, for around US$25, which will including breakfast, tea and a dip in a private hot-spring bath.