Iraqi Kurdistan Pioneering Tour

November 10-16
Kurdish Region of Northern Iraq
Medium Difficulty

This inaugural journey will follow the rocky spine of Iraqi Kurdistan. The region is sandwiched between Syria, Turkey and Iran, and has long been seen as a safe haven amidst the volatility of its neighbours.

Guests on this inaugural trip have the opportunity to feel the landscape for themselves, and to become the most recent incarnation of walkers to leave footprints across these mountains that have played host to so many before. We travel from west to east, striking out from dry desert hills and heading towards lush green valleys, roaring white-water rivers, and finishing amongst towering, snow-capped peaks. Along the way we pause to hear stories in fortress cities and from lone shepherds, and to drink from the springs that have satiated pilgrims, armies, travellers and walkers for millennia. We speak, as we move, to people who have lived, worked and walked here for decades, and who are the guardians of the trails and histories of the region.

We see how Kurdistan fits into the old world, but also into the new, ever-changing mould of the Middle East. Above all we walk and, through that, we listen, share and are immersed in one of the jewels of the region where the layers of history, culture and faith are right beneath our very feet.

The mountainous area of Kurdistan lies very much at the heart of the Middle East. It’s perhaps best seen as a rocky skeleton reaching out across Turkey, Syria Iran and Iraq, and it is in the autonomous Kurdish area of northern Iraq that we take this particular journey on foot.

We begin in Amedi; an ancient capital, and once a major connection for all trade routes and passengers between Tehran and the Persian Empire in the east, and Damascus, Rome and Athens to the west. We walk along the old donkey trail that winds down from Amedi’s natural fortress walls, and on into the mountains beyond. Were we to follow it far enough, we would reach the city of Mosul. For reasons that are perhaps obvious, however, we do not take this path to its conclusion at this point in time. Instead we move on, past the Yazidi holy city of Lalish, and onto Akre where, the story goes, when the waters that once covered the earth receded, these hills were the first to appear. We walk past a citadel some 2,500 years old, and follow the shepherds across the pass. In the next valley, we strike east, the same way the water goes. On this journey we are always following what’s come before – sometimes water, sometimes winds, sometimes traders. Sometimes armies, sometimes pilgrims.

In the adjacent valley, we arrive to the homeland of the Barzan tribe. They are famous, of course, as the long-time rulers of Kurdistan, and the area itself is rich in natural resources, with strict protection laws on hunting and a strong ethos of protection. Our trail passes the Shanidar cave where our ancestors once lived, 60-80,000 years ago. They may have made the same journey we do, along the path now carved by the Great Zab River, towards the city of Rwanduz. This was the other ancient capital of the region, alongside Amedi. These places are still hubs, as they’ve always been, and API works in each area to build relationships and lift up what’s been lost, or is in the process of being lost. Rwanduz was not just a strategic focal point; it was also the intellectual centre of the region. Still that reputation endures, and there is a musical centre and a cohort of artists to this day. It will be our work in the future to document the works that have come out of here in the past, and that will continue to in the future.

Rwanduz is also a point of confluence for two major rivers, one of which winds towards the Iranian border, less than 100km to the east. We follow it, in part on a road blasted through over the course of 4 years by a New Zealander named Archie Hamilton. At the time, the Zagros range provided a natural barrier that separated Persia from the Ottomans and everything else to the west. Our final day of walking cuts through the mountains and ends i Choman, where the highest peaks in the region stand tall; an area of crisp, alpine beauty and deep history.

This is a region used to the movement of people. These are challenges to the work we do here, but these same challenges also the reason why what we do is so important. It’s not just about walking. Our vision for designing trail systems is to build on the old ways and the stories of the past to bring people together, to foster greater global understanding and, in a very real sense, to develop and empower local communities that have been ravaged by war for decades. By walking with us, you’ll see how this process works up close, and you’ll be able to add your footprints to the many millions of others who have walked together, through history, in the heart of the Middle East.

Dates: November 10-16, 2019

Location: Kurdish Region of Northern Iraq

Physical Considerations *Important* 

The course is demanding in terms of physical activity. Hikes will be an average of 16 – 22 km per day involving walking uphill, downhill, and on rough terrain. To that purpose, we strongly advise participants to be prepared for physical activity on this course.

In November daily high temperatures are around 16°C, rarely falling below 11°C or exceeding 28°C.

Participants are required to have the appropriate gear and clothing for the hike. A suggested packing list will be included as part of the pre-departure information pack with ample time for questions.

Daily low temperatures are around 7°C, rarely falling below 2°C or exceeding 16°C. There is a 20% risk of precipitation on any given day in November, so be sure to pack and dress accordingly.

We recommend bringing an additional $300 in cash for other personal expenses. US Dollars are accepted universally in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Abraham Path Initiative (API) is an international nonprofit that invests with local partners to achieve shared goals for a fruitful future. Since 2007, API has seeded walking trails in the Middle East to introduce people to an ancient land. API envisions the simple act of walking as a way for people from around the world to connect with one another, and as a creative space for stories that highlight the unique culture, heritage and hospitality of the region. API is non-religious and non-political. 

Trip Leader

Leon McCarron

Leon McCarron is a writer, filmmaker and adventurer from Northern Ireland. He is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a recipient of the 2017 Neville Shulman Challenge Award, and an Abraham Path Fellow.

Experience includes: 

  • Journey with trip leader
  • Local escorts
  • Meals
  • Accommodation
  • Airport pickup and drop off

A detailed itinerary will be provided for participants outlining further details. Rates exclude: airfare, any meal or accommodation not included in the itinerary, personal expenses, hiking gear (shoes, packs, walking poles, etc.), tips for guide, driver, restaurants, and hotel staff, and travel insurance. 

Please note that some of the accommodation will be in homestays and apartment-style lodgings, which entail sleeping in the same room as other participants of the same gender.

Payment and Cancellation Policies

Payment in full ($2,750 USD) is required at the time of registration.

Registration is open until Friday, October 11, 2019 at midnight. Registration is limited to twelve participants and will be closed after all spots are filled. 

Cancellation notice:

From date of registration to 65 days or more prior to departure: $250.00 cancellation fee per person.

Between 64 days and 45 days: $400.00 cancellation fee per person.

Between 44 days and 31 days: $500.00 cancellation fee per person.

Between 30 days up until departure date and no shows: Cancellation fee of 100% of tour cost will apply.

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