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Wiganer conquers Iraqi danger mountain

Oli on top of Halgurd
Oli on top of Halgurd

An intrepid Wigan adventurer is celebrating success in his latest expedition to scale a massive mountain in a remote corner of the Middle East.

Oli France scaled one of Iraq’s highest peaks, Halgurd, located close to the Iranian border in the semi-independent Kurdistan region.

Oli in the foothills

Oli in the foothills

He became fascinated with the mountain due to just how off the beaten climbing track it is, with very little information about routes or the surrounding area available online.

The mission required months of careful preparation, with problems to be overcome including landmines planted during decades of conflict and terrible weather conditions.

But it all came together in the end and former UCLan student Oli even took a piece of his home borough to the summit as he photographed himself at the top with a Latics scarf he was given when speaking to the club’s under-18s side about his adventures.

The Standish 28-year-old was able to travel to the Middle East leading a trip to Iraq and Kurdistan with well-known Wigan tourism firm Lupine Travel and then stayed on to do the ascent.

Oli said: “I was asked to lead the tour and being a huge mountaineering lover I decided to see what the mountains are like in that area. My attention was very quickly drawn to Halgurd. It wasn’t very easy to plan for and there’s barely any information about it. It’s also located in a sensitive area.

“I knew I would have to hire a local guide to get round the minefields to the snow line where it is considered safe.

“It was an incredible feeling to get to the top of a mountain with so much uncertainty and danger over it and stand on the roof of Iraq where very few Western people have ever stood.”

The trip marked Oli’s first Middle Eastern expedition and he admitted the area was not at all what he was expected, despite a couple of hairy moments.

He said: “Flying into northern Iraq there was a degree of apprehension and I wondered what on earth I was doing there. However, the people were incredibly friendly, they were very warm, welcoming and hospitable. We were always being invited into people’s houses.

“The only nervous moment was when we saw a figure on a dark street with a weapon but it turned out to be a kid with a plastic gun. I can laugh about it now.”

Oli studied to become a mountain leader at university and now regularly leads guided ascents of peaks around the world, with this year’s travels including visits to central Asia and Cambodia.

He has also co-founded Lupine Expeditions, a new concern taking tourists to some of the most remote and spectacular corners of the planet, and is looking for further adventures having previously trekked overland from Hong Kong to Istanbul.