US Hikers Held in Iran Took Big Risks

Crossing the border accidentally is hard, but possible

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted May 3, 2010 2:25 PM CDT

(Newser) – How hard is it to accidentally cross the border from Kurdish Iraq into Iran, as Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal, and Shane Bauer did last year? Outside magazine dispatched Joshua Hammer to retrace their steps and find out. His conclusion? The three demonstrated a “shocking lack of preparation,” but they also got plenty of bad advice and “fell victim to a sequence of small mistakes.” Mistake No. 1: Embarking without a guidebook, relying on some blurry Google Maps.

“We didn't feel we had to do real in-depth preparation,” says Shon Meckfessel, who skipped the fateful outing because he was sick. Meckfessel says several locals told them to visit the Ahmed Awa waterfall, not mentioning its proximity to the border. Though they say no one warned them about their location, local newspapers say they were warned at a checkpoint near the waterfall. Hammer met guards on his hike but reports that the border is easy to miss—there's no marker—and plenty of smugglers pass back and forth across it.

Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd (from left), the American hikers jailed in Iran.
Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd (from left), the American hikers jailed in Iran.   (AP Photo/freethehikers.org, File)
A general view of the Iran-Iraq border where three American hikers disappeared near Sulaimaniya.
A general view of the Iran-Iraq border where three American hikers disappeared near Sulaimaniya.   (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
This undated file photo shows Americans Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd. Josh Fattal, Bauer, and Shourd have been in Iranian custody since straying over the border with Kurdistan while hiking last July.
This undated file photo shows Americans Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd. Josh Fattal, Bauer, and Shourd have been in Iranian custody since straying over the border with Kurdistan while hiking last July.   (AP Photo/freethehikers.org, File)
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