This was originally an article written by me and published in Outdoor UAE Magazine. Go to their website www.outdooruae.com for lots of information on stuff to do in the region and check out their back issues for a copy of the article along with others by regular climbing article contributor and author of the UAE Climbing Guide Toby Foord-Kelcey.
In this series of articles I’m looking at possible pathways to activity. Often folks like the idea of kayaking, mountain biking or climbing here in the region but don’t know where to start or what’s available. I want to try and help a bit by pointing out a couple of places to start on a path whether you’re a complete beginner or someone who’s played the game before but is new to the region.
In this issue I’ll take a look at rock climbing, the scene here in the region and how to give it a go or get involved.
At a glance.
- The rock climbing in the UAE is pretty damn good and there is a vibrant and active scene
- Get a copy of the UAE Rock Climbing Guide Book produced by Red Armada Publishing from any good outdoor sports shop in the region.
- Log on to the Real UAE Rock Climbers facebook group to find the climbing community.
- If you’re not already a climber book day with one of the various providers here to see if climbing is for you and to learn the basics
- Explore the numerous developed crags with their trad and sport routes as well as great bouldering and world class deep water soloing venues
- Join the new routing scene and explore the vast untapped potential of yet to be discovered gems. Climb a new route and name it.
So rock climbing………
The Hajar Mountains rise from the desert sands well south of Muscat and run in a 700km limestone arc north to where they plunge into the sea in spectacular fashion at the Musendam.
The rock quality is incredibly varied. Much of it is choss of the worst kind but some of it is bullet hard and it’s these places the regions exploring climbers have sought out.
Modern rock climbing is a highly developed sport/activity with a sophisticated ethos and cultures surrounding it. It takes many different forms around the world but here it’s all about traditionally protected (trad) routes and bolt protected (sport) routes with some deep water soloing and bouldering thrown in for good measure. These are all forms of climbing where you move up the rock using your fingers and feet to grip the features of the rock without using any artificial aid to assist upwards progress.
Why is a difficult question to answer. It has been said that if you have to ask why you’ll probably not understand the answer anyway.
Climbers find routes that are too easy do not satisfy. Climbers seek the nirvana experienced when they succeed on a climb that is at the upper edge of their physical and possibly their mental limits. Climbs are normally shared with a climbing partner too and it’s this heady mix of risk, adventure, physical and mental challenge in the frame work of a trusted partnership that is the reason that someone becomes a climber.
Climbing is also a form of physical meditation. When I’m climbing I find I live ‘in the moment’ focused purely on what it is I’m doing and nothing else. A friend wrote a whole article on how climbing ‘gave her brain a wash’, getting rid of the dirt that the modern world clutters our minds with.
The excellent UAE Rock Climbing Guide Book is the starting point for finding out where the climbing areas are. It can be found in any good outdoor sports stores here and around the world.
Some crags are very accessible, the Narrows in Wadi Khab Shamis (Dibba, Oman), for instance, has a track running through the middle of it, no walk in here at all. Others are not so accessible and require a much bigger commitment. The new routing activity in Wadi Ghalillah (RAK), for instance, has been on an alpine scale and is an environment where you need to have served your apprentice, done your time, to be able to find your ways around and get on and off routes safely.
As with most outdoor activities ‘the season’ is the 8 months between October and May. There is plenty of activity goes on through the summer though by the hardened few and they seek out crags with all day shade and a stiff breeze to make it manageable. There is also deep water soloing as a summer option too.
The first time
Climbing is not one of those activities where you can just pop into a shop, buy the gear and then go out and try it for yourself. I don’t think its over dramatizing to say please don’t do this because you might die! Climbing can be safe but you need introducing to it in the right way.
Your best option is to persuade an active climber you know to take you. If you can’t do this either because your climbing friends are too mean or you don’t know any climbers then the next option is to book with someone who offers climbing courses. There are lots of issues surrounding course providers regarding qualifications, insurances and experience. Make sure you check with anyone you consider booking with, ask to see copies of qualifications, get an overview of their experience (arguably more important than qualifications) and get them to explain their ethos to see if it fits with what you are after. You can also ask the climbing community on the facebook page for advice and recommendations, climbers are rarely short of an opinion or 5.
3 recommendations from me are
Dom the Vertical Tourist – theverticaltourist.co.uk
Arabia Outdoors – arabiaoutdoors.com
Absolute Adventure – adventure.ae
What do I need?
To start with the person you’re going climbing with should be able to lend you all the technical gear like a harness and belay device. The mountain of ropes, nylon and metal climbers pull out of their heavy rucsacs can seem a bit overwhelming at first. Don’t worry about this for now it will all become apparent as you serve your climbing apprenticeship. If it’s your first time climbing you don’t need specialist climbing shoes either, trainers will do just fine on the easy climbs you’ll start on.
As you make the various steps to being a climber you’ll need to invest in various bits of kit. Harness is normally first along with a belay krab and device, a pair of rock shoes and a chalk bag come next. A climbers rucsac will probably be next if you haven’t already got one then slowly you’ll start to collect a rack (that confusing pile of metal and nylon climbers pull out of their rucsac when they are about to scare the wits out of you) and a rope.
There are a few places to buy climbing gear in the area. Adventure HQ in Times Square has probably the largest range with a full selection of harnesses, shoes, helmets, karabiners, ropes and protection including cams etc while many of the multi sports stores stock harnesses and rock shoes ideal for those getting started and the basics like chalk and quickdraws for climbers to top up their racks.
Knowledge = Safety
As with any adventurous activity its safer to start slowly and take one step at a time. Take time to learn the basics.
The step from your first time climbing to becoming a climber is HUGE and not to be underestimated. In reality there is only one way to do it and that’s to attach yourself to an active climber (or group of climbers) and get them to take you under their wing. There is an apprenticeship to go through, you need to learn how to belay, how to read a guide book, how to manage ropes and tie key knots, there is gear to learn how to use to protect yourself and a mountain sense to develop, understanding the mountains is key to keeping safe. Along this path there will hopefully be lots of adventures, stories of daring do, knocks, bumps and scrapes. Somewhere along it you’ll look down at your slightly battered hands with their short chipped nails, chalk ground into your cuticles, scared knuckles and thick finger tips and you’ll realise you’re a climber with some stories to tell.