Archive for the ‘blog’ Category

five year update

Friday, January 9th, 2015


Five years have passed since the UAE guidebook went on sale. Obviously there has been a lot of change since then: new crags, new routes, changed access situations, etc. I have begun drafting an update document –  linked HERE – which explains what has changed and where to get additional information. Only at an overview level – I am not aiming to put individual route descriptions or topos in the document.

I would be very grateful for assistance in making it accurate. Please take a look, then email me or FB message me with any contributions or corrections. Thanks!

EDIT – May 2015: unfortunately other commitments have overwhelmed intention and this document is not going to get finished. FWIW I have left the draft version up for now.

EDIT AGAIN – January 2016: the document is now ~ finished. Click HERE

Mike Green

Friday, February 21st, 2014


Mike Green, an expat British climber in the UAE, died in February.

Though my time in the region overlapped with Mike’s for less than a year, we climbed often together and had kept in regular contact until very recently. I regarded him as a good friend. The background to his death can be interpreted in a way that diminishes Mike’s memory so I will not dwell on it. Let’s just say that it is always troubling to discover how little we sometimes know about people we think we know well.

Mike moved to the UAE for work in late 2011. I first met him at a park in Abu Dhabi where he was slack-lining with his sister and some other friends. Two things struck me immediately: he had some extraordinary muscles – I reckoned I could climb 9a if he would lend his shoulders – yet despite his bulk he seemed remarkably adept at the dainty art of walking the line.


Over time I realised this was characteristic of Mike: once something grabbed his interest then he would obsess over it until it was mastered, whether it naturally-suited him or not.  The range of these interests was almost surreal. Whilst chatting on the long drives, that are the curse of Abu Dhabi climbers, some fresh fragment of Mike’s past would often emerge. He had been an MMA fighter, for which he had built himself up to 90Kg. He had been what the Japanese call an “otaku”, staying at home for weeks on end immersed in online video games. Very recently he got serious about photography, producing stunning results quickly, apparently without effort. A public gallery he assembled is here.

I believe he had only been climbing for about a year prior to coming to the UAE, mostly at indoor walls or areas close to London like Portland. Our first day out together was at Wonderwall, with Theo Giani. For some reason, we were focused on repeating Hot Rats, a brutally thin 7a slab route, with  old-school spaced bolts on cheese-grater rock. To my total surprise, though the grade was beyond his limit at the time, Mike offered to lead the route, and gave it his best shot. I was deeply impressed, not least as I had backed off the route some years before; it’s scary.


Mike was making steady progress through the grades when I left the UAE in July 2012 and had done almost all the sport routes in the region up to ~7b by the end of last year. Also some spectacular deep water soloing; his determination and indestructible physique being a good fit for DWS. Though respectable for most people, it was clear from correspondence with Mike that he wanted to raise his level much further, and it seemed he was as focused on that objective as anything in his life. I always assumed it was only a matter of time before he was climbing harder than all of us.

Mike’s family have set up a page at, for people to share memories of him.

stealth Musandam 2011 DWS film found!

Friday, January 3rd, 2014


 I was recently pointed to a nice 5 minute video of the 2011 British-sponsored-heroes visit to Musandam hosted by Oddly they seem to have uploaded it but never actually publicised it. Worth watching.

Link to video is here

The following routes are featured:

0:27 The Equaliser F7a+

0:43 Free Diving F6b+

0:57 One Liner F7a+

(1:54 the Red Armada editorial team chasing dolphins in a kayak)

2:32 Drop Zone F6c+

3:11 Partheon Slots F8a (incorrectly labelled as an unclimbed project – Read Macadam got the FA during this trip)

4:08 GenerationX F7b+

(5:14 the Red Armada itself, just visible parked at the dockside)


Musandam publicity ramps up

Friday, December 27th, 2013

 Screen shot 2013-12-26 at 13.14.39

In 28 years of climbing I’ve never seen rock formations as magical.

This month’s National Geographic carries Mark Synott’s article about the TNF/ NatGeo sponsored trip that he, Alex Honnold, Hazel Findlay and others made around the Musandam coast in October 2012. The website also has various supporting material including a nice DWS video. It is probably no coincidence that Alex and Hazel have also been talking about the trip for the first time in interviews. For example, in Hazel’s podcast interview at the excellent Enormocast.

I was slightly involved in the article. Mark gave my name as a source for fact-checking, which resulted in a quite lengthy email exchange with a NatGeo sub-editor in – oddly – Toronto! Mike Nott in the UAE also helped out. I was pleased to see Mark’s final article contained no mention of the team’s original claim to be the first to visit the area. However there was no mention of the active “local” climbing communities in the UAE and Oman; a shame in my opinion. Nor the beta on where to find the existing DWS routes (ie from this site!). Anyway, the stunning photos definitely justify the price of the magazine. Go buy it!

Elsewhere Gripped magazine in Canada has also just published an article about sport climbing near Muscat in its latest edition, focused especially on expat-Canuck Read Macadam’s new hard stuff at Hadash.

understated trad grades

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Simon Cahill sent me this note on a multi-pitch route at Sentinel:

Just had a great couple of days out with Maddie, day 1 climbed a route on the sentinel, can’t remember the name something like Kasarkstan [actually: Kharzang] and is route number 1 in your book. The grade given is v-diff. It’s a great climb but at v-diff is way off and potentially dangerous as a good severe leader would have an epic. I think it’s pretty solid VS with a lot of 4b climbing and I had to work the crux several times to get it so I think probably 4c ….I talked to Ralph about it this morning and he thought it was an HVS horror, not that bad but not V-diff. I think any update of the guidebook should include a serious regrade.

The descriptions and grades for trad routes were in most cases taken verbatim from Alan Stark’s PDF guide (I bought the copyright from Alan). Those descriptions were in turn mostly taken direct from first ascentionist’s accounts. Many routes have only had one ascent. John Gregory did review the text to some extent before publication, but it is reasonably likely that there are some other errors in there. However, thankfully this is the first error of this magnitude (2 -3 Brit trad grades difference) that has been identified. Be careful out there! Generally, in my opinion, as spelled out in the introduction to the guidebook, UAE trad should be approached with caution, especially on first acquaintance.

policy on topo uploads

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

I have temporarily deleted links to a large proportion of the topos and additional route information I have been collecting for the last four years. I am currently reviewing various options for updating the guidebook, as its 5th anniversary approaches. Most likely I will restore many of the links soon. Meanwhile, message me through the contact page if you are looking for something specific.

EDIT: January 2016- most of the topos are now available again. Click here.

topos for new wadi khab shamis additions

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Stephen Hyndman just sent me details for new stuff in Wadi Khab Shamis (Dibba Inland area). These are one new sport area with routes to F7a and one new multi-pitch E2 trad route with bolted anchors. Uploaded here.


Shannon Borowy following pitch 3 of Inshallah Crack, E2



Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Someone forwarded an anonymous document to me containing an astonishingly-grand vision for the, er, region. Here are a few extracts:

AscendME (Ascend Middle East): is a large scale long, term project; which contains many small pieces of a much larger puzzle. It will start with the UAE and Oman and as a growing sandstorm will spread to all Middle Eastern Countries. Mission/Objective: to build, develop, promote and teach safe climbing and mountain sports; while helping to support the local communities/business around the climbing areas, to support the climbing community, to help the local children’s charities, and to clean up the climbing areas first in the UAE and Oman then other Middle Easter Countries.

“AscendME is broken down into 5 main parts that all tie together to complete the objective: 1. UAE Rock Trip (Oman in October 2014) 2. AscendME Access and Bolting Fund 3. MEMGA (Middle East Mountain Sports Association) 4. 5. NEW UAE and Oman Guidebook 6. Charity …

“On a National Level this work includes advocating for climbing issues in Middle Eastern Countries: Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Northern Cyprus, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen …

“ will be the data base for all mountain sports in the Middle East. The website will be modeled after and function similarly to the following website:,,, …

Cultural Impacts are often caused due to climber being attracted to the same geologic formations that Middle Eastern Locals identify as traditional cultural and religious places. Cultural resources include, but are not limited to, Native American sacred sites, archaeological sites, petroglyphs and pictographs, ancient and historic trails, historic mining areas, cabins, springs, and landscapes that may include a mountain or a river …


EDIT: a PDF of the full original ~4000 word document is hosted here.

A few days after it was published here, Brian Coones, a US expat in Dubai, admitted authorship. Fans of his frequent clumsy plagiarism may be amused by the large amounts of text copied from places like the Access Fund website. For example, see the reference to “Native American sacred sites” above! I guess many people will doubt Brian has either the required range of skills or credibility as a climber to follow through on this complex agenda, but no-one should underestimate his aggressive self-belief. From his Facebook page:

“What you do not know is that I am a Freight Train in the sense that my resolve is steadfast yet also flexible I might bend but will not break; that my dedication and commitment is unwavering, I do what I love and love what I do, I live an inspired passionate life. So you have a choice; either you get on board the train to help, step aside as you are passed by and if you are on the tracks and in my way I won’t stop, I will keep going, I will run you down.”

Shorn of all the other nonsense, the idea of a regional climbing organisation is not completely stupid. However it would seem more appropriate that it be driven by climbers actually from the region as an Arabic language venture.


border issues for climbers at September 2013

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

When I first came to the UAE in early 2005, access through the border for the major cliffs in nearby parts of Oman was like this:

  • Khasab area: tedious passage through UAE and Oman border posts
  • Wadi Bih area: just drive there
  • Dibba area: ditto
  • Hatta area: ditto
  • Wonderwall area: ditto

But, sadly, now, for non-GCC citizens, it looks like this:

The Wonderwall situation has seen the most recent deterioration. In the last few years it has been necessary to take passports but possible to pass through the UAE border post at Hili without a UAE visa exit stamp if you said you were just visiting Buraimi. Now that border post will require you to get an exit stamp, drive to the nearest Oman border post and formally enter Oman, exit Oman again and show those Oman entry/ exit stamps when you return to the UAE. This will add considerable time and expense to a visit.

One way around this is to drive toward Hatta crag instead, passing the UAE police check just east of Madam. Then drive past the Hatta crag turn as if driving toward Hatta town, but look for a turn to the right (south) at a Shell gas station. That minor road takes a twisting path southwards east of Jebel Sumaini into “between the border posts” Omani territory. There is an Omani police post on this road but current information is that they only check passports. About 60km from the Shell station is a junction. Go left there, then after about 20km turn right (west) on to a major road (the Sohar – Al Ain highway). After about 15km the roundabout on the established Wonderwall approach drive will be seen. Go left (south) there and follow instructions in the guidebook to reach the cliff.

Note that this approach was known to “work” at September 2013, but could be subject to change at any time. It is always worth seeking out an update opinion, for example, from the Real UAE Climbers Facebook group.

This map shows the layout (click on it for higher resolution). Border line is black, major and minor roads in red. Border posts are shown by national flags, police check points by a police symbol.



For Dubai climbers the route described above will add only 10-20 minutes more to the journey but for Abu Dhabi climbers the drive will be 3 hours or more each way. The best alternative for Abu Dhabi (or Al Ain) climbers would be to exit the UAE through the southern border post at Mazyad then immediately go through the nearby Oman post just to the south. About 3km south of the Oman border post is a roundabout. Turn left (east) there, on a black top road which loops back close to the border toward Wonderwall, passing a police check point. The negative aspect of this route is that the full visa exit/ entry/ exit/ re-entry procedure would have to be followed. However it is slightly more logical than the situation further north where the Oman border post on the Al Ain – Sohar road is far to the east of Wonderwall.

For any of these routes, returning the same way will be very important.


route descriptions from the TNF team

Monday, February 25th, 2013


the TNF team on a “Sand Castles” summit © Mark Synott, 2012

Around new year, Hazel Findlay kindly sent me descriptions for routes done during the North Face team’s visit last year. More recently Mark Synnott sent me some photos that complement her work. I have combined the material in a document linked here. Mark’s National Geographic article about their trip should appear in August.

Hazel also mentioned her visit briefly in a blog post … describing the area as “one of the world’s most beautiful places”. Though the team originally set out to do new long trad routes, they ended up visiting several of the previously-documented DWS areas. In a separate email Hazel commented to me specifically on the DWS that “the established routes we did or tried – we thought were really good, super classic” but that “I think the best sort of trips to this area, are more exploratory, for people who want to see the coastline, do a bit of climbing, snorkel, climb chossy ridge lines etc. I don’t think it will be the next Mallorca or Vietnam.” Neil Gresham offered a similar conclusion in his article in the UK press in 2011.


Hazel Findlay and Alex Honnold on their Lions Mouth first ascent © Mark Synott, 2012

PS hopefully I don’t have to tell anyone that the copyright symbols here have real meaning. These images are the property of Mark Synott and should not appear elsewhere without his permission.