Archive for the ‘blog’ Category

another new topo – “The Ranch”

Friday, December 28th, 2012


I have just uploaded an up-to-date topo for the Ranch cliff in Wadi Khab Shamis. Brian Coones and friends have been developing routes there for the last couple of years. The topo is Brian’s work.

some updates

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012


3Somes is the area midway up the gully left of centre. Viewed from the Wadi Shahah road.

Ralph Heath has uploaded details of some of the new crags he has developed in RAK over the last few years to SummitPost. A mix of trad and sport.


Zombie Skull


Birthday Crag

I repeated some of the 3Somes routes about a year ago: some good stuff there.

Maurizio Piccoli has been busy repeating routes in Wadi Ghalilah, including Acquiescence and Exit Surprise (maybe the third ascent – I blogged about the second ascent last year). He sent me a hand-drawn topo for Exit Surprise that may be useful for some people. Again it seems the guidebook’s E2 is a very low grade estimate for the route … it sounds like E3 at least.

I also now have a written account of routes done in Musandam by the TNF/ Nat Geo team. I am hoping to obtain some photos to go with it. Then I will upload it.

UAE guidebook on sale in Squamish!

Friday, November 30th, 2012

There are now a few copies of “UAE Rock Climbing” on the shelves in ClimbOn/ OutWest in Squamish. This is the first time the book has been stocked in North America, as far as I know. Interestingly sales from the distributor in the UK – which either go to online or European retail outlets – picked up sharply recently. This might be somehow connected with the publicity surrounding the TNF team (Alex Honnold, Hazel Findlay, etc) visiting Musandam … or it might be coincidence.

TNF celebrity team visiting Musandam

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Jimmy Chin on the TNF yacht © Mikey Schaefer, 2012

Based on various small nuggets of information on the web, it seems a team of The North Face sponsored athletes, photographers and film-makers (Alex Honnold, Hazel Findlay, Renan Ozturk, Jimmy Chin, others) is visiting the Musandam coast for two weeks in a 40′ trimaran. Not much is known about their specific intentions, but as both Alex and Hazel are more associated with serious trad’ing (and soloing in Alex’s case) rather than ephemeral fun (!) like DWS, perhaps we will hear reports of long route ascents in due course. Certainly this event is likely to raise awareness of Musandam climbing.

The team didn’t research their visit directly with any local sources as far as I can tell. They are also talking on the web inaccurately about the “unexplored” coastline. Hopefully that’s PR spin and they have bothered with a google search before setting sail. There are precedents for being concerned about this: a few years ago a Black Diamond team visited the Jebel Misht area then sprayed about a big first ascent once back in the USA – but in fact they had just (unknowingly) repeated an existing route.

Anyway, I am sure all “local” climbers wish them well. Alex and Hazel are both at the top of their game right now and presumably have many options as where to travel – so it’s an honour they are in the region.

EDIT: I have had some direct contact with the TNF team. They say they did know they weren’t the first climbers in the area, so my comment above isn’t really fair. I suspect any shortfall in their research before coming may have been caused by the classic Oman/ UAE semantic confusion. Musandam is of course in Oman but has been developed by UAE climbers. A future guidebook should be titled “UAE and Musandam rock climbing” to make that clear.


reworked Acquiescence topo

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

the last moves of pitch one of Acquiescence

Someone took an interest in my route Acquiescence in Wadi Ghalilah recently. This reminded me that neither the topo on the website nor the description in the guidebook (from when the route was still a project) are very good. I have uploaded an improved PDF topo here.

Obviously as the first ascentionist I would write this, but: factoring in the rock quality, the easy approach and the amazing cliff architecture I think Acquiescence is a strong contendor for the best route in the UAE. Anyone up to the job should go do it.

EDIT: as far as I know the route has only had three ascents so far. Greg and I got the FA in late 2009, then Andy LaBonte and Nasim Eshqi repeated it in early 2010 then Daniel Cieszynski and Aiden Laffey did it later in 2010.

expediency and “professional” journalism

Monday, October 8th, 2012

Done some hiking once? Convinced your editors you’re an authority on all things outdoor? But targeting a longer piece than you can be arsed to fill with your own work? Welcome to the Red Armada Publishing online resources: a rich source of content to plunder.

Last week some unfortunate assumed-to-be-inexperienced expat guy fell off the Stairway to Heaven scramble in Wadi Ghalilah and died from his injuries. Rather than observe a respectful silence, the UAE newspapers gleefully rushed out a plethora of why-oh-why stories, sanctimoniously exploring every possible angle of the incident.

Amongst these I unluckily stumbled over this The National article, written by John Henzell, in which I was astonished to find that I was quoted:

Part of the problem also is the way Stairway to Heaven is usually described as a hike rather than a climb. One reference, in a magazine article about adventures on the Arabian Peninsula, went as far as describing it as “more a hiker’s joy, an 8-12 hour hike”. Toby Foord-Kelcey, author of a rock-climbing guidebook to the region and one of the top climbers until he emigrated to Canada, says Stairway to Heaven has received a disproportionate amount of attention, mostly from the inexperienced. “For non-climbers the ‘stairway’ part of the route gives a taste of big-cliff exposure, but for experienced climbers it’s just a moderate scramble, if a long one,” Mr Foord-Kelcey says.

Leaving aside that I am not a “top climber” and that you cannot “emigrate” to a country of which you are a citizen, I was unamused by his use of the verb “says” twice, implying that he had actually spoken with me. He had not. In fact, he had made no effort to contact me in any way. As to the actual quote, I eventually realised that it had been lifted from an OutdoorUAE magazine article I had written, about new routing in Wadi Ghalilah, which OutdoorUAE also have uploaded on their website.

Here’s the full original paragraph:

The road into Wadi Ghalilah sidesteps a giant cement factory flanked by correspondingly vast and apocalyptic quarry workings. There’s nothing to indicate that the UAE’s most dramatic mountain scenery lies beyond. In some other countries you would find a national park entrance at a similar location but in the UAE the extractive industries rule unchallenged. Perhaps one day that will change. A few kilometers beyond the quarries the wadi opens up into a broad basin ringed with large cliffs up to 1000m high. From this point most visitors heads towards one destination: the infamous “Stairway to Heaven” hike. For non-climbers the “stairway” part of the route gives a taste of big cliff exposure, but for experienced climbers it’s just a moderate scramble, if a long one. More substantial challenges abound.

Note use of the word “infamous” to describe the Stairway. I certainly wasn’t downplaying its riskiness, but through selected out-of-context quoting, the journalist has implied the opposite. As to the other text attributed to me, it’s pure fiction.

I contacted John Henzell and received this patronising non-apology:

I get it that it’d be better to contact you but the nature of the turnaround on a piece like that in a daily newspaper makes that difficult.

And as regards the lifted text:

Fwiw, plagiarism involves claiming someone else’s work as your own. That’s not the case here. Did you write this? Yes. Did you do so in a public forum? Yes.

So, as I understand it, John regards anything he can copy’n'paste from the internet as fair game. A brief search through The National site rapidly uncovered other examples. Here’s some stuff about the Dibba border issues, padded out with some verbiage on DWS. Genuine “top climber” Neil Gresham has been ripped off here:

Neil Gresham, one of Britain’s top climbers and a deep water soloing pioneer, was one of those lured to Oman by the tales of the sea cliffs. In April last year, he was part of a group that based themselves on a dhow for several days and added more than 60 new routes. At the time, Covo del Diablo in Majorca, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, was considered to be the world’s best deep water soloing cliff. “So did we find the mythical DWS crag in Oman to beat Covo del Diablo? I would say not,” he wrote in the British magazine Climber a year ago. “But would we recommend it for DWS? Yes, definitely! The majority of the rock might be loose but there is still enough quality solid stuff to last the keenest climber a decade or two.” In season and with a dhow full of like-minded friends, he added, “an amazing time is guaranteed”.

It is a reasonable assumption that this has been sourced from this blog post of mine, where I showed a screenshot excerpt from Neil’s article in Climber magazine.

In the same The National piece we also find this:

An aphorism told by UAE-based rock climbers is that, when the international boundaries in this corner of Arabia were formalised in the 1960s as the British prepared to end the Trucial States protectorate, all the rock climbers were on the Omani side of the negotiating table because the best climbing areas have all tended to be just outside the UAE’s borders.

Actually it is not an “aphorism”, it is a slightly-reworded copy of something written by Damian Cook, in his old article on UAE climbing from On the Edge magazine, of which there is a scan here. Sadly as Damian is dead – perhaps John knows that? – he doesn’t have an opportunity to complain.

If you are thinking “whatever, theft is rampant in the modern media” keep in mind that people like me don’t have to maintain free content websites; this kind of disrespect is strong incentive to give up. I also think “professional” journalists should uphold higher standards if they want to justify drawing a wage; otherwise they should get proper jobs and blog in their spare time like the rest of us.

access to Dibba climbing areas

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

Over the summer months, various people have reported problems entering the Oman side of Dibba. Specifically the men with uniforms and guns (*) managing the two border crossings have been turning back expats unable to evidence a hotel stay or pre-booked activity with a known Dibba Omani company. This is obviously awkward for climbers who are unlikely to be in either category. As so often in the UAE, this “rule” is not being applied systematically, so some people are getting through OK.

A few other things that I have read about this:

  • people on tourist rather than residence visas aren’t having the same problem. [don't rely on it]
  • Oman-side businesses don’t like the situation and are lobbying to have it relaxed. [we hope]
  • Sharjah is building its own tourism “island” on its slice of Dibba bay, and so may have vested interest in keeping people on the UAE side of the border. [this is conjecture, of course]

If it becomes a permanent constraint, it is pretty bad news for “UAE” climbing, as Wadi Khab Shamsi and other wadis inland from Dibba have been a major focus of new route development in recent years. Then there’s the DWSing, though I guess it may be easier to produce paperwork for the border people for those trips, as they are almost always pre-booked with Omani dhow operators (if rather informally …)

* I have never been sure to what extent these are UAE military or local Sharjah police? does anyone know for sure?

mystery Cleavage route and other RAK notes

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

Yesterday Dave Watson, Paul du Toit and I did a midsummer tour around the Roadside and Wadi Shahah area. I redpointed the mystery bolted line left of Hanging Haemorrhoid at the Cleavage. Unless anyone else claims it and has a name, I am calling it Lidocaine (*). The grade is F6c or F6c+. Hanging Haemorrhoid is slightly harder than it used to be since the removal of the cheat blocks underneath, maybe F6b+ or F6c.

Dave Watson on Hanging Haemorrhoid. Lidocaine is the line to the left.

A few other notes:

- the excellent Thug Monkey at Roadside needs a proper lower-off.

- Dave managed an almost-redpoint of Pokemon at Roadside despite the heat. Grade estimates for this route continue to vary wildly. Dave thought the guidebook grade F7b+ seemed about right.

- Crackrocksteady (Andy La Bonte’s E3 + F7b right of Tim’s Tipple) at Nearside is no longer climbable in its original form as a huge starting block has been removed by the Shahah road crew.

- I plan a topo for John Gregory’s Transition crag in Shahah when he has reached a suitable stopping point – October?


(* I have changed my mind on the name a few times, but I think this is my last edit. 14 Aug 2012)

mid-summer bolting at Wonderwall

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Circus Sands and the Gutter project (new bolts in red)

Some bolting work has been done in the Circus Sands/ Central Wall sector of Wonderwall. Circus Sands itself has six new bolts, four on the first pitch and two on the top pitch. This makes the route significantly safer, especially on the easy initial slab, where 20-30m ground falls were previously possible. Hypothetically this might be considered retro-bolting as the slab has been climbed many times without protection. However consensus has swung firmly in favour and everyone who has completed first ascents in this area either gave their blessing or actually placed the new bolts. The route still retains some run-out flavour. In its new form it is highly recommended to anyone climbing around F6a or above, who has multi-pitch and abseil experience, as it crosses very spectacular and exposed terrain en route to a cool summit.

In the new route category, Theo Giani has bolted the whole of the Gutter project, which had previously been looked at and partially-cleaned, but abandoned. When complete this will give a classic sustained 40m pitch in the F7s, similar to, but possibly slightly steeper than, Exile.

the long goodbye

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

The Red Armada publishing empire has just one month left before relocating to Canada (via a few weeks in Blighty). It’s a surprisingly busy period, not just negotiating the minefield that is UAE exit formalities, but also finishing up on some projects: a big final article for Outdoor UAE, some bolting, a possible topo for a RAK cliff.

Meanwhile I have also just committed (well, maybe, I’ll see how it goes …) to a new blog about my new life in Squamish, ripe I hope with climbing grade breakthroughs and pithy insight into the town’s evolution.