Posts Tagged ‘chossaneering’

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.

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.

new topos

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

I have just uploaded five new topos to the new route page. Here is a list of the new stuff with direct links:

Beyond RAK
- Aiden’s Snakecharmer, the huge Ghalilah face of Jebel Ras Al Qays

RAK Inland
- a 3D (yes: 3D!) update to the Cube boulder
- the Little Princess on Red Wall mentioned yesterday

Dibba Inland
- the Blindspot crag

Al Ain
- Paul’s (no longer) Secret Boulders. Be discreet at this one.

Second ascent of Exit Surprise

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Last Friday Aiden Laffey and Philippe Delaunay made the probable second ascent of Exit Surprise on Shady Circus cliff in Wadi Ghalilah. Superficially climbing a six pitch E2 may not seem very remarkable but this route’s reputation has been rising after multiple abandoned attempts. Aiden had retreated off it four times previously: twice with Gen Boni, once with Andy LaBonte (Andy got offroute beyond the 4th pitch crux traverse and took a long fall on to old pitons), and once with Philippe (having solved the crux traverse they realised they needed larger cams for the 5th pitch).

Current thinking is that the first ascentionist Antoine Fabre probably used some aid on the traverse and so far it hasn’t been possible to climb it 100% free.

Philippe at the exposed stance before the crux traverse

The 5th pitch was found to be climbable in line with the guidebook description, though apparently the “Surprise” exit hole at the top of the pitch is quite tight and intimidating to reach.

Aiden at the steep move on pitch 5 before the chimney leading to the exit hole

With hindsight it would have been better to qualify some of the long trad routes described in full in the guidebook with a symbol to indicate that the the first ascentionists’ description had not yet been checked. Some UK guides use a dagger mark for that purpose. Something to consider if there is ever any momentum for a second edition. At least the book gives Exit Surprise E2 rather than the E1 in the previous PDF guide! And the three star quality rating seems to be correct.

Both photos © Aiden Laffey

Barun Wall topo

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

I just stumbled over a very detailed updated topo for Barun Wall, assembled by the team who did the second ascent in January, which I mentioned in an earlier post. It claims Barun Wall (600m) is the second longest route in the UAE and the longest continuous route – sounds correct to me.

2010/2011 mid-season update

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

I thought it might be worth updating on some of what’s been going on in the winter season so far. It’s mostly from RAK, as the sport climbing tribe have been (admirably) focused on repeating routes recently.


In Wadi Shahah, the Gregory quarrying/ climbing machine continues to operate productively. A new cliff, Farside, has been opened opposite Nearside, with several routes. Descriptions here. Andy LaBonte has climbed a hard new partially-bolted route (Crack Rock Steady, F7b + E3 at the start) at Nearside. I have no other details but I am fairly sure it is just right of Tim’s Tipple.

Elsewhere in the wadi I also have update details for Yellow House, including new star ratings and descent details and one new route. Apparently consensus is that the rock quality is unusually good. The Far Right area at Dickinadozer is now known as the Zombie Skull sector. Some additional anchors and tidying-up has taken place – I am not sure of the precise details.


In Wadi Ghalilah, adherents of the noble art of chossaneering have been busy. Ben Ranson (*) has climbed the giant 1000m (!) Ghalilah Headwall right of Stairway to Heaven in two stages.  The topo is here. As mentioned late last year, Aiden Laffey added Wadi Roulette near the Shady Circus area. More recently he and Andy LaBonte repeated the 600m Barun Wall route (original description here), probably by a slightly different line to the original ascent. Looks bold, committing and – no surprise – loose.


Mid-summer 2010 Gordon Rech and friends started work on a new sector, The Narrows, a long way up Wadi Khab Shamis. There are four sport routes from F5 to F6b so far.


As previously noted, Aiden and I climbed The Pyramid.


There’s also some new stuff at Hatta Crag. Sadly I don’t have details at the moment, though I know they include a F7a eliminate through Spiderpig, another F7a on the back side of the same buttress and two lines left of Tadaima.


Solomon Lau passed me details of two new problems at Wonderwall. In other news, Gordon Rech made the probable second ascent of Ninja Smartypants on the Monkey Bars block.

If anyone knows of anything else, please let me know.

* whoops,  I mean Peter Thompson ;-)

more chossaneering madness!

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Aiden Laffey has just got in touch with a new seven pitch route in Wadi Ghalilah, including a full-blown aid pitch. In a similar vein, he and Andy LaBonte recently tried the (probably never repeated) Shady Circus route, Exit Surprise, and found the fourth pitch traverse much harder than expected, taking a fall onto old pitons. It seems possible that pitch was originally aided and not climbed free as reported? Beware …

The Pyramid

Monday, November 15th, 2010

The Pyramid is a large (300m?) semi-sea-stack above the Barracuda Stack, mentioned as a project in the Dibba Coast section of the UAE guidebook. 

Aiden Laffey and I made the first ascent on 12 November, approaching in Aiden’s yacht from Fujairah marina. Mike Olver supported us: helpfully staying awake through the night on the outbound leg and watching out for trouble whilst we climbed. The route is pretty easy (VS’ish) but quite serious with patches of very loose rock. The views from the top are amazing.

The Pyramid from the south
The Pyramid from the north
Looking down at the Barracuda Stack
Aiden following the last pitch
view south from the summit

For anyone interested in a repeat there’s a route description here. It would probably be possible to do the climb in a day using a fast boat out of Dibba.

The wisdom of Antoine Fabre

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

In the brief history of UAE rock climbing, Antoine is the chossaneer’s chossaneer. Aside from a wide range of bold ascents of tall tottering features in the guidebook’s region, he also did some meaningful ascents in “proper” Oman, such as the first one day ascent of the French Pillar of Misht (Dan Donovan and I made the second or third). I corresponded with Antoine briefly about some confusion over the line of one of his routes at Shady Circus. It rapidly became clear that he wasn’t someone who dwelt excessively in the past … nor took climbing too seriously:

“It was about 10 years ago. So I might be slightly wrong about the details of the line on the photograph …. As a geologist I know that the past is fading away, rocks are being eroded and washed into the sea, whatever we do in our short lives has little importance, except of course: playing music, drinking good wines and f***ing girls ….”

Feedback about the guide #2

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

I received this comment to the blog at the end of last year:

“Just seen a copy of the guide, and as someone who climbed pretty extensively in the UAE from 1999 – 2004 I feel entitled to comment. While it’s great to see something in print after all the efforts, I am really disappointed to see the big bold trad ascents termed as ‘Chossaneering’. I find that quite insulting to the people who brought alpine style climbing to the UAE, and you do them a huge dis-service. Shame.”

From Andy Chubb in the UK. I had a feeling I had seen his name somewhere and discovered after a search of the route archives that he had been involved in a few first ascents in the guidebook area, mostly on trad cliffs that I had not included in the guide like the Barun Nose in Wadi Ghalilah. My immediate thought was that I’d publish his comment if he’d actually paid for the book rather than just flipped through one of the freebies I had had sent out from Cordee or a copy in a climbing shop – and so emailed to ask. I never got a reply. Consequently I have not published the comment nor felt any pressure to respond, especially as I have been busy with other stuff.

I was going to write that this is the only negative feedback I’d received on the book. But that’s not quite true. Alan Stark (who I should emphasise has been otherwise very supportive but who has also suffered from some of my heartless route exclusion) wrote on

“The term ‘Chossaineering’ [sic] is not what I would have used, and a little less pleasing than my preferred term Adventure Climbing. I’m not sure whether Antoine, Bill, Geoff Hornby … would be over pleased at having some of their not inconsiderable multipitch ascents described in a slightly disparaging manner.”

And Ralph Heath from Al Shaheen, who I met recently at Wonderwall, did mention politely that there were some murmurings in Tradistan (sorry: Ras Al Khaimah) that the book hadn’t done full justice to the trad. Actually I missed out some of his new routes too (… a bit of a pattern emerging here perhaps?).

So, where to start? I think there are two separate themes here which I am going to tackle separately:

  1. the general impression that I may have been dissing the trad.
  2. the specific topic of onsight multi-pitch trad new routing on ill-defined lines on large rambling loose limestone cliffs (ie “chossaneering”: can you see why a single word term for this might be useful?).

Regarding (1) I have described in the book itself and before on this blog how routes and cliffs were selected, so I am not going to repeat myself in detail. About half the routes in the book are trad. This seems about right, especially given that a majority of the UAE climbing population only climb sport. I am also reasonably confident, because I consulted quite widely, that I included most of the best trad routes (at least within the “properly-cleaned” category).

But are the trad routes that are in the book as enthusiastically described as they could be? I will concede possibly not. There are various reasons for that. Amongst them, I’d especially note the lack of good trad climbing photos, for which I don’t accept any blame! It just seems the trad regulars don’t feel much urge to get on an ab rope with a camera.

It’s also true that I haven’t spent much time during my five years in the UAE on the trad; it’s definitely easier to enthuse about routes you have actually done yourself. That’s partly because I have been trying to push my sport standard here and also because I climb plenty of trad routes each summer on the glorious (solid) granite cracks of Squamish in Canada. And frankly there aren’t many trad lines on the limestone in the UAE and Oman that have really called out to me. Bridge to Nowhere at Khasab and Acquiescence in Ghalilah did; deeper into Oman the Al Hamra tower routes and the French route on Jebel Misht which I climbed back in 2007 … and the Red Wall looks pretty amazing too. But that’s about it. Maybe I have visited too many other great climbing areas and have become excessively fussy. Plenty of other people find more to like; I absolutely respect their opinion.

And how about (2)? First of all, I didn’t coin the term “chossaneering” but I do like it. It’s a useful self-explanatory term to distinguish a particular ascent style and not intended to be derogatory: it is unquestionably impressive to set off up a big loose cliff with no idea of what lies ahead. The main people responsible for those sort of routes within the guide’s coverage area of the book are – I think – adequately recognised in the historical section in the appendix. And all their routes are recorded on the archive page if not in the book itself.

Primarily though, the job of a climbing guidebook is to guide, not pronounce on historical achievement. If any of the big multi-pitch routes had proved popular and had been acclaimed as classics at the time the book was written, they would have been given more prominence. But they hadn’t. As I wrote in the book’s introduction, people into these sorts of routes seem to only be interested in first ascents … almost no-one repeats anything. So it is hard for consensus on quality (or even the correct line …) to get established. Maybe that is changing (for example, I gather that the quite accessible long routes on Jebel Hila are getting frequent traffic). If so, and I am writing the next edition, I’ll reflect that. And make sure I record at least one new route from anyone likely to criticise …