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 UAEClimbing.com:
“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:
- the general impression that I may have been dissing the trad.
- 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 …