Posts Tagged ‘in the media’

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.

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.


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.

Musandam in the UK climbing magazines

Friday, September 9th, 2011

Neil Gresham had an article about the April DWS tour published in the August edition of “Climber“. Amongst the routes mentioned he described “Parthian Slots” F8a as “worth a trip to Oman in itself”. He also described Gen’s Cave as an “exceptional crag”. Summing up he wrote:

Similarly Mike Robertson wrote about his Musandam experience in the September edition of “Climb“. The article, “The Aquatic Art”, is more ambitious in scope than Neil’s, putting the recent trip in the context of two decades of his DWS exploration to exotic places. Mike focused especially on the wildness and natural beauty of the “stunning” peninsula.

more reviews and publicity

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Canada’s Gripped magazine ran an amusing review of the book by Tom Valis in their December 2010 edition. It is “a well produced, glossy guidebook” apparently. US mag, Rock and Ice should also carry a review shortly.

The book was also mentioned, in passing, along with my Jebel Misht topo, in an evocative Oman article by Molly Loomis in the other mainstream US magazine, Climbing. She writes well but like many of the nicer kind of travelling american perhaps finds more cultural divergence than actually exists: “A crowd is forming below me – men in long white robes and billowing pants lean against their cars and bicycles… I’m turning into a sweaty stew in my windshirt and I’m not sure how the crowd will react if I strip to my tank top“. Delighted, I’d guess!

Meanwhile the UK’s Summit magazine hosted a slightly eccentric article of mine – “Arabian Lessons: five lessons from five years new routing in Arabia” – based on stories of the first ascents of Exile at Wonderwall, Acquiescence at Shady Circus, Fujairah Spaceport at Tawiyan, Bridge to Nowhere at Khasab and the DWS Barracuda Arete. It included a major book plug and notes on travelling in the UAE and Oman. I am very grateful to Alex Messenger at the BMC for making this possible.

If anyone is interested in reading the Climbing or Summit articles, let me know and I may be able to assist.