Posts Tagged ‘Musandam’

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.

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


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.

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.

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.

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?