Posts Tagged ‘Oman’

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.

border issues for climbers at September 2013

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

When I first came to the UAE in early 2005, access through the border for the major cliffs in nearby parts of Oman was like this:

  • Khasab area: tedious passage through UAE and Oman border posts
  • Wadi Bih area: just drive there
  • Dibba area: ditto
  • Hatta area: ditto
  • Wonderwall area: ditto

But, sadly, now, for non-GCC citizens, it looks like this:

The Wonderwall situation has seen the most recent deterioration. In the last few years it has been necessary to take passports but possible to pass through the UAE border post at Hili without a UAE visa exit stamp if you said you were just visiting Buraimi. Now that border post will require you to get an exit stamp, drive to the nearest Oman border post and formally enter Oman, exit Oman again and show those Oman entry/ exit stamps when you return to the UAE. This will add considerable time and expense to a visit.

One way around this is to drive toward Hatta crag instead, passing the UAE police check just east of Madam. Then drive past the Hatta crag turn as if driving toward Hatta town, but look for a turn to the right (south) at a Shell gas station. That minor road takes a twisting path southwards east of Jebel Sumaini into “between the border posts” Omani territory. There is an Omani police post on this road but current information is that they only check passports. About 60km from the Shell station is a junction. Go left there, then after about 20km turn right (west) on to a major road (the Sohar – Al Ain highway). After about 15km the roundabout on the established Wonderwall approach drive will be seen. Go left (south) there and follow instructions in the guidebook to reach the cliff.

Note that this approach was known to “work” at September 2013, but could be subject to change at any time. It is always worth seeking out an update opinion, for example, from the Real UAE Climbers¬†Facebook group.

This map shows the layout (click on it for higher resolution). Border line is black, major and minor roads in red. Border posts are shown by national flags, police check points by a police symbol.



For Dubai climbers the route described above will add only 10-20 minutes more to the journey but for Abu Dhabi climbers the drive will be 3 hours or more each way. The best alternative for Abu Dhabi (or Al Ain) climbers would be to exit the UAE through the southern border post at Mazyad then immediately go through the nearby Oman post just to the south. About 3km south of the Oman border post is a roundabout. Turn left (east) there, on a black top road which loops back close to the border toward Wonderwall, passing a police check point. The negative aspect of this route is that the full visa exit/ entry/ exit/ re-entry procedure would have to be followed. However it is slightly more logical than the situation further north where the Oman border post on the Al Ain – Sohar road is far to the east of Wonderwall.

For any of these routes, returning the same way will be very important.


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.

A world-class climbing destination?

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Greg’s closed his review of the UAE guide at UKB with this sentence.

“The overall impression is that the UAE and nearby mountains of Oman are already on the climbing map, and are likely to become even more recognised as world-class climbing destinations in the next few years.”

I have just read some fairly sharp criticism of that, so thought I’d add my own view. First of all, I think Greg was trying to be supportive of the book in his review and coloured his language accordingly. I am grateful for that. Second, “world-class” is quite subjective. There are a lot of lists out there (*) and they all vary according to the author’s prejudice. Third, the book addresses this issue pretty explicitly on page 13:

“None of the cliffs are world-class … but many individual routes are excellent and the environments will be novel for all but the most jaded climbing globe-trotter: sand deserts, bare limestone mountains, coral coastline.”

I hope that’s clear enough. I have been lucky to climb all over the world for a very long time. I genuinely think there are a few routes within the UAE guidebook coverage area that are world-class. Acquiescence is the best four pitch route I can think of anywhere. Lactic Labyrinthe at Shark Fin is completely unique and extraordinary. The nearby Exile at Wonderwall is also a very very unusual slice of rock, if a little abrasive to climb. League of Shadows at Hatta is the biggest “easy” roof I have ever done. Bridge to Nowhere at Khasab is one of the most striking single-pitch cracks I have ever seen. The Limah Roof is as good as any DWS I have done on the UK sea cliffs (maybe not as good as the best in Mallorca but I haven’t been yet). Unfortunately all but one of those are “my” routes so I could be accused of bias – but I am being as objective as I can.

Meanwhile there are a steady flow of climbers flying into Muscat each winter just to climb, especially from continental Europe. I used to think that the “proper” Oman end of the Hajar mountains was so overwhelmingly better than the cliffs in/ near the UAE that sticking close to Muscat made sense. But I think the quality of development at “our” end means that is no longer true, and geologically there is no difference. My recommendation to people who ask me about visiting now is to fly into Dubai (which is usually cheaper than Muscat), hire a car with insurance for both countries and do a broader tour. Encompassing some of the cliffs I have listed above but also La Gorgette, the Bandar Jissah DWS, Wadi Daykah. And something long around Jebel Misht if they are up to it.

* FWIW, my top 10, of places where I have actually climbed:

the Utah desert
Devon/ Cornwall
the grit
Czech sandstone
Arapiles/ the Grampians
Wadi Rum

OK, that’s eleven.

And five places on my must-climb-one-day list:

Mallorca DWS
Castle Hill

Shark Fin topo online

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Out of curiosity I set up Shark Fin at 27Crags, a global route database/ logbook site. It took about an hour’s work. One of the efficient aspects of the site, which I didn’t appreciate until I had part-finished my topo, is that you can upload an un-annotated photo then draw lines on it within the web application. Clever stuff.

Shark Fin is one of the best sport cliffs within the guidebook region, though it is a shame it isn’t 5km west (ie on the UAE side of the border). And it needs more routes! However, even as it stands, its three grade 7 routes are must-do classics. Lactic Labryinthe, which was done just in time to make the guidebook’s “recommended” list, is truly awesome, unique and world-class.

The Shark Fin approach is the same as Wonderwall (see the Al Ain chapter of the guidebook) until point (c), where you don’t turn into the “narrow gap” but instead drive 1km south on the truck road until the cliff is visible. Then drive to the obvious giant “parking boulder” under the cliff.

From UAE Climbing
From UAE Climbing

DWS in Muscat and Musandam compared

Monday, April 5th, 2010

I was lucky to snatch a few hours DWSing in Bandar Jissah, just east of Muscat last week. A couple of people who have climbed both there and on the Musandam coast (“Dibba Coast” in the guide book) have told me that the Bandar Jissah area is more worthwhile. Now that I can make the comparison I thought I’d comment.

Roof area, Bandar Jissah

The short answer is that I think they are mostly right! The Bandar Jissah area is much less hassle, as the routes are all within a few minutes boat ride from the beach, and can even be accessed by kayak at high tide. The complex topography of small islands and peninsulas also concentrates a lot of different climbable facets in a compact area. And the best routes are very good.

Arete area, Bandar Jissah

The main negative is that the rock is not fantastic. There is a lot of salt and sand in the limestone, making holds variously a little fragile and dusty in places. The best of the rock on the Dibba Coast routes is better.

Barracuda Stack and The Pyramid, Musandam

Another obvious difference is that the Musandam coast is much wilder, especially at the locations distant from Dibba. The area around Barracuda Stack, for example, has some of the most dramatic seacliff scenery I have seen anywhere on earth (see photo above). But it is an effort to get there! Finally (caveat: I am no expert) a quick spot of snorkelling at Bandar Jissah also suggested that the sea floor there is far less pristine than in Musandam, with some rather sad dying coral. This probably reflects the rapid recent development there. The Shangri-La complex (three hotels) occupies one whole bay and there is apparently a new hotel going in at Bandar Jissah public beach itself.

The Bandar Jissah DWS is described in an online guide at and was also profiled in Climbing magazine. From Abu Dhabi or Dubai it is about five hours driving plus the unpredictable border delays to get there. A fair bit further than Dibba but factor in less time stuck on a boat on the way to the cliffs and the calculation is not so one-sided.

Persian Gypsy (a new route added that day), Bandar Jissah

All that said, making clinical comparisons and evaluations is quite contrary to the anarchic spirit of deep water soloing. I had not DWSed for about nine months and had forgotten just how viscerally-intense an experience it can be. Chasing specific grades can seem unimportant and success (on anything) can be as much about managing the jittery adrenaline highs as overcoming physical constraints; especially once a few of the 10-15m jumps necessary to descend have been completed. I don’t know anything else that delivers such a pure dose of elation.