Posts Tagged ‘publishing’

UAE guidebook on sale in Squamish!

Friday, November 30th, 2012

There are now a few copies of “UAE Rock Climbing” on the shelves in ClimbOn/ OutWest in Squamish. This is the first time the book has been stocked in North America, as far as I know. Interestingly sales from the distributor in the UK – which either go to online or European retail outlets – picked up sharply recently. This might be somehow connected with the publicity surrounding the TNF team (Alex Honnold, Hazel Findlay, etc) visiting Musandam … or it might be coincidence.

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.

the long goodbye

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

The Red Armada publishing empire has just one month left before relocating to Canada (via a few weeks in Blighty). It’s a surprisingly busy period, not just negotiating the minefield that is UAE exit formalities, but also finishing up on some projects: a big final article for Outdoor UAE, some bolting, a possible topo for a RAK cliff.

Meanwhile I have also just committed (well, maybe, I’ll see how it goes …) to a new blog about my new life in Squamish, ripe I hope with climbing grade breakthroughs and pithy insight into the town’s evolution.

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.

review at

Monday, October 18th, 2010

A blatant plug at “my” forum. Many thanks to Greg (and Dan)!

the end of the (travel) guidebook?

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Excellent article on this theme at the FT. Discusses augmented reality, phone apps and the timetable for the end of print publishing.

review in Climb magazine

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

A review of the UAE guidebook by Colin Wells is in May’s edition of the UK’s “Climb” magazine:

Colin’s take on the (un)attractiveness of visiting the region is a little unfair but I am grateful for the thumbs-up for the book’s quality:

“As a book, UAE Climbing easily holds its own in the company of similar publications from full-time ‘professional’ guidebook producers.”

Thanks to editor Neal Pearsons (who I found myself in contact with for a totally unrelated reason: a possible glitch in the messaging system!) for passing me this. Here is the full PDF.

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 …

Feedback on the book #1

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

I mentioned Damian Cook in an earlier post. I received an email from his wife, Eszter, a few weeks ago. I hope she doesn’t mind me reproducing some of it here (and I hope anyone reading this doesn’t find it too mawkish or sentimental):

“I received the UAE guide three weeks ago but it actually means so much to me that I could not gather myself to write a thank you e-mail to you. But here I am now and I would like to say thank you for putting Damian’s boulders in your book and I would also like to say thank you for mentioning him in such a nice way and putting the picture in the book. It was the best Xmas present ever and it meant a lot for the whole family. Thank you for sending it to us! …

My daughter, Rebeka was very moved by the book as well, there are some routes named after her, Damian used to call her a ‘Fluff Top’ for example. The picture made her jump up and down, she is very proud of herself that she is in a book. They still can bond after so many years …

Damian would be so pleased about this book. He spent so much time at his boulders climbing, taking pictures of the rocks, creating topos of the area by his computer. It was always on his mind. He said that the quality of the rock was as good there (he meant the boulders) as in Fontainebleau and he wished that more people had known about the place and enjoyed climbing there. I can recall seeing the back of his head for hours while he was deciding about tiny details on his topos by his computer and I clearly remember when we were at the boulders the last time together. He had a distant look on his face and said that maybe nobody would ever climb on those rocks again.”

Whether he had this sort of crew in mind is another matter …




Thanks to Nasim for the photos

An internet investment

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Simon Lee, in Sheffield, and I have bought two web forums from their owner, Mike Annesley: (“UKB”) and Several people have asked me “why?” and I do struggle for a persuasive answer. At the price we are paying there should be scope for a decent return, but there are less complex investments we could make to achieve that. For me, I think it is primarily: 1. curiousity about the way the web is unfolding and 2. an ongoing project to make climbing more central in my life (there is a theoretical, if tenuous, connection between climbing guide publishing – a business into which I seem to have fallen – and climbing web forums).

Appropriately, Simon and I have never actually met. We know each other primarily from the forum. Simon is a much better climber than me but I guessed years back that we might have something in common as we both listed Darkinbad, at Pentire, and Rainbow Bridge, at Berry Head, both in the under-rated south west of England, amongst our favourite climbs on our forum profiles. We have exchanged a long string of email down the years on topics as diverse as investing, faux-natural chockstones in famous gritstone routes and training.

I have never posted much on UKB, being too much a punter, but have started reading it actively in the last few years, especially since trying to train more intelligently. The training sub-forum there has some outstandingly well-informed contributors. My most substantial input to the site so far has in fact been a spoof banner ad which is currently heading up the main forum. It references a nice bit of vitriol levelled at UKB by guidebook writer, Chris Craggs, on a thread. I don’t think anyone is taking it too seriously. I have only met Chris once – he seemed like a good guy. His Lofoten guidebook is outstanding.

No doubt I will be writing more about UKB in due course …