Posts Tagged ‘trip report’

a Lebanon trip report

Monday, May 30th, 2011

The hills rising up from Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast are the last gasp of the giant arc of limestone that starts in southern Spain and runs almost continuously eastwards through Catalunya, southern France, Italy, Croatia, Greece and Turkey. Unsurprisingly there are plenty of cliffs there. Given the large number of direct flights between Beirut and the UAE, the relatively short flight time and the much cooler climate, I was intrigued as to whether Lebanon is a worthwhile climbing destination. I spent a weekend there, receiving all sorts of generous assistance from contacts I had been passed by Mike Olver, who recently relocated from Dubai to Beirut. I was taken to Harrissa Tannourine, high up on Mount Lebanon near the ski slopes, and Beirut River cliff, within Beirut itself.

residual snow patches on Mt Lebanon above Tannourine

Unlike the UAE, the climbing scene in Lebanon is not dominated by expats, though most of the new routes (predominantly bolted) have been the work of expats or visitors. For example, Harrissa Tannourine, currently the country’s most extensive cliff, was originally developed by visiting French climbers. Last year, Alex Chabot, a world-cup-winning Frenchman (is there any other kind?) passed through on a tour of the Middle East, adding routes up to 8b, which were documented in the March 2011 issue of Grimper. My hosts Marcin Pius and John Redwine were responsible for the Beirut River cliff development and also recently put up The Gold Mine, a 200m route, with a 7a crux pitch, in the Tannourine gorge. Like the UAE, Lebanon has some “Not in Kansas any more” characteristics; John and Marcin had to avoid a summit minefield left over from the civil war whilst equipping their route.

Beirut River cliff

Is it worth visiting Lebanon from the UAE to climb? My tentative conclusion is “yes”. The cliffs and environment reminded me of other Mediterranean climbing areas, especially parts of Italy. But unlike Italy you can be there in three hours from Dubai or Abu Dhabi and there are at least ten flights a day (counting Etihad, Emirates and Fly Dubai). And most of the climbing is at high-altitude, so it’s a summer destination. As I was looked after throughout, I can’t describe precisely how hard it would be to rent cars and find the cliffs independently, but it looked fairly OK. Probably the biggest negative at the moment is the lack of climbing information. The website ClimbingLebanon has a forum, some access descriptions for cliffs and a few route descriptions but there’s nothing comprehensive in the public domain. Local climbers do have some topos.

Not the fabled Beirut nightlife

Overall I’d guess it would suit a group who wanted to mix up some sport climbing with hanging out in Beirut, which has some reputation for its nightlife (I’m told) or sight-seeing (ie Baalbek). Grumpy tradsters probably shouldn’t bother, though if they do, it seems that Lebanese medical provision stands ready …

Many thanks to Marcin and John for their hospitality at short notice.

a Wadi Rum trip report (sort of)

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

I thought I’d post some reflections on my 9 day Wadi Rum visit in March, partly as a follow up to my pre-trip post and partly as I learned a few things that may be worth passing on.

Nasrani North and South, west faces

For anyone curious after my pre-trip post: we didn’t do La Guerre Sainte nor even try it. The main reason was a mutually-reinforcing combination of poor conditions and ebbing confidence. A chilly north wind blew hard for the first 4-5 days of our stay keeping effective shade temperatures very low indeed. The route is on an east-facing wall (ie sun only in the morning) with the crux pitches near the top. It didn’t look fun or viable to be up there attempting hard face climbing once it went into shade. And after six years adjusting to UAE heat I no longer “do” cold very well and had split tips on about half my fingers and a general loss of gnarl by day four.

Nasrani North and South, east faces (right side blankness is La Guerre Sainte)

So instead of La GS we refocused on building up to Inshallah Factor, a 15 pitch E4 trad route on Jebel Rum’s giant east face. We did it on our final day, descending the Eye of Allah route, in about eleven hours tent-to-tent. I led the introductory 5.10/ 5.10+ ish crack pitches (worth doing in their own right) then Duncan dispatched the bold and delicate crux fifth pitch, his hardest lead for several years due to recurring injuries. We also did: The Beauty with its direct variant, Merlin’s Wand, half of Lionheart (my fault …), the fun North Ridge of Jebel Burdah and Eye of Allah (in ascent).

Jebel Rum east face
(Inshallah Factor is the centre to leftwards trending line)

We camped at The Rest House, which seems to be the default for independent visitors to the area. As on my last visit in April 2009, the camping area was quite squalid with rubbish blowing around the sand and the toilet/ shower block very unsavoury. (Duncan also got sick from dodgy chicken from the RH’s kitchen on our first evening. We didn’t eat there again, favouring Ali’s Place down the road at a fraction of the price.) The expanding Rum village, which apparently didn’t exist when climbers first came to Rum two decades ago, is also in general an eyesore. Once escaped into the stunning scenery rocks or desert, that ceases to matter but it seems a shame that there isn’t an aspirations to higher standards. At minimum it would be nice to see a local entrepreneur create a proper climbers’ hang-out with a bar/ cafe with some character for the long evenings and a clean campsite. Perhaps low standards are a function of the almost total invisibility/ non-employment of local women in this very conservative community?

It’s also troubling to see the obvious over-supply of young local guys, one or two quite disgruntled and aggressive, touting for business as “guides”. For climbers this just means 4×4 taxi’ing to the more remote climbs but, judging from the conversations I had, not all of them have the knowledge necessary even to do that functionally. I guess the over-supply stems from the high minimum rates fixed for this type of work. The community or national park authorities might want to consider either letting the market work its magic through lower prices, or giving out fewer guide licences. Otherwise I can envisage the friendly Bedouin charm of Rum, which many visitors cite as an attraction, gradually fading away to be replaced by the tiresome background hussle found in tourist honeypots elsewhere.

Ironically it actually seems you can use your own 4×4 for travel in the Rum sands if you pay a private vehicle fee at the national park gates – or at least the rules are vague. Duncan and I were lucky to hook up with a couple en route from London to Cape Town with a pimped-out Land Cruiser (called Brenda). We made a three day/ two night trip together to Burrah Canyon and Burdah. Being self-reliant in the desert was very rewarding and added an unexpected exploratory element to our visit. It’s probably not normally cost-effective to visit Rum with your own 4×4 but if I am able to visit again I will be tempted to at least check the costs.

“Brenda” in Burrah Canyon

By chance we met Wilf Colonna one evening at Ali’s Place. He is one of the original pioneers of climbing in Wadi Rum, along with Tony Howard. He has been visiting regularly since the mid-1980s and now lives in Aqaba. Amongst various interesting revelations we learned from him that there is now quite a lot of climbing in Jordan outside Wadi Rum, including sport routes on sandstone and limestone equipped by Amman-based local climbers. These might be interesting mid-summer options for UAE-based climbers as flights to Jordan are regular and cheap. Wilf is working on a climbing guide to Jordan that will include all these new areas.