Crooked in the Front
In January 2016 Read invited Arnaud Petit and Alex to his home in the Sultanate of Oman to explore and equip new routes big and small in epic locations. Things don’t always work out as planned…Crooked in the Front…
Our first stop was Umq Bir, the magnificent ancient settlement I have knick named The Valley of Giants. On my previous missions in Umq Bir the huge walls on the south side called out to me. Climb me, climb me! Striking pillars of red and yellow stone reach right to the rim of the Selma Plateau, a good 500m above the canyon floor and from the camp you cannot move around without staring up at them in awe. The rock had other ideas, unfortunately. In fact, we found only loose and dangerous potential and so after a great deal of deliberating and even more walking along the base of the wall in attempt to lift our spirits, we decided to accept our consolation prize – perfect new routes on the world class boulders below. I concede, it was more of a prize than a consolation!
Setback? This was not a word in our team’s vocabulary. In our few days spent in the valley we sampled the boulders I had developed the year before and then equipped and climbed four brilliant new routes from 7b+ to 8a+ on a single massive freestanding boulder. The highlights? Alex bolted and freed his first FA then Read and Arnaud managed both to send The Mirror 8a+ bolted by Arnaud!
“Setback? This was not a word in our team's vocabulary.”
After four days in the Valley of Giants, already tired, dirty and with sore muscles’ we made the sensible choice to drive directly to a potential new climbing venue, Wadi Bani Khalid. Walking past the perfect blue thermal freshwater pools, we rounded the corner and stood aghast at the 30m tall 40º overhang in front of us. “9a there, 8c+ there”, we pointed and exclaimed to each other. A futuristic wall, but just the first, because as we continued an even taller wall appeared and we got busy with the drills. In two days, we equipped three routes which will surely become classic lines at Oman’s newest crag of legend, from 7b+ to 8a.
Then we rested. But just for one day because I had organised a community gathering at Oman’s most popular sport crag, Hadash. It was super motivating to share our routes with visitors and local climbers alike. There were visiting Czechs, French, Romanian, Oman-based expats, Omanis, UAE nationals and expats, all sharing beta and laughing the day away.
On the first day of the New Year I climbed a new route up at Hadash, which I’ve named ‘Bubble Boy’ because almost all of my first ascents in Oman go un-repeated, making me feel like I live in a bubble. Am I actually progressing in my climbing? Are my routes really as difficult as I have proposed? With no one to regularly share my routes, I often ask myself these questions. Now, it is no secret that Arnaud is a climbing legend and Alex is no slouch so, with this in mind, I also had the intention to get the guys to try all of my established ‘hard’ climbs in Oman. Who am I kidding. With this opportunity, they had no choice! Testament to Arnaud’s skill, in three days at Hadash he dispatched three of my old 8b’s, an 8a onsight and a number of 7s. Alex even nailed his first 8a ever! What an honour to share part of my story with the guys and to have them rave about the quality of our small community’s climbing. For me it was an opportunity to share my climbing and also to revisit old memories and relish in the changes to my climbing and my approach to climbing over the years.
A climbing trip in Oman would not be complete without a visit to the tallest continuous rock face in Arabia and one of the world’s tallest limestone big walls – Jebel Misht c.1,000m. With great recommendation for the route Shukran (6b max, 950m), perfect information from the original climbing party and wonderful support and company of my pal and local route developer Larry Michienzi and Kelly, his wife, we made a perfect barbeque and even slept a little before our alpine 3:00am wake up.
After a little confusion over the start of the route, we began climbing a full hour after reaching the base of the wall and, by now, in direct sun. “Perhaps we just explore 4 or 5 pitches to know the route and then come back tomorrow,” Arnaud suggested. Not to be. Our team of three is ballistic. Not to be deterred. Within an hour we had already climbed 3 pitches and we were well on our way to climb the full mountain before dark, singing and laughing the whole way, even through the gruelling 1,200m walking descent where, at the base, Larry and Kelly had prepared a superb campfire for our return. Thanks guys!
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